I first met Christopher Ling around 1994, a few years after he’d relocated to Beaumont, TX from Manchester, UK (!) and was thinking about starting a management company for classical musicians. I can’t remember exactly how our paths crossed, but I was working a lot with the Ft. Worth Symphony at the time as concertmaster, often back and forth from NYC. That universe was small, and somehow we ended up on the phone one day. I would’ve never imagined the horrific conclusion.
I could immediately sense that something about Chris didn’t quite add up; he was a monumental character even over the phone, simultaneously thoroughly charming and utterly consumed by his own arrogance, sitting in Beaumont. He was also clearly highly intelligent, with a broad knowledge of not only the classical music business (at the time) but also an almost encyclopedic mastery of most elements of playing, teaching, or performing on the violin. Shortly after our initial conversations he informed me he and his wife would be moving to LA to get his company up and running.
I happily joined his roster; I’d had my experiences with a few horrible managers up to that point, and was content to have someone even nominally competent to handle the various solo dates I was getting on my own. And to hear Chris pontificate, he was about to burn up the classical world from Beverly Hills. However, the dates he developed were few, and over the next two years or so I was unsurprised to find myself playing mostly in places I’d never heard of for very little money, often with conductors from his roster (some of whom were quite talented). Once in awhile I’d have an honest discourse about CHL Artists with someone else on the roster. Musicians often complain about their managers in some form, but it was clear that I wasn’t the only person who had some pretty serious concerns about all the haze surrounding Chris, his history, and his enterprise. Why had he moved from England to the US to get into such a crazy business? Was this all just a reboot of his life (as he claimed)? Was the management essentially a vehicle for his wife’s career (a gifted violinist and former student of his)?
No one had any convincing answers, especially Chris. I saw him in person perhaps a grand total of three times over a few years, each instance quite enjoyable and often fueled by his eagerness to impress on some level. I do remember on one occasion he mentioned some sort of “legal issue” regarding his escape to the US, and I naively concluded he just was running from some personal problem or quandary. Little did any of us know.
I drew my own conclusions after one too many unscrupulous moves (even for a manager). I later learned from various presenters that he’d usually say I was simply unavailable most of the time, but his wife was. So I left (cordially) but I never saw or spoke with him again after about 2000 or so. Along with the tectonic changes in the classical business overall, CHL seemed to become a sort of asterisk in industry circles, despite the fact that he often had some phenomenally gifted musicians on the roster (at least for a little while). But eventually it seemed few in the classical world really wanted to deal with his “charm” anymore, if that’s the correct word. He began to represent actors/actresses/film composers as well. Somehow CHL stayed afloat, prospering enough that his lifestyle didn’t seem to suffer much.
Then this happened. And although I could hardly believe it, the pieces suddenly came together. I figured it was only a matter of time until he’d have to face up to his past. The Chetham’s investigation dragged on, and when the events of 2014 consumed me to some degree, I just forgot about him. Until last week, when this happened.
A fitting end, I suppose. And predictable in retrospect, but no less shocking. Such a pity that his accusers will never genuinely have their day in court, with him to face them. My condolences to his family- I hope they and his other victims eventually move past this horrendous saga.
Image credit: techteachengage