Exclusive: String quartet is banned from Wigmore Hall

Exclusive: String quartet is banned from Wigmore Hall


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2015

We have reported the recent travails of the Leipzig Quartet, whose leader Stefan Arzberger has been detained in New York on a charge of attempted murder after being found running naked through a boutique hotel. Arzberger strenuously protests his innocence, insisting he was the victim of a drug assault by a transsexual prostitute.

The quartet have continued their work, strongly supported by the Leipzig music community. Two distinguished players have stepped up successively to replace Stefan in the hot seat. That, however, is not enough for some venues.

The Wigmore Hall has cancelled their forthcoming date, due to the change of personnel.

Matthias Moosdorf, cellist in the quartet, informs Slipped Disc:
While musicians support Stefan and our ensemble with great solidarity the director of Londons Wigmore Hall, John Gilhooly cancelled a concert in June because we are temporarely touring with Conrad Muck instead of Stefan Arzberger. Remarkable is his mail to our agent who wanted to assist him with any support:

Dear Ute,
Please stop emailing us: the decision to cancel is final.
You have broken the contract, and this correspondence is now closed.
No further correspondence will be read or responded to.

John Gilhooly


leipzig string quartet


  • May says:

    This is really bizarre. And a pretty unprofessional attitude from Gilhooly. Had Arzberger broken his arm and Conrad Muck likewise stepped in, could the promoter have cancelled the contract? I would be really interested to know first what sort of details are spelled out in the contract, and secondly, if the concert simply wasn’t selling well….

  • SVM says:

    This seems to be an artistic decision on the basis that a change of personnel would change the sound of the quartet, as opposed to a political decision on the basis of the allegations against Arzberger. I am not sufficiently familiar with the quartet in question to comment on the reasonableness or otherwise of Gilhooly’s stance, although it strikes me as rather draconian — what I would be interested to know is whether Gilhooly had even listened to how the quartet sounds with its temporary first violin?

  • tess says:

    I wouldn’t say they are ‘banned’. Their concert has been cancelled. There are many terrific string quartets around who have built their reputation of being an immaculately compact ensemble on years of playing, rehearsing and breathing together. They are bringing in violinists to stand in their string quartet as 1. violin. Some presenters may feel uncomfortable with the idea that the 1st violin has been replaced on such a short notice and they may fear the quartet may not deliver their standard performance on basis of just a few rehearsals with a new principal. It actually sounds very logical to me. I feel for the other members of the quartet in the same time – they have to pay the price for the actions of their colleague, whichever his circumstances were. It took them years to get where they are and we do not know yet what the consequences will be.

  • suzanne says:

    That is one nasty email.

    • Olassus says:

      Yep. Speaks poorly of Gilhooly. “Dear Ute”? Yuck!

    • Marg says:

      aagree – rather nasty and unsympathetic to a quartet in a very personally difficult situation. Besides, he should remember in future that emails can go viral.

  • Milka says:

    May – yes it is bizarre concert world,but do not expect any honest answers-
    Trifonov is another example as to its workings .

  • CGDA says:

    I fail to understand the real reasons behind this decision. Chamber ensembles change members temporarily or permanently for all sort of reasons but the ensemble (and the name) remain the same. So what’s the problem with this quartet contracting a new cellist?

    As to Mr Arzberger, at this stage he is still innocent ; secondly, even if he had to have a criminal record, this does not exclude him from playing professionally – being a cellist in a string quartet is not in a sensitive job unlike teaching, care work, etc.

  • Billy says:


    We sent you these comments earlier but not sure if they got through, so here they are again:

    I have just spoken to a member of staff at Wigmore Hall. The concert was postponed because the management and the musicians failed to inform Mr Gilhooly of the change in personnel. This was a basic. Every manager in the world would have the good manners honesty to do this. In addition, the quartet are now unable to perform a newly commissioned work for the concert, so faced with a change in leader and in programme, the artistic director, quite rightly changed the programme. It is interesting that the Quartet only chose to put one email in the public domain, not the previous 30, which exasperated Wigmore Hall staff and show had dishonest, underhanded and badly this quartet behaved.

    William Lyne, former director of Wigmore Hall confirms that he has had abusive letters from this String Quartet in the past and in fact had advised Gilhooly to steer clear of them. They clearly are hot headed and unprofessional and have already written very unwise posts about the American judicial system as their leader awaits trial for attempted murder. They clearly also want to destroy their relationship with the hall. It all comes down to poor judgement and dishonesty on the part of both Quartet and management.
    Gilhooly is pretty hard nosed, and very legally aware, I’m sure he would easily make the entire email chain available for all to see. They make the quartet and management look pretty stupid and he looks like a saint!The facts are simple, if you book a quartet, you expect it to turn up as booked. If there is a change of personnel, you write to the promoter to ask them if the change is acceptable. It is pretty idiotic not to do this unless you are being dishonest and underhanded. Wigmore Hall staff say that if Gilhooly was given the honest facts By only publishing one final go away email at the end of a chain of 30 emails, the quartet has shown just how underhanded they can be. Are they willing to publish the entire chain of emails with Wigmore Hall or should Mr Gilhooly do that. The quartet will not come out of it smelling good when he does….

  • Peter says:

    Apparently of all the venues the quartet is touring with guests in the 1st Violin seat for the time being until Arzberger is – hopefully – out of US custody, only Wigmore had the desire to cancel.
    There must be something else to this story, e.g. in a way of a hidden agenda by Gilhooly.

  • Billy Boyd says:

    Having spoken to a member of staff of Wigmore hall, these are the facts:

    1 The Quartet and its management failed to inform Wigmore Hall in writing or by any means that the leader of the quartet had been replaced. Every promoter expects to see the string quartet they actually booked appear for a performance, and it is only good manners, not least a contractural obligation to inform a promoter of such a change.

    2 The Leipzig Quaret also said that it could not perform the programme as originally agreed, including an expensive world premiere which Wigmore Hall had commissioned for the concert in question

    3. The quartet has made public one final email, from Wigmore Hall, which was intended to close the endless and unreasonable correspondence about this issue. They did not publish the 30 proceeding emails showing that the quartet failed to inform the Wigmore Hall’s artistic director of the new line up, and when they eventually also admitted that they could no longer deliver the advertised programme.

    4 To not inform a promoter of a change in personnel in a quartet is bizarre, unprofessional and to say the least dishonest. The Wigmore Hall is particularly legally savvy and and could easily make all of the correspondence available, leaving the Hall smelling of roses on this occasion. Unfortunately a hotheaded musician decided to invent a story, distort the facts and leak a single misrepresentation of the the facts to Norman. It’s a pity that the same hotheaded musician has also released unfortunate comments on the American judicial system whilst his colleague awaits trial for attempted murder. Whilst we all appreciate the needs for quartet members to continue with their performing career when faced with difficult personal circumstances, this does not condone the unprofessional behaviour, statements and management of the quartet. We strongly urge them to think carefully into the future about making false or unwise statements when, as said before, the entire correspondence can be made available for all to see.

    Perhaps however, they would like to consider doing this themselves if they have nothing to hide?

  • Antonie says:

    There must be more to it. Quartets occasionally have to perform with a substitute, because of a player having an accident/injury, or suffering some other circumstance. It is peculiar to penalise the whole quartet for the unfortunate Arzberger incident. I doubt that this Quartet would invite guests to play with them who were not of an outstanding calibre.

    We have only seen Gilhooly’s email – not any of the other correspondence – so can scarcely form an accurate judgement of the situation.

  • Glenn Murray says:

    Come on, people. This is fair. It’s like saying that if violinist X cancels a duo-recital, the pianist should be allowed to do a concert alone. No. Also if the replacement is not up to standards, Wigmore is allowed to cancel. Anyone with the slightest knowlegde of music will know that a first violinist can’t be replaced like you change the wheel of a car.

    Furthermore, private correspondence does OF COURSE not belong here.

    • Una says:

      Sadly, there are plenty of excellent violinists in the world so you can change a first violinist overnight – like the wheel of a car! Even the Secretary of State in America, having fallen off his bike in Switzerland, in not indispensable and life goes on. So don’t understand the Wigmore’s decision when there are substitutes going in all the time. There must be more to it than just substituting a first violinist.

      • Glenn Murray says:

        I can’t tell of a string quartet where members pop in and out. I even can’t remember the last time I saw a major quartet with a replacement – they usually cancel. Isn’t the whole point of a string quartet the uniqe unity of sound they get after several years of playing together?

  • Ursula says:

    The message from Mr. Gilhooly is appalling and extremely arrogant, even if he had been harassed by “Ute” concerning the concert. These types of stuffy, pretentious condescending art institution managers are fortunately members of a dying breed, that today look ridiculous and pure wicked in their tone and attitude. The Wigmore Hall should not have these sorts of characters at their helm, as Victorian England is long gone.

    • James says:

      What a dreadful diatribe, did John Gilhooly sack you early in your career? You don’t even know the facts. He is very good at getting rid of poor staff, sounds like you were one he removed. I think you will find a very United trustee board, staff , audience and hundreds of musicians who know him personally jump to his defence. He was lied to and he reacted as any good leader should. Nobody can do business with liars

      • Moosdorf says:

        Of course we did not lie. Why schould we do this? WH got the full picture and followed the Leipzig Quartet social media on twitter. The truth is that nobody knows how long Stefan is not allowed to travel.

  • Simon says:

    This chain is awful. Is this one of Mr Gilhooy’s staff writing this ill-disguised prose under the name “Billy”? If so, what a spineless move that is. If indeed a member of “Wigmore hall staff” has actually leaked confidential and privileged information regarding a contractual dispute to a third party, regardless of whether this was retaliative or not (a practice the “legally aware” would consider ill-advised), then presumably Mr Gilhooly’s next course of action would be to find this loose-tongued character within his organisation and sack them given the risk of legal exposure they evidently present. Such indiscretion gives their contractual partner cause to file suit – and win – against the Hall. Not a particularly smart move. One shudders to think what their legal counsel would make of this…

  • Billy says:

    So John Gilhooly was lied to by the management of the Leigzig Quartet who harassed him for weeks and failed to
    Inform him that the personnel in the quartet he was expecting had changed. As a result they could no perform a world premiere which Wigmore had paid for. So two major changes! He agreed with the composer of the new work to postpone the concert and they didn’t like it so launch an attack on Wigmore Hall and Gilhooly. Not very nice, not very nice. I doubt if he will be bothered to comment on any of this but anybody who is lied to or mislead is quite entitled to bring corespondence to a close. End of story. And as for Wigmore Hall or Gilhooly being stuffy or pretentious, has anybody seen their twiiter feed? The least stuffy, funniest and most welcoming twitter feed in classical music, many of the qualities to desribe the 40 year old much loved administrator himself over the past decade at the hall. Even his predecessor Williiam Lyne got offensive mail from this particular quatert. I suspect many great musicians and administrators will rush to defend him, if this idiotic thread does not stop and they will use their real names in so doing!

    • Moosdorf says:

      Billy, nothig is right in your description. But you like to use nice words to describe what you did not understood: idiotic, harassing etc.
      Hanna and the other people would like a “postpone” of that premiere. But WH denied this possibility until end of 2018! That is not really a postponing timeline, right?

      Our conversation with W.Lyne was 10-15 years ago. The situation now has nothing to do with that. But it helps a very weak ground to look a bit better. Nice try but poor!

      So what else?

    • Moosdorf says:

      Bill, the Leipzig Quartet did not “harrass anybody for weeks”. We send him only two short mails within the last 4 days. Thats it. Sorry, there is no story!

  • James says:

    So they lied to John Gilhooly and failed to inform him of the change In the quartet’s line up. He closed down the communication eventually as the musicians would not take no for an answer and they couldn’t perform the advertised programme. Interesting that we only get to see one email from Gilhooly. I think he was very restrained not to tell them to F….. Off. Nobody in his position deserves to be lied to or to have their email address made public to its contents. I also hear the final message was written by his office on his behalf as he was travelling and none of his staff could cope with the constant abuse, which they intend to publish. The Wigmore Hall email response should have been much shorter indeed, just two words!!

  • lp says:

    Wigmore Hall is one of the most respected venues in the world and Gilhooly one of the most trusted and wise directors with an OBE to show for it. There certainly is much more we are not being presented with and this one sided presentation is not right – quite hypocritical given the situation!

  • Moosdorf says:

    I have read this inside statement. Please notify this comments:

    1.) Since April we hope that Stefan Arzberger is allowed to travel and play with us very soon. We are dealing with this situation day by day. Of course there is – hopefully – a really chance that HE can play this concert in WH. Who knows. Too early for a final decision.
    2.) The world premier of Hanna Kulentys quartet had to be postponed because the music sheets arrived last week – too late for worthy practice because we are touring in Japan and South America without a single free day in between. And we were surprised that a sound engineer is needed for the performance. Both facts are sad but were not in our hands.
    3.) We offered WH instead of Kulenty the UK premiere of Christobal Halffters Nr.7, dedicated to the LSQ. We invited Hanna to premier her piece during our cycle at Leipzig Gewandhaus in october 2015.

    While all involved parties, including the co-commissioner De Doelen, Rotterdam, were still working on proper solutions, we were already booked on self-paying flights, Mr. Gilhooly wrote his single mail to Ute. Clear, stylish. But unfair and intolerable!

    We try to do almost everything to find well balanced solutions, worldwide and since 1988. But we would like to expect the same from Mr. Gilhooly.


    • Francis says:

      Why don’t you release the full email chain before Wigmore Hall does? It doesn’t show you in a very good light! You are going to look very foolish when they do. You shouldn’t have put a private email in the public domain and you have lost all your integrity. I doubt if any UK promoter will ever book you again.

      • Moosdorf says:

        Francis, thank you! I asked our management for this. I will be their decision. Because almost all correspondance was between them and WH. We do not have anything to hide…

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    Is there a chance we could see more of the correspondence ?

  • Bviolinistic says:

    This says much more about the lack of integrity of the quartet than it does about the staff at Wigmore Hall

  • Francis says:

    This is extraordinary. A String Quartet lies to a promoter, he reacts by telling them to get their act together and they leak part of an email chain to Slipped Disc. They must be very stupid. Should they not just shut up whilst they wait to hear if their leader is convicted of attempted murder of not. Moreover, they have now broken the law again by posting Gilhooly’s private email address and edited highlights of his emails to distort the facts. Wigmore Hall is represented by the top legal firm Harbottle and Lewis. Gilhooly is highly respected, but he is a tough nut. I would be very worried if he sets the lawyers on them. They should really have thought this one out!

    • Peter says:

      Why do you say so matter-of-factly that the quartet lied? Because that seems not obvious, following the statements of both sides above. They might not be able to fulfill their contractual obligations in Wigmore, but WHY that seems to be not so clear.
      The situation with Arzberger is in the public domain, why should they have lied about it?
      The situation with the world premier of the commissioned string quartet seems to be not the musician’s fault.

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    So I assume that the Wigmore Hall is going to pay them as it is they (The Wigmore) who have cancelled it so they will have to pay the quartet.

    • Moosdorf says:

      Of course WH do not want to pay! Not enough: we already paid cheap tickets to save THEIR budget. Nobody will refund these tickets.
      Thats fair play?

    • Moosdorf says:

      No, they won’t pay anything, including our already prepaid air-tickets. Is that fairplay?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The Leipzig Quartet is one of the very best now-a-days. I hope all those problems will be resolved soon.

  • James says:

    I have friends who worksat the Hall. They say that the Director’s Assistant was pestered for weeks by the Quartet management who openly admit in an email that they failed to notify the Hall of the change in leader. That is an admission of dishonesty. This whole thing is really stupid and I’m glad that the hall has not directly responded themselves. I think the quartet should publish all the emails between their management and themselves and the Hall. Their abusive mails were shocking, but they have form in this regard. So with lies and email abuse, of course, the leader of the organisation is going to step in a close down discussion and protect his staff! Time for you all to end this foolish spam. Gilhooly will never comment, in fact, we hear he is laughing at the whole thing as are his staff. Time to end this as they won’t budge or get involved in an online dispute. Calm down and stop inflaming a non story.

    • Peter says:

      why dishonesty? It could have been simply a regrettable oversight. Small from the POV of a quartet’s management that is in crisis mode and has much bigger problems due to their 1st violin being arrested and tried in NYC.

  • Moosdorf says:

    “Gilhooly will never comment, in fact, we hear he is laughing at the whole thing as are his staff. ”
    -Good to know. Hanna Kulenty, the co-commisioner in Rotterdam, the Leipzig Quartet, the involved agents CANNOT laughing!

    What a funny job he has…

  • Peter says:

    Gilhooly-gan could have cancelled but he didn’t have to. Yet he did. His choice, now it’s the quartet’s loss. He can take a little flak if he is a true gentleman. He says he is laughing about it? Only an utterly insensitive [redacted] could laugh at the misery the NY incident has put this quartet in.
    To blame the quartet for not notifying him about the change in their 1st seat position, well, they could have, but they were obviously f******g busy keeping up the basic functionality that was falling apart due to Arzberger being drugged and arrested in NYC. They had maybe other problems rather than stating the obvious?

    • anon says:

      The quartet has professional management — an indisposed player is not exactly an uncommon occurrence (although, in this particular case, the reasons are). Having said that, if it is true that the Wigmore Hall follows the quartet on Twitter, it is difficult to see how the Hall can reasonably plead ignorance of the situation. I do not use Twitter myself, but my understanding of the platform is that if you follow someone, you receive their tweets directly.

      Having said that, without seeing the full correspondence and contract, it is difficult to be sure where the fault lies. That the quartet has not published it should *not* be taken as a sign of guilt; it may well be that there are confidentiality provisions that would expose them to legal action were they to publish.

      As for the matter of the change of programme, it sounds like the composer may be at fault here, since she delivered the score only very recently.

      • Peter says:

        Again, what sticks out is that the quartet apparently is touring with replacements for Arzberger for the time being, worldwide, and the only promoter who has a problem with it to the degree to cancel the performance is Wigmore’s Gilhooly. Sounds like Gilhooly uses it as an excuse.

      • paula says:

        Wigmore Hall follows 36,000 people. Don’t be stupid. They wouldn’t even notice the Lepizig Quartet

  • Celine says:

    “They must be very stupid. Should they not just shut up whilst they wait to hear if their leader is convicted of attempted murder of not.”

    Thank you Francis for getting the point of it all!
    For getting the point of all their public comments on the Arzberger case

    But I guess that’s the “understanding of respect and culture” (as they put it on facebook) of such “highly acclaimed classical artist”s, they think they are.
    It’s disgusting!

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    You’d have thought that John Gilhooly would already have known all about the LQ incident in NY. It’s a small world. So it should have been no surprise to him to find out that there was a replacement leader.

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    Hi Matthias – are you still there ? Please are you able to tell us how Stefan is coping in NY ? I hope he is able to practise the violin. I have heard broadcasts of LSQ and LOVED his wonderful intonation and style. He is a great player – no doubt about that !

  • Thomas says:

    Of course Gilhooly was entitled to be formally told of the change in leader and the name of the replacement etc. He is artistic director of one of the world’s great halls and he alone is responsible for quality control . They didn’t tell him. I am dismayed that somebody from the Leipzig camp called him a prick. I’m afraid that the moment they launched such a personal attack they totally lost the argument. Gilhooly is well liked by many and nobody is entitled to call him a prick on this forum. This whole thing has gone far enough. Although, knowing Gilhooly, I’m sure it’s water off a duck’s back to him. He is probably laughing at it all and knows it’s already yesterday’s news!

    • Peter says:

      The comment from me – no attachments to the quartet whatsoever – was to the report Gilhooly were laughing about them and the situation at hand, to which I replied, only a pr** would laugh about their current troublesome situation. Like hitting someone hard who is lying on the floor already. That’s not fairplay, that’s just despicable.

  • paula says:

    Norman, still very surprised that you posted a comment calling John Gilhooly a prick. He is a human being and a respected member of society. You are the moderator and you should know better. If you had any decency, you would delete this whole thread. You must know Gilhooly personally, I hope you can look him in the eye again.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If such an epithet got past our moderation, it should not have done. I know John Gilhooly personally and will have no trouble greeting him.

  • Pas says:

    It might interesting fact that Mr. Matthias Moosdorf is publishing on his public Facebook Account -due to my opinion- right wing statements. on June 24th he posts: “We are the niggers of the system”. In other posts he accuses other religions such is jews or islamists or states articles according to allergedly criminal immigrants from far right propagandists like Ken Jebsen or from the esoteric, far right internet plattform “kopp-verlag.. I thought this might be worthwile to be mentioned, although not necessarily connected to the above discussed topic – it shows another, personal flashlight.