Just in: Igor Levit wins apology for German music critic’s anti-semitic slur

The editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung have published an unqualified apology to the German-Russian-Jewish pianist for an article ‘Igor Levit is tired’ which Levit nd others complained was anti-semitic.

The article was by Helmut Mauró, the paper’s music critic since 1990. He referred to Levit as a ‘Twitter virtuoso’ whose acclaim is based on his facility with social media. He continues: On Twitter, Levit seeks – in addition to his ceterum censeo that the AfD is a Nazi party – above all the confrontation with its supporters. Is that brave? Does it help fight fascism? While the conductor Daniel Barenboim, as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, repeatedly jeopardizes his reputation as an artist, while Anne-Sophie Mutter plays charity concerts and builds orphanages in Romania, Levit, who may also do other good things, conjures up every day the right enemies.

The offensive passage is this: When a man with a spade attacked a Jewish student in Hamburg on October 4th, Levit tweeted: “so tired. So, so tired. And so angry.” On October 5th: “Yesterday: Hamburg. Today: phrases. Never again hashtags. As always. Simply tiring. Fatiguing.” On October 9th: “How very, very tired this time makes you …” On October 10th: “Hardly anything is more tiring these days than reading the news.”

The editors singled out for special criticism Mauro’s phrase ‘victim claim ideology.’

Here is their fulsome apology.

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  • In today’s environment it is good to hear that cooler heads have prevailed, an apology was issued and I hope received. It would be a good example for us all to have this exchange to be a beacon of civility.

  • It was about time! The Süddeutsche Zeitung has a problem with (or a tradition of) antisemitism that goes back to its very founding. The last decade has been full of rather intentional faux pas : Stürmer-style cartoons, rancid editorials attacking Israelis for suffering forest fires (not kidding!), “thoughts” by a senile Günter Grass on (I mean, against) that scourge of humanity, the Jew-ahem-zionist, mellow greetings to apologists of Iran from Trita Parsi to Michael Lüders… and so much more.

  • Igor Levit strikes victimhood poses to strengthen his position in the classic market, just like Khatia Buniatishvili when she signs as Face of Cartier. But it’s fair game.

    • It is simple, Tamino. Levit had twittered “I am tired” after another attack on a Jewish person in the street, in broad daylight. And he meant that he is tired of these kinds of attacks, which the German society is, broadly speaking, not discouraging at all. What Mauró then did was mocking mercilessly this feeling that Levit expressed. A Jew who is tired of attacks against Jews deserves nothing but scorn, in Mauró’s eyes. You have to wonder what his grandfathers did the 1930s and early 1940s.

        • Kensington is notorious for its anticatholic sentiments. When bishop [redacted] visited his girlfriend in that area, whom he wanted to impress with his full episcopal robes, these were taken from him in the street with some tusslings, with the result that he arrived in his underwear and the girl ended the relationship.

      • “which the German society is, broadly speaking, not discouraging at all. ” You must be joking. Do you live in Germany? Most (not all) of the Germany society totally discourages this.

  • I think the article is mostly nonsense, but not antisemitic (and it definitely doesn’t contain any antisemitic slurs). The author tries to argue that Levit so highly regarded because he likes to virtue signal and fight right-wingers on Twitter (which the German establishment appreciates). He says that Daniil Trifonov is a much better pianist.
    I sometimes get annoyed by Levit‘s statements as well (he likes to speak in absolutes and most aren’t very helpful), but you can hardly expect him to be silent given that he has literally received death threats because of his activism! And it seems to me that the music critic is making the exact mistake he is accusing others of making: conflating the quality of Levit‘s playing with his politics.

    • “he has literally received death threats because of his activism!” – that’s what he claims. Is there any independent source confirming this? A police report maybe?

        • I also don’t believe that he is making it up. But as Dr. House says: everybody is lying. In my experience it is always good advice to remain sceptic.

    • The journalist would, of course, avoid any easily identifiable anti-Semitic phrases, but that hardly covers the tone of racial resentment in the article–which is literally a rant. In the article’s context, terms like Opferanspruchsideologie are clearly a form of racist jeering.

      • Yes, the article wouldn’t even be published if it was openly antisemitic.
        The author’s reference to “Opferanspruchsideologie” is part of a rant about Twitter discourse that already begins one paragraph earlier. He reguritates standard criticisms of (especially American) left-wing social media: cancel culture, your voice is more important if you’re part of a marginalized group, etc. (not very insightful stuff, like the entire article) I didn’t read that as pertaining to Levit specifically. The author talks about Levit’s tweets later on.
        As far as the tone of the piece is concerned, to me it came off as whining “everyone adores Levit only because he’s a twitter warrior, Trifonov is sooo much better”. Then again, this assessment depends on what you infer about the author’s intent – I’d say he’s somewhat pathetic rather than racially motivated. (not saying that the two are mutually exclusive, though)
        Honesty, I think this type of rant could’ve been written about any left-wing Twitter personality who comes off as self-righteous – Jewish or not. (not saying that I agree with it)

  • Very good they apologized. This is unfortunately not the first time they resort to stereotypical tropes in their music “journalism”.

    https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/kurzkritik-glueck-und-unglueck-1.4212251

    “Yuja Wang kommt auf die Bühne der Philharmonie in einem Kleid, an dem die letzten Jahre jeglicher “Me too”-Debatte ohne den geringsten Widerhall vorbeigerauscht sind. Das eine Bein ist nackt bis zum Schritt, der Rücken frei bis zum Steißbein, der Bauch hat ein Guckloch. Dazu trägt sie Schuhe der größtmöglichen Lächerlichkeit. Sie selbst präsentiert sich auf jene längst überkommen geglaubte Weise, mit der der Klassikbetrieb einst junge, schöne, begabte Künstlerinnen glaubte vermarkten zu müssen. Aber, und das macht einen so traurig, Wang wirkt nicht wie ein irr gelaufenes Marketinggeschöpf, sie kleidet sich so, weil sie gefallen will. Weil sie nichts anderes hat. Sie spielt Klavier wie ein Roboter, absolut perfekt, spielte sie Schach, jeder Computer erbleichte vor ihr. Aber sie soll doch Kunst machen, Musik. Das macht sie nicht. Sie exekutiert ihren Part von Brahms’ zweitem Klavierkonzert mit einem unabdingbaren Willen, der vielleicht den Musikern der Münchner Philharmoniker auf der nun kommenden Asien-Tournee interessante Erlebnisse bescheren wird, letztlich aber nur die Ausweglosigkeit eines Menschen zeigt, der nicht weiß, wohin mit dem, was er kann, der unendlich einsam ist. Jedenfalls: Der Brahms ist nix, und Valery Gergiev tut für Wang und für das Orchester auch nicht mehr, als uninspiriert in einer Kies-Kiste von Brahmsschen Motiven zu kramen. Mürbe, grob, langweilig.”

    This is supposed to be a concert review. Where is their apology to Yuja Wang? Is SZ even a serious newspaper? The performance of Brahms 2nd piano concerto later on in the tour can be heard online. Everyone can judge for themselves.

    • And what in your opinion disqualifies this text from being a concert review? I like Yuja Wang and think she is a great artist. Why should the critic not have another opinion?

      • Because this is not a review. This is a personal attack on Yuja Wang from start to finish. It is just short of calling her worthless as a human. (“Aber, und das macht einen so traurig, Wang wirkt nicht wie ein irr gelaufenes Marketinggeschöpf, sie kleidet sich so, weil sie gefallen will. Weil sie nichts anderes hat.”) There is no musical reason given for the intense dislike the author had for the performance except the tired “she played like a robot”, a cheap insult that can be leveled at any musician you don’t like without back it up with evidence, and indeed that was the extent of Egbert Tholl’s musical analysis of the performance.

        • You have some very good points there! Yuja Wang of course doesn’t play like a robot and also not always perfect. She is a very great pianist and musician.

          Her taste in clothes on the other hand is another and very sad matter. On one point I can even agree with the SZ critic: I have the impression that she chooses her way of dressing and is not a puppet of some marketing scheme.

          • Indeed YW is a great musician, I heard her once in a Prokofiev concerto and that was truly impressive. It is sad that she distracts from her playing with her dressing, she does not need it.

    • Yuck, that’s much worse than the piece on Levit.
      While I don’t read it often, I do think that SZ is a serious newspaper – probably one of the better ones in Germany. But apparently they’ve made some very questionable decisions hiring music critics….

    • Here is the performance:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BszBccYHuAk

      There is nothing ‘wrong’ with the performance – the dress is excellent, Wang looks truly beautiful in it (Brahms would surely have applauded it) – only, the tempo is a bit too slow so that the music sounds a bit downbeat (I only listened to the 1st mvt). This may also be Gergiev, the orchestra is too heavy. The music is a continuation of the grand classical style of Beethoven and needs Schwung and tempo and clarity, and certainly not heavy, thick strings. But Wang shows herself in masterly control and the musical expression is exemplary, as forceful as a body builder and as lyrical as a big soprano. Maybe if the tempo had been a bit faster, she would have ‘flown’ more. Where does she get all that energy from? What does she eat?

      Ideal interpretation is the one with Katchen, should be an example for any pianist and conductor – hear the Schwung and tempo, and the feeling of grand arches:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR7efRcPcEI

      Also, what Katchen does and what Wang not as yet has picked-up: in the piano part – which is one of the most technically-demanding in the repertoire – a distinction has to be made between primary and secondary material, so that the texture gets some air and does not become silted-up.

  • Mocking Khatia Buniatishvili’s signing as Face of Cartier is allowed. Pointing out Valery Gergiev’s Kremlin links is warmly recommended. Strangely enough, questioning Igor Levit’s ceaseless do-gooder poses seems strictly taboo.

    • Levit is not only a sofa-do-good-twitterer.
      He also absolutely called political right-wing sympathizers publicly „Untermenschen“. („haben ihr Menschsein verwirkt“.)
      Then he wonders when those hit back verbally.
      All just very childish. He is a big child, given a stage. It doesn‘t do himself much good.
      Mommy should take his twitter toys away and make him practice.

  • I just read the article. I do not find it antisemitic. The phrase “victim claim ideology” refers to the internet community in general, not Igor Levit in particular. Also I cannot see why it is offensive to quote Levit’s own twitter account.
    Mauro compares it with Trifonov’s who is tweeting about his latest album. Mauro feels, Levit is too political and criticises some of his comments regarding the AfD as maybe unfair to Germany which took on millions of refugees.
    Is Levit above criticism?

  • The Süddeutsche Zeitung have helped Levit immensily to bolster-up his moral profile. The critic criticized him for claiming victimhood, and the newspaper laid it on an extra bit, confirming his victimization. A performer should try to steer away from politics, to keep his art free from contamination.

  • Typical of the world we live in. One cannot criticise the actions of a Jew without being branded anti-semitic, just like one cannot criticise any aspect of ‘black culture’ without being instantly deemed to be a racist.

      • Oh please! Someone who criticises Obama hates blacks? Someone who criticises Trump hates Whites, and hates Americans? And hates golf playing old white fat men? I could continue with the fallacies you are implying with your Pawlowian reflexes.

  • Interestingly, this article was also published on the Zurich “Tages-Anzeiger” online portal until today; when I tried to recall it, I get a “404 – Not Found” error. I can’t remember seeing it in the print edition, though, to which I subscribe.

    As someone else in this thread pointed out, Mauro was not sparing in his criticism of Levit’s pianistic abilities, either. But this critic had the highest praise for Lang Lang’s “Goldberg Variations” recording, which I haven’t heard (and I don’t think I will, knowing other efforts by L2). Interesting…

  • Five years ago, Igor Levit seemed a pianist totally focused on his art, just like colleagues Iddo Bar-Shai and Amir Katz – both Israelis, both living in Germany – who do not find necessary to showcase morning, noon and night their “gutmensch” qualities. This is no more the case and I am not sure this shift makes Levit a finer musician.

  • Levit made his career from the very beginning on his far left political public statements. These are quite fashionable in the EU and, generally, all over the world now. This is no secret for anybody who knows Levit’s matter firsthand.

  • Remember how Dominic Cummings was described as a ‘career psychopath’?
    Well, Igor Levit is an attention-seeker psychopath.

    It’d all be well and good if his playing wasn’t so dreary.

    Wigmore audiences are completely over him, and regulars can’t understand why John Gilhooly has such an obvious crush on him.

    It’s time for cry-baby Levit to grow up and shut up.

  • I‘m tired. So tired. To read cheap talk by Levit, again and again, while others actually DO something. Barenboim, Mutter and many others.
    Talking/twittering is not political activism. That entails the word ‚action‘. Levit sits on private and TV-studio sofas and just talks, and talks, and talks…
    childish, hyperbolic, not well thought through cheap talk.
    I‘m tired. So tired.

  • I’ve heard Levit several times in Salzburg : in 2019 in the Diabelli variations, and this summer in six concerts with Beethoven sonatas. He has a beautiful sound, and a great control on it, and a great technique, often used to good effect. Not always, though – he tends to overinterpret, and to show off. He can’t resist the temptation to show how fast he can play (the Waldstein was bordering on the ridiculous), or how great his ideas are.
    He can’t give an encore without blabbering for minutes on end. I don’t know him personnaly, but he comes across as full of himself. A poseur, really.
    He is certainly a good pianist, with some flaws, and probably needs to mature to become a great one. The hype around him won’t help…
    I read the article in the SZ. It’s not the best piece of journalism ever, it reeks of unbecoming personnal animosity, but I can’t find any trace on antisemitism. The indignant chorus does protest too much, and the abject apology of the SZ was entirely unwarranted.
    Levit shouldn’t be a untouchable idol (and a decorated one, at that ! I can’t fathom why he got the German federal order of merit) and the way he furthers his career via social media must be and stay open to criticism.

    • Interesting that you mention excessive speed , Julien. I had the misfortune to hear his recent Wigmore recital where the Beethoven Pathetique was an absolute travesty, with the first movement taken so fast that the hands could not keep together. It was an absolute dog’s dinner of a performance

  • I know nothing about Levit but I do have some experience in political activism.

    If Levit is truly interested in political change instead of just shooting his mouth, or his tweet, he needs to actually WORK i.e. volunteer with the group or groups that are working on causes that are of most concern to him.

    Stuffing envelopes, writing letters and emails anonymously for an organization, not as Tweets, lobbying members of the German parliament, organizing and marshalling demonstrations, etc. are not sexy or generally even publicity accruing for an individual, but ARE necessary for political change in a democracy.

    Also, when one works with other volunteers, to work successfully together on any project, one has to leave one’s ego at the door.

    • Spot on.
      Levit is no ‘activist’. He’s a shrieker who likes the sound of his own voice.

      The classical world is getting very bored and ‘tired’ of these self-styled activists.
      The singer Sarah Connolly is another such example, yelling on twitter all day, actually referring to herself as an activist, but only preaching to the converted. Interestingly, when she does actually try and make a ‘valid’ point, she comes across as dumb as a broom handle.

      Real activism takes guts, hard work, commitment and, usually, some humility.

      • I suspect you wouldn’t like “real activism” unless it fell in line with your prejudices, which frankly are not too hard to guess at.

  • I lived in Munich for 13 years and often witnessed astoundingly racist attitudes. In the early 90s, for example, the Minister President of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, made an anti-immigrant speech in which he spoke about “das gefähr von einer durchrasste Gesellschaft.” [“the danger of a mongrelized society.] Racist commentary like this was a part of daily life. And with the rise of the AfD in Bavaria it continues.

    One of the things I noticed is that highly racist cities like Munich and Vienna maintain their attuites by living in a kind of insular bubble that is difficult to describe. On a formal level, they would be international cities, but on a more local level, they remained intensely guarded, closed, and parochial. This localized insularity has allowed them to maintain chauvinistic attitudes that set them apart from much of Europe.

    A clear example was the Vienna Philharmonic’s exclusion of women. As long as it could be kept local, the overt sexism could be not only maintained, but even celebrated. The orchestra could quickly dash abroad for concerts where it did not stay long enough for its sexism and exclusion of Asians to become an issue. And back at home, it could return to the discrete acceptance of bigotry.

    When the Internet came along, the ability of these two cities to maintain their localized bubble of parochial chauvinism was weakened. The walls they hid behind became more transparent. This became especially problematic for the Vienna Phil since no amount of gaslighting could cover up that there were no women in the orchestra. The world could suddenly see through the bubble and look at the strangeness of these parts of Europe. And this is exactly why Helmut Mauró is so upset about the Internet.

    • I think there is quite some difference between racism and maintaining a symphony orchestra as an exclusively male organisation. The VPO is the only orchestra with a male history, the other Viennese orchestras are happily mixed. There is no reason why, in a free Western democratic nation, a club would like to remain gender-exclusive, like the London gentlemen clubs and Italian mandoline ensembles. In both types of organisations, the other sex is considered a bit too distracting. What is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we celebrate amorous sensitivity? And then, I can think of no other European orchestra with an all-male constitution. Why should every gathering be moulded according to gender diversity ideology? Racism is a much more important issue.

      • If we put aside the moral considerations around sexism, we can still see huge legal issues. The Vienna Phil receives very large sums of public funding. It is the same orchestra as the Vienna State Opera and is only nominally a private organization. In Austria and the EU, it is illegal for publicly funded institutions to exclude women.

        The racism is illegal for the same reasons. (I would also disagree that racism is more important than sexism.)

  • For those who are interested (and understand German), there is a new article on this in the NZZ (Zurich), Anna Schneider. (I have not read it yet).

  • The so called “apology” made it even worse, the editors-in-chief wrote that they are sorry that he feels hurt not sorry that they hurt him. That’s a big difference, psychologically. And what is an apology worth anyway, when the editor-in-chief first defends this shitty author and then, because of public pressure, apologises half-hearted.

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