A line-up of Rico Gulda, Markus Hinterhäuser, Barbara Rett, Thomas Quasthoff, and Quasthoff’s agent Helga Machreich-Unterzaucher seemed a reasonable enough punt for a panel discussion on classical music promotion held as part of the Konzerthaus’s Tag der offenen Tür on Sunday, if mainly for the guarantee of Hinterhäuser keeping the discussion substantive and the possibility he would let slip some Wiener Festwochen 2014 news. As it turned out he didn’t show for reasons not given and there was instead much running out the clock with nichtssagend hokum and audience condescension.
Recounting some anecdote I don’t remember, Quasthoff remarked how lightly one can attract a reputation as a böser Lehrer, though we were left in little doubt he is a fine teacher who sees his chief duty as nurturing artistry. He might have removed doubt altogether by saying more about pedagogical matters, but he was rather more concerned with telling us how righteously blunt he is to those who have no hope of a career or are pursuing one for the wrong reasons, with limelight-hogging rhetoric unfortunately ironic under the circumstances. Were there to be a classical version of Deutschland sucht den Superstar he’d be a shoo-in for the Dieter Bohlen role, and yet as a public speaker it is clear he has more to offer than playing to the gallery with an opinionated act that in German can sound needlessly mean and catty.
I guess Bobby McFerrin gets some kind of pass, because other commercial classical offers he’s received over the years met with proudly elitist dismissal: he looks down on stadium concerts and responded to an agency which proposed an appearance with Andrea Bocelli that ‘one Behinderte on stage at a time is enough’, and to the notion of singing with Montserrat Caballé, ‘I’d be dwarfed’. This prompted Barbara Rett, the ORF’s Kulturtussi, to chip in with some incoherent defence of commercial entertainment, along with the bizarre admission that she enjoys sitting in front of her computer at night and crying at Paul Potts, which, with so much egregiously mispronounced Denglisch being bandied around, I initially caught as Pol Pot. Good, if alarming, to know anyway that Austria’s most prominent televised face of culture is so easily manipulated by Simon Cowell.
Helga Machreich-Unterzaucher managed to get a couple of words in edgeways, enough to sense at least that she is a conscientious agent who knows how to handle young artists responsibly. If you want time carving out for your daughter’s Matura (Bernarda Fink) then she’s got things like that and birthdays covered. (Apologies for the banalities, it’s all I have to work with). Indeed, her thoughtful professionalism moved Rett to comment at length about agents she’s found lacking by contrast: mentioning no names and yet blabbing enough details to identify her target as Judith Neuhoff, who represents Netrebko and works as Barenboim’s assistant, she whinged about an email, sent three times, which kept getting the response ‘but what you mean?’ (We weren’t told about the content of the email and Neuhoff’s bewilderment is probably to be sympathized with). Rounding off the evening was a load of Wienschleimen about our shining city on a hill best left to the Staatsoper and Musikverein.