Breaking: A Swiss radio orchestra is killed off

Breaking: A Swiss radio orchestra is killed off


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2016

The Swiss Radio and Television Corporation has withdrawn financial support from the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, leading to its almost certain closure next year. The broadcaster contributes around two million Swiss francs to the orchestra’s eight million budget.

The musicians have received notice that their jobs are to be abolished. There has been no prior public discussion. The decision was unexpected.

UPDATE: Tomorrow, the orchestra will play with Lsa Batiashvili, next week with Evgeny Kissin. The musicians have been summoned to a meeting on November 30, where termination papers are expected to be issued.

Founded in Lugano in 1935, the OSI won a reputation far beyond the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

Its present chief conductor is Markus Poscher. Regular guests, at home and on international tours, include Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mikhail Pletnev and Marc Andreae. The orchestra has been a fixture in Lugano’s Martha Argerich Festival, which has also been discontinued.

This is a bleak day for Swiss music, and an ominous one for radio orchestras across Europe.


UPDATE2: A message of defiance from the musicians


  • Eric says:

    This is very sad news. The same Lugano where a new arts complex (and home to OSI) was opened only a year ago…

  • Patrick Gallois says:

    Very sad for music, for art and for artists
    If that happens in this country what will be next?

    • Richard Dubugnon says:

      I received big disappoinents by my homeland for the last couple of years. Apart from Winterthur Musikkollegium, which is great and where they have great respect for their guests artists, all the other major orchestras I worked with are run by non-Swiss peole who sabotaged all my projects. For this, I shall never live in Switzerland.

  • Kevin says:

    This is shattering for the swiss and international music scene! A disgrace to wipe out a cultural asset of this dimension. This orchestra definitely counts as one of Switzerland’s best and versatile orchestras. It is outrageous how these people responsible have made their decision and how it is being executed! I have worked with this orchestra many times, and I am terribly sorry for all musicians involved in this disaster.

  • Bargon Jrock says:

    There was no money left after the Swiss National Bank bought up SF120 bn in equities including SF 1.5 bn in Apple stock.

  • Olassus says:

    Leaves Italian Switzerland with nothing while German Switzerland has oversupply.

  • David Osborne says:

    Another domino falls and they will keep falling. Followed by wailing and gnashing of teeth on SD. When is this art-form going to take a good look at itself in the mirror and face up to the fact that change at a fundamental level is past urgently required? Find new audiences or die. It’s as simple as that. And those audiences are out there, I know this. Find music written in our time that people actually want to listen to and will make the journey to the concert hall in order to hear. God this is frustrating.

    • Vovka Ashkdnazy says:

      Audiences are generally not interested in music “written in our time,” and attendance goes down when such music is programmed. This applies particularly to Lugano, which is near where I live, but I have first-hand knowledge of similar attendance situations in places such as Cleveland (Ohio) and Sydney. People love Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Tchaikovsky etc.

      • David Osborne says:

        You misunderstood my comment.

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, I think he understood perfectly well. In a majority of contemporary music, there is no soul, and many orchestras refuse to take notice of music, for instance written in the last century but still rooted in the same musical values as the mentioned composers, that have carried tonal music along in spite of modernism. Robert Reilly: ‘Surpised by Beauty’:

          The solution to the problem is education, the right marketing, excellent playing, and programming music that appeals to the soul.

          • David Osborne says:

            John your last point should be first. That was what I was saying!

          • David Osborne says:

            I also think that education, far from being the solution, is a big part of the problem.

          • Geoff says:

            I do not play an instrument, I cannot even read a music score, I do not recognize an e major from an f minor, but after listening to some pop classics on the radio I plucked up courage and a couple of pounds and bought a ticket to a symphony concert, that was about 60 years ago. What made that happen? Just a good presenter on the radio and some smart publicity by the venue. The 20 year-olds today most likely have never heard a symphony, but what is it that will make them make a decision like I did many years ago. On the way to my first job in the city the bus crossed the Thames at Waterloo Bridge right past the Royal Festival Hall. They also had very cheap standing tickets at Sadler’s Wells. Today I listen to more Schubert and Beethoven on Youtube than in the concert halls, but I did find the time and the money to hear Yuja Wang play two concertos of Bartok with the Rochester (NY) Phil. earlier this year. Are there too many distractions/ alternatives for today’s 20 year olds?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Again a signal that classical music is under pressure, not because of demographic changes (more people listen to classical music than ever before, but often much later in life than before), but from populism from the right and the left – for different reasons, they fully agree on this point.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I get the feeling that you work from home and rely on the internet for your news. You absolutely need to get out more. Into the real world.

      • John Borstlap says:

        So, the folding of orchestras, their forced merges, the bankrupties of opera companies, the aging of audiences, the populist attacks on classical music, the indifference of so many youngsters, the lack of accessibility and education in terms of classical music, is not happening in ‘the real world’? If so, I have to stay indoors more.

  • Christian Anzinger says:

    Ethical crisis also in Switzerland!Europe where are you going to?

  • Ioannis Stratakis says:

    What a shame! Has attendance been so low, or their managing brains prefer sound providing machines?

  • Ioannis Stratakis says:

    What a shame! Has attendance been so low, or the managing brains prefer low cost sound producing machines?

  • Yannis Pouspourikas says:

    This message for the politicians: who will play in your new concert hall? Only guests? Remember that the musicians of the city spend their salary in the city…..

  • Lisa B says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht ,
    this information is not correct.The Orchestra is planning to announce the correct version of this story this let’s stay tuned.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Lisa
      This is the narrative that was put out by the radio bosses. They want to be rid of the orchestra. I look forward very much to hearing from the orchestra.
      all best, Norman

  • Rachel Kolly says:

    Of course, medias in Switzerland are under drastic pressures. Not only because of politics, but simply because the people “consume” differently; in a country of only 7 millions inhabitants, keeping so many services offerered by our radios (in 4 linguistic regions) is hard to sustain. We have seen so many TV broadcasts about culture disappearing from weekly programs. The public Radio/TVs budgets are cut on religion, culture, (and classical music is one aspect) scientific informations, etc. supposedly because “it’s not for everyone”. Sports and light entertainment will remain. Even the classical radios feel obliged to air Rock, Jazz and Pop music and light music (such as the classical Radio Espace 2 – Suisse Romande)… The radios/TV support many orchestras in our country, and it’s a fight, a war, to keep the budgets as they were… I am very sorry for this amazing orchestra with whom I have great musical memories and I hope solutions will be found.


    OSI is ready to start over!

    The termination of contracts to the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, which is linked to the cancelling of the Convention with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation as of the end of 2017, is the first step toward an internal reorganization aimed at improving quality. The orchestra’s strategy, inspired by its glorious past, which can claim cooperations with figures like Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, wants to create a new musical entity, guided by its principal conductor, Markus Poschner. This will enable the orchestra to establish itself at international level, as recently shown during its tour in Austria and Germany. For the virtuosity of its performances, as well as for the boldness and sophistication of Poschner’s interpretation, OSI – Resident Orchestra at the new Sala Teatro LAC, Lugano Arte e Cultura – has been classified as one of Europe’s leading orchestras. The release in December of two DVDs with Brahms symphonies published by Sony is a further accomplishment along the orchestra’s path of growth under the direction of Markus Poschner”. The project Rereading Brahms will be carried on in the next months at many European festivals.