Court orders distinguished piano professor to retire at 65

Court orders distinguished piano professor to retire at 65


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2015

A couple of months ago, Lev Natochenny was told that Frankfurt’s Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst wants him to retire later this year when he turns 65.

Lev thinks he has a lot more to give. He took the HfMDK to court.

The court ruled today that Lev does not have a piano leg to stand on. Teachers, it declared, are replaceable.




  • william osborne says:

    I’m sure he has much more to offer and that experience makes a difference, but what is the worse form of ageism, forcing people to retire at 65, or allowing people to work indefinitely and thus reducing employment opportunity for the young?

    • JJC says:

      Worst of all is a situation where the ‘state’ is allowed to make such crucial decisions for the individual. Intolerable.

      • william osborne says:

        He works for a state conservatory without which he would never have had a job in the first place.

          • william osborne says:

            That should read “the” job. He had many teaching jobs, but the one he wants to continue is in a state conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany.

        • JJC says:

          You evade the central issue of whether or not a state should ever have such invasive power over the individual. I say death to such a state, and I mean it.

          • william osborne says:

            Yeah, that State which creates about 25 times more orchestras and opera companies per capita than exist in the USA. That State which tries to create ample employment opportunities for young musicians. More anonymous wisdom from SD’s courageous and highly informed commentators….

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      If you look around, there is about a 20 year age difference in people 65.

    • Brian b says:

      This should not happen.Blatant age discrimination to force his replacement with a younger instructor, merely because that instructor is younger and who most likely does not have as much knowledge and wisdom to impart is neither beneficial to the students or the faculty. If it could be demonstrated he can’t carry our the job requirements, that is different. Lucine Amara won an age discrimination lawsuit against the Metropolitan Opera and Prof. Natochenny would doubtless win big in the States.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Otherwise : should we wash our hands? or our feet?

      Fire Toscanini!

  • Urania says:

    I do think that people who are able to give something to sociery and are willing to give should stay ‘in public service’ as long as possible! Hillary Clinton could become President of the US with 70!

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    If he’s so well known – can’t he just teach privately ?

    • Petros LInardos says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if offers from US schools, possibly high profile, come his way.

  • Urania says:

    Charles he certainly might, but the problem has to be seen from a different angle!

  • Frankster says:

    Of course he can teach privately. The salaries in major orchestras in Europe are often not high but the status allows musicians to charge higher fees for teaching.

  • John says:

    Rudolf Kolisch, founder of the Kolisch Quartet (which gave important premieres of works by Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, & Bartok, and was Schoenberg’s brother-in-law), was forced to retire from the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s because he was 70. He was a brilliant scholar and students packed the aisles for his Chamber Music in Performance lectures with Gunnar Johansen. After he was dumped by UW, the New England Conservatory snapped him up and he taught another twelve years as a distinguished member of their faculty. Wisconsin’s loss was NEC’s huge gain. The Age Discrimination Act came too late for Kolish, but it was welcome nevertheless.

    • Brian b says:

      When Natochenny was a student at Julliard, he was a pupil of Ania Dorfmann who was considerably older than 65 when she taught him, in fact well past 70.

  • Peter says:

    It was idiotic to bring this issue to the court. The law is crystal clear on the matter and he knew it when he joined the system voluntarily.
    It is worth having the discussion in the society, how retirement age could be flexible, to allow fit and willing professionals to keep working, but judicially this was nonsense from the beginning.

    • Gerhard says:

      You are very quick to throw around big words (and insults, for that matter). Have you had any legal training? I’m not in this field myself, but I know that the German mandatory retirement, which BTW applies only to employed people, not to politicians for instance, has been under fire already for quite some time. It is at least very questionable whether it is in accordance with the EU anti-discrimination laws. Sooner or later I expect the European Court (EuGH) to rule on it. But to bring a case there, one has to go all the way through the national judicial system first. How do you know that this is not exactly what Prof. Natochenny is intending?

      • Peter says:

        Sorry for the language. But don’t you agree, that if we shall see a more flexible border between professional life and retirement, that we in Germany also need a more flexible way of getting rid of “lame ducks”. The German law makes it impossible to fire underperforming academic teachers. That’s why the mandatory early retirement is a good idea.

        We must also not forget, that when with the introduction of social security by Bismarck the retirement age was set to 70, then in 1916 (!) adjusted to 65, only a minority actually reached that age back then…

  • Novagerio says:

    I’m certainly happy they spared Heinrich Neuhaus, Mieczysław Horszowski and Dorothy DeLay this kind of age-racism!…

    • Dan P. says:

      Juilliard – at least when I was a student their in the early 70s – took just the opposite approach than as does Frankfort. It seemed like you only could actually count on just one or two hands the number of instrumental teachers who WEREN’T under 65. These teachers had had long careers and many had much experience to pass on.

      Just think of Ivan Galamian, Rosina Lhevinne, and Ania Dorfman, who were teaching there well into their golden years, and Roger Sessions, who taught there until he was 87, taking public transportation each week from New Jersey just to get there. My favorite senior, though, was Mme. Renee Longy, who began her teaching career well before WWI. She was the universally feared ear training teacher, capable of making even the most cynical student tremble or tear up. I saw both reactions regularly. A less than stellar performance brought down the wrath of god on us all.

      Once, when she was in one of her very rare relaxed moods, she regaled us with the story about what it was like at the premiere of the Rite of Spring telling us that she remembered Debussy asking people to please be quiet. Now this was old – but she was no less effective for it. When it comes to art, these people are our connection to OUR collective past. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t pay enough to get artists with that kind of history to work with young musicians. They’re worth their weight in gold.

  • Peter says:

    Again, the armchair commenters form the US need to stop talking and understand: In Germany once someone has been given a professorship, basically any tenured job without time limit, he can not be fired, period. (unless for heavy misdemeanor)
    Thus a mandatory retirement age is important, otherwise the lame ducks would sit on their positions for ever. Of course no system is perfect and the occasional not so lame duck might feel treated unfair, but overall it’s a reasonable system,

    • JJC says:

      Its a ‘system’ alright, and it is such a very oppressive one.

      • Peter says:

        What is oppressive about enjoying a good to great pension, while being able to continue private teaching and making even additional money?
        Some people are never happy.