Serbs accuse German conductor of breach of contract

Serbs accuse German conductor of breach of contract


norman lebrecht

January 13, 2020

Sources at the Belgrade Philharmonic, infuriated by Jun Maerkl’s public walkout and denunciation, have let it be known that the dispute was over an item of minimal significance. They say his management was also asking them to break Serbian law, and that his action amounts to breach of contract.

The Belgrade Phil have issued the following statement via Slipped Disc:

Maerkl Breaches Contract with Belgrade Philharmonic
The Belgrade Philharmonic had been looking forward to the debut of Mr. Jun Maerkl with our orchestra, scheduled for January 16 and 17, 2020 at the Kolarac Concert Hall in Belgrade. Unfortunately, we could not execute the agreement because the artist refused to respect certain terms of the contract, which he had already signed.

The Belgrade Philharmonic is a budget institution funded by the Republic of Serbia and therefore has several strict administrative rules that were presented to Mr. Maerkl’s management and also stipulated in the contract.  Not just because of this fact, it goes without saying that the minimum of professional standards of each institution should be to respect the law.

The Belgrade Philharmonic’s management always considers professional as well as personal issues of each and every guest in the concert season. Beside the quality of the orchestra, this is also the reason why world famous artists gladly come back to perform with the Belgrade Philharmonic.

Unfortunately, although Mr. Maerkl’s representatives had been properly informed of our professional practice, they continuously refused to respect it. Regardless of that, we went out of our way to try to find a solution to meet his needs. However, there is no compromise with anyone who attempts to operate within the grey area of business.

We were very surprised to learn that Mr. Maerkl decided to cancel his concerts 60 hours prior to the first rehearsal. We find this act extremely unprofessional and feel that no artists should allow themselves to act on a whim. Also, this is highly disrespectful toward the orchestra and its management, not to mention the audience, and the community as a whole.

Although a small country, Serbia has its laws and regulations and no artist so far has had any problems with that. The Belgrade Philharmonic has its audience, both locally and internationally, so invoking a boycott, as Mr. Maerkl has done, is nothing short of bad manners.

UPDATE: Maerkl’s next dates are with the Vancouver Symphony and San Diego. His website does not list an agent or a contact address.


  • Enquiring Mind says:

    This tells us nothing. What was the issue?

    • EM says:

      You make a good point! So what are these ( “… has several strict administrative rules that were presented to Mr. Maerkl’s management and also stipulated in the contract…”) rules that lead to the conductor bailing out?

      • SVM says:

        Presumably, the orchestra is being circumspect in order to respect data-protection laws or contractual provisions. In many cases, contracting parties are not at liberty to disclose unilaterally to the public the precise wording of a contract and the precise nature of a breach.

      • Milovan says:

        It was apparently about buying plane tickets. Orchestra has a strict rule that they work with certain air companies and they have to buy these tickets themselves

    • Bane says:

      He wanted to get cash in order to avoid paying tax.

  • Peter says:

    Such a shame when an artist shows such a lack of manners. He has put himself above the music and performance, and Belgrade Phil should take every legal matter possible to resolve this situation. Very disappointed.

  • Rory Arnese says:

    OMG, more washing of dirty linen

  • C# says:

    So happy to read this Belgrade Phil statement! I was wondering what could have happened to cause this kind of “televisa presenta” reaction of Jun Maerkl. I find really important that Belgrade Phil disclosed more details. Sure, there are rules to follow in any business cooperation and when breaking them is not possible, we will see some “oh, let me make drama” performance. No-no, Mr Maerkl.

    • Dan says:

      That is actually interesting. Belgrade Philharmonic did not issue any statement on its official website or via social media channels. So how this can be Belgrade Philharmonic statement?

  • Bojan Drndić says:

    It does not make sense for a renowned orchestra like the Belgrade Philharmonic to undermine its own concert season and vilify its good name over a petty legal issue involving an artist with a big name and probably an even bigger ego. So, to quote a famous U.S. prosecution lawyer and judge: “if it doesn’t make sense it’s not true!”

  • July says:

    Making complaints in public in regards to something which should remain business correspondence is such a yellow pages behavior. I am very surprised to learn that artist of this caliber as Mr. Maerkl did so. Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra is always trying to present world class musicians with the orchestra but if they are acting disrespectful the management should not make any further compromise.

  • C## says:

    Wait, this artist have canceled his arrival 60 hours before first rehearsal with orch? And that very same artist calls for boycott? Hmm, should we boycott him or orchestra xD

    Call me crazy but that says more than his explanatory post.

  • Jonathan Sutherland says:

    I have heard the Belgrade Philharmonic several times under both Gabriel Feltz and Daniel Raiskin. It is certainly the preeminent orchestra in the Balkans with an especially strong cello section. As any foreigner who has tried to do business in the Balkans knows, most endeavours are fraught with varying degrees of corruption and irritating complications. The Belgrade Philharmonic is somewhat unusual in that it’s operations are generally conducted with integrity and transparency. Jun Märkl may have been ill-prepared for the usual Slavic contractual contortions but his intemperate outburst affords him no credit. Maestro Märkl is lucky he wasn’t dealing with Bogdan Roščić.

  • Bruce says:

    I’m not inclined to believe either side without question. Of course both sides are going to say they behaved with impeccable integrity and all the difficulty was caused by the other side’s refusal to do the same.

    That said, the time for being difficult is before signing the contract. Once it’s signed, the way to show integrity is to follow its terms whether you’re happy with them or not. If the contract is not satisfactory (i.e., if you were unable to get what you wanted), then you tell yourself either “never again” or “next time I’ll make sure XYZ happens or I won’t sign.”

  • Dan says:

    Formal statement of the Belgrade Philharmonic, unfortunately only in Serbian for now:

    The Philharmonic confirmed it gave a statement for the Slippedisc, calling it “a portal that is dealing with intrigues in the world of classical music”. They also believe (according to the statement) that Maestro Maerkel expressed his anger and frustrations via both Facebook and Slippedisc. I guess that Slippedisc just took his Facebook announcement. But I do not know for sure, of course.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Intrigues? They need to clean up their language if they want to maintain a civilised relationship with the world’s #1 classical news site.

      • Dan says:

        This part, Mr. Lebrecht: “Svoje negodovanje je iskazao putem društvene mreže Fejsbuk i portala Slippeddisc koji se bavi intrigama u svetu klasične muzike.” You can run it through the Google translate, and you’d end up with this: “He expressed his displeasure through the social network Facebook and the Slippeddisc portal, which deals with intrigues in the classical music world. “

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Thank you. I’ve told the Belgrade Phil to clean up their language.

          • LewesBird says:

            What exactly have they said that is inaccurate and needs cleaning-up? Slippedisc, beloved by us all, wonderful, and #1 in the world though it may be, does exactly what they said — it “deals with intrigues in the classical music world”. Credit to them, they did not say that SD *causes* intrigue itself (although, surely controversially, they could have chosen to say so). They merely said the portal deals with, or reports, the intrigues of others.

            Does it? Let’s look at but three most recent stories — just in the past 48 hours, to keep it simple:

            – Yoga Wang’s dress, lateness, massages, shoes, and the happiness of a guy in the LSO’s first violins;

            – fat shaming a singer who was famously fat but stopped being fat about a decade ago;

            – conflating the Semperoper with a private organisation that hired its venue to create a still-unsubstantiated racial storm in a teacup and ascribing it to the Semperoper.

            It’s all great fun, I admit. I love it and I click on ads. And it’s all reporting the intrigue of others, just like the Belgrade people said. Where exactly are they wrong?

          • Belgrade Philharmonic says:

            No negative context whatsoever was intended with previously said, but in order to avoid any further misunderstanding this expression has been modified.

            Thanks for following our work and all the best!

          • Dan says:

            Dear Belgrade Philharmonic, I guess that readers can not really penetrate into the mind(s) of the people writing these statements. The way it was written originally, it was derogatory towards Slippedisc and Mr. Lebrecht. I guess you should learn how to deal with foreign media that are not under your influence.

          • SVM says:

            No, Dan, you are in the wrong here. You decided to construe something as “derogatory” purely on account of an *automated* translation. As Bojan Drndić clarifies in his comment further down, the Serbian term in question does not have the same connotations as the English term “intrigue”, rendering the latter a poor translation.

            You should have obtained a reliable translation *before* accusing someone of making derogatory remarks.

            Anybody with some degree of competence in more than one language would tell you that you can never rely on automated translations. For an entertaining example of a howler in Google Translate, see:


          • Milana says:

            I guess you don’t find the title of the original comment “German conductor tells Serbian orchestra to SOD OFF” derogatory? Do you find that to be a civilized way to announce a comment, any comment? So now you are defending the civilized website that concocted this civilized phrase and published it. Well done!

      • Bojan Drndić says:

        Mr. Lebrecht, I think there is a kind of “lost in translation” situation here, because in Serbian the word “intriga” (pl. intrige) is used to denote gossip, not so much scheming, plotting, or other negative connotations that the word “intrigue” has in English. I’m curious to know what this same text on their website in English will be.

      • Smilja says:

        Sehr geehrter Herr Lebrecht, das ist einfach nicht war! Die Erklärung der Philharmonie ist nachvollziehbar geschrieben und auf Google Übersetzter ist kein Verlass. “Beogradska filharmonija se veoma radovala prvom nastupu nemačkog dirigenta Juna Merkla, zakazanom za 16. i 17. januar 2020 godine u Kolarčevoj zadužbini. Potpuno neočekivano, dirigent je otkazao dolazak i to samo 60 sati uoči prve probe sa orkestrom iako je ugovor već potpisao. Razlog za to je njegovo nezadovoljstvo povodom stavke ugovora vezane za avio transport. Svoje negodovanje je iskazao putem društvene mreže Fejsbuk i portala Slippeddisc koji se bavi događajima iz klasične muzike na i iza scene.”

        Übersetzt heißt es: “Die Belgrader Philharmonie hat sich dem kommenden Auftritt des deutschen Dirigenten Jun Märkel, angesetzt für den 16. und 17. Januar in der Kolarčeva zadužbina Saal sehr gefreut. Völlig unerwartet, sagte der Dirigent den Auftritt ab, nur 60 Stunden vor der erste Probe und das trotz dem unterschriebenen Vertrag. Grund dafür war seine Unzufriedenheit mit der Vetragsklausel bezüglich des Flugzeugtransportes. Sein Unmut hat er öffentlich auf dem Internetportal Facebook, sowie auf dem Slippedisc gezeigt, die letzte eine Internetseite die über Geschehnissen aus der Welt der klassischen Musik, auf und hinter den Bühnen berichtet.”

        • Dan says:

          Dear Madam, the formulation has been changed promptly, obviously after Mr. Lebrecht’s reaction. But the original text stated as above.

    • Musician says:

      Well,Mr Merkle erased his FB post.
      He did not realize he would look so bad and unprofessional. He looks bad for new opportunities.

  • Jim Beam says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, I think that the title including ‘…sod off’, who ever created it, is far more insolting than any possible meaning/translation of a word ‘intrigue’. Please ignore my 4 faculties diplomas.