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Top Five Modern Frauds in Classical Music

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When classical music is mentioned in the same sentence as crime, it’s usually to tout its effectiveness as a crime deterrent.

However, not even the arts with their lofty missions are immune from malfeasance, fraud and other bad intentions. As a multi-million dollar scandal unfolds this fall (see No. 1), we rounded up the five most infamous crimes committed in the 21st century from around the classical world.

1. 'The Bernie Madoff of Violin Dealers'

The antique instrument industry will turn its eyes to Vienna over the coming months to follow the trial of Dietmar Machold. The dealer of rare strings is accused of inflating the prices of several prized instruments (or not-so-prized as it turned out). On Wednesday, he denied fraud but admitted he embezzled money made from the sale of instruments entrusted to him by customers.

Machold has been accused of faking the authenticity of instruments, such as a Bohemian cello he passed off as the product of an Italian master. He also appraised the string collection of Herbert Axelrod, who notoriously bequeathed a highly valued instrument collection to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which turned out to be gross overestimate.


2. Opera-Loving Financier Gets Nine Years

Controversy struck the Metropolitan Opera in 2005 when one of its most generous benefactors (as well as one of the top donors within the classical music and opera world) was accused of stealing his investors' money. Alberto Vilar, whose name hung on the Met’s Grand Tier, was convicted of stealing $22 million (he had given $100 to charity). He is currently serving nine-year sentence, and he name was removed from the opera house as well.

3. Finance Director Defrauds London Philharmonic

"We’re only a £10 million organization and so to lose £2.3 million of your reserves is a big chunk,” Tim Walker, the chief executive of the London Philharmonic Orchestra told the Evening Standard after discovering the organization’s finance director was lining his pockets with funds the symphony’s checking accounts. Cameron Poole who was hired in 2004, was reported to have been consistently writing himself checks to buy artwork, vacations and a renovation for his home throughout his tenure. In February 2010, he was ordered to repay the entire sum, approximately $3 million U.S. dollars.

 

4. Fraud Allegations at Salzburg Easter Festival

During the 2010 Salzburg Easter Festival, charges of fraud overshadowed the actual music as a current director and a former one were accused of taking more than 2 million euros. Executive director Michael Dewitte’s mismanagement included putting his wife on his payroll and stealing as much as five percent of all donations during his time at the helm. Meanwhile, technical director Klaus Kretschmer, who was also implicated in the scandal, survived an apparent attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. The British press wryly noted that the lineup coincidentally featured another fall marked by hubris and corruption in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. Kretschmer and Dewitte were dismissed.


5. Artist Management Boss Pleads Guilty to Securities fraud

Barrett Wissman a Dallas-based financier shook up the classical world when he purchased a 95 percent interest in the artist management firm, IMG Artists. He shook it up again when he pled guilty to securities fraud in 2009 and had to pay a $12 million penalty as part of his settlement. Though IMG wasn’t implicated in the case—Wissman’s transgressions were on the part of his hedge fund handling of New York State pensions—he stepped down as chairman of the agency, but still remains its principal owner.