Chicago concertisers screw a young soloist

Chicago concertisers screw a young soloist


norman lebrecht

December 29, 2017

A year ago, the International Music Foundation of Chicago booked cellist Sebastian Bäverstam for their Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts on January 10.

A few days ago, just before Christmas, they told Sebastian to change his arrival date to the day before the recital.

Since Sebastian had booked non-refundable tickets for the cello and himself months in advance, he replied that he was unable to do so. Sorry, said Chicago, we’ll get another cellist.

Sebastian is now $1,000 out of pocket and steaming at Chicago brutality. He is still listed on the concerts calendar and has received no reply from IMF to his emails.

The Dame Myra Hess Memorial concerts are run by Mark Riggleman, a former education director at Lyric Opera, with an artistic committee.

They owe Sebastian a refund and an apology.

Until these are forthcoming, soloists are advised to beware Chicago’s IMF.


You can read below a comment from Mark Riggleman, presenting a different account of events, and another from Sebastian claiming that Mark did not respond to his concerns or reply to his emails. Clearly, communications between the presenter and the artist (or his agent) were some way less than desirable.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Scandalous…. obvioulsy incompetent staff, ignorant of the reality of the programming practice.

    • MWnyc says:

      Besides, if you’re flying into Chicago in January – especially from overseas, whence your airline may have only one flight a day there – it’s insane to leave yourself only one day before your performance if there’s any way you can help it. O’Hare Airport has weather-related delays in the winter all the time.

      • MWnyc says:

        Or, in this case, it’s insane for the International Music Foundation of Chicago to leave their soloist only one day to spare. If he’s flying in from Europe, it’s not as if he could re-book into Detroit or Indianapolis or St. Louis and drive from there – and the U.S. cities to which a given airline will likely have multiple flights a day from Europe are not close enough to drive to Chicago.

      • Scotty says:

        He was flying from Boston, near where he lives.

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    I don’t understand why the IMF cares about when their artists arrive, as long as they show up for the concert on time. Why can’t Mr. Bäverstam just fly in at his convenience? Since he is booked for a recital with piano, I assume he would have rehearsed well in advance with his pianist, unless they play together often and don’t really need the extra rehearsal time.

  • buxtehude says:

    It looks like he allowed two extra days — arriving on 10th, performing 13th. Two extra days of hotel, & per diems — is that the issue?

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Most likely. Maybe they asked him to pay the extra days and he wouldn’t and thats was the problem. It sounds like all of the facts are not given here. I do know that traveling paid for by federal funds in the US, say for a conference, they pay per diem for conference days and fractions of travel days, only. If you arrive early or leave late its on you to pay; those are vacation days. My experience with private organizations is the same.

    • Amahl says:

      His Facebook post says concert on the 10th, arriving morning of the 10th due to other engagements.

      “Fellow artists, I think we have to stand up for each other. I just got completely screwed by a presenter in Chicago from the Dame Myra Hess concert series. Last week they emailed me about our upcoming concert on January 10th which was confirmed almost a year ago. They told me I have to change my flights to arrive the day before the concert. I had booked my flights many months ago and I explain to them I have to arrive the morning of the 10th because of previous engagements and also that my flights are non-refundable.

      So just because they know they can, they snap their fingers and they have someone to replace me. Now I’m completely f***ed over. I had bought my tickets well in advance to avoid going negative to play this concert, but instead of going slightly in the red, now I lose $1,000 on three round trip Boston-Chicago tickets (including my cello seat) and they could care less.

      This is totally unfair. I’ve gotten taken advantage of many times, and classical musicians are getting completely screwed over like this ALL THE TIME. Please share this story and others like it to help stop this from happening.”

      • Amahl says:

        He also goes on to comment (later in the thread), that there was no signed contract, only e-mail correspondence, and that most gigs he does are without contract.

        It’s horrible of the promoters to treat him in this fashion, but this can also be a learning experience to never agree to anything without written, signed confirmation.

        • Naama says:

          I believe that an offer made by email and accepted by email is legally binding.

          • Richard Sladek says:

            An email is only an electronic communication and NOT a signed contract.
            A professional musician can’t be so careless and oblivious to the fact is there are people out there that just don’t give a damn at all about your circumstances; if they have a window of a chance to screw you- they will. Hence, you can’t trust anybody. And the well-known presenters are more than aware about the difference between the sheep and the goats; A musician with the contract displays professional seriousness, experience, and yes, a command for respect.

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      He is (or was scheduled) to perform on the 10th. So asking him to arrive a day early, it must be about rehearsing with the pianist, in which case we should hear what he has to say about it. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Kevin Case says:

    Sebastian might not be without recourse here. Even absent a formal written agreement, email correspondence showing an offer and acceptance can (depending on the content of the emails) be sufficient to create a binding contract. If so, then IMF arguably breached the contract, and Sebastian might be entitled to damages including his solo fee and the travel expenses he incurred on reliance upon the contract.

  • Doug says:

    A perhaps even more relevant question: does he posses a valid visa to enter the United States for work?

    There is obviously far more to the story than is reported here.

  • Mark Riggleman says:

    As recently appointed Executive Director of Chicago’s International Music Foundation (IMF), and a longtime supporter and practitioner of classical music in this city, it pained me to read your incomplete story, re: the circumstances surrounding the travel schedule of cellist Sebastian Bäverstam. Without meaning to disparage a fellow artist, I must set the record straight on behalf of the IMF Board and its beloved Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series.

    As the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts take place every Wednesday at 12:15pm sharp and are broadcast LIVE on Chicago’s Fine Arts Station, WFMT-FM Radio, there is little margin for error in terms of late flight arrivals on the concert date. Thus, ALL artists are contractually required – and advised well in advance – to arrive the day prior to assure they are in town on the morning of the performance. We gladly provide for their overnight accommodations to minimize any inconvenience.

    This requirement – for Sebastian to arrive in Chicago on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, in advance of his performance on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 – was stipulated in a letter of agreement sent to Sebastian’s manager Chris Chang on August 28, 2017, four+ months in advance of the concert date. We learned from Chris Chang on December 7 that Sebastian was planning to fly to Chicago on the morning of the concert. We responded to both Chris Chang and Sebastian to remind them that artists were required to be in Chicago the day before the concert. It was not until Dec. 21, 2017, when Sebastian notified the IMF production team that he could not exchange his flight tickets and would need to arrive on Wednesday morning, January 10. Again, as the concert is broadcast live – and has been for 40 years – we cannot risk having an artist fly in the day of the concert – especially given Chicago winters and the potential for delay – and were unfortunately forced to cancel this engagement so as to find a replacement for the broadcast (and our loyal concertgoers).

    We wish Sebastian all the best in his career and look forward to hearing of his future performances. The non-profit International Music Foundation has showcased classical music artists of the finest caliber for some four decades, offering valuable audience and broadcast exposure for artists on the rise, such as Sebastian Bäverstam, and the community here recognizes that we would never intentionally seek to compromise an artist’s career in any way.

    I hope this provides some clarity.

    Mark Riggleman
    Executive Director, International Music Foundation

    • Anon says:

      Sensible normal practice from any agency.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Mark
      Thank you for the clarification. I have asked Sebastian for his response.
      best wishes

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      How can anyone argue with that explanation?

      Seems that the artist was treated fairly and was the party responsible for the breach of contract.

    • Jules says:

      As the producer/host of a live performance/interview show, I must say that my sympathies are with the IMF. I had a performer book a morning flight on the day of the show (which begins at 1 PM) in the summer, and not make it there in time. Great shuffling and hustling had to be done by the musicians performing on the show to make it all work and, as it turned out, the plane landed as the show began…without said performer. While I understand that freelancers want to get as many performance opportunities into the books as possible, commonsense needs to prevail in situations like this.

  • Mauricio says:

    That ‘s what americans did. they were economic hustlers.

  • Constantine Finehouse says:

    Interesting conversation….Just chiming in with a couple of clarifying points here: Sebastian is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Newton, MA. Also, the two of us have collaborated for 14 years, so the rehearsal with the pianist (i.e., myself) is a non-issue.

  • JP33 says:

    Dealing with U.S. orchestras and concert promoters and sadly too often any U.S. organisation, can often be a real nightmare. Many of them seem to operate like a heartless federal bureaucracy, without any human dimension nor minimal respect. Just like their airlines brutally remove passengers, the old, the infirm and mother’s with babies, dragging them off bloodied and beaten, only to apologise later when the video goes viral. Many of my artists have had similar misadventures when performing in the U.S., starting from the rude interviews that they must undergo in order to get a working visa, to the rude and often aggresive reception upon arrival or departure when they have to literally take apart their instruments under the scowl of humourless and very unwelcoming TSA officials. Many of my artists simply refuse dates in the U.S. nowadays and I don’t blame them. There are far more interesting and kind places in the world to make music without having to deal with amateurish and rude individuals at nearly every step of the way. It has truly become a sad and unwelcoming place best to be avoided.

    • RB says:

      If only that were relevant to the performer in question, an American who lives in Massachusetts.

      (Isn’t the internet great? People get to smear organizations’ reputations with falsehoods, publish provocative clickbait or post ignorant, fact-free rants, all with the velocity of light and from the comfort of their own couches.)

  • Andrew says:

    It sounds to me as if they wanted him to arrive one day early for precisely the reason other commenters have mentioned: winter air travel delays. If his flight on the morning of the 10th had been delayed for any reason, the presenter would have had no performer to play that day’s concert (which starts at 12pm). That the presenter wants to protect their own concert series should be no cause for revolt.
    I am a traveling musician, too, and this cellist’s unfortunate story just reinforces the importance of clear contracting and communication in all professional matters.

    • MWnyc says:

      Yes, planning to fly into Chicago that morning for a noon concert in January is very foolhardy.

      Well, for a noon concert in any month, actually – you could wind up being late for your performance just by getting stuck in traffic or if there’s some delay in the trains from O’Hare.

    • Raymond says:

      But the presenting organization should have made an arrival date requirement clear far sooner. They can set whatever arrival date they choose, but it’s not fair to do so without appropriate notice.

      • Amahl says:

        There is a post above from the ED of the series, saying that they advised him of the necessary arrival time in August. At this point, unless email correspondence is made public, it’s a lot of “he-said, she-said” nonsense.

        • RB says:

          It is. It’s the word of a performance series that has successfully presented live concerts for more than 40 years with guest artists from all around the world against the word of one young soloist, who apparently believes contractual requirements in a letter agreement sent to his agent months before the performance shouldn’t apply to him.

          The clarifying note above from Mark Riggleman, the executive director of the presenting organization and a musician, was sent to this blog more than 24 hours ago, but the author of the post refuses to issue a correction.

          Stirring the pot, even if not based on facts, generates page clicks, I suppose. Perhaps it’s inevitable in the age of Trump and fake news, although that doesn’t make it right.

  • Steve Robinson says:

    Norman: Now that the executive director of the IMF has responded to your post about the ‘cellist who allegedly got “screwed,”

    “As the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts take place every Wednesday at 12:15pm sharp and are broadcast LIVE on Chicago’s Fine Arts Station, WFMT-FM Radio, there is little margin for error in terms of late flight arrivals on the concert date. Thus, ALL artists are contractually required – and advised well in advance – to arrive the day prior to assure they are in town on the morning of the performance. We gladly provide for their overnight accommodations to minimize any inconvenience.”

    are you going to post an apology? You certainly should. The IMF has been presenting young artists in this series for over 40 years and to be taken to task by you in this way isn’t fair.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I am waiting for a response from the soloist.

      • EmmKay says:

        Why didn’t you wait for a response from the organizer first before you posted your initial post?

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Because the artist had waited several days without getting a response from the organiser. When it’s a case of lone artist vs organisation, I listen first to the artist.

          • EmmKay says:

            But did *you* reach out to the organizer? Because the artist could be saying lots of things about lack of response. The onus is on you to verify before you post hearsay.

      • Steve Robinson says:

        Norman: Asking the ‘cellist for clarification is exactly what a responsible journalist should do. However, it begs the question, why didn’t you get the IMF’s side of the story BEFORE you published and before you said: “They owe Sebastian a refund and an apology. Until these are forthcoming, soloists are advised to beware Chicago’s IMF.” ??? That’s also what a responsible journalist would have done. Also, you’re warning musicians to “beware” of an organization that has showcased young artists for over four decades and has had their performances broadcast on WFMT, a local Chicago radio station that gives these artists -via streaming- worldwide exposure, and has done so since the inception of the series? I somehow doubt future Dame Myra Hess artists will heed your warning. Full disclosure: I was the general manager of WFMT from 2000 to 2016.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Reply from Sebastian: First of all, the concert was confirmed last May. That is when we agreed to the terms that I would perform the concert on January 10th for $1100. And no where did I agree to arriving the day before the concert.

          Then in August you sent me a form that you now call the contract after we had already agreed on the terms of the concert three months prior. Clearly already at that point your attitude was that its my problem to follow your new rules stipulated in this new contract which was never even discussed or agreed upon. Then only in December maybe two weeks ago you reach out to me to check in that I will be arriving the day before the concert. Thats the first time that we even discussed the issue whatsoever even though we had confirmed the concert last May. I inform you that I cannot arrive the day before because of previous arrangements and non-refundable flights, and so you find a replacement and I lose the cost of three flights. ($1,000)

          Furthermore, when I responded to you that I thought this was completely unfair, you didn’t even do me the courtesy of responding and discussing it with me until now. Even now, you’re only responding to Norman Lebrecht because its become a problem for you. If it weren’t for Norman, my only option would be small claims court. I’m no politician, and your treatment of me was completely disrespectful and unempathetic. We confirmed the concert date and fee last May, and no where did I agree to arriving the day before the concert. I don’t nearly consider you a “fellow artist” and I don’t dream of performing for you again


            It looks like the concert organization is getting a bum rap from NL

            Sebastian’s reply doesn’t pass the smell test. He was informed – or at least his manager was – four months ago that he was quite reasonably required to be in Chicago the day before. If that presented a problem for him, that was the time to bring it up.

            It’s very doubtful that he bought plane tickets before August 28. Either his manager didn’t inform him, or he blew it off, thinking that the stipulation didn’t apply him. But it did! And now he’s running to Norman with a sob story that doesn’t hold water. He created the problem.

          • Steve P says:

            Whew. If there were a way to burn bridges, salt the soil, and destroy the buildings in one fell swoop, this response would be exhibit A.

          • Bill says:

            Even if (and I think it is a big if) we take it as true that the presenter did not clearly put forth this requirement early on, I have a hard time thinking that the would-be performer made a reasonable choice in opting to book a winter flight into Chicago arriving just a few hours before the performance. I notice that there is no claim that his schedule did not permit arriving earlier, only the inability to exchange the tickets without expense (I would be somewhat more understanding of flying at the last minute because of another performance the day before, though I would still think it foolish).

  • Gil says:

    Don’t closed airports and canceled concerts go hand in hand?

  • Raymond says:

    And is anyone surprised that NL didn’t get a comment from the concert organizers before spreading this story and demanding an apology?

  • Plush says:

    Not surprised about LeBrecht. He seeks publicity as well. He is not a real journalist.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    I’m available and I live in Chicago.

    Everyone can live happily ever after.

    God Bless everyone. Happy New Year!

  • Jeannette Kreston says:

    As a lifelong resident of Chicago, a frequent attender of Dame Myra Hess concerts, and a presenter of a series of chamber music concerts at a summer festival for 14 years, I agree wholeheartedly with those responders who stated that if an artist is appearing on a noontime concert, especially one which is to be broadcast live on the WFMT radio network around the world, it would be essential for him/her to arrive in the city by the previous day. Just last week, hundreds of flights to or from the east coast were cancelled due to the severe weather and heavy snows. The fact that the presenter reminded the artist and his manager of this requirement of his engagement more than 4 months in advance of the concert, and in addition was providing overnight accommodations, gave the artist ample time to make proper travel arrangements. The Hess series is one of the most prestigious gigs in Chicago, and provides a highly visible venue and extensive exposure for its artists. It is hard to understand how any artist would want to take such a risk with his travel arrangements for such a prestigious engagement.

  • Steve Robinson says:

    Norman: It seems this thread, which began with you lashing out at a renowned Chicago presenting institution and with you urging them to apologize to the young musician and pay him for his airfare, etc., has about run its course. And it appears that given all the responses the fault was not with the institution but with the young ‘cellist. It also seems that you could have avoided the whole thing by merely asking the presenting institution for their side of the story before you went to print with your accusation. One of the respondents on your blog, Plush, said that in his opinion you are not a “real journalist.” I’m curious to know how you’re going to respond: are you going to let that statement remain unanswered or are you going to try to defend your integrity as a journalist and/or apologize to the institution in question? I’ve heard that Slipped Disc is one of the most well read classical music blogs in the world so it’s an important question, don’t you think?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Steve: I see no need to reply, let alone apologise. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the young soloist’s travel arrangements, the institution treated him with little sympathy and left him $1,000 out of pocket. He had nowhere else to turn to voice a genuine grievance. I gave him space on Slipped Disc in the hope that the matter might be reasonably resolved. Why did I not contact the institution? Because the soloist had been trying to do so for quite some time with no prospect of a response. On Slipped Disc, the response came within hours.

      • Scotty says:

        As a former journalist and a current working musician, I see Steve’s point. The usual journalistic practice is to at least attempt to obtain comment from the accused party.

        That said, I don’t think that SD presents itself as a journalistic organization. It appears to be largely an aggregator of stories rather than an originator of stories. Much of the content is opinion or reportage made from the viewpoint of whoever the reporter happens to be. Additionally, much of the content is contained in comments.

        I don’t expect SD to follow traditional journalistic practices because I don’t believe that it is a traditional news outlet.

        • The View from America says:

          Correct. SD is the “People Magazine” of the classical music industry. It’s why so many people despise it.

          And it’s also why so many people can’t get enough of it.

  • esfir ross says:

    Cellist could change dates for not much money just one way and use his return ticket. I change return ticket from Chicago to San Francisco for $175. Thanks, that it possible now with non-refundable ticket. Not willing cooperate cost the cellist a lot.