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German President honours Mariss, Martin and Meyer

The Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse is being awarded to Mariss Jansons (for renewing his tenure in Munich), Martin Maria Krüger (president of the German Music Council) and Sabine Meyer (the clarinettist who helped drive Herbert von Karajan out of Berlin).

mariss valeryBundesverdienstkreuz_c-Bundespräsident

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  1. Raymond Clarke says:

    It gives a misleading impression to state that Sabine Meyer helped to drive Karajan out. The players of the Berlin Philharmonic were almost unanimous in voting against retaining Meyer in the orchestra at the end of her probationary period, supposedly because her tone didn’t blend, though Karajan believed it was sexual discrimination and his objections to the musicians’ verdict led to the showdown between him and the BPO. Ultimately, Karajan was driven out by his own actions, though if the orchestra’s verdict was indeed motivated by discrimination, we should view Karajan’s position as showing high principles rather than mere intransigence.

  2. Check your grammar. Also it’s not awarded for renewing his tenure. Also Sabine Meyer didn’t drive Herbert von Karajan out of Berlin.

  3. Actually, Grand Merit Cross with Star(Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern) is being awarded to Jansons. Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse is for Martin Maria Krüger and Sabine Meyer. See:

  4. I would point out that the Meyer contretemps was in 1983. It may have poisoned the relationship between HvK and the BPO -and perhaps their activity was downscaled a bit – but he WAS still officially the director until shortly before he died – six years later.

  5. Sorry but that statement about Mayer is hugely misleading. In no way did she help to drive karajan out. His insistence on her appointment was certainly in a factor in his eventual resignation. But she in no way helped to drive him out. History please not prejudice!

    • Strictly speaking, you’re right. Meyer was initially Karajan’s choice and the orch’s refusal to accept her provoked the row that led to his departure. In that sense, however, she was the primary cause.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        According to Wolfgang Stresemann, who was the Intendant of the orchestra from 1959-78, it all had very little, if anything, to do with Meyer and her audition. A number of conflicts had been brewing under the surface for a while and Karajan just took the disagreement over hiring her as an opportunity to test “who is really the boss here”, and that totally backfired, much to Karajan’s surprise. The orchestra was also surprised that he made such a big deal out of it since there had been similar cases before. Meyer was obviously an outstanding clarinetist, but she really didn’t fit in the orchestra at all. Her sound and playing style totally stuck out of the smoothly blended sound Karajan himself had spent so many years cultivating. That made his insistence on her even more puzzling. But Karajan liked to discover talent and then form it, he was especially known for often casting singers whose voice he liked in roles that they weren’t necessarily always suited for.
        Stresemann was then called out of retirement to fix the situation because in the meantime, his successor Peter Girth had stumbled over the situation and was let go. Karajan’s final break with the orchestra in 1989 really had other reasons. This is all chronicled in detail in Stresemann’s memoirs which I think are very credible because he had a respectful, but distanced relationship with Karajan.

        • If we look at the facts we can see that eventually Meyer didn’t even let her name go forward for a vote. She was apparently very distressed at the taunts and exclusion tactics of some members of the orchestra. So she withdrew. Hence a more accurate statement would be that the Orchestra drove Meyer out not Karajan.

        • Not Sabine Meyer but Cami’s vice-president Peter Gelb helped to ‘drive Karajan out of Berlin’. See the Cami-Taiwan affair in 1988. That was a BIG scandal and certainly caused the definite break between the orchestra and Karajan.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Even the Taiwan affair didn’t cause the final break. It was in the fall of 1987, a year and a half before the end. It caused a lot of raised eyebrows, but not much more.


          • Dear Mr Schaffer, I am very sorry to disagree. The orchestra was willing to go along with Karajan even after the Meyer problem. Karajan in turn agreed to allow the orchestra doing more recordings with other conductors – Barenboim, Maazel, Levine etc. However, the Taiwan affair and especially the reluctance of Karajan to respond to that scandal caused the final break. For the aftermath of that Spiegel article you quote above, see here:


            Pretty definite, I think.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Not at all. Check the date. That was a whole year before he finally resigned – which at that point came as a surprise since things had (mostly) calmed down in the meantime. The consternation about the Taiwan affair had also fizzled out by that time. But, as I keep saying, the whole thing was way more complicated than most think. I lived in Berlin at the time and knew a number of members of the orchestra and of the administration, and it was more or less a continuous gossip subject in the Berlin classical music “scene”, all the various minor and major squabbles and various moves by both Karajan and the orchestra. Now, I don’t think it’s really all that important anymore, but I do find it kind of interesting how people comment on the subject who may have read or heard something here or there, but who clearly don’t have an understanding of the bigger picture.

          • I am a German and can remember very well what happened at those times. Karajan’s resignation in April 1989 didn’t come as a surprise. In fact everyone WAITED for it. Not only because of the affair but mainly because of his severe health problems. Among the press, Spiegel speculated about his successor (Carlos Kleiber was a hot candidate) months before his resignation. However, you can hardly say that things calmed down. The real outrage happened because the Berlin Philharmonic, not a private orchestra but state-owned and governed by the Berlin senate, with all administration costs usually payed by the government i.e. taxpayers, suddenly found itself entangled in financial interests of a US based artists agency. Its reputation suffered enormously as the gossip reached every corner of the world. Karajan continued his stubborn behaviour towards orchestra, senate and press and offered no explanation whatsoever. I am pretty sure he didn’t know himself of the letter that Gelb sent to Taiwan and perhaps was surprised by what happened afterwards.
            The affair reached Karajan when he was on tour in Japan (recordings of the concerts were published on DG a few years ago – you can hear that the orchestra was not in its ‘best form’). He was obviously quite angry and communicated via fax with Berlin. During the next season he didn’t conduct more than 5 programs, nothing at all in 1989. Some really said that his resignation came too late. Even if you were not there, you can easily understand the ‘bigger picture’ by reading the mass of articles, biographies etc. that is available on internet and in printed form. You don’t need to have been an insider to built your own opinion.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Not necessarily, but I think it helps to form a more accurate picture to listen to real insiders, if you happen to know any, which I did, including Stresemann, the unlucky Girth, Hellmut Stern (who was the violinist who had spent the war years as a refugee in Manchuria and who had set about organizing the Taiwan tour through his Chinese connections), and various other members of the orchestra, which is why I keep telling you that things were a little more complex than what you may have read in newspapers at the time. Newspapers need headlines, they sensationalize things, and yes, even the Spiegel does that to some degree although it is generally a quite reliable source.
            The reason there were relatively few concerts in Berlin in 1988 was that they were all in the second half of the year, *after* the Taiwan affair had more or less blown over. It was pretty outrageous, but then again, it had only been an outrageous request which led to the tour never happening, nothing else. It might have been far worse if they had discovered after the fact how much the Taiwanese had gotten ripped off. But they didn’t because they passed on the offer. And I don’t think most of the rest of the world cared much about all that either. So after a while, things went back to more or less normal which, of course, in that period didn’t mean things went back to being perfect and all happy. But it would be another year before it all ended with Karajan’s resignation, that’s just a fact.
            Which, BTW, I suspect was triggered by this Spiegel interview: . I don’t know that for a fact but the things the newly appointed senator for culture Martiny said there about the problems with Karajan, that the question of him retiring will need to be looked into, that the orchestra was there before him and would still be there after him – all true of course -, explain why Karajan handed her his letter of resignation personally when she came to see him shortly afterwards. The bitter end was basically inevitable, but I wish it had at least happened a little later because in the next concert that was planned in Berlin, he was going to conduct Sibelius 5, and I really would have liked to hear that (how egoist of me…).

      • Come on, Norman, that’s just playing fast and loose with grammar and syntax — you might as well say Poland caused the outbreak of World War 2!

  6. Robert Kenchington says:

    What everyone has overlooked regarding Karajan’s departure was his failing health during the last nine years of his reign in Berlin. A damaged spine, crippling arthritis and – what did for him in the end – Lyme’s disease all combined to force his resignation in April, 1989. This is why the players decided to turn on him, not because of Sabine Meyer, but because Karajan’s declining powers reduced the number of lucrative recordings that made them the richest orchestra in the world. Had Karajan retained his athletic prowess from former years and continued to make 20 LPs a year instead of just four, then I’m pretty sure they would have buried their differences and soldiered on for the sake of a healthy bank balance. Let’s face it, Karajan was and probably remains the best-selling conductor on record. Ultimately, the father couldn’t feed the family anymore and that was the crux of the matter. Meyer was merely the sacrificial lamb.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Karajan’s various health problems didn’t have much to do the crises of the 80s either. Maybe a little bit from his point of view, as he got increasingly more paranoid as he saw the end coming nearer. But certainly not from the orchestra’s – financial – point of view. Despite all the health problems he had, he not only kept going at pretty much the same rate – which was more like 10-12 albums a year, not 20 – he saw the advent of digital recording and home video as an opportunity to not just re-record his central repertoire, but also produce all the concert films he saw as his “legacy”. And that meant a lot of extra recording and filming sessions for the orchestra, probably even more than they did in the 70s. So no, from a financial point of view, the orchestra had no interest in quarreling with him. They actually lost money because of the intermittent falling outs because Karajan then simply took his productions to Vienna. In the meantime, they started doing more recordings with other conductors to fill some of those gaps, but it wasn’t in their interest at all to push him out.
      And again, the whole Meyer affair had very little to do with all that, or with the final break. It had more to do with Karajan getting increasingly paranoid and trying to re-assert his power than with actual issues in their relationship. He held a very special grudge all the years he was in Berlin because back when he got the position, it took the senate a very long time to finalize his contract, and someone had told him that Furtwängler had had better conditions and more say in the orchestra’s general affairs in his contract (which wasn’t true). Stresemann reports that Karajan kept bringing that up even 20 years later. One aspect in which, technically, neither Karajan nor Furtwängler had much say in was the hiring of new members. According to the orchestra’s statutes, new members are elected by the orchestra. The principal conductor doesn’t even have a vote. He only has a veto. In reality, that was rarely a problem for many years, and the orchestra of course listened to Karajan’s opinions about new candidates, but there had been one or two instances in which Karajan carefully tested if he couldn’t go a little further and push his opinion on them. There was the case of a principal horn in the early 60s who Karajan liked but who was not confirmed by the orchestra after his trial period, but that only led to a very minor falling out which lasted just a few days.
      By the early 80s, the dynamic of the orchestra-conductor relationship had changed somewhat though, and the orchestra wasn’t entirely innocent either. Karajan often felt that they were “ungrateful”, and that feeling may have been justified to a certain degree, though probably not to the degree he took it. But the fact remains that while when he became their principal conductor, the orchestra was already one of the most renowned in Germany, but not necessarily the best paid one. Plus the situation in Berlin at that time – late 50s/early 60s – was quite precarious because of the Cold War, and it didn’t exactly get any better when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. There were many who thought that it was only a matter of time before the Western allies would have to give up West Berlin and leave it to the Soviets. So it was not easy to get the best candidates to come to Berlin or even keep all the existing orchestra members in the city. Karajan put the full weight of his influence behind getting the senate to raise their basic pay several times in the 60s, to a level where they made as much as university professors – in addition to all the extra income he brought them from recordings and films. So they really had no reason to complain but towards the later 70s, many members began to forget that and to feel more and more entitled and sometimes confrontational. One major bone of contention was that they had formed a chamber orchestra (these guys: ) which sometimes appeared on tours along with the actual BPhO, in some cases even on the same night in the same city, with players peeled off from the main body – and not just with the small string ensemble on this disc, sometimes they played whole Haydn and Mozart symphonies with all the winds needed for that. That was something which Karajan really didn’t like, and he was probably right about that. They had to give up that ensemble after the first big falling out.
      Like I sad, the whole situation was far more complicated than many think, but it’s all chronicled very well in Stresemann’s books.

  7. Here’s an interview with Georg Faust completed on January 6, 2003 by Birgitta Tollan of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation/Sveriges Radio. Faust was a principal cellist of the Berlin Phil at the time. His comments might help put the Meyer situation in perspective. The interview was broadcast on March 10, 2003.

    Birgitta Tollan: When will the cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic hire their first woman?
    Georg Faust: The Auditions are not for a committee but it’s in front of the whole orchestra, and the orchestra decides who is going to be the new member of the group, which makes it very democratic and very obvious that there is no way for the cellists to manipulate anything. It was the way it was – that the men are still a little better than the women cellists.

    Birgitta Tollan: Do you think that men and women play differently?

    Georg Faust: Yes of course – absolutely. And soon the women will take over anyway! (Laughter). And it will change the whole situation of course.

    Birgitta Tollan: Do you think so – that just one woman will change the whole situation?

    Georg Faust: Of course – we are all human beings. If you are a group of twelve men, and one woman comes in, I am absolutely sure it will change the whole situation. It will change the image because part of our success is that we are 12 men. We can easily see this when we go to Japan. We are like a boy group.

    Birgitta Tollan: Back Street Boys from Berlin.

    Georg Faust: Yes. Back Street violoncellists. Boy group. Because the audience is 90 % women. So this shows that this kind of energy we produce as 12 men – as 12 cellists – and 12 men, is something very strong, is very homogenous and very unique in a way. Like a football team: The same instruments, it’s 12 players of the same instrument. It’s always a feeling of concurrence. Always a certain kind of pressure. Because everybody knows the other person very, very well. He knows what he can do and what he can’t do. They are like 12 dogs. They all need their certain room and they all have their “revier”.

    End of interview excerpt.

    In a German State Television interview in 1978, orchestra member Willi Maas, spoke about the possible entry of women into the orchestra and claimed they could not handle the stress of performing:

    “Close to 5000 people sit there. It sounds exaggerated if I say: ‘Then the conductor enters.’ It is not that we have anxiety. But every effort is required. These are things that require a masculine composure. I cannot have any concerns about who sits next to me…” See: Rieger, Eva. Frau, Musik, & Maenner Herrschaft. (Kassel, Germany: Furore Verlag, 1988) pg. 222.

    Four years later, these seating concerns were brought to life by the clarinetist Sabine Meyer.

    (I will likely face ad hominine attacks for this post, be accused of saying things I haven’t, and attributed believes I don’t have. Please forgive me if I ignore them.)

    • We should also note that the Berlin Phil still has the 3rd or 4th lowest ratio of women in the world. I haven’t done a recent count, but I think they have recently been surpassed by the Wiener Symphoniker. (Again, forgive me if I ignore ad hominem attacks.)

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      “Four years later, these seating concerns were brought to life by the clarinetist Sabine Meyer.”

      Except they weren’t, because the quarrel over her appointment had completely different reasons. And the reason we can be sure about that is that before Meyer auditioned for the position, she was actually *invited* to play with the orchestra as guest principal – not by Karajan, but by members of the woodwind section. At that time, she had played regularly with the SOBR in Munich, word had gotten around that there was this exceptional young clarinetist named Sabine Meyer, and as one of the two principal positions in Berlin was open, they invited her to play in a number of concerts and even a US tour. It was found that she was indeed an exceptional player but that her tone and playing style didn’t fit in the orchestra. Which it really didn’t. She had a much brighter tone than the other players and sometimes played with a slight vibrato. Which made her style very suitable for solo playing, but less so for orchestral playing. Or more specifically, the kind of orchestral style the BP cultivated back then.

      BTW, which orchestras these days have the highest ratio of women?

      BTW2, can’t you cut out this “forgive me in advance if I ignore ad hominem attacks” nonsense? You think every disagreement is an “ad hominem attack”. This passive-aggressive nonsense is really quite pathetic and doesn’t help your argument at all either.

      • The Sabine Meyer rationalizations about the issue not being sexism have already been covered in some detail on Slipped Disk. I quote below an informative and documented comment by Lee Denham on the topic — also notable for its kind diplomacy:

        “My understanding has always been that there was a vote by the orchestra against Ms Meyer at the end of her probationary period – this is supported by Richard Osborne’s biography on Karajan (A Life in Music 1998 pp 671-72) . Indeed Wikipedia goes as far as to state the vote was 73-4 against.

        “Whilst I have no doubt that the row between Karajan and the BPO during the early 1980′s was due to more than just the appointment of a Principle Chair, there were many at the time who strongly felt that the orchestra’s rejection of her was extra-musical. When such a distinguished critic as Andrew Porter singles Ms Meyer’s playing out for special praise during a performance of Mahler’s Ninth given by the BPO in New York (The New Yorker, 8 Nov 1982), yet makes no mention of her not blending into the rest of the woodwind section (the reason the orchestra gave for rejecting her), one has to take note. On the other hand, it has to be said in the orchestra’s defence that they also employed Madeleine Carruzzo a few months after Ms Meyer joined the orchestra, even if cynics at the time did wonder if it was merely to head off claims of sexism (excellent instrumentalist though Ms Carruzzo may be), with the situation with Ms Meyer deteriorating. At the end of the day, with this particular conductor’s preoccupation with sound, his long association with the Berlin PO, plus his self-evident skills of building and training orchestras to astonishing standards (irrespective what you may think of him as a man or musician), could he really be deaf to the unsuitability of Ms Meyer to the orchestra ? Would he really insist on her appointment merely as an exercise and demonstration of his power?”

        The rationalization that Meyer’s dismissal had nothing to do with sexism is obviously absurd. This sort of denial helps explain why 30 years later the Berlin Phil still has the 3rd or 4th lowest ratio of women in the world — somewhere around 15%. People are not facing the truth.

        The New York Phil, the National Orchestra of France, and the Zurich State Opera all have over 40% women. The ratio for the London BBC Orchestra (or is it Symphony) is 50% and the highest in the world for major orchestras. On the other hand, the BBC orchestra in London has perhaps has the lowest status of the city’s 5 orchestras, and women are generally congregated in lower status orchestras.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Great news – I found another 40+% ladies orchestra for you. Or rather, I stumbled across it since I don’t spend so much time on orchestras’ websites, counting how many female members they have.

          Anyway, your new favorite orchestra is, believe it or not – the Bruckner Orchester Linz!!! In provincial Austria…I hope that won’t upset your world view too much! :-)

          The idea that whatever happened back then, 30 years ago, has anything to do with however many women there are in the BP today is obviously absurd. There is only a handful of players left in the orchestra from the days of the Meyer affair, and the current members, altogether a new generation, come from many very diverse backgrounds. In fact, the BP of today is probably the most international of all leading orchestras.

          Now, I don’t know who Lee Denham is but he doesn’t seem to have access to good firsthand sources nor too adept at reading the sources he has.
          Richard Osborne does *not* say in his biography that there was a vote at the end of her trial period. He says (p.688) that she resigned before it came to that vote after asking Stresemann for his advice. Which was that she should reflect on whether she really saw her future with the orchestra long-term even if she got confirmed. She said she didn’t, so he advised her to resign, which she, heading straight into her highly successful solo career which was no doubt helped along by all the publicity – of all the parties involved, she was the one who had the last laugh.
          Osborne does not give a source for this version of the story, but it is exactly what Stresemann says in his book.
          So that bit on Wikipedia about the 73-4 vote is also, obviously, completely made up. Since you do spend a lot of time counting the male and female members on orchestra websites, it should have occurred to you that those numbers look a little off anyway, considering that the BP has 120+ members and it is unlikely that more than a third of them wouldn’t have bothered to vote on this highly contentious matter. Also, the dates given there for what happened when are all wrong.
          So your argument here is based on mostly wrong information. That’s not a “rationalization”, nor an “ad hominem attack”. Those are just the facts.

          On the pages “quoted” by Denham (pp.671-72), it merely says that Meyer had been invited to play in Salzburg and Lucerne in 1982 and then to step in for Karl Leister for the concerts at Carnegie Hall that fall. Osborne does quote Porter’s review of the concerts at length on these pages, but he does not quote anything Porter said about Meyer specifically. But Porter did in fact briefly mention her in his original article: “The personnel list in the Carnegie program included famous names but was manifestly incomplete. Who was the remarkable first clarinet at the opening concert? I hardly believe she is called Karl, Peter, Herbert, or Manfred.”
          That opening concert wasn’t Mahler 9 either, BTW, it was the Alpensinfonie. Not that that matters much.
          What does matter is that no one ever doubted that Meyer was – is – a remarkable clarinet player. But that her style of playing was quite different from what was the standard in the BP at the time should be very obvious to anyone who has ears when one listens to her recordings of the Mozart clarinet concerto and quintet made in the 80s and compares them to Karl Leister’s. Her tone is brighter and reedier than his, and more modulated. I personally think her performances are musically more interesting but stylistically, that is not what the BP wanted at the time.
          There is also a second recording of the Mozart concerto, along with some Debussy and Takemitsu which she made with the BP and Abbado later in the 90s. I was in one of the concerts preceding the recording sessions. She got a huge applause from the audience – and the orchestra – when she walked on stage, even before she started playing. And a whole lot more applause afterwards.

          That Karajan still supported her even though she didn’t fit so well into the orchestral sound he had created himself is not a contradiction. Like I said earlier, Karajan liked to support young artists whose talent impressed him, perhaps to some degree also because he thought they were easier to influence and shape in his image. Sometimes that worked out great, as with Anne-Sophie Mutter, sometimes it didn’t, as with Krystian Zimerman who recounted that recording the Schumann concerto with Karajan was not a happy experience for him, or Ivo Pogorelich with whom Karajan even had a falling out during rehearsals which led to a cancellation of their planned Tchaikovsky 1st concerto performances. He also often cast singers whose voices he liked in roles they were not always well suited for. I think he liked the idea of playing with the beautiful sonorities he heard from those soloists, similar to how he liked to play with the sounds of his orchestra on the mixing board in the control room, ever the all-controlling great sound engineer – at least in his own mind…as we all know, the results were often very “mixed”, in more than one sense of the word.

  8. Robert Kenchington says:

    The above arguments are all very fine and large. But in the end, I maintain that it was Karajan’s failing health that led to his resignation from Berlin. By now, the physical demands of conducting were beyond him, as his last music videos sadly testify. He tended his resignation in April, 1989 and died the following July.He simply couldn’t do it anymore. It’s as simple as that.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No doubt he had come to a point at which he simply couldn’t go on anymore towards the end of his life – although his last completed concert film which I believe is the Bruckner 8 with the Wiener Philharmoniker still shows him, while physically very frail, still in complete control over the music making. In fact, many count his last two Bruckner recordings (7 and 8) as among his best achievements from his final period and the final visit to Carnegie Hall (again Bruckner 8 with the WP) in early 1989 was a huge success, too. But soon after that, it was all over.

      But in any case – that’s not what you said earlier. You said the Berliner Philharmoniker tried to push him out beginning around the time of the Meyer affair because of his failing health and because he couldn’t make so many recordings anymore, and that was certainly not the case at all.

      I think you may have read something along those lines that Ronald Wilford said in an interview and that is also quoted in Osborne’s book, but Wilford also had a strong interest in blaming everything on the orchestra, especially after the Cami/Taiwan affair, so he is not someone who can be trusted as a source. I can see how someone who doesn’t know much about the complex background might easily “buy” that, but the verifiable facts tell a very different story.

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