Eivind Gullberg Jensen is the worst conductor in the universe: UPDATED!

Eivind Gullberg Jensen

Josh Brolin has a Norwegian twin sister?

Normally I find it a good idea to try and come up with some kind of catchy title if I’m writing an opinion piece.  Sometimes it uses a metaphor, sometimes it uses a pun, sometimes it uses an obscure “Big Lebowski” reference, but it’s always meant to bring a touch of mystery to the actual substance of what was written.

In this case, however, I could think of nothing remotely interesting or competent to say.  It is not unlike the conducting of Eivind Gullberg Jensen in that respect.

Not long ago, I lamented the fact that a musician such as Walter Weller dwells in relative obscurity despite being one of the very best conductors alive while guys still in their 20s and 30s continue to be handed prominent posts in spite of what I consider pretty “meh” results on the podium (if not in the dreamy eyes!).  In that post, I mentioned Keith Lockhart by name, Robin Ticciati by inference, and Gustavo Dudamel by osmosis and the fact that I said “young conductors” and he’s ultra-famous.

But no conductor, and I even include my dismally failed career, is as horrible as Eivind Gullberg Jensen.  Of the dozen or so recordings (which is what I’ll be stopping at) of his I’ve heard, there have been exactly zero that have been anything better than dreadful.  He has destroyed lots of good music, and taken some great soloists down with him, too.  Whether it was a Dvorak 8 so sloppy that it made the NDR Radio Philharmonic sound like the 4th-best youth orchestra in West Virginia or a Shostakovich Piano Concerto no. 1 in which he clearly employed the Hunter S. Thompson method of directing and left Alexander Toradze missing Valery Gergiev’s toothpick baton, Jensen has displayed a rare knack for laying waste to great works of art.

Take a listen to this recording of the Romanian Rhapsody no. 1 of Enescu, for example.  It sounds as if Jensen prepared for the performance by constructing a cave out of the sound of late Bernstein and Stokowski “we don’t give a fuck what the score says” mode and spent the final week watching The Real Housewives of New York (“what we need is more drama!”).  Never in my life have I heard a conductor so egregiously drop trou and take a catastrophic shit all over an otherwise delightful piece of music.  The Enescu is supposed to be fun and exciting.  Jensen makes it as crisp as a hot bowl of cheese grits and as laborious as an Indonesian sweatshop.

You can inflict all sorts of tempo shenanigans on music if you have the chops.  Jensen, in spite of his rugged and pronounced cheekbones, does not have them.  He seems to lack skill, a coherent approach, and a remotely human sense of decency.

But hey, at least he’s stuck working with groups like the Orchestre de Paris, Oslo Philharmonic, Zurich Opera, and Munich Philharmonic.

Wait…

Eivind Gullberg Jensen, on behalf of Walter Weller and anyone else who wants in: I internet-hate (which is obviously much worse than real hate!) you.  I would advocate shoving your baton up your own ass like the asshole I am, but you would almost assuredly misinterpret that and try to shove it up mine.  With little precision, either.

UPDATE: Here are some additional thoughts on Jensen found in this space:

Re-visting Jensen (June 2012)

Jealousy, Failure, and Perception

Jensen for the win!

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27 thoughts on “Eivind Gullberg Jensen is the worst conductor in the universe: UPDATED!

  1. Couldn’t disagree more. Heard him yesterday conduct Glazunov and Rachmaninov (Cologne/ WDR) and it was a excellent concert.

    He is a conductor with a winsome stage presence (but no ” I am Bernstein reborn” antics).

    But who am I to judge (Alas, at least not a failed conductor)…

    Regards from Germany

  2. Hi there,

    I’m glad to hear that the performance you heard was noteworthy, especially in what was likely interesting repertoire (don’t see enough Glazunov). I, of course, can only go off of what I know of him, but that admittedly does not include an actual live performance, only broadcasts of concerts. I hope that he continues to inspire many listeners, because we all win if there are more good musicians out there. Perhaps I will amend my statement that I will not listen to any of his performances since you speak so highly of this one. And you are a listener, therefore you are capable and qualified to judge how you see fit.

    Thank you for the comment!

  3. Musician here. Just want to say, I agree with crackladen’s original post….

  4. I too agree with the original post on many points, although I will save the hating for more special circumstances.

    He does have a strong stage presence, however I find that his conducting and music making becomes somewhat detached and looses its continuity and many of the longer lines disappear because he seems to try too hard to make every single musical statement extremely intense. I miss a dramatic curve. His “presence” somehow inhibits the musical potential, and he would be better off just “letting it happen” a lot more.

  5. Your statement is harsh, but you have a right to your opinion, but i would really like to hear your thoughts on Dudamel. I really think he is sooooooooooooooo overated, and does Salonen and Borda really think the U.S. does not have a conductor to lead Hollyweirds mediocre orchestra?????? Dudamel’s faux talents really have nothing to do with it. I am sure the LA PR machine is on speed dial, what is this shit taking the L.A. Phil to Caracas for the Mahler 10? This afro wearing, dimpled, overpaid midget is really getting over, I spell oil what about you?

  6. Pingback: By the popular demand of one: One man’s opinion on Gustavo Dudamel « Everything But The Music

  7. I absolutely disagree with the original post. I heard him with the Munich Phil yesterday, Tschaikowsky#6, and it was one of the best concerts of the season.

    His interpretation had a lot of personality and subjectivity, but it never lost the line.

    The orchestra and the audience seemed to love it, so unlike the author of the original post, he doesn’t seem to be a failed conductor…

  8. What is this, à site for failed and bitter conducteurs? To read someone with so little knowledge try to analyse Dudamel’s conducting, amusés me:-) and this other Guy who think Dudamel is overrated, what do you know?
    By coïncident I just heard thé best Shostakovich 10 ever on wdr.de, with Eivind Gullberg Jensen conducting, so for me this whole article is just misleading notes based on pure jealousy. Get à life guys!

  9. Agree with PierreC, this site smells jealousy all over. Came over this article a while ago, after I found an amazing Rach 2 with Gullberg Jensen on youtube, and was shocked about the harsh and bitter content.
    But back then I searched for Crackladen on youtube, and guess what? I found the author in person, conducting. It would be too positive to call him a failed conductor, it had nothing to do with conducting in the first place! At least he was smart enough to remove his videofiles:-)

  10. Very early into this performance, but I thank you for bringing this to my attention. The balances, especially in the winds, are executed superbly in the introduction, and the pace and flow is absolutely first-rate. THIS is what I’ve been looking for. This is hardly the same maestro who’s interpretations I found appalling and interventionist to the point that a heroin addict thought they were a little much. Once again, thank you. I hope that this will be the first step in my road-to-Jensen recovery!

  11. Pingback: Something to listen to: Eivind Gullberg Jensen FOR THE WIN! « Everything But The Music

  12. He’s leading the National Orchestra of Lille in France with 7th Symphony of Anton Buckler and the Concertant Symphony of Serguei Prokofiev.
    It’s on March 15th 2013. Do you think it’s worth a try?

  13. To be honest, I would listen to anyone perform Bruckner 7. That’s earth-shattering music right there, and the Prokofiev is pretty awesome too. Jensen or no Jensen, it’s probably worth the trip. Many people have commented that his live performances are very good, so there’s that, too. I say go for it!

  14. I think it is extremely unfortunate and possibly wrong that googling Jensen’s name brings up this damning review. I have just bumped into the conductor’s live Rach 2 on YouTube. It’s a piece I know in many recordings from Gergiev to Slatkin and a dozen others. I googled Jensen precisely because I found the opening so persuasive, and I am still enjoying the performance as I type this. I have reacted badly to performers myself – cannot understand (on the basis of recordings I have heard) why anyone rates pianist Vladimir Feltsman, for example. But in the past I have also damned pieces or composers I now appreciate. (I won’t say who – I’m too ashamed!) Anyway, I find a great deal to admire in this Rachmaninov (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvuitFzDxDg) and see that he has also conducted some Wolfgang Rihm – a composer responsible for masterpieces such as Verwandlungen and Jagden und Formen – so I’m going to subject myself to some more Jensen and see how he does in contemporary music. I hope the original author will give Jensen a slightly easier time than to write him off so comprehensively. He mentions Alexander Toradze, a once fine pianist who now strikes me as eccentric and over the hill, so I’m not sure it would matter who was accompanying him.

  15. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for stopping by. That post has been the subject of much discontent around here. I stand by it – Jensen’s conducting is, to my ears, largely wrongheaded. That said, I have always kept an open mind about his music-making and have returned to it on occasion to see how he’s evolving as an artist. The very Rach 2 you mention has its own post in this space…it’s a superb performance and Jensen does it arguably as well as anyone I’ve heard.

    This comment has inspired me to update that post with the links to the other Jensen-related posts on this blog in the hopes that people will get the proper picture of my thoughts on the man’s conducting. I hope that you will take the time to read them and see how you feel.

  16. The only thing I have seen of ELvind Gulberg Jensen at work is the U-Tube available concert from the Concertgebow in Amsterdam in 2010, where he conducted Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony. I thought the orchestra and Jensen himself were absolutely wonderful ! I agree that Valerie Gergiev is probably a better conductor, as was Leonard Bernstein, but that would be like comparing a rookie NFL quarterback with Joe Montana. Give Elvind Gulberg Jensen a few years to get some more experience under his belt, and he may very well be the next Bernstein – who knows?

  17. To be honest, I never came across Elving Gullberg Jensen until tonight when I encountered a performance of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 with him conduction the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra on YouTube and I must say the impression it left me with is totally unlike the one suggested by the host of this site. This was a very impressive, musical, interpretation, avoiding any histrionics, bombast or other traces of self-indulgence without shortchanging the sheer dramatic aspects of the score. One performance out of many does not necessarily make any conductor so I am curious to see how some of his other performances fare.

    One point on which I thoroughly agree, however, is that Walter Weller is a much underrated musician who deserves far greter recognition than that which he has received throughout his career.

  18. I’ve always found it interesting how music appears to elicit these levels of hatred – in this case, directed towards both EGJ (on your part) and yourself (from several commenters). And I’m convinced that everyone is being totally sincere.

    This is hardly new, of course – one look at the bios of Hanslick, Cui, and GB Shaw shows that music has always provoked strong responses, particularly after being confronted with very outspoken performances. I have long ago stopped trying to rationalize my preferences (Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky, Dausgaard, Segerstam, Neeme and Paavo Järvi, etc.) or antipathies (Dudamel, Bernstein, Celibidache, Gergiev – oh, Gergiev).

    Of what little I’ve heard by EGJ, most of it sounds astonishingly unremarkable: solid at best, plodding at worst. Firmly at the bottom end of the middle section of conductors, I’d say. What I tend to notice more and more is how so little conductors are able to talk intelligently about music. Simon Rattle is a prime example of someone who wallows in sentimental deifications that are entirely meaningless. Paavo Järvi is the other extreme: a precise analyst who sees composers as what they are – people, with strong point and fallacies, who can sometimes produce brilliant results

  19. Nothing wrong with Jensen’s interpretation of Carmina Burana at Liverpool Phil last night. Standing ovation, I just hope we’re all not wrong. He was helped by the wonderful singing of Mari Eriksmoen, a voice as sharp, pure and crystal clear as ice. Don’t go too much for singers but ….wow !

  20. That’s 2 glowing comments for Jensen’s Carmina last night! It must have been spectacular! I’m sorry to have missed it!

  21. I just returned from a concert here in Tokyo in which Mr. Jensen conducted Franck, Ravel (with Alexandre Tharaud at the piano for both pieces) and Tchaikowsky’s 5th. My only quibble with Mr. Jensen in the symohony was that I thought the tempo was too slow at first, even for the beginning of that symphony, but once things got going, I had the feeling that we were set for a certain goal, and it wasn’t just to be reminded of Tchaikowsky’s gorgeous melodies. In other words, a coherent performance. We reached that goal in the glorious finale, which left me with tears welling up from having been privy to this wonderful musical accomplishment by a local orchestra not considered to be at the acme of even local Tokyo ensembles. Here’s what I felt. Here’s what I saw in the eyes of the players: Complete physical and mental dedication to the music and total unity of purpose. Now, that could just be due to the quality of the players, though, again, this was not the Berlin Phil. we’re talking about, or it could be due both to the ability of the players and Mr. Jensen’s ability to help them produce the best music they could in fulfilling the goal set by the composer and conductor. I’d like to think it is the latter, or why have a conductor at all and why rate performances by different conductors? Mr. Jensen was called back for five curtain calls and the applause did not flag in intensity certainly for seven to ten minutes, I would guess. The audience would have stayed longer had the concertmaster not led the musicians off the stage. Of course, I have but one example of Mr. Jensen’s conducting to draw conclusions from. Perhaps he and the orchestra and soloist tonight just hit it off well. In the first half of the concert, I felt he and Tharaud achieved excellent balance. I gained new respect for Franck’s Symphonic Variations. Ravel’s Concerto in G I have always loved. As for the tone of the original posting, is this Donald Trump’s music blog?

  22. Awesome comment. Thanks for stopping by.

    The tone of the original post is one that, frankly, I’m not proud of. It makes me quite happy, however, that the comments section of this and other posts about Jensen have turned into testimonials about how great his work is. I really hope Jensen comes to New York at some point, because I’d like my own opportunity to hear his work in person.

  23. ironically, i only chanced upon this post/blog because i googled ‘Eivind Gullberg Jensen’ after listening to a youtube video of him conducting Rachmaninoff’s symphony no. 2. i’m really impressed with how he handled the piece delicately without being overly sappy and dramatic.

    but yeah, nice clickbait of a title you’ve got there. haha.

  24. Clickbait indeed. This post is a source of great personal shame LOL. The Rachmaninov 2 phenomenon caught me as well, though. Jensen really handles the piece as well as anyone I’ve ever heard.

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