Lebrecht is a critic who clearly enjoys the craft of pummeling the egos of cultural giants; where the giant is already dead, he rises unhesitatingly to slay the legend. His mission, he asserts, is to bring down the myth of the great conductor and to restore to the orchestra a sense of stability and fiscal security.
The myth has nothing to do with genius. Herbert von Karajan is dismissed as almost criminally unmusical, but otherwise Lebrecht admits the tremendous, though often misguided, talent of his subjects. The trouble is, Lebrecht never does define the myth he attempts to dispel, though he describes its evolution; neither does he argue convincingly that the myth, whatever it is, lies at the heart of what is wrong with classical music today. The strands of his argument must be picked out of a narrative peppered with anecdotes of self-delusion and insecurity, tyrannical and hypocritical behavior, predatory sexuality and asexuality (in Karajan’s case, both!).
It is the opportunism and avarice that Lebrecht sees as having evolved with the profession that he finally rails against. Holding up Daniel Barenboim as the supreme example of greed and failed musicianship, Lebrecht lays the blame before the sinister door of Ronald Wilford, talent agent. Orchestras worldwide go bankrupt, while musically bankrupt conductors thrive like rock stars and baseball players. This is ultimately the author’s point. Unfortunately, much else is offered that is merely gratuitous and distracting.
As a guide through the bewildering ranks of conductors and their orchestras, THE MAESTRO MYTH, for all its faults, is a valuable reference.