A second take on the harpsichord riot

A second take on the harpsichord riot


norman lebrecht

February 29, 2016

Alexander Scherf, a cellist in Concerto Köln, has posted his account of yesterday’s disruption of Mahan Esfahani’s performance of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase for a conservative, bourgeois Sunday audience.

Scherf was shocked when concertgoers heckled the soloist’s opening remarks with a demand that he speak German. They went on to give a slow handclap during the performance. Others hissed and catcalled.

Mahan reminded the protesters that he came from Iran where people lack the freedom to enjoy a wide choice of music and arts. Some audience members wept. One man came on stage to apologise for the appalling behaviour.

Concerto Köln hat heute zusammen mit einem großartig spielenden Mahan Esfahani als Solisten ein spannendes Konzert in der Kölner Philharmonie gegeben – leider kann ich mich nicht so recht darüber freuen! Nach einem bejubelten J. S. Bach Cembalokonzert versuchte Esfahani in der zweiten Konzerthälfte Steve Reichs “Piano Phase” aus dem Jahr 1967 zu Gehör zu bringen (wie im Programm vorgesehen). Schon seine sympathische Moderation wurde mit “Sprich Deutsch”- Rufen quittiert, bevor dann ein Teil des Publikums sein Spiel immer heftiger störte und schließlich den Solisten “niederklatschte”! In einer ergreifenden Rede fragte Esfahani aufgebracht nach den Gründen der Ablehnung bzw. der Angst vor dem Neuen und weist daraufhin, dass er aus einem Land stammt (nämlich dem Iran), in dem es nicht selbstverständlich ist, dass Menschen und Kunst alle Freiheit genießen und in dem es nicht möglich ist, Musik frei aufzuführen. Was für eine unglaubliche Ignoranz und Intoleranz heute öffentlich zur Schau getragen wurde – von Rücksichtslosigkeit und mangelndem Respekt gar nicht zu reden! Man muss gar nicht nach Sachsen schauen, um diese gefährliche Mischung zu bestaunen – ein Besuch in der Kölner Philharmonie genügt!
Zum Glück schritt ein Herr aus dem Publikum am Ende des Konzerts zur Bühne, um seiner Scham über diesen Vorfall Worte zu verleihen und Esfahani zu versichern, dass der Großteil des Publikums gerne seinen Vortrag gehört hätte. Diejenigen, die geblieben waren, konnten Zeugen eines wahrhaft aufgewühlten C. P. E. Bach Konzerts und einer äußerst sensiblen Zugabe werden. Ich bin erschrocken und traurig!


mahan album


Mahan, when I asked if he was traumatised by the eruption, said that – on the contrary – he was exhilarated that a harpsichord could cause so much upset. ‘It shows how relevant we are.’



  • Suzanne says:

    I would like to hear from Lowrens Langevoort or Annette Wolde – have they ever experienced anything like this at the Kölner Philharmonie before? Were they in attendance on Sunday, and do they concur that the heckling started due to a performer addressing the audience in English?!? I have been attending 2 – 3 concerts a week in Germany for the last 20 plus years and have never encountered anything similar… very worrying.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Keyboard players in Europe have been having a bad time at the hands of Nationalist nutters this week.

    Chilean pianist Christiano Ramos was beaten up by Nationalists in Poland, while on a train near Warsaw, on his way to perform a concert. Despite head injuries and losing a tooth in this assault, he went on to play his concert as planed. The reason for the attack was that he “looked like an Arab”. Ramos has lived in Poland for a number of years.


    But no doubt our usual apologists for race-hate incidents in Europe will be along to tell us that this is “Martian news” – and that Poland is a perfectly charming paradise where such incidents never occur. Or that the attack would have been warranted if Ramos actually *had* been an Arab.

    Last time I looked, neither Warsaw nor Cologne were on “Mars”.

    • Dirk Fischer says:

      Much more interesting – when is the last time YOU were in Warsaw or Cologne?

      • Eddie Mars says:

        Utterly irrelevant. And I will make a point of avoiding Cologne in future, after the far-right-wing riots we have seen there on television.

        What gives you the right to cross-examine other members? Oh, I forgot – your kind think that you are in charge all the time.

        • Scott Fields says:

          We had right-wing riots here?

        • Dirk Fischer says:

          It is very much relevant, unless you base your opinion about the world on hearsay. I have visited Warsaw and Cologne many times over the past years, and nothing what you described is reflected in normal daily life in those cities at all. But then again, it must be true, because you read it in the internet, correct?

          • Eddie Mars says:

            Oh, I see the cross-examination continues, does it?

            Well, since you DEMAND I answer your questions, Fischer… I have been in Warsaw several times in the past 3-4 years, and I visited Koln again whilst we were in Dusseldorf last year.

            My blood group is 0. I am not a pure ethnic Aryan, since my mother was a Jew, despite marrying a Protestant. I have a Work Permit and a Passport. Our sons have reached the age of legal majority, and both study at university. We have a four-year-old grandson. We have jobs which enable us to support our family without being a hindrance to the Nation.,

            Any further questions? Or is your questioning finished now, Fischer??????

    • Milka says:

      Whether it’s Warsaw, Cologne or Moscow its all the same story for different reasons .

  • Aristo says:

    Jetzt mal im Ernst kann man denn nichts gegen diese Abo-Rentner unternehmen? Das sind doch die Leute, die sonntags in die Oper gehen und immer beim ersten Applaus zur Garderobe rennen. Sie wünschen sich einfach nur was schönes: Carmina Burana Eröffnung, Beethovens fünfte (aber nur der erste Satz) und Mozart Symphonie Nr. 40 (auch nur der erster Satz) !

  • Ulrich Zehetbauer says:

    I do not defend those people but in my humble opinion it is a simple matter of courtesy to learn at least one sentence in the language of the country where you are on stage : “Ich spiele jetzt XYZ” = ” I now play XYZ” is sufficient. Is this so complicated ?

    • Stephan Maroschek says:

      …ich wünsch Ihnen alles Gute beim nächsten Auftritt in Helsinki, Teheran, Rom, Lissabon,

    • Rgiarola says:

      Quero ver você falar a lingua dos outros, e ainda ser criticado por falar mal. Como costumeiramente se faz na Alemanha.

    • Kim Belmondo says:

      You just did defend those people. Plus, he gave an introduction to the piece, not just named it.

  • Uli Winterhager says:

    Ich schäme mich für die Landsleute, die sich so benommen haben, und ich bedaure sie in ihrer beklagenswerten Ignoranz.

  • Thomas says:

    Before posting, it is worth listening to that piece of music (Steve Reichs Piano Phase) he was playing. It can be found in several versions on Youtube. Helps understanding the whole situation. Listen to it, if you don’t know it. I just heard it for the first time and I can’t say how I would have reacted in this situation.

  • Andreas Hasenkamp says:

    I always appreciate being introduced to a piece of music, especially by the artist himself. However, I need to understand the intro. In this case, I suppose my English would have been sufficient – but what about other people? Had the public been informed that the intro would be held in English only? I would have expected somebody to give a translation accompanying the artists intro. A simple duty for the organisers, wasn’t it? You cannot expect everybody to be at home in English.
    As to the special character of Steve Reichs Piano Phase, I suppose it had been announced – so there is no excuse for disturbing those who want to listen.

  • TONY DARWEN says:

    In my experience, it is not universal that a classical music concert includes a spoken introduction. On the other hand, Mahan is well known for his excellent and intelligent introductions, often with a hint of humour included. Would the Koln audience have preferred silence?? Perhaps the English joke about the German sense of humour really is true!!
    Play on, and talk on, Mahan you’re the best (at least DG thinks so!)