Gidon Kremer's rebellion – a leading maestro voices his support

Gidon Kremer's rebellion – a leading maestro voices his support


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2011

The conductor Fabio Luisi, music director at Zurich Opera and principal guest at the Met, has issued a personal endorsement of Gidon Kremer’s attack on the machinations of the classical music industry and its manufacture of fake stars.

I present Fabio’s letter without commentary. His views on the British classical industry in particular will be widely supported. Here’s Fabio:


Dear Norman,

It is all about balancing business, audience reception and art – an old issue, if we think of “Wunderkinder” in the past. But now it is not so much about “Wunderkinder”, more about the managers’ (and audience’s) loss of capacity of discerning between talent, appearance and real musical maturity.
Take singers, for example. Could Jessye Norman have become Jessye Norman without her time spent in Düsseldorf as member of the Ensemble, allowing her to deepen the repertoire and to learn new roles away from the “big” (and dangerous) stages, and even making a pause for learning, refusing to sing opera for five years?
Or conductors: Karajan without having been in Aachen, Kleiber in Stuttgart, Thielemann as coach in Berlin and Bayreuth (and then in Nürnberg as conductor), emerging on the “big” podiums of important orchestras and opera houses relatively late.
We are now experiencing an attitude of  “the younger, the better”, insinuating the following message: if they conduct (or sing, or play) with such orchestras, in such opera houses, in TV, on DVD, they must really be geniuses. They are presented as such and the media swallow these PR-strategies, slavishly repeating pre-cooked sentences.
This means profit for PR-agencies, for artist management companies (sorry to say this, Norman – British companies have a lot of responsibility in this) and eventually for promoters and presenters as well.
I don’t blame institutions for being a part (the paying one, actually) in this circus: I probably would act alike, since my priority would be to sell tickets and to have artists in my season whom the public recognise. I blame those who sell as “art” something which is mainly “business”, and those who are not willing to tell (or maybe to see? even worse!) that “the emperor has no clothes”.
We see many young, gifted musicians who reach the most important music places in the world, pushed by managers and sought after by presenters who must constantly offer “fresh meat” to the audience: the next Netrebko, the next Pavarotti, the next Bernstein, the next Rubinstein, the next Oistrakh. They are “the nextes” and they don’t have time to be themselves, to develop to be themselves – many of them will disappear soon (we already have seen how many have disappeared after a couple of CDs, after concerts in Salzburg, Verbier, after productions in Milano, New York or London) although they might have talent and skills for a serious career.
This is the reason I appreciate this wonderful Gidon Kremer letter, because it is fresh, ironical, true and it comes from a real artist which constantly worked on himself trying to improve himself, refusing to be pushed by whomever.
photo: Barbara Luisi


  • Paul Barker says:

    As a composer, teacher and performer I consider both these letters as beacons of light. Whilst they may not alter certain ubiquitous global trends, they do at least articulate the presence of an alternative and enduring perception of classical music and the arts. And I do not believe that their point of view is exclusive to the world of classical music. I would hope this provocation might escalate to the largest scale.

  • Dear Gideon, dear Fabio, thank you so much for hope what you are given to every musician with you letters! You are speaking right things and we are looking forward to see more reactions by fameous artists. Go on and please fight for a better future of musical art!

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      I certainly agree with Gidon Kremer’s letter and Fabio Luisi’s equally eloquent response. Given my background, I’m forced to ask the question: what role do our conservatories and university-related schools of music play in this complicated situation? What must a music school do to prepare graduating young artists for this bottom-line oriented profession which often forgets the high musical and artistic standards of their faculty who must also speak to students about these issues? The under-rehearsed and over-priced events of some summer music festivals are an increasingly apparent symptom of a much larger problem. How to solve it when managers and promoters are mostly concerned with box office revenues and not the quality of artistic expression? If more performers of Gidon Kremer’s stature were willing to take a public stand against crass commercialization and in favor of maintaining the highest musical goals, their leadership would inspire young performers to follow their example and say no when standards are compromised. Let’s hope this letter is the beginning of a trend that will benefit both performers and audiences.

      Robert Fitzpatrick, Paris
      Former dean, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (retired in 2009)

      • That’s a really important question. Conservatories need to re-examine their intimacy with leading agencies. All too often, they imperil the talent they are training. Curtis has always been careful, Juilliard not.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Not sure I completely agree with you on that, Norman. Curtis, and many other schools, could also do more to insulate rising stars from the clutches of overly eager managers.

          • I was being courteous, Robert. You know the situation at Curtis better than I do. If you’d like to write a case history of any such premature exploitation, I’m sure it would add materially to the discussion.

        • Sandra Belic says:

          You are sooo right about Curtis and Julliard !

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Duly noted. I shall refrain from gory details and conclude by saying that it’s often the school’s inability to control the ambitions of the parents of these young virtuosi that is at the root of the problem. Bravo to Kremer for taking a stand. Thanks for listening.

  • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

    Just wondering if this righteous veneer peeling exercise will extend to the “breathtaking freshness” of inferred “Live performance” editing…

    • Andreas says:

      Wonderful question! Studio recordings are giving us “ideal ” picture of the piece, but in my opinion real live performance is much more adequate. Why we are accepting fake sound landscapes done by ( ok, very talented) sound masters? Music performance is unique because it is unrepeatable. Recording give you the chance to repeat again and again the same ( in case of studio recording) perfomance.
      But why we are so happy about it !!??
      Its like watching exactly the same sunset every day! But even the overwelming sunset at Key West is every day different!! Always extremely beautiful , and always SO different!

      Sorry for my English…

  • Michael P Scott says:

    Thank you for posting this, Norman. The concept of the “nextes” had not occurred to me, but it makes so much sense.

    And, frankly, anyone that allows themselves to be referred to as “…the next” will probably fail.

    I think their response ought to be, “No, I’m NOT the ‘next’ ________. I’m the first _________!”


  • Kapell says:

    “What must a music school do to prepare graduating young artists for this bottom-line oriented profession which often forgets the high musical and artistic standards of their faculty who must also speak to students about these issues?” Perhaps try not admitting too many students , with little hope of careers, into too many schools ? To keep too many faculty,without careers, employed ?

    ” The under-rehearsed and over-priced events of some summer music festivals are an increasingly apparent symptom of a much larger problem.” One problem festivals address is providing additional chances for many musicians , especially young ones, to gain exposure and earn some revenue to support themselves , in a world of declining CM opportunities, fierce competition for dates, and disappering cd sales ?

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Touché. But, if we have fewer music schools (and yes, I agree there are too many, admitting students with no chance for a performing career), and have fewer summer music festivals, will the problem which Gidon Kremer addresses go away? The dilution of standards began long ago with the increase in the number of performances each year by the same artists world-wide. Perhaps we should blame the jet-plane and insists that all performing artists travel by ship to give them time to reflect and practice (hmmmm, I like the sound of that) and perform no more than 9 months per year like in the good old days. Unrealistic, certainly.

  • […] vidare debatt i musikvärlden. Via bloggaren Norman Lebrecht har dirigenten Fabio Luisi skrivit ett svar, en medhållande kommentar, om hans syn på det hela. Läs, det kan tyckas självklart, och visst […]

  • Ronald Ein says:

    Yes to most of the above. As an amateur violinist I have accompanied many truly gifted young musicians and worried as to their ultimate careers. A very few seem to have not just talent but great musical gifts that will lift them to professional status, if they so choose. But most will make a living doing something else. My musical colleagues are doctors, lawyers, game designers, programmers, system administrators, genetic and life science researchers, academics of all stripes, not-for-profit staffers. It is the questionable promise of becoming a star that finally confronts so many young musicians, who then share their gifts through local music. The entire music education system has to include greater knowledge of and respect for community-based musicianship, built on abiding love for music and willing to do it for free, for joy, for life.

  • Christine says:

    This is indeed a discouraging phenomenon. I enjoyed the example of Jessye Norman. For me, singing in Düsseldorf would be the equivalent of “making it big!” It’s one of Germany’s better houses where quality live performances take place day in day out. But even there (and in similar opera houses), people like me who have done the work, gathered the experience and jumped through every necessary hoop there is to become an excellent artist, are being surpassed by singers in there early to mid-twenties (!) who have better “management.”

  • triumvirmusic says:

    As a product of both Curtis and Juilliard, I am happy to report that, in the case of COMPOSERS (the font of our musical art!), we remain, as always, nearly completely isolated from managers. The public for the young, Wunderkind composer is much, much smaller — almost negligible, in fact — than that for performers. There are certain recent, rather well-known exceptions, of course. The problem is that most of us composers rely on interpreters for making our way in the world. As more and more of the world’s main stages are offered to younger and younger “mainstream” artists (nearly all of whom interpret the work of the PAST), I fear we will hear less and less work of the FUTURE.

    Luckily, there exist “bubble locations” (read: New York), in which there are vibrant new-music scenes, very much set apart from mainstream, institutional classical music. Ironically, these scenes are ALSO populated by young performers! So, who knows where all this will lead? My hunch is that, ultimately, “talent will out,” as a former (Pulitzer Prize-winning) teacher once told me. . . . Something else tells me that in twenty-five years, we will ALL (God willing) be living in a very different world of “classical music.”

    Daniel Ott
    Faculty, The Juilliard School
    Asst. Prof. of Thoery & Composition, Fordham University

  • Uri Zur says:

    Although I am in the industry and (so called) “pusher” of my own represented talents – I totally agree with Maestro Fabio Luisi and Mr. Gideon Kremer.
    The run after the “shooting stars” and making quick “plastic career” haas become a fashion that kills the arts and give bad name to good managerial skills and business.
    True that every now and then we acknowledge a superstar or Wunderkind. However, at the same token – many of the “persons in charge” today, don’t even care to make any afford to search for the REAL talents, and sometimes forget to help those who are developing slowly in the same market Mo Luisi has mentioned in his letter.
    Some decision makers, who are in charge of these career junctions, are keen to hire only what is businesslike sold to them by very well and expensive oiled PR machines as ‘ticket seller’.

  • John S says:

    I’m a former musician with a degree in theory and comp and 1 year of grad school in the same. Unfortunately, I could not indulge my passion because I lost enough of my hearing while having bombs explode around me underwater while in Vietnam. I was drafted and became a US Navy Diver and EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal). I do enjoy attending concerts and the majority of my friends are professional classical or jazz musicians. However I digress.

    When I hear this argument, I am reminded of the the movie “Amadeus”, towards the end, where Salieri turns to people and intones “mediocrities”. Unfortunately, we live in a dumbed down world compared to the past and believe any PR blitz about the latest, greatest new artist (Lang Lang? Sorry. I couldn’t resist). It doesn’t matter that, while many of these artists can play the notes, they have no real feel or connection to the music. You can probably train monkeys to almost play as well. The thing that used to make the Horowitz’s, Stern’s, etc. of this worlds unique seems to no longer apply. It’s as if people are more impressed with a child playing what sounds like the notes accurately than they are with someone who has developed a musical language that has something to say. The “business” of music and its slavish devotion to profit based on the “next Horowitz” or such is what is ruining music. Add to that the dumbed-down audience that attends these concerts and you have a recipe for the ruination of classical music. PS…have you noticed that their aren’t very many unattractive younger artists anymore? Business even pitches them based on looks as well as the “next” superstar. Can an ugly artist even make it as a distinguished soloist anymore? All this represents a society that values looks and the superficial and “newness” of artists over the depth and communication they offer. Classical music is being poisoned by this trend.

    For me, the argument over whether art imitates life or vice versa is answered by our time; for certain, it’s art imitating life now.

  • You might also consider what happened to Mario Lanza, in this discussion. This is a whole different generation, but that’s someone who was completely ruined and disenchanted by the celebrity world. Some German director thought that he sang “too emotional,” fired him from MGM and then Mario never recovered, wondering what that was all about, to be treated like that after he put his whole heart into his singing…

  • […] de mire. Son appel, largement diffusé sur la toile, et repris par un chef de la notoriété de Fabio Luisi alimente le […]

  • I’ve read Kremer’s letter and I think he’s being unrealistic and maybe a little jealous.

    Is any of what Kremer says really more true today than it has been in the past? Young artists have always been pushed by promoters. The public likes to see new things. That was as true of artists like Horowitz, Rubinstein, Mehta, Bernstein, and Ormandy as it is with Kissin, Argerich, Perahia, Dudamel, and the rash of violin prodigies. That list includes musicians like Anne Sophie-Mutter, Hilary Hahn, and Gidon Kremer. For every one of these artists in the past, there were many talents who didn’t make it and many artists who were unable to develop original personalities.

    And by the way, it seems that maybe Dudamel is on Kremer’s (or Luisi’s) mind here. Guess what: Dudamel had plenty of experience before he conducted in LA. He started at 17. And guess what: hiring old conductors is not a great way to bring in a young audience. Young conductors who are talented will grow into their jobs.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily true, either. Having watched a number of the performances on the net this year, I have had an opportunity to hear the splendid Martin Helmchen for the first time as well as the Capucon brothers. Recently, I watched a performance from 2008 with Menachem Pressler and Salvatore Accardi that was excellent. These are not young people with sex appeal.

    And I find a hint of jealousy in all of this, much like when Lang Lang became a big deal. Is Lang Lang the world’s greatest pianist? No. Does the reach he has and the personality he exudes open up new markets for classical music? Absolutely. And do opportunities like Verbier give him a chance to refine his art, as it clearly has Evgeny Kissin? Yes.

    One of the things I like about Verbier is that it brings together these superstar soloists to play chamber music in the first place, and the performances sound wonderful to me.

    The reality is that the audience for classical music is shrinking and the talent field is crowded. Relying on some of the marketing techniques that every other industry has used forever to sell products is not always a bad thing, and I do not think the music is suffering for it.

    • With these celebrity performers who attract crowds because of consumerism, you don’t end up opening up new markets for classical music, you turn people off who are truly interested and you end up with people interested in consumerism, who makes the most money, sex appeal, personality cults and “I’ve got to hear him he was on the news.” This is why the audience is shrinking. Everyone flocking to hear certain big names does not create a new market regardless of how many people go to the concerts of these select few or buy their CDs. It turns the rest of the people off who would have gone for less superficial reasons. That this has approached a new level and decreased people’s interest does not make those who point it out in any way jealous. Continuing the trends that were current when the market shrank isn’t going open it up again. And Kremer, in this letter which was at first meant to be private but was misrepresented by Verbier, never said that what he’s describing pertains to the whole classical music scene. Thankfully there are and always will be true artists.

  • Chris Hoh says:

    Amen, to Fabio Luisi and Gidon Kremer. Give me a mature, slowly-ripened performer any day over a wunderkind. George Manos, longtime music director at Washington’s National Gallery used to speak of up-and-coming artists who “need to eat more pasta,” i.e. get more experience in music and life under their belt before being ready for the big time. That stuck with me as a kid and decades later I appreciate it all the more. Thanks for the great discussion.

  • When an economy or a country has been destabilized and people feel they are losing their dream, many fall prey to false hope. They look at media figures that emulate a certain lifestyle and think that that is happiness. This is what corporate media is selling. And when people flock to certain big names because of consumerism (I don’t have to mention names, everyone knows who’s a sell out) this actually takes away from the market in general, because it destabilizes it, it turns off the people that would actually be interested in the music and not the names (thus the shrinking market, despite certain big names attracting large crowds).

  • ariel says:

    Having read the letter by Mr. Luisi “disingenuous ” comes to mind . Gidon Kremer was and probably is still
    a fine artist- what irks him is that after all these years of hard work he is taking second place to “upstarts”
    Having been in the field professionally before Mr. Kremer or Mr. Luisi were born let me note that their “angst ”
    is laughable .-it has always been this way -talent comes and goes -some stay longer than they should and
    some not enough .Mr. Kremer in his time was a prize winning “upstart ” and was after fame and glory if not money
    the same as any present upcoming ” unproven star “. Mr. Luisi knows it is all a” circus of pretension ‘ and now
    he will be furthering it on a grander scale in the house of the dead and I don’t refer to Zurich. Both men
    know that at one time “classical” music was thought a calling now it is back to an entertainment – for every
    Lang Lang there is a Anderszewski , nothing has changed except the audience.