In the truculent post-War history of the Salzburg festivals, no more resounding slap in the face has been seen than the one delivered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra this weekend.

After 45 years’ uninterrupted service, the Berlin players gave the festival 12 months’ notice which, in the slow-moving world of festival management, is rather like telling your wife you want a divorce – and have married someone else already. In Berlin’s case, they had done a deal with Baden-Baden before issuing Salzburg with its decree nisi. Their conductor, Simon Rattle, had no say – it is said – in the decision.

Fifteen months ago, the Berliners and Rattle were imploring the former record executive Peter Alward to step into the breach and save the festival – and their jobs – after the last management team were investigated for fraud. Alward obliged and set about rebuilding the enterprise from foundations up. Now, says one of his allies, ‘they have pulled the rug from beneath Peter’s feet, left him high and dry’.

I’m not so sure. Salzburg has toughed it out, year by year, with the Vienna Philharmonic. It won;t be daunted by aggression from Berlin, or by the calibre of the opposition.

Baden-Baden is a privately financed festival with an audience of wealthy Germans and Russians. Its financing is by no means transparent and its creative achievement so far has been modest. Signing Rattle with Berlin is a coup – but only if a sizaable proportion of the Salzburg audience will follow them to Baden-Baden, which, for various reasons, is unlikely.

Alward has the best conductor friendships in the business – from Claudio Abbado to Franz Welser-Möst. He will not be long finding a Rattle replacement, or an equivalent orchestra. Without the encumbrance of inflated egos, he will make a better festival. He has the support of Eliette von Karajan, the Mayor of Salzburg and the festival’s sponsors. He is a man of imagination, loyalty and integrity, qualities notably absent in Berlin.There will be more sympathy for him in the months ahead than for the defecting Berliners.

Then is there is the delicate issue of contracts. The Berlin Philharmonic have coproduction agreements with the Salzburg Easter for the next three seasons, with Gerard Mortier in Madrid as a third partner in the deal. Since those contracts have been broken, consequences will follow. Salzburg and Madrid will sue. The Berlin Philharmonic could lose as much money as it gains.

So why did the players voted to follow the golden calf to Baden Baden? Cupidity and stupidity are not the only reasons. It has been some time since Berlin players flexed a muscle and a new bunch have come through, keen to exert their power. I hear that principal cellist and orchestra spokesman Olaf Maninger was one of the leaders, and he has certainly out a good spin on it in the German press. But for how long?

There will be new blood announced long before next Easter and when the Berliners turn up for a valedictory Carmen they will be greeted with muted hostility mingled with relief. They have done their bit for 45 years. Thank you and goodnight.

Time for renewal.

 

 

James Levine has pulled out of two Berlin concerts next week. Usual reasons.

Daniel Barenboim steps in.

Here‘s the German source.

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has announced that it is quitting the Salzburg Easter Festival, after next year.

Apparently, it has been made a better offer by the festival at Baden-Baden and the musicians voted to take the money. They demanded that Salzburg put on four new productions at Easter, knowing full well that there was insufficient time to raise finance for such an expansion. Baden-Baden, which is privately and somewhat opaquely funded, had already met this requirement.

Simon Rattle, the chief conductor, was not consulted.

The German press has reported the walkout from the orchestra’s perspective, citing among other causes a declining Easter audience at Salzburg and dissatisfaction with this season’s controversial Salome production. Next season’s Carmen will end 45 years of collaboration, begun when Herbert von Karajan founded the festival in 1967.

The mayor of Salzburg has described the decision as a breach of contract and is consulting lawyers. The festival’s director, Peter Alward, has expressed deep disappointment.

This, though, is just the beginning. Alward told me this morning that he is ‘bloodied but not bowed’ and has several initiatives in hand to replace Berlin with an orchestra of equal value. Perhaps, I added, also of better manners.

I shall report more of the sanguinary background in a little while.

The National Orchestra of Lyon in France, with conductor Jun Märkl, have cancelled next month’s tour of Japan after ‘extensive consultations with musicians and staff’, who expressed ‘disquiet’ about travelling in the recent earthquake and tsunami zone.

The musicians of Lyon had received assurances that there was no risk to life or health. They had also been advised of the importance of showing solidarity to the Japanese people at this moment. None of these arguments, however, prevailed with the comfort-conscious musicians and crew.

This would have been Lyon’s third trip to Japan, scheduled for June 5-14. They should not be invited back.

Japanese audiences and managers will want to hear more of orchestras like the Seoul Philharmonic that rushed to bring comfort and support.

 

The cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio from its foundation in 1955 to his retirement 32 years later, has died at Cape Cod, aged 95.

With pianist Menahem Pressler and violinist Daniel Guilet (succeeded in 1968 by Isidore Cohen), he formed part of the busiest piano trio on record, the most popular and authoritative. Menahem is the last surviving member of the group’s heyday.

Here’s a youtube clip of Casals’ Song of the Birds that Bernard made just three months ago and here’s the trio in full flight, playing the Ravel trio. Respect.