The German conductor Christian Thielemann has been a major force in both operatic and symphonic music in his home country, serving since 2012 as conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden.
He is considered one of the world's top interpreters of the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss. Thielemann was born in what was then West Berlin on April 1, 1959. As a youth he took lessons on several instruments, played viola in the German Youth Orchestra, and studied at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. Thielemann's career began early as he landed posts as assistant to conductor Heinrich Hollreiser at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, when he was just 19, and then to Herbert von Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic. He also served as an assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. In 1985, Thielemann got his first principal conductor post, with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. He held successively more important operatic posts, becoming general music director of the Nuremberg Opera in 1988 and rising to the same post at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1997. Although most of his activities were in Germany, he was principal guest conductor at the Teatro Comunale of Bologna in the 1990s, and made guest appearances with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the San Francisco Opera, among other top companies abroad. Thielemann made his first conducting appearance at the Bayreuth Festival in 2000, and soon he became a favorite of festival director Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of composer Richard Wagner, to whose works Bayreuth has served as a kind of shrine. He became chief musical advisor at Bayreuth in 2008 and has continued to conduct Wagner performances there. In 2000, a letter appeared in the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung quoting an anti-Semitic remark by an unnamed figure in Berlin's musical establishment and aimed at Barenboim's directorship of the Berlin State Opera. It was alleged that the statement had come from Thielemann, who denied it vociferously; Barenboim said that in the absence of solid evidence he accepted Thielemann's claim. Whatever his political views, Thielemann qualifies as a cultural conservative; he rarely conducts music from later than the early 20th century, and this has held true even as more of his activities have been devoted to instrumental music. As chief conductor of the Münchener Philharmoniker (Munich Philharmonic) from 2004 to 2011, and of the Dresden Staatskapelle (Dresden State Orchestra) since 2012, he has emphasized German and Austrian music from Mozart to Bruckner in his repertory. In 2015, Thielemann was in the running to for the coveted post of music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, but orchestra members split between him and Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. Eventually, a third candidate, Kirill Petrenko, was appointed. Thielemann serves as director of the Salzburg Easter Festival. He has made many recordings with the Münchener Philharmoniker and the Staatskapelle Dresden, most of them released on the Deutsche Grammophon label, and in 2019 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic's popular annual New Year's Concert for the first time.