Open Letter to Teodor Currentzis
Dear Teodor Currentzis,
I don’t think it can continue like that. What you are doing right now is like a crazy trapeze act, like juggling several champagne glasses while balancing over a chasm on a tightrope while performing the German and Russian national anthems at the same time (don’t ask me how, but it’s supposed to be artist give who can).
It’s like a tragic performance by a perplexed (or rather restless) performer. How much longer can this go well? How much longer can you play this game of pretense, shake hands with henchmen and receive medals of honor that you then claim to have not received? How long can you be on the road with musicians who demand the extermination of the „Ukrainian Nazis“ or want to promote the destruction of the German economy…and at the same time conduct with a clear conscience in, for example, the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie (Britten’s „War Requiem“ and Shostakovich’s 13th symphony)? The latter – by the way – with a soloist who posted Russian national flags immediately after the destruction of the Mariupoltheater, a pretty clear gesture which contradicts everything Shostakovich and Britten wanted their music to express.
How long will that be “ok”, Teodor Currentzis? Is it enough to look mystically into the camera and to utter shallow and ridiculous generalities about the esoteric power of classical music? Words which are greedily absorbed by your fans, who are happy to be blinded? How much longer can you jet back and forth between Russia and Western Europe, getting finance from lenders that we sanction with good reason? And at the same time making your few remaining loyal employers, such as the Elbphilharmonie, the Salzburg Festival and above all the SWR, a kind of laughingstock?
When the concerts mentioned above were published in Hamburg, the regional association of the DKV (German Composer’s Association) wrote to me, stunned that this is apparently still possible without you saying something, JUST ANYTHING about this shitty war, on whose side you repeatedly fight through your actions and personal financing and life models. “Something has to be done” was the general opinion of my colleagues. They wanted me to write to the organizers and complain.
After some thought, I decided against it. I’d rather write to you myself. Why should I dupe the director of the Elbphilharmonie for that? I can imagine that the whole thing is uncomfortable for them. Classical concerts are often planned years in advance, there was still no war, and you were an untouched star with a somewhat ominous and unsympathetic star cult, but well, each his own. Does Christoph Lieben-Seutter now just hope the furor will pass? That no one will notice that a conductor allegedly wants to charm us with anti-war works, while despite repeated mysterious line-up changes there are always people playing in his ensembles who openly think this war is great?
There were many moments when you could have easily turned things around, Teodor Currentzis. You have enough fans here, enough musicians who admire your art. It’s not as if you’d have ended up starving in the streets, if you’d just uttered one single word about this war.
But this moment is slowly passing because more and more people notice that you are putting on a kind of sad spectacle in which it becomes obvious that you really don’t give a damn about what other people (for example the many war refugees from the Ukraine and Russia in our country) think about your concerts. It seems more important that you are the center of attention and that you can give your female orchestra members a kiss.
This doesn’t cut the cake sorry. You’ve already managed to make your friends from the SWR (South-West German Radio) sweat. They are so intimidated by the increasingly pressing questions about you that they no longer dare to answer. And what Markus Hinterhäuser (Salzburger Festspiele) has to suffer because of you is no longer bearable (although Hinterhäuser’s inexplicable stubbornness may also play a not inconsiderable role).
„Cancel Culture“? I don’t want to cancel anything. I’m not against the performances in the Elbphilharmonie. If you, Currentzis, want to, you can and should perform anywhere in Germany, conduct entire football stadiums and let your fans kiss your feet. But I can say to your face here and now that I find your silence and maneuvering sickening . That’s my right, just as it will be the right of people to demonstrate before your concerts, to criticize your unspeakable bigotry, or just to quietly return their tickets. More and more are doing this, and I understand them.
My esteemed colleague Bernhard Lang just got fed up and didn’t allow you (currently in Vienna) to play a piece of his. This is not “cancel culture”. He just had the balls to say: „No, I don’t want to“. Music takes place in a social continuum. One doesn’t have to curry favor with everyone out of sheer sycophantic opportunism, not participate everywhere. You can also say „no“ sometimes. And that’s what Bernhard Lang did, hats off. Maybe my equally valued colleague Marko Nikodijevic will say “no” for Hamburg (he’s on the program), but of course he has to decide.
And please, dear Putin trolls and AFD politicians and supporters (AFD = extreme right wing party of Germany) – don’t come up with your favorite argument, that one shouldn’t ask artists about their „attitude“. What is at stake here has nothing whatsoever to do with sentiment. Imagine your buddy getting beat up by some guys in front of your eyes. Do you then go to the pub with those same guys and accept drinks from them? Do you pat them on the back?
Not doing this has nothing to do with attitude, but with very basic morality, which we somehow have to agree on if we don’t want our society to become completely brutal. It is our duty to be on the side of the weak. Unfortunately, you AFD trolls have had a morality imposed by East German politics for so long that you no longer even know that there is a completely natural human morality that can recognize what is good and what is bad independently of political indoctrination. To beat up someone who is weak: bad. Submissively serving someone who has beaten the weak: that sucks too. To not open your mouth when a weak guy gets beaten up in front of you? Especially bad.
But at least you know one thing, AFD trolls: with all your love for Putin and his allegedly so free and promising Russia, very few of you can be persuaded to actually emigrate to Russia. It’s obvious to you that it’s not that great at the moment. Because otherwise Russia would not have the most dramatic loss of talent in its history. Do people really hope that this destruction of culture will triumph? That this is „the way“ as in „The Mandalorian“? Does anyone seriously believe that all this Putin charade, all this killing and silencing, the ongoing dumbing down of the people, inciting hatred and waving national slogans is the future and will last forever? Do you really want to bet on this most ailing of all horses, hoping for a nice dacha on the Black Sea, Teodor Currentzis? If it’s all so great and wonderful, why do you still want to perform in Europe? Why are you interested in the money or the applause of our concert-goers? We are all „decadent“ and „at the end“ and should be wiped out by nuclear means if Russian state television has its way.
While the very Russians who are demanding this are cruising around the Mediterranean in their yachts because it might be a bit nicer and more relaxed there than at home.
It has probably seldom been so easy in the history of mankind to decide unequivocally which fundamental moral position one must have in this war. This war is a crime under international law, an unprovoked attack, an unparalleled mass murder. Anyone with even a shred of decency in their brains will understand this. You can argue about all sorts of things – about the extent of arms deliveries and peace strategies. That’s OK. But you can’t seriously sympathize with the people who started this war and then grin ethereally at the camera and babble some shit about the „power of music.“ F*** it.
Being against this war is not „anti-Russian“. It is anti-Russian to be FOR this war. It’s anti-Russian to have champagne with the very people who just beat up your Ukrainian dude in the street. It contradicts everything that is great and beautiful that Russian and Ukrainian culture has produced, and all Russians and Ukrainians who in one way or another opportunistically refuse to take part here know this, sometimes with infinite bravery and at great personal sacrifice.
To remain silent about this war is a kick in the face of Shostakovich, Mr. Currentzis. To remain silent on this war is like pissing on Britten’s grave.
And don’t respond (like many of your defenders) with the “fundamental neutrality of art”. Don’t tell me you think you’re a genius. It doesn’t matter to me how well or how badly you conduct, that’s not the issue here.
You have chosen a profession in which your main job is to communicate. That’s what a conductor does. You have to talk to musicians, give them visions, get them on your side. Don’t pretend to be a mute fish, it’s a farce, a mockery. You are perfectly capable of saying something, you just don’t want to. And if there were any tragic reasons for your silence, believe me, that would have been known for a long time and I would not write anything here now. If Putin actually held your Greek grandmother in a gulag and tormented her with Justin Bieber records… you would know it. Instead, we see Instagram models by your side who don’t look like they’re being forced to eat caviar and drink champagne with you.
So, again: It’s your f****** job to talk . You cannot refuse this if you perform in a country that pays you to work in a mediating communicative profession. You can’t say „I’m a genius, I don’t have to talk“. That does not work. It’s part of your job to answer questions.
When a violist asks you, „How do you want the dynamics in bar 351, Maestro?“ you certainly don’t say, „I don’t have to tell you, I’m a genius.“ You’re a public figure, you can’t pretend offstage that you have no responsibility or role model.
SPEAK! Tell us what’s up. And if for some ominous reason you can’t (besides preserving your sinecure as long as possible), say so in secret. But it can’t have been that convincing so far, otherwise there would be far more people doing it like the SWR. Gergiev acted pretty clearly. He didn’t say anything, but his acts spoke for themselves.
But this constant manoeuvring, this undignified spectacle of dismay, in which one uses the good music of Shostakovich and Britten to absolve oneself, that is – with all due respect – the very worst thing, Mr. Currentzis. Please spare us with it.
President of the German Composers‘ Association