Fight to save German orchestra goes global

Fight to save German orchestra goes global


norman lebrecht

November 26, 2013

An international petition was issued tonight via US academic networks.



Please find below the text of a petition that conductor François-Xavier Roth, composer George Lewis, and composer Franck Bedrossian have decided to send tomembers of the international musical community.


As some of you may know, due to alleged economic reasons, the SWR (Südwestrundfunk) board members plan to fuse both SWR orchestras, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (RSO) and the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden and Freiburg (SO), despite a large outpouring of protest in Germany and abroad, including major composers and interpreters of new music as well as politicians. Despite a 28,000-name petition compiled in 2012,[1] and two new petitions signed by 160 renowned conductors[2] and 148 composers,[3] plans for a merger continue. We strongly believe that this protest needs to be expanded internationally to prevent a cultural tragedy.


The decision to fuse the two outstanding orchestras, which have developed contrasting artistic profiles over the course of decades, is not only damaging to German musical life, but concerns all new and classical music lovers internationally. This is why we are requesting your support, via the attached petition. If you wish to sign, please send your name and professional affiliation to be added to the list, which will be sent to the SWR board and the press. The information provided will not be used for any other purpose.


“We, the undersigned composers, performers, professors, students, listeners, and cultural partners from around the world are writing to express our deep concern upon learning of the possible fusion of the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (RSO) with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg. The SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg is highly appreciated at the international level for its unwavering commitment to the emerging music of our time.


The SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg stands as a positive symbol for those of us who support the most innovative and progressive ideas emerging from the orchestral tradition. From its birth, the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg has been a champion of musical creativity, and it continues today to celebrate and encourage the imagination of living composers. Many symphonic works that made music history and now belong to the repertoire performed around the world were written for and premiered by this orchestra. Its influence has touched all of us and many more, far beyond the borders of Germany, and stands as a point of reference and a promise for those who support new music globally.


To halt the activity of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg will severely threaten the classical and modern repertoire, and will negatively impact its musical admirers across the globe. To dismantle this orchestra is to turn one’s back on the humanist values of the symphonic tradition, disheartening audiences around the world who believe that an orchestra has the possibility to remain a vital and relevant part of our collective culture and include the public in new expressive experiences.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to reconsider this decision.”


For more information, or if you do not wish to received further messages, please reply to Aaron Einbond at




  • PK Miller says:

    I’d like more information. Is this decision being made for financial reasons? There seems to be a world-wide problem with insufficient funding for orchestras and other arts organizations, leading to consolidations and even the demise of some entities. (I wont address the Minnesota Orchestra because, as per extensive discussion on this blog, this seems much more than financial exigencies.) I would gladly sign the petition if I knew more. Just because the orchestras have different foci and repertoires doesn’t mean, if it came to that, they could not fuse into one entity. Perhaps one is better than none. If it’s just a seemingly capricious decision NOT made for financial or artistic reasons, that’s another story.

    • Musiker says:

      More information?

      Slipped Disc has run 23 separate articles on this particular issue since April 2012 and there has been extensive discussion about it it, too.

      What MORE do you want to know?

      • PK Miller says:

        Sorry–I have only be subscribing to SD for about 6 months–via link from Arts Beat daily email. If you or Norman can give me some links I’d really like to know more. I don’t recall seeing anything on the Arts Beat emails but then, until I started getting Slipped Disc I easily could have glossed right over it. It really was a carefully constructed illusion for almost 30 years of teaching that Dr. Miller knew EVERYTHING about music and maybe life! I also don’t recall seeing anything in the NY Times but most of their articles about the MN Orchestra have been short blurbs.


    This merge seems to be about more than economic reasons. The petition text says it all with the arrogant claim: ‘……….. a positive symbol for those of us who support the most innovative and progressive ideas emerging from the orchestral tradition.’ The Baden-Baden orchestra has been notorious for programming new works which have nothing to do with the orchestral tradition, but instead cultivated modernist ideologies which want to get rid of this tradition alltogether. And when support for and interest in these ideologies shrink – clothed in economic terms, which are mostly the result of problems with audience attendance – suddenly such an orchestra should be committed to ‘the orchestral tradition’? Obviously, the authors of this petition have a very limited interpretation of the word ‘innovation’ in mind, to say the least.

    It should not be forgotten that, somewhere in the seventies or eighties, a research project revealed that orchestras which performed lots of the regular ‘modern music’ had a much higher rate of physical and mental illnesses among the players than in orchestras which kept to a more healthy diet. Especially the Baden-Baden orchestra showed to be a pool of medical misery, with chronical depression as the most wide-spread affection. As long as ideologies from the fifties and sixties of the last (!) century are circulating in contemporary music scenes and academia, the real problems classical orchestras face will not be understood.

    In short: I wholeheartedly support the merger and hope that the orchestra which will result from it, will rebuild confidence with audiences and players alike. Hopefully no players will be fired but organized in smaller ensembles around the orchestral programming, the single good idea Pierre Boulez ever had.

    • David H. says:

      “Especially the Baden-Baden orchestra showed to be a pool of medical misery, with chronical depression as the most wide-spread affection.”

      [citation missing]

    • The merger is planned for purely financial reasons. SWR was merged from former SWF and SDR, two seperate radio stations, and they also want to merge the orchestras. It has been planned for a long time. They want to save 5 million Euro, while at the same time, by the geinning of next year, they will have to admit that the entries of all German radio stations have grown, due to a new system of taxation, up to 500 million. The SWR orchestra of Freiburg do not want to get rid of tradition at all. Please have a look at their repoertoire. They claim to play classical music as if it were not a sentimental remnant of a supposedly better past, but as if it were composed today. Every third child in Freiburg is profitting from their educational programmes. 28.000 have signed the petition. The SWR orchestra of Freiburg has played in the local football stadium and done unique programes with youth and hiphoppers. They are the orchestra of the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the first new mnusic festival for which each year tickets are sold out much in advance

  • Manu says:

    Musicians from this orchestra live in Freiburg and with the merger plans they are supossed to move to Stuttgart. Nobody likes to leave its home…

    I find unsympathetic the terms of their protest. Cultural tragedy…? Wow, these are big words…

    • David H. says:

      How would you call it when a whole region (Freiburg and surroundings) is deprived of a Symphony orchestra, if not a cultural tragedy? Of course it is a big cultural tragedy.

      • Manu says:

        The new orchestra will continue playing there, with a regular concert series, don’t hide the facts.

        • Harry says:

          If you talk about facts here they are: the SWR Sinfonieorchester spends now a 120 to 180 days per season in Freiburg, doing all kinds of concerts, educational programs and rehearsals. The new orchestra will spend maximum 30 days in Freiburg. In the first years it could even be less than that!!!

  • Musiker says:

    So you believe the musicians are being recalcitrant simply because they don’t want to move from Freiburg to Stuttgart?

    That’s why 160 conductors, 148 composers, 10s of thousands of signatures have been collected in a petition, and in fact just about everyone in Germany’s classical music industry is fiercely opposed to the merger, simply because of a move from Freiburg to Stuttgart?

    Get real, for heaven’s sake.

    Read up on the issue. Read BOTH sides of the arguments. And then you can begin to make an informed judgement on the matter.

    But don’t wade into the discussion with infantile, lazy and woefully ill-informed opinions. please. Spare us.

  • Harry says:

    Here is the solution for the Freiburg orchestra of the SWR:

  • Peter says:

    The freiburg orchestra is a respektable orchestra but miles away from the quality of the stuttart radio-orchestra. If you merge them, its a great honor for the country-side musicians. A local hero tries to go international. Its a shame for this unknown conductor (who is Roth?) respectless and arrogant behavior, to think his orchestra is one of the best. The musicians dont lose their jobs! Think about this matter and dont trust this letter!

    • Musiker says:

      Francois-Xavier Roth is only unknown to those who live on a completely different planet.

      And by what yardstick is writing a letter of protest “respectless and arrogant”?

      Your attempt to take a swipe at “countryside” musicians is “respectless and arrogant”.

      Can only big-city orchestras be any good?

      Your dismissal of the quality of the SWR SO shows you simply have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Peter says:

        …coutry-side- musicians reaction can be read above… That has to be ecxused. May be Berlin and Paris is a different Planet for this “Musiker” from Freiburg.

        • Harry says:


          I am really shocked by your hostile attempt to humiliate the SWR Sinfonieorchester. Are you aware that they are playing regularly in those cities, Berlin and Paris, and many more capitals all over Europe? It has just been a couple of weeks that they did a whole Stockhausen program in the Cité in Paris, so indeed it is NOT a different planet for them!

          If you know French, here is the article about this concert of the Festival d’Automne:

          I really wonder what drives you into your crazy statements…

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            And not “just” Paris. In addition to playing all over SW Germany, the play regularly in Dijon, France, this season they are also in Vienna, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne…and in most of these places, with very progressive programming. Not exactly a “countryside” orchestra

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    I am from one of those “planets” – Berlin – so I grew up hearing the Berliner Philharmoniker (you may have heard about them) and all of the world’s great orchestras live. I have also heard the SWR BB/F live a number of times and I have many of their recordings, so I can happily attest that Musiker is quite right – it’s an excellent orchestra by any standard. Just because they are located in a somewhat small town/rural area, that doesn’t make them provincial.

    But judging them based on their location, *that is very provincial*.

    In a recent thread, I pointed to some of their best recordings. You should check out some of them (my post is about 6 from the bottom):

    Let me add the new Mahler 1/Webern Im Sommerwind and the two Richard Strauss albums they released recently with Roth and which I just got. Great stuff, virtuoso playing, intelligent musc making.

    Roth is one of the more interesting conductors out there right now. And he is also quite active on that other “planet” you mentioned – Paris – with his orchestra Les Siècles which explores period performances of repertoire few have tackled yet. They played Le Sacre on period instruments at the BBC Proms on that “planet” called London this year.

    So we don’t know what “planet” you are from, but probably none of the above.

    • Musiker says:

      Thank you Michael, very eloquently and knowledgeably put.

      I sometimes wonder what motivates the likes of “Peter” to write such pig-ignorant tosh.

      He clearly has no clue. Probably just best to ignore him in future.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        What motivates the likes of “Peter” to write such pig-ignorant tosh?

        In his own words: “A local hero tries to go international”.

        Small minds think that “big” opinions make them appear bigger.

        And yes, I recommend ignoring (or ridiculing) someone who think he has such “big” opinions but talks about the orchestra in “stuttart” and doesn’t even know who that Roth fellow is he is trying to put down. That’s what in football (“soccer”) is called “an own goal”.

        I really recommend checking out those recordings, especially the Schubert symphonies. Another plus factor is that they all sound really good because they are all made by the highly trained radio engineers (“Tonmeister”). They don’t have the manipulated, artificial character of many of the recordings produced by the former big labels. They just sound like what an orchestra sounds like on stage. They just sound good.

  • Simon Morgan says:

    For non-German speakers looking for a fairly concise and balanced summary of the situation, the Guardian an a piece recently:

    It also explains the different characteristics and musical importance of both ensembles, quietly and efficiently demolishing the bizarre and twisted assessment of one of the posters here, whose judgments appear to be completed divorced from reality.

  • Aaron Einbond says:

    Many thanks for the post and to those who have read and commented. For any who are interested in reading more or adding their signature, the international petition is online at: