'The more we denounce our world of music, the better'

'The more we denounce our world of music, the better'


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2011

A leading Russian pianist has sent me his personal deconstruction of Gidon Kremer’s powerful recent assault on the classical star system. The pianist is Valery Afanassiev and he has included the following passage in his forthcoming memoir, Notes de pianiste,  to be published by José Corti in January 2012.

The translation from the French is his own. Afanassiev, a sometime winner of the Reine Elisabeth competition, is also an accomplished novelist.

Even more interesting – though he doesn’t mention it – Afanassiev was Kremer’s original duo touring partner. And he manages to get a swipe in at some pretty young talents whom Kremer once sponsored. Here’s his Kremer commentary.

Gidon Kremer says in his theatrical play: “I get the feeling that someone wants to kill classical music.” In my opinion, we are not facing an international conspiracy. What happens in the world of music – and in parallel worlds – is worse than any plot, any conspiracy, any natural disaster. One can thwart one’s enemies’ plans or recover from the shock of one’s wife dying. But how to deal with music lovers who don’t understand anything? An unconscious army kills music – and art in general – round the clock.

Gidon writes an open letter to the director of the Verbier Festival. He speaks about the betrayal of music, about the interpreters whose yearning to move a few rungs up the career ladder kills composers again and again. I’m loath to repeat what I’ve already said in this book, all the more so since I haven’t yet finished the diatribe against my contemporaries. I’m delighted to note that the discourse of a famous violinist happens to be attuned to what I think and enlarge upon, but I wonder what goal Gidon set himself as he was writing this letter. Did it originate in the same yearning for glory?

Translated into the Russian by the author himself, the letter can be perused on the Internet, on the Forum called Classica where Russians exchange their points of views and insults. A member of the club writes as follows: “Gidon realises that he’s slowly sinking into oblivion. He’s eager to refresh our memory.” The author of this insult is not altogether wrong. Gidon must realise that violinists – alongside other performing artists – are not immortal; they’re usually forgotten on the day of their deaths or even earlier, depending on when they bid their fans adieu. Oistrakhs and
Michelangelis aren’t born every day.

The style of the letter leaves a lot to be desired. Gidon doesn’t seem to care: he knows that no one judges the writings of a musician in terms of style. (Nor does anyone take notice of style when pondering over a book written by a real writer.) Gidon’s yearning for immortality induces him to “jump above his head”, as the Russians put it; he writes books, theatrical plays. Alas, he is an homme-violon, not an homme-orchestre, as the French might put it. He is not an all-rounder, in other words.

But playing violin as he does is enough for one’s life. And his head almost reaches the ceiling so he doesn’t have to jump above it. I think it’s hard not to kill music in this day and age that is bent on the destruction of traditional values. Gidon does it in his fashion.

He gives a lot of support to young pianists, to young ladies. At the beginning of this book I say that audiences don`t pay much attention to beautiful artists. What counts for them is a self-confident swagger, an unquenchable energy. Is this energy music-oriented? Audiences don’t ask questions; they give answers by applauding young women. So does Gidon. I am always sensitive to beauty, but if Helen of Troy had played the piano atrociously, I wouldn’t have given her a helping hand. I might have invited her to a top restaurant.

I wonder if Gidon’s wards suffer from feelings of inadequacy: they do play the piano. Consciously or unconsciously Gidon overlooks – one can’t say overhears – their almost total lack of musical gifts. Yet he is not a criminal: these wards’ will to power drives them towards other influential men – wolves are also influential – so that they would have become famous even without my friend’s munificence.

I criticise him reluctantly, for I respect his talent and tenacity. And I’m grateful to him for having got his version of J’accuse published: the more we denounce our world of music, the better.


  • Oh, I cannot wait to get my hands on this memoir; a timely testimonial.

  • MWnyc says:

    I criticise him reluctantly, for I respect his talent and tenacity.

    Yes, Valery Pavlovich sounds very reluctant indeed.

    And the inclusion of the reference to wolves (with photo!) right after the reference to Helen of Troy was oh-so-subtle.

    This isn’t a deconstruction of Kremer’s letter; it’s a gratuitous insult hurled at an erstwhile colleague.