When a concertmaster gets depression

When a concertmaster gets depression


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2018

It was an arrogant conductor that tipped Stephen Sitarski into the darkness.

Read here.

The rate of depression is higher amongst musicians than in the general population, says Dianna Kenny, professor of psychology and music at Australia’s University of Sydney. In one study, 32 percent of one orchestra’s players ticked off symptoms of depression in a questionnaire.


  • Tweettweettweet says:

    Very recognisable! I underwent about the same, however, I did a career switch. The annoying perfectionism still hunts me though. It’s difficult to transform that curse into an asset. I’m happy for Sitarski that he’s enjoying music again and hope that he’ll listen sooner to the signs of depression in future. Good luck!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Very interesting…. one hopes that the therapies which exist nowadays will have been availabe in the sixties and seventies when the radio orchestra of Baden-Baden specialized in new music and most players got terribly depressed and suffered from insomnia, divorce, and selfdestructive tantrums. This was reported widely at the time, but did not have any effect on programming.

    • Musician says:

      Likewise in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, probably to the present day, but certainly in the 80’s and 90’s. Not only that, the kind of repertoire(?) put in front of you on there on a daily basis, sometimes week after week, would also potentially wreck your playing…all seriously depressing. Not music but “noise”, much of it ugly.

    • Leo says:

      Do you have any references to such reports available online?
      That could be valuable information.

  • Sue says:

    My my, what miserable societies comprise our world today. Everybody is so dreadfully unhappy and suffering. Not like the Syrians, aye.

    • Doug says:

      I’ll take peaceful depression over the happy disregard for human life.

      • Sue says:

        It has to affect the economy of a country with so many tens and tens of thousands of people disabled by depression. What’s happening to people? We live, in the west, comparatively in the very best times in human history and there are these armies of unhappy people. Do you think there were epidemics of depression DURING WW2? Why don’t we hear about this in our histories?

        • Helen Wynn says:

          As one who usually agrees with much of what you have to say, I would just ask you to broaden your understanding of depression. I have severe depression. I am a normal, hardworking person, still functioning. But it is not “peaceful”. It is painful. I’ve had cancer. Depression is worse. And yes, you can die from both.

        • Petros LInardos says:

          Just because the mental health consequences of WWII have not been extensively studied or reported doesn’t mean they should be underestimated.

          I’ve also wondered about this. Here is an article, stating that “people survived World War 2 were 3 per cent more likely to have diabetes as adults and nearly six per cent more likely to suffer depression, research has shown.”

          Another link:

          You want some anecdotal evidence? With hindsight, I believe that a WWII combat veteran uncle of mine must have struggled with depression his whole life. His combat airplane was shot down by the axis, and he ended up sitting out most of the war as a POW. He avoided talking about his experience, never married and looked mostly somber. Back in earlier decades discussing mental health was a social taboo.

        • Sharon says:

          One major component of depression is isolation and a feeling of isolated powerlessness. During national crisis people come together and there is more solidarity so there is less depression, at least during the crisis itself.

          Actually there was a lot of depression right AFTER WWII. Many survivors of death camps as well as others spent a year or more in sanitariums. There was also a lot of PTSD and suicide after the war among soldiers but it was considered shameful so it was hushed up

          There also may be a physiological component. The brain hormones that are enabling the brain to be in survival mode are more active. In depression these brain hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine exist in the brain at low levels.

  • Bruce says:

    I wonder if we really do have higher rates of depression than other fields, or if we just tend to put more of our emotional lives into our work so we notice it more when something isn’t right, the way an athlete notices a muscle strain in a different way than a regular person would.

  • esfir ross says:

    Remember episode from sitcome “Seinfield” when dentist tell him there’s highest rate of suicide by dentists. Jerry answer:”This’s why so hard to get an appointment”

  • Doug says:

    No wonder. Others complain about their boss. But when you have a certifiable narcissistic sociopath with criminal tendencies as your “boss” really, what can you expect?

    • Sue says:

      Thank heavens there are few of those kinds of bosses than you might think. They don’t make effective managers, driven as they are by temperament rather than intelligence.

      • Bruce says:

        “…driven as they are by temperament rather than intelligence.”

        Accurate description of many conductors.

  • Ben G. says:

    Here’s an article on this website pertaining to Celibidache. Read the first comment:


  • Rich Patina says:

    If you are depressed, I urge you to look into obtaining Ketamine therapy. There are many reports of people with lifelong depression being totally cured after just one dose.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    I’m no expert on depression or why musicians get depressed but I believe Carlos Kleiber was the best conductor of the twentieth century. It is very well known that he loved women. I don’t know whether he ever abused anybody in any of the orchestras he conducted. Perhaps it doesn’t matter now. All I can perceive (from old videos) is that he cared deeply about music. I believe that his father (a conductor himself, as all of you know) committed suicide, though it was not as a result of how orchestras treated HIM. I don’t know if Carlos committed suicide, too. It was rumored that he did. My remedy for ill-tempered, arrogant, posturing, pretentious conductors? I just laugh at them – on the inside, of course. No conductor has ever struck any kind of fear in me. I think they know I hang out with sleazy characters after rehearsals.