Montreal hits back at ‘abrasive, disrespectful’ Andras Schiff

Montreal hits back at ‘abrasive, disrespectful’ Andras Schiff


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2019

Madeleine Careau, director-general of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, has responded swiftly to disobliging remarks made by the pianist and conductor Andras Schiff, who declared ‘a major incident’ with its musicians. She has written to the newspaper Le Devoir (English translation follows):

La direction de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) se dissocie totalement des propos erronés du pianiste et chef d’orchestre Andras Schiff, tels que rapportés dans Le Devoir d’aujourd’hui et se voit dans l’obligation de rectifier les faits afin de rétablir la vérité.

La direction reconnaît qu’un malaise profond s’est installé entre les musiciens et le chef invité lors des répétitions qui ont précédé les concerts que ce dernier devait diriger les 23 et 24 octobre derniers. C’est pourquoi nous sommes rapidement intervenus et avons pris les mesures qui s’imposaient pour calmer le jeu et pour nous assurer que le public ait droit à des concerts dignes du professionnalisme et de l’excellence qui ont toujours caractérisé l’OSM.

M. Schiff a accepté la solution proposée par l’Orchestre, soit de ne diriger que la première portion du concert. Cette solution était le résultat d’un commun accord entre lui, son agent, la direction de l’OSM, ainsi que le comité des musiciens. Il est pour le moins étonnant que, dans l’article du Devoir, il donne désormais l’impression qu’il en a été une victime.

Pour l’OSM, le malaise initial découle en grande partie de l’attitude inutilement abrasive de M. Schiff, qui a tenu des propos désobligeants et irrespectueux envers une partie des musiciens, ce qui a nui à l’émergence d’une atmosphère de collaboration et de respect. Depuis sa création il y a 85 ans, l’OSM a accueilli un grand nombre de chefs invités qui reconnaissent la qualité de ses musiciens et ont réussi à tirer le meilleur de leurs capacités pour faire ressortir l’essence profonde et toute l’émotion des œuvres interprétées.

Les musiciens de l’OSM sont toujours prêts à travailler avec ardeur et détermination pour répondre aux demandes les plus exigeantes des chefs d’orchestre qui les dirigent. Mais les insultes et autres formes d’incivilités ne sont pas les meilleurs moyens pour amener un groupe de musiciens à s’amender, à évoluer et à se dépasser.

Cette méthode n’est plus adaptée à la réalité d’aujourd’hui et n’est pas compatible avec les valeurs de respect, de dépassement de soi, de recherche d’excellence et de collaboration qui constituent le fondement des activités de l’Orchestre. Nous privilégions le leadership mobilisateur faisant travailler les gens ensemble vers un but commun à celui qui divise les troupes par l’intimidation et l’imposition de diktats péremptoires.

L’Orchestre a d’ailleurs récemment adopté une politique de tolérance zéro quant à ce type de conduite tout à fait dépassée et inacceptable. L’OSM s’attend à ce que tous ses chefs invités s’y conforment sans exception, peu importe leur statut ou leur réputation à l’international.

The management of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (OSM) completely dissociates itself from the erroneous remarks of the pianist and conductor Andras Schiff, as reported in Le Devoir today and is obliged to rectify the facts to restore the truth.

The management acknowledges that there was deep discomfort between the musicians and the guest conductor during the rehearsals that preceded his concerts on October 23 and 24. That is why we quickly intervened and took the necessary measures to calm things down and ensure that the public receives concerts worthy of the professionalism and excellence that have always characterized the OSM.

Mr. Schiff accepted the solution proposed by the Orchestra to direct only the first part of the concert. This solution was the result of mutual agreement between him, his agent, the OSM management and the committee of musicians. It is surprising, to say the least, that in the article in Le Devoir, he now gives the impression that he was a victim.

For the OSM, the initial uneasiness stems largely from Mr. Schiff’s unnecessarily abrasive attitude, making disparaging and disrespectful remarks to some of the musicians, which hindered the emergence of an atmosphere of collaboration and respect. Since its creation 85 years ago, the OSM has welcomed a large number of guest conductors who recognize the quality of its musicians and have managed to make the most of their abilities to bring out the essence and emotion of interpreted works.

The musicians of the OSM are always ready to work with ardor and determination to meet the most exacting demands of conductors who direct them. But insults and other forms of incivility are not the best ways to get a group of musicians to change, evolve and excel.

This method no longer meets today’s reality and is not compatible with the values ​​of respect, surpassing oneself, the pursuit of excellence and collaboration that form the foundation of the Orchestra’s activities. We think a galvanising leadership that brings people together to work toward a goal is preferable to one that that divides people through intimidation and dictats.

The Orchestra has recently adopted a zero tolerance policy for this type of conduct that is completely outdated and unacceptable. The OSM expects all its guest conductors to comply with it without exception, regardless of their international status or reputation.

In other Schiff news…


  • Emil says:

    It’s still the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, even in English.

    And good statement from Careau, who’s evidently learned from her time under the Dutoit debacle. Funny though she says insults and bullying are “outdated”; some would say they were not acceptable 20 years ago either.

  • The View from America says:

    Assuming that the characterization of this conductor’s attitude and rehearsal methods are accurate, bravo to the OSM musicians and management.

    There’s no room today for dictatorial “little Mussolini” approaches to rehearsing orchestras. Thankfully, there are a surfeit of better conductors who get better results while adopting an attitude of mutual respect. Any number of them would be pleased and honored to direct the musicians of the OSM.

    • Chorister says:

      Over several decades as a professional chorister, my most meaningful musical experiences were under the direction of a conductor whose exacting standards for excellence and professionalism were balanced by humor, deeply-informed understanding of the music, beautiful technique, and most importantly, a collegial respect for the musicians he was engaged to lead. I never worked harder in my life, nor had more fun, nor experienced more delight in the music, nor performed better as an individual musician. He was tough and demanding, but he put as much into the effort as he required of every musician, and did it all with grace and humor and deference to the long experience of all the musicians on the stage. There was no need for him to be a tyrant, because he accomplished all of this with grace and humility. Damn I miss those times.

  • Antonio says:

    Good that the Montreal Symphony Orchestra had the dignity to stand up to this bully.

    • Stereo says:

      Another Hungarian trying to go back to the days of Reiner,Szell and Solti!

      • AnySchiffInAStorm says:

        Two years ago, he gave a solo recital at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The tickets were very expensive, but we shelled out for the rare chance to hear him.

        He came on-stage in a fllthy temper, didn’t acknoledge the audience applause – went straight to the piano, where he played all the items in both the first and second halves of the program non-stop, not rising from his seat or making any pause between the items. He then strutted off stage, deliberately ignorin the audience once more, and not taking a bow. After an intermission, he played more works – as if encores to his program? None of them were announced. At the end of the last piece he said (in English) ‘that’s it. you can all go home now: – and walked off.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    Rings true. He’s been behaving like a pompous boor for years, constantly indulged by the kind of concertgoer and critic who thinks crabby Mitteleuropean old men are the font of all musical authenticity and wisdom.

    There are quite a few of these characters about – lionised as charming, civilised and sublime when with their famous friends or at major venues, but who start acting like snobbish, entitled primadonnas when they think they’re out of sight in what they consider to be insignificant or provincial venues. Good on the OSM for telling it straight.

    • Rich Patina says:

      “…crabby Mitteleuropean old men are the font of all musical authenticity and wisdom. ” LOL! Norman put the lie to these fools many years ago when he authored “The Maestro Myth.” I remember well how reading it opened my eyes and gave me a lifelong healthy skepticism towards the b.s. of conductors.

  • Doug says:

    Some years back I was part of a similar situation as a member of a professional orchestra, also in Canada (it shall go un-named), in which another well-known pianist fancied himself a conductor. Needless to say, thank goodness for a quick thinking concertmaster. At least it didn’t devolve to this level of farce. What are people like Schiff thinking? I believe this kind of thing goes hand in hand with mindless star worship. When people like Schiff walk around in a bubble receiving constant adulation as mistake like this is inevitable. Glad his bubble was burst and now he’s returned to earth. Perhaps he will learn to focus on what he does best, which is definitely not conducting.

    • Psgeturner says:

      It’s not playing the piano either, unfortunately. He’s good at blowing smoke up his own feeble ego though.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      He’s been giving a shellacking to Hungary, throwing out grenades – which he must think passes for ‘advice’ to Orban and the entire country. It’s none of his business, since he has made London his home.

      There’s resentment behind this kind of behaviour, if you’re willing to think about it.

      • MacroV says:

        I do give him points for his opposition to Orban. He’s a Hungarian; what happens in Hungary is very much his business. You don’t think he lives in London in part BECAUSE of what’s happening in Hungary?

        • V.Lind says:

          Yup. Gabriela Montero is praised for firing rockets at Venezuela’s regime despite not having lived there for years. I don’t always agree with what she comes out with, and I often wonder which part of Venezuela she laments, but I do not question her right to speak as she finds.

          • Sam McElroy says:

            Let me fill you in. She laments the collapse of the entire county at the hands of a tyrannical, murderous narcomafia. She laments having had to bring her brother and his family into exile, to start life over. She laments that her father had half his face carved off in a machete attack. She laments that close friends have died of curable illnesses. She laments that she risks being arrested if she goes there, because she dares to object to tyranny. She laments the starving and dying, some of whose lives she has personally saved by getting them out and placed in new lives abroad. She laments that music was used to obfuscate this brutal truth for two decades. She laments the total loss of her country which, despite residency abroad, is and always will be her country, her homeland. Anything else I can clarify?

  • iStrings says:

    Knowing András since over 40 years, I am surprised and would like to hear his view of this incident. However, no matter what happened, I personally never accepted conductors with rough behavior and I hope there is a somewhat better explanation from an outsider observer.

  • Alexander Radziewski says:

    If this what Ms. Careau mentions really happened I deeply appreciate her answer and wish that each orchestra would have such a manager like her.

  • V.Lind says:

    That translation looks like something Google Translate would offer.

    The last sentence of the penultimate paragraph should read: “We prefer the mobilizing leadership that puts people together to work toward a goal to one that divides the troops through intimidation and the imposition of peremptory dictates.

    As posted above, it makes no sense and is clumsy.

  • Bruce says:

    Good for her. He sounds like a spoiled child.

  • Alessandra Visconti says:

    The editor should take a closer look at paragraph six, which is mistranslated.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Schiff was a total prima donna at that series where he complained about the programmes other pianists were doing. Good to see there’s some push-back.

  • robert Durso says:

    Brava! Finally people standing up to this abuse. Wake up and join 2019 is what I say to the musician’s who feel their knowledge justifies this abuse. Hiding behind a premise that they are only passionate about the music, this goes on a various levels from community music schools to famous conservatories. Time to end!

  • Mike says:

    He’s a poodle compared with Stokowski. The problem with the MSO is their lack of individual artistry under the rigid period of Nagano.

  • sam says:

    Well that should bring a swift end to his budding career as conductor.

  • Mathis Broucek says:

    One of Kenneth Woods’ spoof blog posts is about a conductor who suddenly takes up the violin… The inversion kind of proves the point!

    “Nearly-Washed-Up Leading Conductor Trades Baton for Bow…”

  • Giora says:

    Having known Andras Schiff for more than 20 years now and worked with him many time, I’m really shocked to see him treated like a little Mussolini dictator or or a crabby European old man. This means really not knowing him at all. More than being one of the greatest living classical musicians he is the most sweetest and respectful human being.
    As a conductor he is maybe not the best technician, but in this case I think that the responsibility is maybe to be shared 50% with the orchestra. In any case the same program in Boston worked very well. So it’s really not FairPlay to blame only the conductor when the orchestra was probably unprepared!!
    Pity after all the orchestra lost the occasion to collaborate with a demanding and uncompromising great artist.
    All the rest it’s just crap politically correct!!

    • Fliszt says:

      The Boston Symphony program went well only because of their professional attitude and skill. For the Bartok, they recognized Schiff’s inability to conduct irregular time-signatures, so they simply counted and ignored him.

    • mary says:

      When you’re invited to be a guest at someone’s house, conventions demand a minimum of respect for the host.

      You think an orchestra doesn’t have thoughts as the guest conductor is flailing his arms helplessly, comparing him in their minds to the roster of preeminent conductors who have stood on that same podium conducting that same work?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        “When you’re invited to be a guest at someone’s house, conventions demand a minimum of respect for the host.”

        You think that was what Merkel was doing in 2016 when she invited the world into Germany, allowing them to tramp uninvited through other sovereign nations? And your comment speaks volumes about the reality where a ‘minimum respect for the host’ is the least likely outcome. If you don’t ask for it, don’t expect it.

        • La Roche says:

          What does this have to do with the discussion about Andras Schiff and Montreal? I am more and more convinced that Sue, invariably promoting bigoted far right views on this site, is employed by troll farm in Russia.

        • Ruben Greenberg says:

          Do you mean Marcus Merkel, the conductor? This is a music blog, after all.

    • Kevin says:

      You think that the responsibility is “maybe” to be shared with the orchestra, who was “probably” unprepared, and everything else is “crap”? This comment has nothing to do with fact, and is merely the opinion of a biased party who was not there – to be valued accordingly.

    • The View from America says:

      Is this the joke of the week?

  • christopher storey says:

    I cannot for the life of me imagine why Schiff was wasting his time with this ensemble

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Man alive, such opportunities are golden. I would give my blood to guest conduct this legendary orchestra from the piano.

    • Jeffrey Bagel says:

      And yet it is Schiff who gets to do it.

      Your social media pushiness is well known – but do you really need to use a crisis at the OSM in order to subtly share your desired gig? Come on…

    • Novagerio says:

      Well Jeffrey, start taking conducting lessons, in case you’d have to conduct the 2nd part of the program aswell. Conducting is, as you might know, a serious job, not a hobby.

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        I usually don’t bother replying, but guys, you’re off course. What I meant is how wonderful it would be IF I knew how to conduct to conduct a wonderful ensemble. Perhaps in my next life. I know my limitations, trust me. However, I will say this. I have been encouraged by conductors whose names I will keep private, that I should study with them. But time just does not allow this, and I leave that craft to those who are placed on this planet to do it, and do it well. As for Maestro Schiff, anyone who has the imagination to play as he does has my total respect. I never comment about behavior, because, quite simply, if I don’t see it, I have nothing to say, and, it is not my place to comment on hearsay. I have only utmost respect for both sides. As for social media pushiness, if I sat back and played only traditional repertoire, I would not have the passion for developing new repertoire and making sure a dozen and more new works are out there for future generations. Social media pushiness is one interpretation; creative entrepreneurial outreach is another. I do the latter, and have met it with total success, not for me personally, but for the cause of music. Those who take it otherwise have to deal with their own feelings. I will continue to push for new music no matter what it takes, and we are indeed very fortunate to have technology as our global resource. We have made many friends as a result.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    I know very little about Schiff but the little I have heard hasn’t been very flattering.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    They are a great band. Assistant Thomas Le Duc-Moreau conducted Brahms instead of Bartok Dance SUite

  • Novagerio says:

    Hmm…they endured Charles Dutoit’s abrasive bullying and flashy egomania for 25 long years, only cos he brought them a lucrative Decca contract.
    Now, they complain about a semi-conductor (also a former Decca star) for bad behaviour?
    As if they didn’t know anything aabout neither his shortcomings nor his abusive personality before signing him.

    Is it that clear that the record industry is basically dead?…
    Pardon my scepticism.

  • David says:

    Andras Schiff is a piece of a Schiff. He doesn’t deserve to conduct world renowned orchestras if he’s going to behave like my 3 year old son. I’m shaking my head in disgust, reading about how this bully conducts orchestra after orchestra and still gets away with his inhuman actions.
    Shame on him.

  • CGDA says:

    These ‘stars’ might be famous and venerated (because cult of personality is not confined to pop music), but they need to grow up. Top music schools churn out scores of excellent youngsters every year and they are the ones who keep music alive, unlike those stars who play a few dozen pieces over their lifetime!

  • Olassus says:

    Good for her.

    Schiff is a brilliant musician and one can understand his disappointment at not being able to conduct the hellishly tricky Táncszvit (1923). But it is clear he didn’t work productively with the symphony orchestra, that they compromised, and that after the fact he chose to recharacterize what had happened as if no agreement had been reached.

  • Boorish conductors are useless, and quite sad in this instance of alleged behaviour from such a fine musician.

    It must be said, though, that history has repeated itself many, many times over with this orchestra its sensitivity to criticism.

    The stories are legion. Markevich, Decker, de Burgos, and of course, Charlie. Oy!

  • LP says:

    Good on the OSM. They’ve done the right thing.

  • ian says:

    the problem with most well known conductors these days is they are too autobiagraphcal too much bull shit

  • Tom says:

    The OSM website now lists the orchestral-only portion of the program as Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Haydn Variations, both conducted by assistant conductor Thomas Le Duc-Moreau. Schiff will play/conduct Haydn and Beethoven concertos. The evidently problematic Bartok Dance Suite was dropped. While not a rarity it’s also not standard repertoire for most orchestras.
    I can imagine, perhaps incorrectly, how these programming situations come about. Orchestra sees an opportunity to save on a conductor fee, and part-time conductor sees an opportunity to realise a long-held desire. Sometimes it works.
    On a related topic, why isn’t it more common for conductors to share programs? Particularly, in the case of choral works, why shouldn’t the chorus master conduct something like a Requiem by Faure or Brahms where they’ve been working with the chorus for weeks or months, and leave the rest of the program to someone else.

  • Heathcliff says:

    As usual, slippedisc delivers news about Schiff, one of the very few magnificent and sublime musicians of our times, only when it is something allegedly against him… just look in google for Christophe Huss articles about the incident, and you will gain clear review about the facts and the truth. The OSM di not care about the truth, just trying to save its public image instead of dealing properly with the intolerable behavior of few of its orchestra’s members.

  • MacroV says:

    What I found puzzling about the original report was Schiff’s contention that the OSM couldn’t play Bartok correctly? I know he’s a Hungarian and “gets it,” but I have no doubt they can play Bartok. I’m sure he can, too – but can he conduct it?

    BTW, wasn’t Schiff in some kind of tiff (rhyme intended) not long ago with some festival?

  • Tamino says:

    There is one reason why the classical scene is currently plagued by many instrumental virtuosos, of great format with their instruments, but modest abilities as conductors: Schiff, Kavakos, Znaider etc.: Money. As a conductor you can make so much more… Can’t blame them for trying. Additional incentive for the concert promoters: Pay only one fee to one man, soloist and conductor simultaneously, instead of two.

    It has to stop. Enough of this artistically compromising nonsense.

  • PGTips says:

    Sir Andras Schiff is renowned for his warmth, courtesy, professionalism, politeness, respect for others – as well as his superb musicianship. This story sounds very odd, as I can[‘t think of anyone less likely to be a tyrant conductor.