Exclusive: German music directors hit back at Angela Merkel

Exclusive: German music directors hit back at Angela Merkel


norman lebrecht

November 04, 2020

We have been sent an official English version of a letter sent to Chancellor Merkel by the Conference of German Music Directors. They are not happy with the shutdown.

Dear Chancellor Dr. Merkel, Minister of State for Culture Prof. h.c. Grütters,

For the second time this year, Germany’s cultural landscape has been silenced. In contrast to March, however, theatres and concert halls have since been proven to be safer than most of the nation’s facilities and are excellently equipped to conform to the health and safety requirements of the current pandemic. Nevertheless, the entire cultural sector has once again been promptly axed. Yet as long as our children and grandchildren are sitting in crowded school buses, trains and poorly ventilated classrooms and whilst domestic flights are being subsidized to the tune of billions, we find it more than difficult to believe in the effectiveness of these measures. Moreover, despite your lipservice, a bitter suspicion is encroaching upon us that the value of culture has been so lowered these past months that your first solution to rising infection rates seems to be:”If it’s art, then we can do without it!”

Seemingly regarded by you as mere providers of leisure and entertainment, we are acutely aware of our responsibility to our musicians, our audiences and also to society as a whole. The solidarity demanded can only be afforded by all if parts of our society are not robbed of their livelihood. Especially in the field of culture there are now countless self-employed, freelancers, employees and those in mixed forms of employment who are once again on the verge of financial ruin through no fault of their own. This has occurred in spite of the fact that there have been many months to find adequate solutions for these groups of people.

For many, your newly imposed silencing of culture is also a loss of identity. Money alone cannot fill this void. As the pandemic progresses, we demand evidence-based decisions from our politicians for the cultural sector. We call for music schools nationwide to be left open in November and in this respect to be put on an equal footing with schools. This would be an opportunity for politicians to show how important cultural education is for our society. We request cancellation fees amounting to 75 percent of the negotiated fee or the average monthly wage for freelancers.

Let us work together to find viable solutions. Solutions which protect people and at the same time preserve the cultural nation of Germany.
It’s not what you say, but how you say it – or in German, “Der Ton macht die Musik” (literally “the sound makes the music”) – that’s what we’re all about!

GMD and Chief Conductors’ Conference
Prof. Marcus Bosch (V.)
Will Humburg
Mihkel Kütson
Marc Niemann
Eckehard Stier
Prof. Dr. Peter Gülke
Prof. Dr. Hartmut Haenchen


  • mary says:

    Can I just ask one question:

    If you heard Beethoven live the last 25 years of your life, if you’ll hear Beethoven live the next 25 years of your life, in what sense is not hearing Beethoven live this year of your life, the end of German culture?

    Look, what musicians are really asking for is financial assistance. And they have every right to get it, as much as European farmers are subsidized, as much as European airlines are subsidized, as much as every European royal household is subsidized. No excuse is needed.

    • Amos says:

      Well stated. Also, have the 6 figure salaried orchestra execs of major orchestras run the numbers to determine if video transmission of live or taped performances makes fiscal sense. If a hall seats ~ 2000 listeners and the average ticket costs ~70 euros how many people would have to subscribe to make a 10-15 euro fee sustainable? Clearly, not every institution is in a position to consider such an option but halls could be used by a variety of performers.

    • voice from COVID risk group says:

      They are talking not only about money – they are talking about loss of identity. They cannot work and do not feel that it is well-justified decision because statistics show that most of transmissions in Germany happen in private parties, because public transport is still crowded, because they really worked hard to provide safety, and so on.
      I attended several opera and concert performances in Germany right before the lockdown and I was feeling very safe because of distancing and other anti-corona measures.
      Unjustified closure feels like disrespect, and disrespect to culture means its end.
      Besides, not everybody has 25 years ahead to hear live music or to perform live music.

    • Tom Hase says:

      Financial assistance is a big part of what people are asking for, but it is not all of it. For example, if schools are allowed to open, but music schools are not, then this sends a strong signal that music education is less important than, say, geography or chemistry education. Also, it is much easier to close down an orchestra permanently which has not been playing for a year, and orchestras never come back if that happens. In Germany, every crisis over the last 30 years has left us with one or two fewer orchestras. Even during economic booms, this was never compensated for.

    • Kiss My Arts says:

      EU Farmers subs is a racket, CAP effectively doles out cash the more land you own even though you do nothing with it.

      UK farms are much bigger than average ones in EU, which are run part time, folk like Dyson get big subs but grow nothing.

    • m says:

      200 people packed in airplanes across the USA for 6 hours but we can not sit in a 3 story concert hall for 90 minutes? this is all political and illogical. Dumb politicians.

  • RW2013 says:

    House ban for Merkel in Bayreuth!

  • Carlos Solare says:

    My guess is that they are particularly unhappy at being bracketed together with gambling dens, bet offices and brothels, as they were in the official document listing the “leisure facilities” that were to be closed down. I am.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “The Conference of German Music Directors”.
    Well, there you have it then.
    Not “The Conference of German Scientists” or “The Conference of German Infectious Disease Researchers” or “The Conference of German Emergency Room Responders”.
    Yep. Got it.

  • Papageno says:

    ”If it’s art, then we can do without it!”
    That’s how I feel about rap and hip-pop, but then these are all funded by the unwashed populace.

  • Tone Deaf says:

    As someone that works in this business, I join many others who are suffering as the result of the lockdowns and cancellations. There are many places where there is not enough support to help those who cannot make ends meet, like in the US for example. An unpopular opinion, however, in places like Germany where there is government financial support for people during this crisis, can it not be understood that this is not a targeted attack on culture but rather an attempt to limit outings and gatherings that go beyond the absolutely necessary? Even though concert halls have followed the safety precautions related to hygiene, people still need to get there and it is impossible to monitor every single interaction and contact within the halls. It is already reported that a majority of positive CoVid cases are not able to be traced back to a particular place, which means that playing in an orchestra or attending a concert could be dangerous for spreading the virus. In these times where something like our health is threatened, how can one compare the necessity of going to the grocery store or being able to send children to school in order for parents to be able to work with putting on concerts? The demands that we have seen prominent artists and institutions make on the governments to re-open concert halls seem tone deaf at this particular time in the pandemic. Why not shift the conversation to be about what we can do now that secures the future of this industry? Put yourself in Merkel’s shoes where she and her cabinet have to make quick decisions which directly affect the safety of a huge mass of people. Now think about a letter like this and how that would be received and acted upon in any practical way…

    • m says:

      explain 200 people crammed on flights from la to nyc? 6 hours? yes they have been happening for months now. Have a place in NYC, been flying constantly. yet, I can not go to a concert hall with tall ceilings for 90 minutes. It is dumb.