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Berlin’s first female orchestra conductor brushes off comparisons to Lydia Tár

Joana Mallwitz, the new chief conductor at Berlin's Konzerthaus (left), and Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in the film 'Tár' (right).
Joana Mallwitz, the new chief conductor at Berlin's Konzerthaus (left), and Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in the film 'Tár' (right). Copyright AP Photo / Focus Features
Copyright AP Photo / Focus Features
By Anca Ulea
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Joana Mallwitz took up her role as chief conductor of Berlin's Konzerthaus last month. The internet can't stop comparing her to Cate Blanchett's character in the Oscar-nominated film 'Tár'.

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In case you missed it, last month Joana Mallwitz became chief conductor and artistic director of Berlin’s  Konzerthausorchester.

The Hildesheim native broke a major glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to conduct one of the seven large orchestras in the German capital. At 37, she’s also the youngest.

Since her new gig was announced, Mallwitz’ name and photo have been ubiquitous across the city – and social media has latched onto the comparison between Mallwitz and the villainous fictional music conductor Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett in the film Tár.

Lydia Tár was also a chief conductor of a large Berlin orchestra, and Blanchett bears more than a passing resemblance to Mallwitz. The  Konzerthausorchester was even accused of deliberately leaning into the similarities in promotional materials to take advantage of the online buzz.

In a recent interview with British daily newspaper The Guardian, Mallwitz admitted that she hasn’t yet seen the Oscar-nominated film, and that she’s perplexed by the parallels people have drawn between herself and its titular character.

“The comparisons between me and her – well, it’s just the hair, right? To be honest, people have been saying to me for the past 20 years that I and Blanchett look a little bit alike,” Mallwitz told The Guardian. “And you know, I’m sure she has no clue about me.”

An illustrious career

Berlin is just the latest chapter in Mallwitz’s impressive career, which began when she was just 19.

In 2014, she became the youngest General Music Director in Europe at 27, when she took her first music director post at Theater Erfurt in the 2014/2015 season.

Joana Mallwitz conducting the Junge Staatsphilharmonie at the Nuremberg Klassik Open Air family concert in July.
Joana Mallwitz conducting the Junge Staatsphilharmonie at the Nuremberg Klassik Open Air family concert in July.Heiko Becker/dpa

After that, she made her mark across the continent at major venues in almost every European city – including the Nationale Opera Amsterdam, the Semperoper Dresden, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Bavarian State Opera, the Frankfurt Opera, the Royal Danish Opera, the Norwegian National Opera and the Zurich Opera.

But Mallwitz’s status as one of the outstanding conductors of her generation was written in ink after her acclaimed debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2020 with Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.”

Her refreshing approach to conducting and her emphasis on interacting with audiences, notably in her popular Expeditionskonzert format where she and her musicians help contextualise a piece of music for audiences ahead of a concert, have established her as an exciting young presence in the oft-stuffy world of classical music.

This year, she was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, an award given to artists who promote education, cohesion, the arts and democracy in the country.

On top of her duties as chief conductor at the Konzerthaus, Mallwitz will also make her US debut this season at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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