UK orchestras said he was Trouble

The pianist Nick Van Bloss has obtained a sheaf of embarrassing emails about himself under Freedom of Information procedures. The embarrassment is not to Nick but to half a dozen British orchestras that he says have conspired to exclude him from their programmes.

The orchestras are the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, Birmingham, Hallé Bournemouth and Liverpool, and Nick has gone to the Telegraph with complaints of collusion.

An email from one orchestra’s chief executive to another said: “I would cut and paste the response from [redacted] to show solidarity… and a message that we all think the same!”

An internal email between the directors of Philharmonia called van Bloss “trouble”. “Nick van Bloss is a protege of [redacted] and he is Trouble,” it said. “Switch off your phone, is my advice.”

Nick, 51, suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a disability that involves severe tics which, he says, do not affect his playing. He told the newspaper: ‘The emails display a hostile, mocking and pathological disregard for me and my complaint. The main point of my concern was diversity. The orchestras are funded to promote and celebrate it, but they reacted to my complaint by asking for me to apologise for having called them out.’

Is anyone surprised that there is collusion between public-funded UK orchestras? I wonder what the ABO has to say.

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  • May he sue the living daylights out of the creeps. May they lose their jobs immediately. May they all be blacklisted for life from the profession.

  • He issues a blanket attack: they co-ordinate their response. Professionals in the same, small, field talk to each other: shock! Non-story.

    The reality, of course, is that he’s just another mediocre pianist in an overcrowded profession – and no amount of conspiracy theories and special pleading can change that. Only he can. Though he might perhaps consider changing his agent: they seem to be giving him pretty atrocious PR advice.

  • What a dirty picture the telegraph article paints. I’m quite sure that here in the UK public funded establishments cannot do what they have done, especially to someone disabled.
    Who holds these people to account? Who IS holding them to account?

    They used their public relations companies to address the “problem”. Isn’t that what Trump does???
    Filthy.

  • Having worked in this industry for some 25 years I’ve seen it all. Crap goes on and everyone ignores it. Until they can’t any longer. But this is by far the worst and it’s going to play out really badly for the orchestra people. I reckon half the industry will now be rubbing hands together in glee waiting to see the mighty fall. Kudos to this guy for being so brave.

  • “The emails display a hostile, mocking and pathological disregard for me and my complaint.”

    Perhaps he’s not as special as he thinks he is. Having a disability does not automatically put him in a state of virtue.

    • Correct. As Curb Your Enthusiasm pointed out some time ago, disabled people can behave like complete a***holes too.

      Two serious points:

      1. He has rather shot himself in the foot by proving the directors of the Philharmonia to be 100% correct in their opinion of him.

      2. In my opinion (Yes, just one person’s opinion. Others are available.), he is an entirely unremarkable talent who doesn’t deserve to be playing with the country’s leading orchestras. That’s not to say he’s a bad pianist. Not at all. Just…nothing special.

      Yes, I know this is all going to be terribly unpopular. I’ll get my coat.

      • Another plant from one of the shamed orchestras. They really have no shame and they’re so bloody obvious. Seriously, that’s the best you can do? Keep saying it like a mantra guys. Get your coat and clear your desk. The industry is waiting for your demise.

        • Sorry to disappoint you, EmilyPQ, but no, I don’t work for any orchestra, shamed or otherwise. I am a self-employed musician and don’t have ‘skin in the game’.

          I’m sorry that you’re so angry about this.

        • You’ve said this about two posters. How do you *know* each of them is a plant from an orchestra? If you don’t *know* this, why do you say it?

        • EmilyPQ,

          You are making big assumptions of identity and direct accusations. Please be sure of your facts.

          I have no axe to grind in this but am surprised by your comments and I too, am sorry that you seem so angry.

          • I hadn’t realised you were the moderator, Derek.

            From what I’ve heard today a lot of people in the industry are rightly angry at this. Sleaze at the top affects all of us. I hope the ABO is acting.

    • If you’re the pianist Jonathan Dunsby I’ve not only met, but whom I’ve heard ‘play’, then I hate to give you a reality check: you’re not fit to judge anyone as a pianist. Dull, dull, dull, incompetent and obviously bitter.

      However, if you’re not that particular Jonathan D then I retract the above.

  • Is there any evidence that this guy is good enough to expect to get work with the world’s best orchestras? Nothing in his biography suggests that he’s been invited to perform with major orchestras overseas – the only orchestras mentioned are the English Chamber Orchestra and Sinfonietta Riga.

    My perception as an audience member is that the London concert halls and orchestras tend to hire soloists from anywhere in the world whose biographies list hundreds of concerts with the major European and American orchestras. He doesn’t seem to fit that category.

    Can’t help but think this is a guy who’s good, but not quite good enough to get the gig.

  • I’m not Christophe Huss, but I think I’ve heard enough piano performances to say with some certainty that Nick van Bloss sounds pretty good—certainly good enough that I’d pay money to hear him live on a London concert platform. It does sound from what has been published that some people in the music world have a personal issue with him and that he’s been badly treated. If it were simply the case that he isn’t good enough to play with these orchestras all they needed to say was, ‘We’re not going to engage Mr van Bloss because he simply isn’t good enough to play with this orchestra.’ Instead it all seems to have been about his personality.

    • The really top names in the industry can get invitations to play almost whatever they do. Partly because they almost guarantee to help sell lots of tickets “selling-out-the-hall”.

      But there are many “very, very good” pianists who are not quite top rank, and only so many gigs to fill. If you are a difficult person or a pain-in-the-neck (or your agent is), then you won’t get invited: people won’t want to work with you. I find the sense of entitlement bizarre.

  • This whole (actually non-discriminatory) mess is a Masterclass in how to severely damage your career in a few tweets.

    If I were Mr van Bloss, I’d reconsider my representation. By allowing and/or encouraging this public venting of disappointment at not being engaged by the orchestras mentioned, Peter Puskas (the agent) has succeeded only in guaranteeing that none of his clients are ever engaged by any major UK ensemble. I feel sorry for them all – a very sad way to go about things.

    • Dear Mr ‘Orion’,

      Thank you for following this all so carefully. I’m glad you’ve seen my many Tweets and you also have a good take on who represents me. I’m grateful for your interest.

      Like many of the replies here – many being uncharacteristically long and detailed for this particular forum – you seem to have knowledge from the ‘inside’, and I thank you for having shared it so openly. Indeed, you state with some degree of certainty that Mr Puskas, by supporting me, has guaranteed that none of his other clients will ever be engaged by any major UK ensemble.

      I’m sure the music establishment would never stoop so low as to penalise musicians who are totally unrelated to my particular concerns, but given that you ‘guarantee’ it will, I’m sure you will wish to reach out to me in confidence, so we can somehow prevent what would be a huge injustice.

      I look forward to hearing from you.
      Kind regards,
      NVB

    • The above from Mr van Bloss is arguably the least abusive thing I’ve seen from him on social media. Look, lots of people in classical are risky/controversial/whiney/etc. But they generally bring the goods. Mr van Bloss is fine, but no more than that.

  • My understanding is that it is up to an orchestra to invite a soloist for a performance. I have often wondered how the invitations come about, and my sense is that it is mostly a business decision. Let’s face it, there is an abundance of concert pianists these days, and orchestras can have their pick. I understand the frustration of Mr. van Bloss, but I do know that two of the orchestras mentioned — the Philharmonia and the Liverpool Phil — have performed with Nobuyuki Tsujii, who is completely sightless; so I don’t think they can be accused of discriminating against pianists with a handicap. I wish Mr. van Bloss the best.

  • The fact is that the supply of excellent soloists far exceeds the opportunities to perform as a concerto soloist with a distinguished orchestra. Nobody is entitled to receive a response to an unsolicited request for a concert appearance. An organisation which receives a lot of unsolicited requests is acting perfectly reasonably in declining to respond. Where a particular performer (or his/her agent) is particularly persistent in making such requests, it is hardly surprising that organisations would compare notes (although if they forward the text of the requests themselves, they may be in breach of copyright and/or data-protection laws), and co-ordinate their responses in the hope that the performer (or his/her agent) would desist. It is not clear from this article and the Telegraph article whether van Bloss fits the category of being particularly persistent, but the actions and public statements to date of the orchestras would be consistent with such a situation.

    Given how competitive the market is, it is perfectly plausible that (as the orchestras claim) von Bloss’s disability had no bearing whatsoever on the decisions not to engage him. In fact, the CBSO claims to have been unaware thereof. None of the quotations published here or in the Telegraph suggests that the disability were a material issue.

    Now, this /cause célèbre/ raises some interesting questions more generally:
    1. how should orchestras select the soloists whom they engage?
    2. is the current system reasonable?
    3. is the artistic judgement informing the decision-making sound?

    No doubt, those who champion von Bloss would answer §3 in the negative, but the same could be said for a fan of any soloist who does not get engagements commensurate with the esteem in which such a fan holds him/her. In itself, this does not prove any failing on the part of the orchestras concerned.

    §2 raises more fundamental issues, and there are few who would say that there are no problems with the current system. At best, it could be described as a compromise between financial, marketing, and artistic factors.

    §1 may raise the prospect of finding better ways? But can they be identified, are they feasible (e.g.: one could make a case for holding open auditions for concerto soloists, but that would be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and many of the very best soloists would not submit to such a system, opting instead to go where they get invitations), and who should be responsible for implementing them? Arts Council England have, rightly, made clear (in the Telegraph article) that they do not wish to intervene in artistic decision-making of this sort; to do so would undermine the autonomy of orchestras from the state and from its “arms-length” bureaucracy.

    We can and should discuss these matters in the *general* sense, rather than endorse particular individual cases which manage to get media attention, if classical music is to (attempt to) maintain an ideal of artistic merit, as opposed to celebrity status.

    • SVM says: “3. is the artistic judgement informing the decision-making sound?
      No doubt, those who champion von Bloss would answer §3 in the negative, but the same could be said for a fan of any soloist who does not get engagements commensurate with the esteem in which such a fan holds him/her. In itself, this does not prove any failing on the part of the orchestras concerned.”

      I agree. Artistic judgment is subjective, and I suspect it is not exactly the top consideration of an orchestra when it comes to which soloist to invite to perform with. As an unabashed fan of Nobuyuki Tsujii, I have long lamented that he has yet to perform with “top orchestras” such as the Berlin Philharmonic, while the invitations go to some of his peers whom I consider less deserving. I did chalk it up to Nobu’s disability (blindness) and still believe that is a significant factor, but I have come to accept that the business of classical music is opaque, and there are unspoken matters such as business ties and intangibles at play. The world is not necessarily fair.

      • The ability to sell tickets is VERY important to the organisations doing the inviting. Someone who is not well known, will always find it difficult. Hence some musicians have cultivated a musical profile (such as Yuja Wang) to help them get gigs. (Although she has considerable musical talent as well).

        • Saxon Broken says: “The ability to sell tickets is VERY important to the organisations doing the inviting. ”

          I have come to be aware of this all too well. I have also learned that the classical music market is very fragmented and provincial: different artists dominate different cities/countries. Nobuyuki Tsujii may not have the buzz of Lang Lang & Yuja Wang in Europe and U.S., but he is box-office gold in Japan, where he regularly sells out Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and Osaka’s Symphony Hall, and tickets to his recitals are among the most prized. In terms of total tickets sold, Nobu may actually exceed all other pianists in classical music.

          The sad truth is, the worldwide market is just too small to accommodate all the deserving concert pianists.

  • This all seems a strange allegation when, certainly in the CBSO’s case, they had no prior knowledge of this man’s disability. So claims of discrimination are invalid.

    The CBSO has a splendid track record over matters relating to inclusion and recent reports about activities from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra suggest they are not alone in their endeavours .

    Perhaps his agents might be better advised to negotiate with orchestra managers privately rather than make all sorts of allegations – or was the intention to seek maximum publicity in the first place? Whatever the motive, slipped disc is certainly not going to help his cause. It’s just given all the usual anonymous cowardly “correspondents” a platform to voice some pretty unpalatable remarks. I wish him well.

  • No one has a right to blackball/blacklist another person. It should be considered an extremely serious crime. It is far too easy to destroy someone’s career. They should all be fired for doing so. As someone who has experienced it firsthand, it is utterly intolerable.

  • Full disclosure, I for the LPO. We’re actually on very good terms with Mr van Bloss.

    There has been talk over the last few days. Word has got back to us in our offices that the named orchestras have been instructed to fill Norman’s blog and this post with as many negative comments as possible about the pianist.

    We and other orchestras are now distancing ourselves from those orchestras named. You may find there is some announcement about that shortly.

    It is very easy to spot those who are posting on behalf of the orchestras.

    For what it’s worth the Philharmonia and the CBSO seem to be in the worst panic right now.

      • No chance. Of course not. How could I possibly work, shock horror, at an orchestra. Maddock made a statement almost as soon as I predicted the CBSO was in panic. Ha!

  • Several years ago, after the BBC broadcast a television documentary fronted by the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sachs with Nick van Bloss, I was approached to produce a recording of the Golderg Variations. The repertoire decision was taken at a “getting-to-know-you” lunch. I assumed he played the work already. We met shortly afterwards in the studio, and I discovered that Nick van Bloss not only plays no wrong notes, but possesses one of the most impressive keyboard techniques I’ve encountered. I produced Andras Schiff’s Bach series for Decca when we first signed him. Nick is very different and less reverential to period informed performance, but equally agile, creative and inquisitive. Only later did I find out that Nick did not already play the Goldberg, but learned them by memory without a piano. At the time, he was too poor to afford one. Later, when we recorded Bach concertos and it was rhetorically suggested that the keyboard should double all the voices in a fugal movement, Nick did it completely spontaneously without even thinking about the logistics, or the fingering. He simply doubled where required when required. It was only at this point, that I found out from the sponsor of the recording that Nick did not own a piano and learned music without the instrument. The extraordinary technique was a by-product of the Tourettes, as was the photographic memory. I’ve worked with a number of important pianists over my career: Radu Lupu, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Alicia Delarrocha, Jorge Bolet and as earlier mentioned, Andras Schiff. Nick is the first genius in the neurological sense I’ve ever encountered. The fact that he’s a creative musician and a highly intelligent individual makes a mockery of all the vile commentary I’ve read on this page. Nick van Bloss is a once in a generation pianist. Some of his brilliance is the result of his Tourettes, but the rest is down to him. The utter irony of this hideous story is that I advised him against presenting himself as a sufferer of Tourettes as the goods he offered had no need of the extra endorsement. In addition, I was worried he would be dismissed as a failed David Hilfgott. Ultimately, agents and labels couldn’t figure out how to deal with Nick, but his artistry spoke for itself. The arrogance of the UK music business is legendary. Only the over-confident entitlement of infallibility could possibly explain the recklessness with which they have dealt with Nick van Bloss. Ignore Nick van Bloss, and frankly, it’s only music lovers who lose out.

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