Philippe Jordan (Foto: Michael Poehn, Wiener Staatsoper)
Portrait Philippe Jordan

He knows what he (doesn't) want

Conductor Philippe Jordan, an internationally highly successful Zurich native, will soon be leading the orchestra. His career in eleven key moments.

Susanne Kübler

1974 / Zurich

Philippe Jordan was born on 18 October to parents Armin Jordan, a conductor, and Käthe Herkner, a dancer. The boy grew up just as one would imagine in this environment: piano lessons at the age of six, joining the Zurich Boys' Choir at eight, violin lessons at eleven. Studied piano pedagogy and composition, first jobs as a répétiteur with his father. First assistantship at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where Armin Jordan regularly conducts.

1994 / Ulm

Philippe Jordan's biography becomes interesting when he signs his contract as a répétiteur at the Ulm Theatre. Germany is not Armin Jordan country, and the son deliberately goes there to "make a first name for himself", as he puts it. He doesn't want to be the Jordan son, but the Philippe who learnt his craft from scratch. At the piano, where he accompanies singers; with assistantships, where he looks over the shoulders of experienced colleagues. And from 1996 as first conductor in Ulm.

1998 / Berlin

Daniel Barenboim is looking for a new assistant, Philippe Jordan is recommended to him and can then immediately take over Darius Milhaud's opera "Christopher Columbus" as his own production. What happens to many Barenboim assistants happens: Jordan is widely recognised. Perhaps not yet as a "conductor of world renown", as Wikipedia puts it. But definitely as a conductor to watch. That's a lot for a 24-year-old.

2001 / Graz

Small but mighty: the opera house in Graz is a popular springboard for conductors, artistic directors and singers, and Philippe Jordan also makes use of it. This is where he takes on his first job as chief conductor, and he summarises what happens in the early days with the term "magic". But the magic is soon gone. The brusque departure of artistic director and ally Karen Stone and a lack of political support are reasons enough for him not to extend his contract in 2004. It is the first, but by no means the last, example of the fact that Jordan – prestige or no job security – is prepared to pull the emergency brake at any time if he deems it artistically necessary.

Philippe Jordan (Foto: Michael Poehn, Wiener Staatsoper)

2004 / Zurich

Zurich Opera Director Alexander Pereira asks Philippe Jordan to succeed Franz Welser-Möst. What an offer! Chief conductor in his home town, at a major opera house where he once stood on stage as First Boy in "The Magic Flute"! But Jordan cancels (Welser-Möst then becomes his own successor). He doesn't want a permanent position for the time being, but to gain experience as a guest conductor at increasingly renowned theatres. He also has no desire to be compared with his father, who worked as a conductor at the Zurich Opera House in the 1960s. When Pereira gave him various productions despite the cancellation and also let him conduct his first "Ring" at a revival in 2009, he was nevertheless delighted – and seized the opportunity: the NZZ praised his powerful Wagner interpretation as "immensely invigorating".

2005 / Salzburg

Mozart's "Così fan tutte" at the Salzburg Festival? Most young conductors would give anything for such an engagement. Philippe Jordan also accepts and conducts the production in summer 2004. But the direction by Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann does not suit him: the piano is on stage as part of the production, he cannot accompany the recitatives himself and therefore has "little influence on tempi, colours and characterisation", as he told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. He wants to change this the following year. Negotiations are held and fail, Philippe Jordan cancels the Salzburg dates from his diary (and his Salzburg prospects for many years). At least he reaps positive headlines: as someone who is prepared to forego a glamourous and lucrative performance for his ideals.

2009 / Paris

The next big enquiry comes from Paris: the opera finally needs a chief conductor again. Jordan cancels once again, the house seems to be too big for him. But he gladly accepts the proposal to conduct a "Ring" here too. A few months later, he signs up after all – because he realises that his ideas can only be realised in an institution that he can actually direct. Here, at the latest, he has now arrived at the top, also in the literal sense: his office on the eighth floor of the Bastille Opera offers a magnificent view over the city.

2010 / Bayreuth

The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupts and air traffic is paralysed over a wide area. Philippe Jordan therefore travelled by car from Berlin to Zurich in spring 2010, passing Bayreuth on the way and deciding to finally listen to a rehearsal there to experience the special acoustics. He does so a few weeks later. And is therefore "on the radar" when Daniele Gatti steps down as conductor of "Parsifal" three weeks later in 2012. After this revival, Jordan is given his first regular Bayreuth production with the "Meistersinger" in 2017.

2013 / Zurich

Philippe Jordan has not often conducted in his home city since his start in Paris. In December 2013, he once again took to the podium at the Tonhalle Zurich, where he made his debut in 2000 as a 26-year-old in a children's concert, and not only the audience but also the NZZ critic was delighted: "A beautifully designed programme, emotional intensity, suppleness, brilliance, warmth, structured forte, a culture of quietness – it's all there: "And last but not least, he seems to be at the side of every musician, to which the Tonhalle-Orchester responded with an unparalleled presence." Rumours briefly flickered in the media that Jordan could succeed David Zinman. But by then he was already gone again, for almost exactly ten years.

2014 / Vienna

For a long time, he was primarily interested in opera, but now Philippe Jordan is taking over responsibility for a symphony orchestra for the first time with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. With a clear goal: he wants to bring the orchestra out of the shadow of the Vienna Philharmonic, give it an independent profile and more self-confidence. He stays for six years. Until he was offered the most dangerous job in the classical music business: that of music director of the Vienna State Opera. Where he still joins the Vienna Philharmonic.

2022 / Vienna

The cliché is confirmed, the Vienna State Opera adventure is a short one. Two years after taking office, it was announced in October 2022 that Philippe Jordan would not be renewing his contract, which runs until 2025. He explains his decision in clear terms: "Modern theatre does not necessarily have to be an aesthetic imposition for the audience and six weeks of technical dilettantism for the performers." Artistic Director Bogdan Roščić counters that it was he himself who did not want to extend the conductor's contract. Whatever the case, it can be assumed that he has already received several offers since Philippe Jordan's departure was announced. If one suits him, he will accept it. But only then.

Translated with

January 2024
Thu 25. Jan

Philippe Jordan with Schumann and Wagner

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Philippe Jordan Conductor, Anja Kampe Sopran Schumann, Wagner
Thu 25. Jan

Orchestra Lunch Concert with Philippe Jordan

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Philippe Jordan Conductor Schumann
Wed 24. Jan

Philippe Jordan with Schumann and Wagner

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Philippe Jordan Conductor, Anja Kampe Sopran Schumann, Wagner
published: 08.01.2024