Disharmony in Berlin: Two Philharmoniker face each other in court

Disharmony in Berlin: Two Philharmoniker face each other in court


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2016

Brotherly love counts for nothing when money is at stake.

A viola player in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – the names have been disguised in court – is accusing a former member of the orchestra of selling him a fake instrument.

The viola he bought from his colleague three years ago for 60,000 Euros was labelled ‘Luigi Mingazzi 1923 Ravenna’.

It turns out to be German-made and worth 50,000 less.

The seller, who now plays in the Munich Philharmonic, is refusing compensation.

A Munich court will pass judgement on October 26 after calling in an expert for consultation.

UPDATE: German media name the two violists.

fight orchestra

German media are reporting the case with relish. It is highly unusual for such cases not to be settled within the orchestra, avoiding unpleasant publicity.


  • Anonymus says:

    In fact, the plaintiff is a member of the Berlin Philharmonic and the defendant is a member of the Munich Philharmonic (since 1981, before member of Berlin Phil), as disclosed in the article of B.Z.. That’s, why the case is not “settled” within the orchestra, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
    Therefore the headline is suggestive in the wrong direction and should, for the sake of good journalism be changed.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      The headline stands. If one party is ex-Berlin Phil, they still remain ‘two philharmoniker’.

      • Max Grimm says:

        “The seller, who now plays in the Munich Philharmonic, is refusing compensation.”

        The seller has been retired from the Munich Phil for several years now.

      • Andrew Barnard says:

        No Norman, your headline is indeed misleading, as it suggests that two members of the Berlin Philharmonic are facing each other in court. You can be deceptive without lying outright.

  • David says:

    Actually, the BZ article states that the seller offered to take the instrument back with a full refund, which the buyer declined.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Correct, the buyer wants to keep the instrument and get reduced compensation. All very odd.

      • Anonymus says:

        How is that odd? The instrument may sound very nice, but is most likely not worth half of what the plaintiff payed for it and what the defendant made the plaintiff believe it is worth.
        The price of a string instrument is not necessarily related to how it sounds, but to where, when and by whom it was made.
        If you buy a nice Picasso sketch and it turns out to be by someone else, it doesn’t mean you don’t want it on your wall or you don’t like it. Maybe you even like it so much, that you don’t want anything else on your wall.
        But you certainly don’t want to pay the price of an original Picasso for it, do you? That’s all this is.

        • DAVID says:

          Yet, if the seller is ready to refund the price, this suggests that he feels the instrument is authentic and can be resold to a different buyer at the original agreed upon price. Seems to me this weakens the buyer’s case, as he can get his money back. If the seller felt the instrument was not worth what he asked for, he might then settle. It bears reminding that the violin dealing business is full of grey areas (I am trying here to be polite), and that the value of a single estimate is often to be taken with a grain, if not a barrel, of salt. Some dealers charge enormous amounts on mediocre instruments, while great instruments can be bought for ridiculously small amounts, only to be resold at outrageously high prices. I once had a $40,000 instrument given an estimate of $6,000 by a very reputable dealer whose name I shall keep silent. Had I agreed to the transaction, I doubt very much he would have resold it for anything less than $40,000. Just a thought to keep in mind regarding this whole matter.

          • DAVID says:

            I would add to Anonymous’s comment: there is a great difference between authenticating a Picasso — which we have fairly reliable ways to do nowadays — and violins/violas/cellos. Give the same instrument to 10 different dealers and I bet you’ll get at least 5 or 6 different opinions, as well as a wild range of prices.

  • Max Grimm says:

    “It is highly unusual for such cases not to be settled within the orchestra, avoiding unpleasant publicity.”

    It is highly uncomprehending to expect…
    A) any orchestra getting involved in personal purchases of a member if none of their (the orchestra’s) money is involved
    B) the Berlin Phil getting involved in a member’s case regarding said member’s privately made transaction with another individual that hasn’t had ties to the Berlin Phil in over 35 years.
    C) the Munich Phil getting involved in a case regarding a sale made privately by a former member, who had already been retired from the orchestra at the time said sale was made.

    By the way, seeing how the Berlin Phil and the Munich Phil are two completely separate entities, it would be rather impossible to “settle [anything] within the orchestra“.

  • Doug says:

    I thought perhaps this was the case of the viola player taking the oboist to court. The violist destroyed all of the oboists’ reeds in a rehearsal after he turned one of the violists tuning pegs. The crime? He refused to tell the violist which peg he turned.

    • Rich Patina says:

      LOL! Reminds me of this advert:

      “FOR SALE: Viola. Fine 18th century instrument, beautifully finished, rich tone, recently tuned.”

    • Rich Patina says:

      Then there is this classic “help wanted” ad:

      “WANTED: Experienced string quartet seeks two violinists and a cellist.”

  • Holly Golightly says:

    Don’t tell me that ‘artists’ can be every bit as shifty and duplicitous as their counterparts in the business world. No; not possible!!! Artists are a rare species with impeccable morals.

  • Larry W says:

    There are many comments here that sound mis- or un-informed. The seller may have bought and sold the viola in good faith believing it to be a 1923 Mingazzi. He could have been misled about its origin. Many labels in string instruments are not original or are fake. These are put there by dishonest dealers or by the maker of a reproduction. Even some certificates from dealers are not true and accurate, with some famous cases in Germany. Buyers everywhere should be wary.

    The buyer of this viola liked the sound, but he could/should have had it checked out for authenticity before buying it. Three years’ time is quite long to discover his mistake. Bottom line, if the seller has agreed to give a full refund, the buyer is made whole. I don’t see how a court would impose any better remedy. They are not going to provide extra compensation for embarrassment.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I don’t see how a court would impose any better remedy. They are not going to provide extra compensation for embarrassment.

      While I agree with most of your post, I can definitely see a better remedy (at least from the viewpoint of the plaintiff)…ie. the court ruling that the seller (expressly or inadvertently) mislead the buyer into believing he was buying a genuine Mingazzi, thereby achieving a greater sum for the viola, and mandating the seller refund a portion of said sum, while the buyer remains the rightful owner of the instrument.
      There is no “extra compensation” sought at that. Essentially the buyer wants to keep the instrument because it sounds great, but wants part of the purchase price refunded, as he claims the instrument isn’t a genuine Mingazzi and he was therefore overcharged.
      The seller essentially claims that he never marketed the instrument as being a genuine Mingazzi and sold the viola for €60.000 solely for its outstanding tonal qualities. It is due to this that he would refund the entire purchase price in exchange for the viola but would not refund a portion with the buyer remaining the owner of the instrument…he claims the buyer realizes the tonal qualities of the instrument and is ‘merely out to make a steal’ (schlicht ein Schnäppchen machen).

      • Larry W says:

        Thanks, Max. To clarify, I would call a reduction in the price rather a full refund “extra compensation” since the buyer would retain possession of the viola. If he is unhappy with the transaction, for whatever reason, the offer to nullify the sale and refund the full purchase price is quite fair. In any case, deception by a non-dealer would be hard to prove. He may have been misled himself when he bought it.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Indeed and speaking of possibly being mislead himself, the seller has an authentication certificate from 1988, stating that the viola is a genuine Mingazzi.
          This makes me appreciate that I know exactly where my two violas came from and being able to speak directly with their respective makers (without holding a séance) even more.