German music life personified: Witiko Adler on his 90th birthday | Music | DW | 30.07.2018
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German music life personified: Witiko Adler on his 90th birthday

From Daniel Barenboim to Liberace and from Maria Callas to Ella Fitzgerald: He has met and known them all. And the head of the Adler concert agency has a story to tell about each one.

For September 20, conductor Daniel Barenboim and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter have been booked in a benefit concert in the Berlin Philharmonie. The occasion is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Konzertdirektion Adler. Turning 90 on July 30, the concert agency's director, Witiko Adler, is probably the world's oldest active concert agent.

Released as a prisoner of war after World War II in September 1945, Adler joined the family business two years later and became its director after the death of his father, Hans Adler, in 1948.

In the postwar years, Witiko Adler made a strong contribution to rebuilding music life in Germany. One of his first priorities was to attract foreign artists to the country, including Jewish artists.

Many refused. Others, such as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, were eager to perform in the service of reconciling wartime enemies. Witiko Adler was strongly impressed by the character of that artist, so active on behalf of humanitarian causes. "For him, only one thing mattered: 'What is the right thing to do? What is necessary?' And: 'One must help.' He was utterly simple and sincere in his personal dealings," said Adler in an interview with DW.

A living encyclopedia of music

The list of artists Witiko Adler has worked with is long. It includes jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, the singer Sammy Davis Jr. and the flamboyant American pianist Liberace. Most of the names are from the world of classical music: Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, David Garrett and many others.

Herbert von Karajan with Anne-Sophie Mutter (picture-alliance)

Herbert von Karajan with Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anyone who has had personal contact with so many of the trade would know whether artists are generally moody, flighty and unpredictable — or whether that's only a stereotype: Are artists maybe as diverse in character as everyone else? "I've always said, 'As managers, we deal with people, and with human shortcomings,'" says Adler. "I wouldn't say there's any such thing as an 'artistic nature.'" Leonard Bernstein, for example: "There wasn't much drama between us," says Adler: "I went to each one of his concerts. He insisted on that. I also had a good connection to Herbert von Karajan. I never felt he was difficult."

Mutter and Barenboim

Adler was the one who brought Karajan together with the 13-year-old violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, and her performance of Mozart's G Major Violin Concerto at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival in 1977 was the downbeat to her career.

Daniel Barenboim (Imago/United Archives International)

The very young Daniel Barenboim

Fourteen years earlier, Adler's agency represented the RIAS Symphony Orchestra — later renamed the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and later still, the German Symphony Orchestra. The concert series "RIAS stellt vor" introduced young artists who hadn't yet performed in Berlin. "At one point, the name Daniel Barenboim crossed my desk, so we hired him," says Adler. "We invited Wolfgang Stresemann, the managing director of the Berlin Philharmonic, to the concert, and in the intermission, he said to me, 'How's this guy supposed to perform at age 40 if he's already playing like that now?' Those were the earliest impressions of Barenboim. We've been representing him now for nearly 55 years. It's a very close friendship."

The contact to opera singer Maria Callas was fleeting in contrast — although many might envy Witiko Adler even for that. "We organized her last concert in Berlin, where she performed together with the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. Something went wrong, so I had the honor of driving her to her hotel in my car. Somebody had just given her a teddy bear with the inscription: 'For the world's greatest singer.' She told me, 'Here, you take this!' I still have that stuffed bear."

Paul Hindemith (Getty Images)

Paul Hindemith sketched eagles

Adler's memorabilia also include a sketch by the German-American composer Paul Hindemith. In it, two eagles sit on a branch (the German word "Adler" translates as "eagle"), with Hindemith standing before the tree, conducting. The caption reads: "It works this way around, too!"

Nostalgic for the old days?

It's often observed that classical-music audiences tend to be advanced in years. Here, too, Witiko Adler's experience enables him to take the long view: "We always have lots of young people in our concerts," he says. "They get married, have children and don't have the time or money to go to a concert. When that phase is over, they've aged a bit but start populating the auditoriums again. Then you have that aged audience."

Liberace at the piano (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

Adler called, and even Liberace came

Jury members of music competitions report that the technical level of performance has been growing continuously over the years and the generations. Does that mean there are more true artists emerging these days? "Yes, musicians' technical proficiency has really grown," observes Witiko Adler. "But that alone doesn't make an artist better. Technique is only the starting point. I don't go to a tailor and ask how he sews. If I go to a tailor, I expect that he will make a respectable suit for me."

Optimistic about the future of the trade, Adler adds, "We promise the experience of an artist's aura, directly and exclusively. Anything else you have to get via the media. As long as people still want the real thing, I'm not worried."

The Hans Adler concert agency celebrates its hundredth anniversary on September 20 in the Berlin Philharmonie with the first-ever duo performance of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniel Barenboim. The proceeds will go to the two artists' foundations for the promotion of young musical talents. 

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