Gidon Kremer posts English version of his attack on festival hype

Gidon Kremer posts English version of his attack on festival hype


norman lebrecht

July 22, 2011

The great violinist, concerned about inadequate translations and possible misrepresentations of his reasons for withdrawing from the Verbier Festival, has sent me the following approved English text of his statement. I post it verbatim.

To whom it may concern

You of course remember Mark Twain’s lines to the publisher – “the rumors about my death are highly exaggerated”. Another quote belongs to the great Mstislav Rostropovich, who knew perfectly that the only justification for traveling alone with one’s spouse in those weird Soviet times, was to refer to one’s “unstable health condition”. Instead of “playing this card”, he used the following wording while applying for an exit visa for his spouse from the Soviet government:

“Dear comrades. Because I feel perfectly well and do not experience any health problems, I do want to ask your permission for my wife, the singer Galina Vishnevskaya, to join me on my next concert trip”.

Since your website published a questionable statement issued by the Verbier festival, announcing my cancellation due to “health problems”, I received numerous messages from known and unknown friends concerned for my well being.

My intention today is to use your website to reassure everyone that I am actually fine. To be “tired” does not mean to be ill. Exactly the opposite: tiredness can be seen as an extension of ones state of health and a sign of a busy and active life.

Therefore, unfortunately I must oppose the words and actions of those, who seem to be attempting to give the falsified impression that I am sick.

Dear friends and music lovers,

I am still fine. And I do hope to be around for a while. Sorry if this could be perceived as a challenge. There are many “good behaving” artists, who are obediently following the imposed “rules of the game” with endless hope that this will somehow lead them to “success”.

Some of those artists are obvious victims of aspects of this modern musical industry. Stepping out of a festival with a high profile and great ratings, I do question the integrity of those gifted musicians who are ready to trade their talent for symbolic “recognition” on the wall of “stars”.

I simply want to distance myself from the hype of “eventful gatherings”. My goal has always been to SERVE music and composers, and it will always remain to be. To please crowds, promoters and managers is another issue.

My letter, addressed to the respected organizers of the Verbier festival says it all.

I just want to underline in this text once more the symptoms of the real disease, which strongly spreads, while not always being obvious and “visible”.

All of us must be aware of the dangers that surround young talent today. They too easily become victims of promotional policies and success, especially if the last comes “too early”.

There is a certain tendency to look at brilliant instrumentalists as the “personalities”, which often they are not. Why? Because many of them are able to conquer the most difficult scores with ease, but have little to “say” as a result of it. Thank God there are also those who have the talent, ability and discipline to go into the depths of music making.

To become a real artist, to nurture one’s talent, to discover ones own path in life, this in music takes TIME and EFFORT.

It seems that the music market and its certain “rules” aiming for a quick promotion do often neglect these aspects of creative growth.

Therefore, many wonderful young and gifted artists become victims of a well-orchestrated success, which in fact becomes a real hindrance for them to discover………themselves.

All those for whom Music means more than a vehicle of self-promotion or a subject of small talk, should be reminded of its deep meaning. The fetish of following “names” should not make us blind or deaf. The history of music (supported by many documents of recorded material) should remind us of what real gemstones are, and not allow us to accept many artificial imitations.

Somehow quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, I would say:

“Life without music would be a mistake”.

It is also a mistake for it to be filled (as it happens often today) with many “raising stars” and making this emphasis on entertainment and “small talk” part of our culture.


To come to such a conclusion allows me to feel stronger and healthier, not always to be available when asked.


I do not expect everyone to share my point of view, but I am can reassure you that it is not related to any “health problems” as used misleadingly by the Verbier festival as an excuse while announcing my cancellation.


Nevertheless, I hope the guests and musicians of this year’s festival, will enjoy all the “fabulous performers” and special events.


I am sorry not to walk on stage with some of my dear friends.


Let’s hope we’ll still share music we all love, in the future.


Yours sincerely

Gidon Kremer.


  • Steve says:

    Still can’t say I understand why he canceled.

    • Sebastian says:

      Read the title:)

      • steven burnard says:

        Is it because he’s tired or because he “wants to distance himself from the hype”? Either way it’s a poor excuse for the many disappointed concert-goers of the festival. If you accept the booking, at least have the professionalism to honour it…

  • cidero says:

    I think ‘raising stars’ should be ‘rising stars’…

  • Zela Wola says:

    And how can one “serve” music and composers without performance and an audience? So you’re fed up and tired of it all, fine and leave it to that. Don’t be pompous and arrogant by claiming a moral high ground over the young artists who try their hardest to find their way.

    • The Coockie says:

      In fact, one can and must serve music VERY WELL without audiences and arrogant and pompous writers like yourself! So called “young artists” these days are 99% self promoters and do not take any interest in Music, but only in competitions as a vehicle for self promotion. Kremer is thousand times right saying what he says, exposing the “politically correct” organizers of the Verbier Festival in serving their own interests and not the Music!

      • flurina says:

        u r right…….

      • it’s more ‘pompous and arrogant’ to make sweeping statements about young artists…99% self promoters? Don’t make me laugh! I work a lot with young artists at our own music festival. They are dedicated, passionate about music and very hard working. They KNOW they still have much to learn, and if that includes learning about marketing themselves, then good for them! They are not all going to find agents to get work for them and they have to live! I would always rather work directly with an artist than an agent anyway. We can work to build creative programmes aimed at widening the audience for classical music, without compromising its beauty and integrity. Or we can just sit smugly back and wait for the audiences to dwindle, and eventually die out.

    • J Sutherland says:

      It’s interesting to notice that those who are negative about Kramer’s decision, end up supporting the “morality” of remaining obedient to the music making industry. the ability to reach into oneself to find the “place” where musical meaning lives, has absolutely no relationship to the music industry. Music itself isn’t an industry, although there are many who have made it so global and so financially rewarding that it can shift in that direction. When a musician begins to feel they are required to perform not for themselves and their audience, but for the industry, for money, they have to take care. What that ‘taking care’ will mean for each player/singer/conductor will be unique and differ in each case. Some situations will be solved privately and we’ll never hear about those. There may even be musicians who get ill and die, and we never find out that it was their stress levels and internal conflicts which made them ill. Kramer had to go public and cancel a gig. maybe he taught his listeners a valuable lesson about the heart of a person and their music making.

      • Thank you J. Sutherland. This is helpful: “When a musician begins to feel they are required to perform not for themselves and their audience but for the industry, for money, they have to take care.” In a day and age when it seems like the “great composers” have become a resource that’s taken for granted as much as any other resource that’s disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s like any other part of the planet earth, of the human soul that’s being sold off for profit. I’m not saying that there aren’t any live composers worthy of being part of the stream of healing that has come forth to be in the repertoire, I’m just pointing out the difference between doing something for money and doing it for your soul. And now we hit the snag. I know enough people who would joke about doing it for money, although this isn’t the case when you truly look at it. On the other hand, there are enough that say they do music for music’s sake and are so pious, rigid and stolid with their indoctrination that it seems they are doing it more for the whip that drives the slaves. One might look at people who say that one should only play the notes as written, and then in doing this, not only overlook quite a lot (Mozart’s, Bach’s, Vivaldi’s, Haydn’s: the whole baroque and classical periods music was written a whole half step lower, for them a b was closer to our b-flat, when read on the page; one was expected to ornament, the second repeat in a classical sonata is hardly ever taken in these times, cadenzas actually were improvised) but even here, in just the notes as they are read common practice in these times a half step up, they don’t acknowledge practice of the period regarding expectations of phrasing, slowing down to herald important cadences; and then believe that just playing soft is what a piano is about or just playing loud is what a forte is, etc. To play in a sterile manner which would insult Bach’s passion is being true to the notes? Just because a composer is dead, is an excuse to become so refined technically in how one performs his music that it’s truly a caricature of the refinement that went into the tastes of the day when the music was written amongst composers whose music hasn’t survived not having the instinct to grow towards the light of the sun. So, and then there are others who are more brash in their interpretations, not pretending to be so “objective” in their performance and say that they play from the heart, and who get the masses involved with the ebb and flow of their phrasing as they play with great emoting ability as if it’s a Hollywood tear jerker, an action thriller chase scene, or a sentimental depiction of the good life you are rewarded with when you when you follow set rules; and yet again this is as little more emotional as the other is more true to the notes. And then there are countless combinations of these two at different levels. One saying they do it for the money might be more true to the music for music’s sake than one saying that he does it for the music in all his pious tension. However, it is possible to actually do music for music’s sake and have it be music for music’s sake, and not have to say “I’m just doing it for money,” in order to free oneself from indoctrination of purists. I don’t even worry about it. Music has a magic all it’s own regardless of motivation. And in every person, regardless of what they think they are doing, or what others think they are doing, or what I think they are doing, there is a spark that is completely music. Or that anyone reading this actually knows what I’m trying to say when I have pretty much stated that either way you go is completely wrong, or that they can be completely assured that these fingers are real which typed these words which because they appear on a screen and can be looked up in a dictionary for consensus to have a meaning that one can make judgment upon. Or to go look at what he (I) wrote earlier to see what I (he) meant because that is what it said the last time. And then actually, a rose is a rose? Scoundrels!

  • Roelof Alexander Bijkerk says:

    What I think is “arrogant and pompous” is for people to act like Kremer, after years of performing and truly giving his heart to music: that it’s his duty to be on call as a product (which he certainly has no lack of having already been) or he’s claiming a higher ground than the very people he’s trying to defend. He states it very clearly: He says that music is more than a selling of names, and that the hype to sell names has gotten in the way of many artist’s ability, opportunity or even desire to find themselves.
    Music is more than performances and audiences. If that’s all it was it would have never entered the mind of say Schubert to give him a resource in life that he severely needed. If all it was was prestige then it wouldn’t have the value that it does have, and that is that it can bring harmony into one’s life and be the source of self discovery. This is something quite different than giving a number of concerts and becoming a name. In fact, it can be the complete opposite, given the present environment, although this is nothing new. And he isn’t trying to make himself superior to artists who try their hardest, he is defending those whose sensitivity is or would be crushed by the rules of the game. If you haven’t become aware that this is going on, you perhaps are missing something the “hype” will never give you, something you could never buy. You might even be playing brand name wars as to who is the best performer rather than actually listening to the music and allowing it to change your life — something even the performers of whom you would say it is their duty to be marketed have to do, to survive all of it.

  • flurina says:

    gidon seems to be coming to his senses. to me he was the bad guy who critized szeryng (!!!!!!!!) and played with maisky….pretty sad. but i do like his playing, sometimes, very much-

  • Solomon says:

    His argument is rather ambiguous; If he wants to speak out against SPECIFIC problems in the music business; fine by me – but in the above letter I don’t see any real issue except for a general disgruntlement against the “game”, and a general argument against the commercialism and exposure that will inevitably plague (and has always plagued) the music world.

    He is also liable for hypocrisy. For instance when he says “Stepping out of a festival with a high profile and great ratings I do question the integrity of those gifted musicians who are ready to trade their talent for symbolic “recognition” on the wall of “stars”,” – it must not be forgotten that Mr. Kremer burst upon the musical scene himself in 1976 at the Salzburg Festival. Who is to say that by accepting that prestigious engagement as a young man he was not “ready to trade his talent for symbolic recognition”.

    I am not questioning Mr. Kremer’s integrity or decision, I’m sure it was made with the most sincere conviction, but he did a less than stellar job of articulating those convictions in this letter.

  • Zela Wola says:

    I’m not questioning Mr Kremer’s ability as a musician, nor do I question his decision – It’s his to make.
    I’m questioning his claim of “serving music”….as if one can.
    One might argue to the same extend to serve GOD.
    I believe it is a false start – if not stopping, of any discussion by taking a moral high ground over anyone who might question your arguments upon which you base your decision or conviction.

    Having said that, I truly do wish Mr Kremer well and many more years of fine music making – and if it pleases the crowd all the better. For music serves people in all their mood swings and it is up to the people to decide how they want to be served. And it’s up to the artist to partake or not by choosing his/her path.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    When Verbier started in the early 1990s, Martin Engstrom’s goal was to create a mountain musical retreat like the Aspen Festival. His vision was lofty and far reaching. Both venues have evolved into something that bears little resemblance to their original ideals. One could argue that Aspen has done a better job of retaining its educational mission in spite of recent public turmoil concerning its artistic and administrative leadership. I have heard glorious performances at Verbier but then I have also witnessed others which were not always at the highest artistic level because of lack of preparation or because of performers not at their best for whatever reason. The social milieu there can be a distraction for participants as at many other high profile events, but the Verbier Academy and the Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra are certainly positives for music students from around the world.

    Having witnessed the musical hills and valleys of Verbier first hand from 1996-2001 (the metaphor of a “wall of stars” in Gidon Kremer’s most recent letter is an impression that other visitng artists have frequently expressed at least to me), I think we should accept the Verbier Festival and Academy as an important summer festival with its own strengths and weaknesses like any other artistic endeavor, but also accept and respect Kremer’s desire no longer to be a part of it. He has nothing to lose and certainly nothing to prove. The Verbier Festival, I’m sure, will be more careful in the future when publishing the reasons for an artist’s cancellation. There are many names in our profession about whom one can say: “available each season for a limited number of cancellations” but I don’t believe that Gidon Kremer has ever been in that dubious cohort. Let’s wish both Gidon Kremer and Martin Engstrom well as they apparently go their separate ways. Ainsi-soit-il, as we say here in Paris.

  • John S says:

    Part of the “litmus” test of the seriousness of a concert goer is to see which concerts they attend and when. Do you need beautiful surrondings, mountains, lakes or even other grand natural settings that summer festivals offer? Or can you attend a fall/winter/spring concert in an concert hall? As I said, it’s not accurate since people attend both. But the crowds at the summer and winter concerts are different.