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Salzburg Says ‘Not Fair’ as Berlin Philharmonic Quits 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

Salzburg’s regional government said it is surprised and disappointed at the Berlin Philharmonic’s decision to quit the scandal-struck Salzburg Easter Festival, and the festival said it may take legal action against the orchestra.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s former chief conductor Herbert von Karajan founded the festival as a showcase for the orchestra in 1967. Simon Rattle, the current chief conductor, is artistic director of the 10-day Austrian event. The orchestra announced on May 13 that it will end its cooperation with Salzburg and found a new event with Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus in 2013.

Gabi Burgstaller, the governor of Salzburg province, said the decision is “not very fair,” according to Austrian broadcaster ORF. Peter Alward, the director of the Easter Festival, said he couldn’t rule out legal action if the orchestra breaches an agreement to play Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal” in 2013, ORF reported.

Alward was appointed last year after a fraud scandal that had cost Salzburg as much as $5 million. His predecessor and a second employee were charged with misappropriation of public funds.

Salzburg’s regional government said its reaction to the Berlin Philharmonic’s decision was one of “incomprehension and disappointment,” in a May 14 statement on its website.

“The impression we get from this in Salzburg is that economic aspects gained the upper hand over cultural interests,” Burgstaller said in the statement. “We have to accept this even though it’s bitter.”

‘Not Easy’

Olaf Maninger, an orchestra spokesman, said in the May 13 statement that the decision was not an easy one. “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.”

Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus, a privately funded institution in a south German casino and spa town, said in a statement on its website that the decision is “a milestone for the development of the young Festspielhaus.”

Eliette von Karajan, the Salzburg Easter Festival founder’s widow, said in a statement on its website that she was “astonished and disappointed” at the Berlin Philharmonic’s departure.

“Together with the Salzburg Easter Festival team, I will work with all the strength and energy I have left to find a way to continue the Easter Festival in a way that will please both Salzburgers and its loyal audiences,” von Karajan said.

In an e-mailed response to questions, Easter Festival spokesman Martin Riegler said the team is “working intensively on shaping the future of the Salzburg Easter Festival.”

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