An open letter to Daniel Hope
An Open Letter to Daniel Hope
By Moritz Eggert; January 15th, 2018
Translation kindly provided by Jens Laurson
An open letter to Daniel Hope
Dear Daniel Hope,
we haven’t met but I have seen you often, of course: on stage, on TV – even in the movie theater. There’s no question that you are a successful and popular communicator of music, an ever-present, highly talented and multi-faceted violinst, whose dearest wish it is to bring classical music to the people. I admire that.
The reason I’m writing you: A little while ago one of our authors, Arno Lücker, published a so-called “shred” of you and Ludovico Einaudi’s on this blog. “Shreds” are a genre of satirical videos that take music videos or a live performance and dub over the audio with ridiculous, usually absurdly bad sounds. They are usually created by musical enthusiasts with some considerable effort and are particularly popular on Youtube – a medium on which you, given your popularity, are quite present yourself.
The process of shredding extracts an audio track from a video, which typically features a so-called overrated artist who – that’s the conceit of the genre – is finally exposed. The audio is then replaced with synchronized rubbish in the name of comedy. The classic shred’s comic effect is gained specifically from discrepancy between the ‘shredded’ musician’s reputation and the dub, since the viewer is obviously aware of the musician’s actual ability to play excellently. That is the reason there are no shreds of musicians that are not sufficiently famous: the iconoclastic context of the performance is what makes it funny in the first place. In that sense, a shred is in many ways more an homage to the artist than it is a spoof or taking a piss out of the artist. The very existence of a shred acknowledges that the parodied musician is a famous for his or her skill.
Shreds are really a subgenre of anarchic folk art, the kind of which has been around since the dawn of man. Caricatures of ancient pharaohs can be found on shards of clay; ditto comic renderings of Roman emperors etc. The ideas of graffiti or a humorous doodle on a wall go back to time immemorial. In some instances the ancient personalities are even solely known because they had been the subject of such commentary in popular culture.
Modern shreds are usually made of pop artists, but the greatest and most famous classical musicians – i.e. Itzhak Perlman, Pierre Boulez, and Glenn Gould (but never beginners or unknown musicians) have been thus satirized/honored. Quite an illustrious crowd, actually, which makes it sad that here hadn’t yet been a shred of you, Mr. Hope, since you are easily excellent and famous enough to be the subject of one.
It was this oversight that Arno Lücker and his co-author Carlotta Joachim had now set out to remedy and voilà: a short shred of an appearance of you and Ludovico Einaudi was created, where the two of you received a new soundtrack. Also part of the shred were your introductory remarks which also harked back on the above described elements of anarchic folk art… the kind of which can be found in a variety of public places and about which – if we are going to be honest – we have all had a laugh or two. Surely even you, at least in your youth or puberty which, given your youthful and dynamic nature, cannot be all that long ago!
This new audio track to your lovely speech was, as is the custom with such threads (the numerous newly, comically synchronized Harry Potter films, a very popular genre on Youtube, films may serve as an example), done in the a deliberately and grossly exaggerated manner which made it immediately and abundantly obvious that it was not actually you, who prattled on about genitalia size. The shred was furthermore clearly marked as such, its authors were named, and there cannot have been a single viewer who would have gotten the idea that it might actually have been you or Einaudi who were getting to work in the new soundtrack. Furthermore, the acoustic of the new track also differed very notably from the original brilliant and musically most delightful interpretation of yours – and Mr. Einaudi’s fascinating composition.
I don’t wish to talk about the actual quality of these two authors’ shred, since that such a judgement would invariably be very subjective and open to reasonable discussion. That it is why it was important to me to meticulously present you with the intent behind such an effort, which is surely to create laughter but – as usually the case with parodies – also carries strong elements of an homage within itself. In this case an homage to you (and Einaudi).
The most impressive personalities tend to distinguish themselves by their ability to deal with satire and parody unruffled, equanimously, even philosophically. Therein they show true greatness. How many times, for example, was former President Obama subject of parody – and how often has he dealt with it with charm, grace and wit? Wasn’t Halle Berry widely admired when she actually showed up at the Golden Raspberry Awards to coolly collect her trophy for “worst actress”? Each time an actor or politician or other person in the public eye showed such poise in the face of caricature, their popular stock rose considerably. After all, playful handling of persiflage or mature dealing with ridicule is an essential part of human communication.
And even though the actors of the Harry Potter films have been made to say some pretty filthy stuff in the many, multilingual ‘overdubbed’ versions, none of them have yet had the idea to sue the creators of these (often very funny) parodies or to stop their publication and stifle their dissemination. Nor have any of these actors’ careers or images suffered as the result of such comedic versions. Quite the opposite… one could argue that such parodies have helped spread and cement the topic Harry Potter and the films in the popular public memory.
I, for one, as a great admirer of your art, would have been delighted to see you show equal equanimity in your dealing with the “Hope/Einaudi” shred. After all, humor and a certain spryness are an important part of your public persona. I would have equally loved it for yet more people to get to know your name and to admire your charming and witty reaction to such a parody – because that would have so fit your super-duper image of a music-communicator: To be just a bit unconventional and hipper than so many others! I have a book of yours at home, for example, with your delightful and very droll musician’s anecdotes, which has made me laugh and chuckle many a time. And humor is very important, isn’t it, since the cliché of classical music is rather one of thin-lipped humorlessness. Stern-looking busts peer down at us from uprights or auditoriums; drill is the first order… and the first hint of coughing and crinkling in a concert house must be suppressed at all cost. It can only be helpful for the occasional bit of laughter to break through this phalanx of seriousness. And that’s why we so desperately need you, dear Daniel Hope!
Yet in this case you didn’t think it was a laughing matter that fun was being had at, presumably, your expense. Instead you reacted rather aggressively: Within a few hours after we put the video online Arno Lücker received a letter from your lawyer with an order to cease and desist and threatening a substantial fine. He also received angered messages from his employer, the Berlin Konzerthaus, an establishment in this grand and lovely town with which you are – as a musician of world-wide fame – closely connected in many ways.
Here might be a good moment to point out that Arno Lücker immediately followed your express wish and removed the offending video at once. Despite the popularity of our blog, there might only have been a few dozen people who ever saw it, since it was made public for only a very brief time this past Christmas season. Sad, in a way, because it is, as mentioned earlier, really a pity that there are no shreds of yours online yet.
Still, you mustn’t have deemed Arno Lücker’s concession sufficient – nor his offer to apologize to you in person. Instead, he was informed by the Berlin Konzerthaus on January 12th, that his contract with the institution was herewith terminated. That this dismissal happened on your initiative and insisting is fairly clear, because just a short while earlier an amicable settlement of the dispute seemed imminent during conversations with Arno Lücker’s employer – since they, too, must have realized fairly quickly that the shred-video in question lacked any malicious intent. But then again you are, of course, a world-famous and much respected star – and thus you were able to vent your anger by ruining the future employment of a young concert-dramaturge who had hitherto curated a popular series of concerts at the Berlin Konzerthaus.
But this still isn’t the end of the story – which is where I come into play. Although I did not have anything to do with the video myself, it has appeared on a blog that I co-founded – which is in turn part of the Neue Musikzeitung (NMZ, New Journal for Music), a magazine which is very dear to me. Part of my blog’s concept is the liberty its authors enjoy. This means that these authors don’t have to run their postings by me for approval, since that would run counter to the spontaneous form of a blog. A blog does not intent to publish impeccably refined and endlessly edited articles; part of its appeal is the quickly responding format and its ability to deal swiftly with current topics. Even parodies – even ribaldries or a bit of a ribbing – are part of our output, since it is my sincere belief that the health of the musical scene can be measured to a large degree in how well it can take a joke; how well it deals with being poked fun at.
But you seem unable, despite immediate and several attempts at conciliation, to take a joke. I have learned that on your express wish Arno Lücker is to cease any activity on this blog; that his articles are to be censored in the future… that he is to be rebuked and disciplined even here.
With all due respect and for all my admiration for you, dear Daniel Hope, I’m wondering if that might really be the appropriate response to this situation. We Germans are not generally known for our subtle humor (which is one reason we are so happy to have you contribute to the cultural scene here!), but we do have a good number of neat proverbs. One of them goes like this: “Mit Kanonen auf Spatzen schießen” – literally: “To fire on sparrows with cannons.” In English there’s a phrase of Alexander Pope’s that comes close: “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” Arno Lücker has apologized and ceased and desisted – he cannot do any more than that. But now he is to be squashed; may no longer publish his writings (if it were up to you) and may be prohibited to work anywhere where you play or have sufficient influence? Is that the proper response? Does the reaction befit the – perceived – transgression?
I wonder if you are aware that this particular methodology, in this country with its problematic past, rings certain bells that remind of times in which freedom of speech and the freedom of the press were relentlessly prosecuted; in which satire and humor were subject to severe regulation and restriction. I have to say that I’m very glad that our basic law has since come to include a right to free speech… which also covers satire. I am very glad to live in a country where one is at liberty to make caricatures of chancellor Merkel without being arrested for them, or worse. And I am an admirer of the way our chancellor deals with these taunts and ridicules – knowing that it is usually best not to react at all, not even to improprieties, obsceneness, or exaggerations.
In other words, dear Mr. Hope, I would like to ask you if you might not to deliberate, to see if you might not be able to overcome the initial and understandable offense that you have taken, and then possibly reconsider as to whether you might not give the two authors of that video a chance for a personal encounter (along with the ensuant apology)? Must lawyers be employed for something that could really be dealt much better with over a beer and a cordial conversation?
Especially because I so value and admire you, I am worried that the ruthlessness with which you have proceeded in this case might not fit your all-round positive image. Especially where the examples of Obama and Halle Berry show rather clearly that it is those who have the best (and smartest) laugh, who are laughing along?
Rise above this, if you might, and take the whole thing not with an angry glare but a wink. I – and many fans of yours, I am sure – would be overjoyed,