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Video just in: Composer smashes cello in concert to protest orchestra merger

The young German composer Johannes Kreidler is not yet a name to be reckoned with. Nor, if the bosses of German broadcasting have anything to do with it, will he be receiving many commissions any time soon. All the more reason, then, to applaud his courage and determination.

Kreidler took the stage at the start of a live broadcast concert at the Donaueschingen music week to protest the SWR’s decision to merge its Baden-Baden/Freiburg orchestra with another in Stuttgart. The audience were not sure at first if this was an organised ‘happening’ of the kind that used to take place at music festivals. But the announcer is completely taken aback and the ashen face of broadcast boss Peter Boudgoust in the front row speaks volumes: this protest really hit home.

The video has just gone live on Youtbe. Let’s make it viral.

Let’s hear it for Johannes.

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  1. It was organised in as much as the instruments were clearly cheap. Also, a slight anorak observation, the strings on the cello were wound such that he loosened them clock-wise….
    If he really wanted to make a genuine statement he would have taken a valuable instrument, that would have shocked..

    • How frustrating that one must destroy wealth to truly move or shock you.

    • Ok, next time they’ll call you, so you can happily donate your very expensive instrument(s) to be destroyed on stage. It wouldn’t be big deal for you, right?

      And by the way, what have YOU done about all this? I haven’t done a thing, and that’s exactly why I completely shut up and not criticize anything about this protest, because unlike you and me, that person did put his chest in front of the canyon for what he considered it was right to protest. Who the hell you think you are to now rise your little finger and start saying “he should have done this or that in this or that way”? Get a grip!

    • anonimous says:

      You are acting like a Taliban dear Ulysses !!!

    • Ulysses is right. If one makes a truly heartfelt protest, one would not care what is destroyed in order to make it – and thus the point is made all the more powerfully.
      By carefully planning such a ‘protest’, and choosing to smash an instrument for ‘show’ rather than out of genuine anger and passion, and by carefully selecting a cheap instrument to facilitate same: this renders the act no more than a cheap theatrical trick for a shock value, if not merely entertainment. What value ‘protest’ under such a guise?

      • Joan Sutherland says:

        First, the composer wasn’t protesting the existence of stringed instruments, or the work of a certain lutier. He was protesting a political decision and the instruments were symbols of the merger. Second, there is a huge difference between a protest and an emotional eruption of rage. One is theatre or art which needs self-control intelligence and creativity, and the other means the loss of self-control and art . All helpful protests are carefully planned so as to make a big impact intellectually and emotionally, not in the doers who must remain in control, but in the viewers. I don’t know about you, but my heart was racing to see any playable wooden instrument smashed like that. I won’t forget it either. If he’d used good non-factory instruments, I would have been furious about the instruments and not thinking about the merger. What does it mean that musicians feel so strongly about loosing their historical and local groups? Shouldn’t we be talking about this?

  2. John Warburton says:

    Quite a story! Here’s a little more background (thank you, Google) —

  3. The statement was great, until he smashed the “merged” instruments. That contradicted all he said before. You don’t smash the merged hybrid. You deconstruct it back to two individual instruments again. Fail.

    • passionate realist says:

      somehow I don’t think that would have been quite as effective…

      • it wasn’t effective for me. I turned me off. I cringe and feel pain seeing a cello being intentionally smashed. By doing so, one places oneself in the same category with the cultural Taliban around Poudgoust et al instead of taking the high road.

    • I agree. Instead of smashing the combined instrument he could have tried to play some music on it.

  4. Can anyone tell us who the (ashen-faced) person filmed in the front row actually is? Is it certain that he is a SWR administrator?

    I doubt the action will significantly harm the career of Johannes Kreidler. Political art, for example, is much more common in Germany than in the USA, and it is much more widely tolerated. Many Rundfunk administrators in other parts of the country will have a great deal of sympathy for his actions. In fact, performance events like Mr. Kreidler’s are not at all uncommon at Donaueschingen – though generally far less meaningful.

    Composers in Germany and most other parts of Europe seldom face big problems for criticizing cultural politics, though they can become deeply ostracized if they criticize their fellow artists for things like sexism. For an example see:

    In any case, imagine for a moment if an American composer stood before the stunned audience of the Met or New York Phil and condemned the orchestra’s wealthy patrons and its administrators for the vastly worse state of arts funding in America. It will never even happen. Among other reasons, the atmosphere of intimidation is too intense.

  5. I’m not sure how meaningful this is, either – I’m in two minds about the merger, anyhow. The existence of two orchestras is only a result of the fact that the area which is now Baden-Württemberg was once divided between an American-occupied and a French-occupied zone, both of which had their own radio stations – Südwestfunk (SWF) in Baden-Baden (French-occupied) and Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart (American-occupied). These merged in 1998 to form Südwestrundfunk, but maintained two orchestras, unlike any other radio station in Germany (to the best of my knowledge). On the other hand, Baden-Württemberg is quite an artificial entity anyhow, and arguably could equally itself be split into the historic states of Baden and Württemberg again.

    But there are much more important things in the world about which to protest, I think, which would be more contentious. If Kreidler were to break a cello (or perhaps smash it against a large wall, which would be more symbolic) in protest at the performance of musicians representing the Israeli regime, that would be braver and more impressive.

    • To state the obvious, it is all but impossible for a German composer to criticize Israeli politics because the historical context creates horrific ironies. That would be a good example of the kind of protest in Germany that would end a composer’s career. And conversely, speaking too candidly and specifically about the Nazi past of Germany’s music world would be another example, though things are getting much better as the last of the old Nazis die. (I know about this because I did it in the early 80s – and all the worse, as a resident foreigner, and even worse yet, as an American.)

      As another example of uncomfortable protest, I notice on the impressive wiki article about you that 40 contemporary composers are mentioned that you have performed or written about, but only 1 is a woman. Perhaps a woman composer should smash your piano… :-)

      • The Wiki article does not perhaps do justice entirely – having played quite frequently the music of Rebecca Saunders, Hilda Paredes, Galina Ustvolskaya, Elena Firsova, Sofia Gubaidulina, Patrícia Almeida, Chaya Czernowin, Lauren Redhead and various others (and premiered works of Paredes, Almeida, Czernowin and Redhead), and 12 years ago with my ensemble presented the first every portrait concert of Saunders’ music in the UK (in a programme together with works of Ustvolskaya and Saariaho).

        But not all programming choices are my own!

      • Such a protest against Israeli apartheid might end a composer’s career, but that would not make it any the less valid. Same with protests about the Nazi past – such as the role of the Siemens Corporation (at least indirectly sponsoring the Siemens Prize) in the Holocaust, for example.

        • DrewLewis says:

          There Ian goes again, seizing any excuse to voice his [redacted]. If he really cared about ‘apartheid’ he’d berate the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc……

          • When did any orchestra from any of the above last play at the Proms?

          • Why would you expect an orchestra from any of those listed to play at the Proms?
            They aren’t of sufficient quality, the last I heard. The Proms, fortunately, are generally concerned with the quality of the artists – not about getting them in to play concerts because it appears politically the “right thing to do” (which, artistically and for the audiences who turn up to hear the world’s greatest orchestras and artists, would be quite the wrong thing to do, of course).
            Of what relevance is your point?

    • Fairly standard complaint: Yeah, yeah, yeah, now back to MY favorite sounding board …

  6. This week, Armin Köhler, the Artistic Director of the Donaueschinger Musiktage was a guest speaker at the Musikhochschule Trossingen – a state conservatory of music in Germany. Only two people showed up for his talk.

    • these types of disasters are usually due to bad/nonexistent PR work.

      • In discussions at the Hochschule, the main view seemed to be that both the students and professors have too much to do and that a talk by Mr. Köhler wasn’t that important. I’m not sure I would agree. There have been discussions in the last few years about eliminating the festival, though the idea has been strongly protested.

  7. Stunt! Those are cheap chinese instruments. And it’s very disrespectful.

  8. Obviously a set up. Not only were they cheap instruments and the strings were prepared for the ease of his binding them together, but the players had replacements ready so that they could play immediately in the piece following this “action!”

    • Furthermore, this “action” benefits the future of Donaueschingen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Armin Köhler himself set this “action” in motion!

  9. Artists allowing themselves to be pawns in institutional maneuvers!….

    • Institutional maneuvers? Far from it. The musicians you see on that stage would love to engage in the protest as well, but are bound by their contracts not to do so or be fired. So someone independent from outside like Kreidler had to step in to voice the protest.

      • OK, so the musicians don’t believe in the protest sufficiently to stand up and be counted then? They believe in it in theory, but in practice they would rather keep themselves to themselves. Is that standing up for what they believe in? Subcontracting the ‘dirty work’ of protest to someone else from outside, while they sit tight?

  10. He could have mailed the cello to Jonathan Ayers (The Soloist)

  11. Stupid is as stupid does and you just saw it. This ‘composer’, and I will happily live out my life without any knowledge of his bilge, is emblematic of his deluded and over-pampered elitist academic hangers-on. May I hope that the bass bar of that poor cello is now lodged well up his stupid ass?

  12. Michael Hurshell says:

    I only want to say that much of the commentary, esp. those voices referring to “the cello”, missed the point. Perhaps that has to do with not understanding what Mr. Kreidler was saying. Tying together two instruments of varying timbre was a metaphor for the sad plan to merge two distinct orchestras, with their distinct sounds (esp. the Baden Baden, whom I heard performing a wonderful Mahler 9 in Vienna, years ago); and demonstrating what that merging would result in, on an artistic level, namely destroying both ensembles without benefit; in other words, a bean counter’s non-solution to the question of financing. And doing it directly in front of the Intendant of the Rundfunk did take some nerve… Also it is significant that a composer staged this protest; the radio orchestras in Germany provide the only significant outlet for new orchestral music, since the big name bands are mostly very conservative in their repertoire. Only other comparable entities in Europe, outside Germany, are the BBC orchestras. The Rundfunk ensembles must not be allowed to die.

  13. jill richards says:

    I live in South Africa and the destruction of the cello and violin just looks like developed world indulgence. There are people in lots of places who would appreciate those instruments, cheap thought they may be. There are many ways to protest things without this kind of waste – isn’t this composer creative enough to think further than having his little tantrum on stage?

  14. Alvaro Rodas says:

    Not many people know that an extreme protest of this type helped ignite the birth of the El Sistema movement in Venezuela back in the mid-70s. I was told that a bassoon student just graduated the music school back then, with honors, only to realize that he didn’t have a chance to enter any of the then-only-two professional orchestras in Venezuela. Most seats were taken by European and American musicians. This young bassoonist went to the music school’s yard, and set his instrument on fire. It opened the eyes of many people to an unfair reality, and that change was urgent. One of those paying attention was Dr. José Antonio Abreu, the founder of the El Sistema movement. The rest is well known history. I was also told that that bassoon student is now a very successful dentist and a great supporter of El Sistema’s orchestras.

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