Just in: Matthias Goerne sues orchestra over Covid date

Just in: Matthias Goerne sues orchestra over Covid date


norman lebrecht

May 09, 2021

The German baritone has issued proceedings in a Finnish court against the Helsinki Philharmonic which, he says, is refusing to pay him for a Wagner performance that was cancelled due to the Covid lockdown.

Goerne is demanding 12,000 Euros plus 4,200 Euros in legal fees so far, arguing that Covid is not a ’force majeure’ reason to cancel the performance.

The orchestra counters that it has reached amicable agreement with five other performers, intending to reinstate the Tristan concert at a future date. It also argues that Goerne’s fee had not been agreed before the cancellation.

This should be a good day in court.

Vesa Siren has the full story (in Finnish).


  • John Borstlap says:

    If covid is not a ‘force majeure’, what else could it be? A forgivable preference to stay healthy?

    • Tamino says:

      Well, as long as governments let airplanes and buses go full as always, it hardly can be force majeur to close concert halls completely?

    • Tamino says:

      …also important to take note from the original article, that Goerne was performing another program around the same time in Helsinki with the other orchestra (Radio), and everything went along as scheduled.
      Even the Intendant of the Philhamonic says that it’s not a case of force majeur but one of trying to realise the original artistic idea (program) with the artists, but if necessary at another date.
      Goerne has a – legal – point. One could argue he is selfish, or that the other soloists have been bending too soon to the pressure. I remember Goerne having said in the past that he has only a few years left to sing at that level. So from a pure business point of view, he has a point that pushing things to the future doesn’t make a middle aged singer younger.

  • UK Arts Administrator says:

    Now we know how much Matthias Goerne earns for one concert (and one in which he is only one of half a dozen soloists).

    As comparison, that level of fee is more than the total fees earned by the members of a really good 40-piece chamber orchestra on a concert day.

  • Emil says:

    All in all, Matthias Goerne is not covering himself in glory during this pandemic. I’m all in favour of him getting paid what he is due, but ‘COVID is not a force majeure’ is a deplorable argument to make. Take expenses+rescheduling and move on.

  • christopher storey says:

    Greed and entitlement come to mind : the man’s an idiot ( unless he’s already decided that his career is over )

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==arguing that Covid is not a ’force majeure’ reason to cancel the performance.

    Nonsense, it absolutely is a FM reason. The main winners here will be the lawyers

  • Save the MET says:

    I heard Goerne a couple of years back singing John Adam’s, The Wound Dresser. I still am scratching my head at why an American orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, would have hired him to sing an iconic American piece with the poetry of Walt Whitman to an American audience. He wasn’t that great and the German accented English did not help.

    The World stopped for the pandemic, the arts went dark at a huge financial loss. There were no other gigs for him to take anywhere and no one took his place. He sounds like a tempestuous child and the only reason he would get any money now is if the opera company is advised it would cost them more in legal bills to defend the suit than pay him something. I suggest that this suit will limit his future appearances with opera companies. Who would want to deal with a litigious opera singer and as his name doesn’t fill the house there are plenty of fish in the sea who would be grateful for the work.

    • Tamino says:

      Bullying at its worst. Is that a tradition in NY and at the MET?

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Yes, at least at the Met. Most singers (even major ones) and musicians endure it. They want to work. There is a reason why annual legal expenses are so high at the Met.

      • Save the MET says:

        My comment had nothing to do with the MET. Bullying? He gave a lackluster performance of a work that was beyond him, not in his wheelhouse. Plenty of other singers who could have sung the work, which in this case was a distinctly American work, so the heavily accented German and frankly lack of understanding of the text did not help. The hiring of Goerne to sing this piece was strange. The composer who was not familiar with Goerne thought so as well by the way and told the Philharmonic as much well before the performance. The truth and bullying are truly distinct from one another.

        • Sam McElroy says:

          “The composer, who was not familiar with Goerne…”

          I find it hard to believe that anyone with a toe in the classical industry could not be familiar with one of the most consummately beautiful lied singers of all time.

      • Save the MET says:

        https://newcriterion.com/blogs/dispatch/high-standards-met-and-not Jay Nordlinger’s review in the New Criterion spells out Goerne’s problems with the piece.

  • advocates959 says:

    Please start thinking!
    Orchestras are changing programs because of covid and using the chance to kick out Freelance Artists. Most of the Artists are willing and professional enough to learn new repertoire quickly.
    Is that right not to give them work?
    But not so many people have a strong standing to fight against this unfair procedure.

  • An opinionated person says:

    I think it’s stupid for him to sue the orchestra, but the situation is a grey area. The orchestra didn’t stop doing performances completely. They just decided not to do Tristan und Isolde because of the various restrictions. Too big of an orchestra and they were probably worried about having multiple singers. It’s stretching the use of FM- it’s not that that the orchestra couldn’t perform. It’s just that they couldn’t perform specific repertoire. They have rescheduled the performance for another season, and Goerne should just accept that. But he’s not necessarily wrong in arguing that the orchestra could have tried to find other repertoire for him that worked with the restrictions. It’s selfish – what about repertoire for the other soloists in T&I?- and he’s a jerk for going down this path, but the case does highlight an ongoing issue with the use of Force Majeure, especially as restrictions are changed but not completely lifted.

    • SVM says:

      Apparently, Finland has had fewer COVID-19 restrictions than Sweden for most of the last 12 months, so it may well be the case that a ‘force majeure’ claim would be invalid. Without knowing the details of the case and the local laws in force, it is impossible to tell. We will just have to wait and see what the courts determine (as is their job).

    • Tamino says:

      We can assume the orchestra got paid. Probably the conductor got paid. So legally he might have a point.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I hope Goerne has retained Rudy Giuliani as his attorney. He deserves only the BEST representation.
    *sarcastic chuckle*

  • BRUCEB says:

    Well, that’s a superb way to make sure you’re never invited again… possibly anywhere. Any orchestra that books him as a soloist knows they’re asking for trouble if they have to cancel.

    (Even if he loses — if he’s willing to try this in a sane country like Finland, he might be willing to try again in a crazy one like the US.)

  • Andy says:

    A course of action that will no doubt increase his future engagements by orchestras and opera companies manifold. Talk about tone deafness.

  • Stuart Cawthorn says:

    Tough,I have no sympathy whatsoever,he is just greedy

  • Tony says:

    His manager must have put Matthias up to it.

    Matthias is a smart and very talented artist – is his agent Laurence Fox?

    What a twit.

    • Jonathan Sutherland says:

      Matthias Goerne would appear to be receiving very questionable legal advice.
      In general, a Force Majeure clause (from the French for “superior force”) is a standard contract provision that allows a party to suspend or terminate the performance of its obligations without penalty when certain circumstances beyond their control arise, making fulfilment of the contract illegal, or impossible.
      Although typical force majeure events involve war, fire, flood, earthquakes etc. it can also include governmental action prohibiting or impeding any party from performing its respective obligations under the contract.
      The Finnish government most certainly imposed stringent Covid conditions which made the concert impossible, or at least unviable.
      Although Laurence Fox is certainly not Goerne’s agent, Michael Kocyan in Berlin is.
      Interestingly, since November last year Tanja Dorn from Dorn Music in Hanover became Goerne’s agent for North and South America.
      As a result of her acrimonious departure from IMG, Miss Dorn is no stranger to litigation.
      Perhaps Goerne should recall Kurwenal’s words from Act III: “Lass die Frage: du kannst’s doch nie erfahren”.

  • Sonicsinfonia says:

    During the earlier stages of the pandemic, performances were cancelled and most artists simply lost fees.

    A very few companies paid fees in part or full anyway.

    Latterly, agents have tried to incorporate covid-cancellation terms into contracts. Many European companies have agreed part payment in the event cancellation happens.

    Goerne would presumably have known this.

  • Flutey says:

    He’s a brilliant but unfortunately also belligerent and arrogant sort of guy. I witnessed a recital he gave, and his hostile chastising of an audience who didn’t observe the right decorum of silence in his presence.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Goerne must have had other concerts cancelled due to the pandemic. How did he handle his other lost fees?

  • Kara says:

    It seems Goerne is quite the prima donna.

  • Officer Krupke says:

    €4k on legal fees? Saul Goodman must be delighted! A silly claim that seems ill-advised. Contract law courts will not remedy bruised egos … especially if there was no legally binding agreement in the first place.
    I’m sure many musicians would be delighted at the prospect of performing a contract like this in the future, instead of trying to force companies, acting in good faith, to pay fees for a contract not performed.
    This is hardly a situation like the Met!
    He could win the force majeure argument depending on the details / recent authority in the Finnish Courts but even if the Court finds in his favour it certainly leaves a bitter taste.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    A matter of principle here may prove to be not worth it.

  • Joel says:

    Slight correction: he sued the city, not the orchestra.

  • David Spence says:

    It should be a day that Matthias Goerne loses in court.