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Berlin Philharmonic Quits Scandal-Hit Salzburg Easter Festival

Berlin Philharmonic
Members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra . A unique feature of the festival is the orchestra's annual appearance in the pit to play for an opera. Photographer: Jim Rakete/Salzburg Easter Festival via Bloomberg

The Berlin Philharmonic is to leave the Salzburg Easter Festival and start anew in Baden-Baden, the orchestra said last night.

The e-mailed announcement came as a shock in Salzburg, where the orchestra has long played a role in the festival founded by its former chief conductor Herbert von Karajan in 1967. Salzburg has reorganized following a $5 million fraud and embezzlement scandal last year.

“I deeply regret the decision of the Berlin Philharmonic,” Peter Alward, managing director of the festival, said in a news release also issued last night. “The original demands of the orchestra for four opera performances and a significant expansion of chamber music and educational activities could not be met, given the financial situation.”

Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus, an affluent, privately funded institution in a south German casino and spa town, can offer more financial security than the beleaguered Salzburg Easter Festival.

“It was not an easy decision,” Olaf Maninger, an orchestra spokesman, said in yesterday’s news release. “For our opera and concert activities at Easter, we need the kind of long-term security that the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus is able to offer.”

Alward will continue to lead the festival. Planned Salzburg performances of “Carmen” will go ahead next Easter. It isn’t clear what will happen with “Parisfal,” mooted for Salzburg in 2013, when the Baden-Baden collaboration is set to begin.

Vienna Hope

The Vienna Philharmonic has long been eager to oust its Berlin rival at the prestigious Easter events and may move in to fill the gap.

The partnership with Baden-Baden, mooted already in 2009, guarantees the Berlin orchestra more performances of its annual opera, and more scope for other forms of musical work. It comes with a long-term commitment and an assurance that planned collaborations with Madrid’s Teatro Real can continue.

Baden-Baden was made famous by visits from heads of state and Russian authors. Its Festspielhaus, opened in 1998, is the largest in Germany. Queen Victoria and Napoleon III stayed in Baden-Baden while Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Dostoyevsky’s “The Gambler” were in part inspired by the town. Bill Clinton said Baden-Baden was “so nice that you have to name it twice.”


(Shirley Apthorp is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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