New York Times awakes to a crime on its doorstep

New York Times awakes to a crime on its doorstep


norman lebrecht

June 12, 2015

The paper has finally got around to talking to the Leipzig string quartet leader, Stefan Arzberger, who allegedly rampaged naked through a New York hotel ten weeks ago and was subsequently charged with attempted murder.

It looks from the context as if the interview was brokered by or through Kurt Masur, who was Stefan’s conductor in Leipzig and a former music director of the New York Philharmonic.

Most of the salacious details reported by the local tabloids are omitted. As are many of the things that Stefan and his lawyer have said before but couldn’t apparently, get past the Times censors.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the very dry piece.

stefan arzberger


  • Musicmatters says:

    Has Mr. Arzberger been tested for a brain tumor or brain cancer? Back in 2008, there was an internationally publicized event when Mathias Guerrand-Hermès became suddenly (and inexplicably) violent on an airplane: Within 2 years he died of a brain tumor.

  • Walter says:

    I really find this entire story incredible. It should be obvious to any sane person, that a man with no criminal history, no sexual or physical violence in his background, suddenly runs naked through a hotel corridor and knocks on the door of an adjacent room and attacks a woman, that either the man has been drugged or that he is psychotic, but certainly not doing this intentionally, especially as he has no recollection.

    I’m sorry to say, but this sounds like another one of those ‘Made in the USA’ stories, where everything is hyped out of proportion, people see money to be made (the woman who was attacked), lawyers also see money to be made and a man who was clearly a victim of a crime himself, at exactly the same time, is accused of “attempted murder”. The U.S. is not a country of any form of true justice, as we see time and time again, but rather a grandstanding bully always trying to make a buck and draw attention to individuals’ misfortunes and exploit every possibility to profit from that. The prosecution says that he wasn’t drugged. OK. Then what would have been his motive, when seen in connection with the attack upon himself shortly before his psychotic episode? The Americans should know very well that ingestion of a psychotropic drug could easily have rendered Mr. Arzberger first unconscious and then psychotic, this being the most plausible theory. But no, over there, he will be accused of attempted murder and perhaps, if it would exist in the State of New York, one of their elected district attorneys would demand the death penalty. Yes, that would make a good Hollywood film script. The problem is that in the US, the line between fact and fiction is blurred most of the time and hence their very bizarre “justice system”.

    • Jennifer Bausch says:

      Guess what? No one believes classical musicians could do such a thing, so he went undetected until now. He’s done this s*** for years, to be sure. It’s not at all unbelievable. The jerk is just trying to cover his tracks, as any guilty party would. But any woman in classical music knows this type of character. That all he could come up with is this absolutely ludicrous story speaks volumes about his pathetic character. He wants what he wants, when he wants, even if it kills someone. I am quite alarmed that European men are so supportive of his horrid and homicidal actions.

  • herrera says:

    The NYT does provide one new item: the police arrested a 32-year old man using Arzberger’s credit cards.

    The arrested individual is Arzberger’s only hope of establishing any proof of his being drugged (against his will), without which, I’m afraid, Arzberger will have a very, very difficult time proving he was not mentally responsible for his actions.

    But even with the proof of being drugged, the law still assigns responsibility to people from putting themselves in a position to be drugged (otherwise, every drug addict in New York City could just say, sorry, not my fault, I was high on heroin when I shot the guy). And I am afraid, a married man being drugged by a transsexual prostitute is not one of those defenses that judges or juries are terribly sympathetic to. New York is a rough town.

    • william osborne says:

      I think the courts would see a difference between people who drug themselves and a person who was unknowingly drugged by another person. This is especially important in cases of drug rape.

    • Peter says:

      I think you are overlooking the decisive difference in regard to legal responsibility between consuming drugs at free will and being drugged unknowingly, e.g. with a so called “date rape drug”.
      Legally there must be a huge difference between the two. The question is, who bears the burden of proof here that he was drugged unknowingly, I suppose it lies with Arzberger.

      • Masur Smith says:

        He was in a bar, well after midnight, when not many good things happen in bars. In NYC. And fiddler was apparently conversing with this individual, who was of course pursuing his future in library science or such and only in the bar doing research. Obviously Assberger was not adhering to marital vows on either continent. I would assume his wife has filed for divorce, perhaps someone could check on that rather obvious possibility.

        I do not think “a tranny ‘ho in a bar drugged me” is going to hold up legally in any country, no matter how hot and trendy the LGBT thing is right now. That defense has already lost steam and will be out of air by the time his trial comes around.

  • Distressed observer says:

    So deeply troubled by all of this. Happily living in the US, but I know that it’s frequently a horribly punitive country, often with little regard for basic legal and civil rights. Currently we are watching this play out on TV news channels every day, and I’m struck by the fact that only those cases with either the most vocal supporters or massive financial resources ever make a dent in the press or social media. The fact that Stefan Arzberger will basically have to bankrupt himself to have even a chance of proving his innocence says it all, and is the reason so many innocent people are imprisoned here. They simply can’t pay the requisite extortion for proper legal process. Just one recent case in point for New York:

    I’m frightened for Arzberger’s future trapped in this hideous labyrinth. I can’t imagine how he’s continuing to practice and try to perform with this hanging over him. Which one of us could? Truly hoping he finds both sufficient money and justice. He needs our support.

    • Jennifer says:

      It is indeed a very sad statement when it is common knowledge that a society only offers justice to those who can pay for it. Yet, they have no shame over there and this tragic human situation carries on and the people just grumble and live in fear of protest or demanding something better, something that doesn’t seem like a cross between a banana republic and a vicious totalitarian dictatorship.

      • Masur Smith says:

        This individual tried to violently kill someone. Is the US supposed to just overlook that fact?

  • Brian says:

    I wonder how many of Arzberger’s supporters are sticking to their faith in him because this situation contradicts their worldview of classical music. They prefer to see it as a “pure” artform that isn’t sullied by the fact that bad (or at least flawed) people can make great art. Hence the arguments pinning blame on the US legal system or news media.

    Also, because we don’t know much about the victim – other than she was a 65 year old woman trying to enjoy a nice vacation in the city – it’s harder to identify with her side of the story. Again, Arzberger’s supporters have been effective at getting his side out. We’ll see what ultimately emerges.

  • Quincy says:

    You say, “I know that it’s frequently a horribly punitive country, often with little regard for basic legal and civil rights.” Yet, you can still be “happily living in the US”??? Do you also tow the party line and tell people that it is the most free and democratic nation in the world, a beacon of hope and freedom, where all men are created equal, with liberty and justice for all.??? You can’t have it both ways.

    • Peter says:

      You are ironic, right? The times where the US was the most free and democratic society were, best case, many decades ago. Today the US is average in most anything, except money printing and military expenses and incarcerated people per capita, where it is still #1.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Lost among the caterwauling about Mr. Arzberger’s innocence, the justice system in the US and associated America-hate is the fact that no one is disputing the fact that he actually did assault and injure this woman. It would be a unique country indeed where “I’m a violinist and you’re not” is exculpatory. As to the bizarre, uncharacteristic nature of the act, people get arrested all the time for doing bizarre, uncharacteristic things: ministers caught solicting prostitutes, wealthy women shoplifting, etc.

    So the only real defense is that Mr. Arzberger wasn’t responsible for his actions. He says he was drugged but prosecutors say there’s no evidence he was. For the story to hold up, 1) the prosecutors have to be withholding evidence, or 2) whatever drug he was given had to have been out of his system by the time he was tested, or 3) whatever drug he was given could not have been detected by the test method. Mr. Arzberger’s lawyers had better have their evidence ready for showing these or other reasons for this inconsistency. But am I the only one struck by the incongruity of a “date rape” drug that causes a psychotic reaction instead of unconsciousness?

    The story says that “A criminal complaint was subsequently filed accusing a 34-year-old man of stealing three German credit cards from Mr. Arzberger’s hotel that night,” but that’s not a showing that this individual in fact drugged Mr. Arzberger and, in any case, how can they show it since this person can’t be made to incriminate himself?

    Mr. Arzberger’s defense may stand up in a trial but it’s likely to be an uphill fight. Your normal jury, who doesn’t know Julliard from Curtis, may conclude very quickly that anyone who picks up a prostitute in a bar and brings same back to their hotel room has already shown a distinct lack of judgement and gets what they deserve. Most likely outcome: a plea bargain.

    • Jennifer Bausch says:

      Well-put and sensible language, Greg Hlatky. I cannot imagine what country would overlook the undisputed fact that Mr. Arzberger hurt this lady tourist. Imagine this happening to you! (Oh, it’s OK, he’s a German VIOLINIST. No worries.) Any sane person knows to keep an eye on your drink at a bar.

      And I am a woman who has been the recipient of the date-rape drug. It immediately makes you sleepy to the point of unconsciousness. Traditionally, the person who drugs your drink will claim s/he’s “with you” and you’re just very drunk, they’ll take care of you. In my case, I realized something was horribly wrong, I wove my way to the ladies’ room and stayed there propped against a stall for about five hours until I could wake up enough to get home. I wasn’t even cognizant enough to shout out to other women coming and going to ask for help.

      What this guy got sounds a lot more like bath salts, which are not slipped in someone’s drink. It’s a stimulant the results in exactly the behavior Mr. .Arzberger exhibited. Google it. It’s pretty clear the guy was experimenting with things unavailable in the EU, so stop demonizing the US court system for charging him with an obvious crime.

      And I’ve served jury duty several times in Manhattan. He will get a diverse panel of people who, no matter their race or income, live hard lives and know how to survive the city’s tough life. They will laugh his ridiculous little alibi to Mars and back. Can you imagine how many times a day the court clerk hears the “it was the date rape drug” defense? But coming from a man, who picked up a prostitute who was maybe also a man in drag, OMG I feel sorry for this violinist. No one is going to take that seriously for an instant.

      • Laura says:

        Jennifer Bausch, why do you say, “Any sane person knows to keep an eye on your drink at a bar.”? The problem of “drugging” other people at a bar in order to rape, rob or murder them is, fortunately for the rest of the world, a rather unique and peculiar American reality, more or less unknown and unheard of in Europe, Japan and in other developed countries. Watching your drink at all times also does not form a part of a person’s priorities when out for a good time. We simply don’t live in such a threatening and paranoid world as you do there! Coming from a safer and more secure country, such as Germany, Mr. Arzberger would not have such an attitude while sitting at a bar for the evening. So, for you to imply that he was partly responsible for his being drugged is ludicrous and quite worrying at the same time.
        You also write, “it’s clear the guy was experimenting with things unavailable in the EU.” (implying his using bath salts as a drug) Implying, again, that he was wilfully taking drugs and therefore responsible for his actions and their consequences. That is, and I say this as a lawyer, based on nothing factual nor probable. How can you make such assumptions? Based on what evidence? Bath salts? No wonder many comments here express dismay at a terrifying legal system that doesn’t produce justice, but rather spectacles that help sell advertising on cable news networks. It is really shameful and is a sadreflection of the society that it serves.

        • Jennifer Bausch says:

          It’s probably a good idea to not leave your drink unattended anywhere. Phuket/Hanoi/Rabat anyone? Big Duh. Somebody’s mad about not getting an audition in the US.

  • Olassus says:

    You make some good points.

    I still don’t get, however, why a relatively normal man, albeit one with flaws, would run down a hotel hallway naked, knock on an unknown door, and throttle an old lady.

    The lunacy of it would seem to be the best defence.

  • Franck says:

    Why does it always come down to black and white, this very simplistic logic from the Americans? Above, the guy writes, “America-hate”!!! Why, just because a person is critical of one aspect of a national policy, be that justice or anything else, why does that imply hate of the entire country to you? That attitude is exactly what has got your country into so much trouble over the years and has made others look at this type of convoluted naive logic as simplistic and limited, childish at best and lacking any ability to see and process nuance and degree. As an educator, with a lot of international experience, I encounter this “Americanism” very often, where they take one opinion and then paint in wide brush strokes to cover everything with it. I personally believe that it comes from a lack of a worldly life experience and a very simplistic and narrow view of everything in their world. Americans are famous for speaking in exaggerated extremes, i.e. you’re either with us or against us, friend or enemy, good and evil, make or break, sink or swim, etc. This is a very strange and dangerous approach to reasoning, especially when it concerns deciding the guilt of a person.