Pollini is booed in Hamburg over Afghan refugee

The venerated Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini began his Hamburg recital last night with an audio statement by an 18 year-old Afghan refugee. The concert was in a series themed ‘Freedom’.

The audience erupted in boos.

Pollini then sat down and played Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, a performance which he dedicated to the memory of Pierre Boulez. The puzzled public could not see the connection.

Review here (in German).

boulez pollini

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  • John Borstlap says:

    But the relationship is obvious: misery there, misery here. The Six Piano Pieces are beautiful shimmers of tragedy without hopeful perspective, applicable both on Afghan refugees and PB’s activities. Music can ‘mean’ many things at once.

  • Albrecht says:

    Sounds disgusting. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say a word about how many booers there were. (No question, even one would be too much.)

  • May says:

    A few corrections for those who can’t read the article in German:
    1. The “statement” wasn’t Pollini’s idea, it was the idea of the Festival Organizers. The concert had several promoters; it was tied in with the International Musik Festival, whose theme this year is “Freedom.” In light of the Muslim tidal wave (referred to in the article as “die gesellschaftliche Entwicklung”) that swept Germany, the promoters decided to remind the audience that it is their patriotic duty to be tolerant of their new neighbors that their tax monies are supporting.
    2. It wasn’t a video but rather a pre-recorded statement. The lights were dimmed and the recording began. Many took it perhaps to be another one of countless public service announcements (e.g. turn off your cell phone, no photos, etc.) that have now been translated into Arabic. As soon as the German translation began, it became clear what the topic was, and at this point, audience members began to boo.
    3. The puzzled public could not see the connection because there was no connection. It was a bad idea foisted on the audience, most of whom did not come to hear Pollini as part as the festival, but simply just to hear him play. It was a poorly calculated move on the part of the promoters, as had it gotten really ugly, it would have really ruined the concert.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It seems that booing at a message from a refugee is extremely bad audience behavior, and it is unfair to lay the responsibility at the feet of the organisers. They were right to connect a concert within their festival to the overall theme, listeners could know that the concert was part of a festival, as far as they could read. The audience is to be blamed, entirely, unconditionally, not the organisers.

      • May says:

        The audiences in Hamburg are well enough informed to distinguish between the refugees protrayed in the media and the invasion of illegal economic migrants for whom the German politicians opened up their chequebook. The Willkommenskultur is over.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Many people in Germany never understood that the Willkommenskultur was meant for the war refugees, not for economic migrants. They merely fear for their own fragile national identity. Instead of protesting (pegidiatis), they should make efforts to help the Europeanization process of newcomers. But what do you want, when these people do need an Europeanization process themselves? Many people in W-Europe have lost any sense of Europe, and that is a much more serious problem. Shame that they can be found among classical music audiences.

          • Sander says:

            So when Madame Merkel put aside the Dublin convention and opened Germany’s borders, this was only meant for war refugees. Aha, I see. Too bad nobody told the non-war-refugees one year ago, including the half a million who came from the Balkans! But in your world, the problem is that the Germans didn’t realize this 🙂 Hehe.

            Stats from various countries (Norway, Denmark) show that 2/3 of all Afghan “minors” lie about their age. I’m sure this guy is not 18. But that’s another story.

        • Holly Golightly says:

          Just like the sign in the china shop, “You break it; you own it”. That’s Germany today.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      (referred to in the article as “die gesellschaftliche Entwicklung”) –

      At least they didn’t refer to it as ‘gesellschaftlicher Fortschritt’…

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Extravagant empathy is very chic in Germany nowadays. A pc fashion accessory which is a must-have for the bien pensant.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Having read the article, it was clear that the Afghan refugee was part of the festival and nothing to do with Pollini, who hadn’t even appeared on stage by this time. Thanks to Pollini’s artistry, the evening ended with standing ovations. But, then again, doesn’t everything, these days?

    • Alexander says:

      “.. the evening ended with standing ovations. But, then again, doesn’t everything, these days?”

      Not here in London. Here, a standing ovation is still worth something. Indeed, I am trying to remember how many I have actually seen. Certainly Alfred Brendel’s last London recital and James Bowman’s last London recital. Itzhak Perlman’s 70th birthday concert. Karita Mattila in a concert performance of Jenůfa. Doubtless there are more which I have forgotten, but I would estimate approximately 1 percent of classical music performances here result in a standing ovation. Of course, the West End is quite another matter, and it is routine for every performance of every show to receive a standing ovation. Whenever I see the Live from the Met at the cinema I see that every opera at the Met seems to receive a standing ovation these days, which is rather a shame. The devaluation of the standing ovation would be an interesting topic for SlippedDisc. It would be interesting to have some perspectives from outside of the UK and USA. I have never seen a standing ovation in continental Europe, but I don’t go to enough performances over there to say for sure how (un)common it is.

      • Emil Archambault says:

        At the OSM, in Montreal, you get three bows and a standing ovation at the second one. Always. The only one I have seen get more (I believe) was Hvorostovsky, due to the immense Russian contingent in the house. In a similar situation, Gergiev dragged his concertmaster offstage after the third bow 🙂

      • John Borstlap says:

        The general aging of classical music audiences results in less standing at the end of a concert in the UK, and more physical exercise at ovations on the continent as a result of medical advise: vegetables, fruit, anti-snore-device and standing at the end of classical concerts.

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Another standing ovation was in the 60s when Klemperer conducted Mahler 9. Actually, there was relatively little clapping but the audience stood spontaneously. It was very moving and so much more appreciative than the boorish yelling of Bravo almost before the final chord is finished. Or maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy.

      • Robert Roy says:

        Slightly off topic I know, but I once saw Nigel Kennedy get a standing ovation at the old Kelvin Halls’ in Glasgow in the 80’s when he played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto with the(R)SNO.

        What was unusual was that it was at the end of the first movement! What a talent he is.

      • MacroV says:

        Jenufa also got an amazing ovation (not just standing) in Prague a couple days earlier.

        Last week in Prague, percussionist Martin Grubinger played “Speaking Drums” of Peter Eotvos, with Eotvos conducting the Czech Philharmonic. The hall had more empty seats than normal, probably people turned off by a program of Ligeti, Eotvos, and Lutoslawski. But they responded to Grubinger with such enthusiasm, impressed with his phenomenal virtuosity, and probably thinking “I never dreamed I was going to enjoy THAT.” Experiencing, unusually, a bit of surprise at an orchestral concert. But it wasn’t until about the fifth curtain call before people started standing; it built very organically. One of the neatest things I’ve experienced at a concert.

  • Tom says:

    The review tells quite a different story. Pollini wasn’t booed and there was no video recording. It was an audio recording which was played before Pollini entered the stage. The initiative for this came not from Pollini but from the Hamburg Musikfest.

  • Stefan Treddel says:

    Pollini was not booed. Writing a headlinge without reading the article first ist bad style.

  • Musiclover says:

    I think it is clear in the article that Pollini was not booed.
    Understandable that people dislike a cheap political correct statement.
    Maybe there is a simple explanation for the booing?
    People here are dead tired and annoyed that all the news circle around refugees and Islam.
    You can’t turn on the TV (any channel) without refugees in screen within a few minutes.
    Huge PR machinery to sell the people what blessing those future citizens will be.

    People who go to a concert maybe just hoped to listen to music and enjoy the evening without also this being turned into a political statement by a “kulturwissenschaftlerin” (cultural scientist – funny word – with capability in political correctness and networking but no idea about art and music)

    • Mick says:

      I don’t know whether or not it was Pollini who was booed, but I couldn’t agree more with the rest of your comment, about people having had enough and just looking to escape, only to be confronted with the same sh.t again and again, muslims, “integration”, “refugees”, multikulti, all of it being shoved down their throats day and night. As for musicians, the best for them would be to steer clear of politics and not allow anyone to turn them into useful idiots in the service of yet another political agenda.

  • Ganymede says:

    I couldn’t agree more – it wasn’t Pollini who was booed but the announcement itself and the initially good idea which was put into practice very poorly by the concert organisers.

  • Musiclover says:

    Yes, it was definitely not Pollini who was booed.
    But was this announcement such a good idea?
    Maybe there is a simple explanation for the booing?
    People here are dead tired and annoyed that all the news circle around refugees and Islam.
    You can’t turn on the TV (basically any channel) without refugees on screen within a few minutes.
    Huge PR machinery to sell the people what blessing those future citizens will be.

    People who go to a concert maybe just hoped to listen to music and enjoy the evening without also this being turned into a political statement by a “kulturwissenschaftlerin” (cultural scientist – what a funny term – with capability in political correctness and networking but no idea about art and music)

    It also shows clearly that the sentiment of the people is changing and they are not afraid to voice it. Not much of “welcome culture” anymore.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It was Pollini’s choice of video and some of the booing was, we are told, directed at him.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I don’t know your source/s but by all other accounts, there wasn’t any “video” but a ‘Worteinspielung’ (audio only) delivered via ‘Lautsprecher’ (speakers) and the booing came and ceased before Pollini even set foot in front of the audience and onto the stage.
        Additionally, many news sources expressly state that Pollini himself abstained from any and all political commentary or statements.
        http://www.abendblatt.de/kultur-live/article207552593/Maurizio-Pollini-ist-der-Grandseigneur-der-Pianistenzunft.html

        • CDH says:

          You only have to apologise for being wrong if you are the New York Times.

          Good thing, or ther ewould have to be a daily column here called “we were (more accurately I was) wrong.”

          • Max Grimm says:

            I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve been a SD reader for some time now and I don’t believe I’ve read the words “We were (let alone ‘I was’) wrong.” in connection with an erroneous or even spurious report or post.

      • Ingo says:

        Mr. Lebrecht, do your homework. I was in the concert myself and spoke to one of the ushers afterwards.

        – The statement was audio, not video.
        – The statement was not Pollini’s idea, but the idea of the team organising the festival “Internationales Musikfest Hamburg” during which the concert took place.
        – Pollini was not on stage when the audio was played.
        – Clearly people were not booing at Pollini, but because they didn’t know what was going on. Most of them probably didn’t even know they were sitting in a festival concert nor that the festival had the theme “freedom”. Alas, Pollini’s choice of program did not have anything to to with that motto. I only found out through booklets that were free for pick-up throughout the concert venue, giving some background information on the project and even more refugee statements.
        – Even though the above can account for as a kind of excuse, I find it rude to boo at the statement of an 18-year-old refugee, which was not aggressive or accusing, but personal, tolerant and wise. Can’t people sit still and wait a minute before they can applaud their hero Pollini???
        – “Musiclover”, if you are tired of watching refugees on German TV, you can hardly blame these refugees that escaped terror and war, hm? Just switch off your TV.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      When I was in Germany this time last year one of the main TV networks (NDR or similar; I’ve forgotten) had a telephone poll over 24 hours. This was the question:

      Are you in favour of increased immigration intakes of refugees?

      The answer:
      Yes 03%
      No 97%

      To my knowledge, not one member of the voting public was consulted about any of this – or the multi-culti project -even once.

      • Le Forgeron Blancard says:

        I have taken note of your scientific analysis (call-in show…NDR…or perhaps not…) Since you seem to be an expert both on refugees and all things German – cf the air-brush comment above – could you perhaps tell us how many refugees Germany took in last year, and the same number for the UK? Would you perhaps also have figures for how many died on the way in their attempt to find a better life – or, simply, a life?

        Your comment on the voting public in relation to this issue makes me think of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the people.

        • Holly Golightly says:

          Of course you’d want to doubt the telephone poll statistics. Air-brushing is a German specialty. Cologne. Ssshh. Don’t let critics speak. Our policy will stand up just as long as nobody speaks up in criticism and if they do we’ll call them fascists and shut them down. We didn’t expect to have to discuss any of this with the people in our society – just expect them to wear it without a word of protest what WE think is right for THEM.

          Pass me the bucket.

    • Ingo says:

      People should remember the Marshall plan before they complain about refugees.

  • Tom R. Schulz says:

    Hello, I’m the spokesperson for Elbphilharmonie & Laeiszhalle Hamburg, the organizers of Internationales Muskfest Hamburg. Just for final clarification:

    It was not a video. What the audience heard before Pollini’s piano recital was a pre-recorded audio file by 18 years old refugee Mostafa from Afghanistan who came to Hamburg 13 months ago. He spoke about what freedom menas to him in his mother tongue, followed by a version with his own German voice over so that the German audience could understand the meaning of his statement. The total length of the file: 1 minute, 57 seconds.

    Maurizio Pollini was not on stage during the audio.
    Hence writing “Pollini is booed” is utterly misleading and twists the truth badly on the expense of the artist who has nothing to do with it. Such a headline, once identified as being false and damaging (to say the least), needs to be replaced immediately by any serious and responsive journalist. Online makes such corrections so much easier than print, Norman Lebrecht.

    Mostafa’s audio file is part of a project that contextualizes the overall theme of this year’s edition of Internationales Musikfest Hamburg, “Freiheit” (“Freedom”), with the driving motive of any true refugee – her / his desire to live in freedom. Mostafa spoke about the lack of freedom he and his family experienced in Afghanistan under the constant threat of attacks by Taliban, the equal lack of freedom in Iran where he first landed with his family after their flight from Afghanistan and how he feels now, all on his own, as his family could not come with him, in Western Europe, in Hamburg.

    “Freiheitsstimmen” (voices of freedom or liberty), as this project is called, is an invitation to empathy and to reflection. And, yes, it is inconvenient insofar as it breaks with the conventional expectation as to how a piano recital, or any classical concert, for that matter, has to begin. It is our understanding that the booing was much more an expression of the discontent from some people who did not like being disturbed in their much-loved routine as concert goers than with what was actually expressed verbally by Mostafa. How could people who live in a free country boo to someone who praises the freedom they live in and thanks them for generously allowing him to now share this freedom?

    In the other concerts during this festival we either had the artists already on stage, witnessing the audiofile that precedented their performance, or there was an announcement that directed the audience toward the aformentioned contextualization. That resulted in another kind of attention and respect, and people responded warmly to the “Freiheitsstimmen”. In the Pollini recital, due to a organizational misunderstanding, neither the announcement was made nor the artist was on stage. Our mistake.

    Peace. And Freedom.

    Tom R. Schulz, Spokesperson for Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle, Hamburg

    • May says:

      Dear Mr Schulz,
      it seems we can be grateful that the booing wasn’t so extreme as to completely derail the concert. I wish however to point out that for many reasons, the audio statement preceding the Pollini recital was a very poor decision on the part of the Elbphilharmonie.
      Since the concert was a co-production, most of the audience was not attending the concert as part of the Musikfest, rather they purchased tickets as ProArte subscribers. Therefore they were not aware of the “Freiheitsstimmen” theme of this year’s festival. Many in the audience will probably never ever have the opportunity to see their idol, Maurizio Pollini again: you can imagine that for such a person, looking forward to the concert for months in advance, then anxiously awaiting Pollini after the lights had dimmed, hearing a pre-recorded voice in Farsi amounted to immense frustration and confusion.
      For months, people of Hamburg and Germans alike have become increasingly frustrated with the immigrant situation. The arrogance and short-sightedness of politicians in Hamburg is shocking: the Mayor Olaf Schulz exhausted every legal avenue possible in order to thwart a public referendum on building immigrant housing at taxpayer expense because he knew that the referendum would pass. Furthermore, the recent situation in Blankanese, where a nature preserve was going to be destroyed in order to build immigrant housing, was seen by many as the “last straw.” Therefore resistance to immigrants is especially high in Hamburg.
      The decision of the Musikfest to precede Maurizio Pollini’s piano recital with a pro-immigrant statement would appear not to be an invitation to empathy and reflection, as you write, but rather, a provocation, intended to further polarize the people of Hamburg and Germany, into two opposing camps.
      Lastly, you apologize for your mistake, but it is not clear what you consider the mistake to be. It seems that you are apologizing for the fact the Pollini was not on stage as the recording was played. If this is truly your intent, then with reference to what I wrote in the first paragraph, I cannot think of a more insidious manner to show disrespect for the audience.

      • Branimir says:

        Wow!
        “Many in the audience will probably never ever have the opportunity to see their idol, Maurizio Pollini again: you can imagine that for such a person, looking forward to the concert for months in advance, then anxiously awaiting Pollini after the lights had dimmed, hearing a pre-recorded voice in Farsi amounted to immense frustration and confusion.”
        My deepest sympathy to all exposed to such a horrible torment.
        Let it be the worst frustration in your life and may you never be forced to flee away from your home and homeland escaping war and poverty.
        In my opinion, European culture, especially music, without humanism and compassion for every human being, is just a worthless decoration to selfish vanity.

        • Mick says:

          Be careful what you wish for. If the islamization goes on the way it’s been doing so far, you may well “be forced to flee away from your home and homeland escaping war and poverty” one day in not so distant future.

          • Branimir says:

            “and may you NEVER be forced to flee away from your home and homeland escaping war and poverty” – that was my wish, Mick.
            And, by the way, I’m from that part of Europe where many people indeed have been forced to flee away from from their homes and homelands escaping war only three decades ago. Unfortunately, those bragging about 70 years and more of peace in Europe forget that too easily.

        • Branimir says:

          PS. Among “many people”, part of my family as well.

  • doremi says:

    He should take all “refugees” in his home and teach them the piano.

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