Breaking: UK orchestra cancels Salzburg Festival

Breaking: UK orchestra cancels Salzburg Festival


norman lebrecht

July 09, 2021

Austrian TV (ORF) reports that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus have withdrawn from this summer’s Salzburg Festival, due to concerns about ‘facing quarantine on return to the UK’.

The exact reasons may have been lost in translation, but the fact of the withdrawal is officially confirmed.

The conductor remains the same. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who lives near Salzburg, will direct the Britten War Requiem with the hastily imported Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, augmented by 13 musicians from ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Wiener Singverein.

Also out of the Salzburg Festival, and for the same apparent reason are the Tallis Scholars.

UPDATE: Statement from CBSO


  • Stephen Maddock says:

    We are indeed really disappointed not to be able to open the Salzburg Festival this summer – especially as this invitation had already been postponed from 2020, where we would have marked the joint Centenary of the CBSO and the Salzburg Festival with Britten’s work, premiered by the CBSO in 1962.

    Touring in a pandemic (and after Brexit) is fantastically complicated, but we had been trying hard for months to make it all work. Several things would have ALL needed to happen for it to be possible:
    – Austria would have to allow visits from the UK (including our amateur chorus) without quarantine on arrival
    – The UK would need to allow return for UK citizens without quarantine (this was finally confirmed yesterday, but only for fully vaccinated + 2 weeks, which would rule out many of our performers, and only from the day we were actually due to return)
    – Social distancing for performers would need to reduce significantly from the current guidance and our own health & safety procedures (under which we have been operating successfully since Easter), otherwise we could not fit this massive work onto the stage of the Felsenreitschule nor prepared it in Birmingham – this is not yet realistic at a time when infections in the UK are rising so fast
    – Amateur choirs in the UK would need to have an earlier official date to return to rehearsals – this was only finally confirmed by DCMS this week, alas too late for us to prepare the Britten to the high standard we would expect after almost 18 months without any choral concerts

    At the point at which we had to make the decision, not nearly enough of these issues looked secure enough for us to commit to the concert. We are delighted that the Festival has now been able to secure an excellent replacement!

    Stephen Maddock
    Chief Executive, CBSO

    • Derek H says:


      Thanks for your statement.

      Timing is everything, and circumstances have worked against the CBSO and your plans, almost at every turn, during the pandemic.

      It seems that it is “two steps forward and one step back” throughout this awful period.
      Vaccinations are being administered but now surges are happening as society opens up.

      If the vast majority are vaccinated soon and booster jabs are provided where necessary, then maybe the link to serious illness will be broken for good, and we can resume normal activities with some confidence.

      We want the CBSO and all the Chorus groups in full operation as soon as practicable.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    The Britten is a big piece and quite demanding for the brass. Regardless, the GMYO should be up to the task. They’re good!

    • RW2013 says:

      But is the conductress up to the task?

      • IC225 says:

        The term is “conductor” – but judging from the fact that you made this comment at all, you clearly know very little indeed about this artist, as well as about basic courtesy.

        • RW2013 says:

          boo hoo:(
          Let’s try and keep the blonde-crush in check, shall we?

          • NYMike says:

            Conductor, concertmaster (leader in the UK) are gender-neutral terms. Also, try to – not try and – is grammatically correct.

          • Ashu says:

            [Also, try to – not try and – is grammatically correct.]

            That depends on how small-minded your interlocutor is. Grownups are big enough to accommodate both.

        • BRUCEB says:

          RW2013 is German.

  • Nik says:

    Isn’t it rather the other way around?
    Austria is an amber country, and after yesterday’s announcement they wouldn’t have to quarantine on the way back.
    But getting out there from the UK is another matter, as Austria still has the UK on its red list.

  • Anon says:

    God, I hate that photo so much

    • Henry williams says:

      I agree. All this travel her kids need their mother

    • RW2013 says:

      The photo – indeed, but the WTF expression on the face of the onlooker is priceless.
      This gesture is probably the one that will be used for “May God curse thee, and cut thee from our SOUL!”.

    • Hayne says:

      Why? It’s just a classic Hogwarts Academy spell that’s she is throwing.

  • Gustavo says:

    Everyone should have had the vaccine by now, so what’s all the fuss about physical quarantine and distancing?

    If these measures need to be upheld following Britten’s War Requiem in Salzburg then that suggests that the virus could spread regardless of ambitious and expensive vaccination campaigns.

    COVID’s coming home, or what is the fear?

    What a requiem!

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      We have to work within the government rules as they are. And while the UK currently leads the way in vaccination rates, it is also top (?) of the European table for new infections as well.

      • Gustavo says:

        So the vaccines don’t work efficiently and have been hyped by industry and

        The one-off heard strategy seems to have failed then if UK is world champion in jabbing and spreading, giving birth to novel mutants.

        But perhaps it’s all just perception bias.

        • Saxon says:

          Huh? The vaccine works just fine. It will stop most people from getting seriously ill or dying, which is what it is meant to do. It won’t stop anyone from getting it at all, and Covid won’t be eliminated.

  • Patrick says:

    Well, apparently the LSO is in the midst of a month’s residency at the Aix festival, performing Tristan with Rattle amongst other things. They have managed with collaboration from the French authorities, so why couldn’t this have been the same for the CBSO, but with a local choir?

    • Bill says:

      From the CBSO CEO’s comment:

      “ The UK would need to allow return for UK citizens without quarantine”

      which he said was an issue for many members of the CBSO. Perhaps the LSO has a much higher percentage of vaccinated members, or feel that quarantining after a month-long residency elsewhere is not the burden it might be for a short trip. In any case, two different orchestras going on tours to two different countries from one that no longer has uniform rules thanks to “BreaksIt” — why would you expect everything would be the same?

      • Peter says:

        Believe the LSO has factored in quarantine with its forthcoming European tours, should they happen. Then it depends where they are performing in the EU, and British government rules – which change almost daily.

  • Peter S says:

    If i understand it correctly, the UK orchestra didn’t “cancel Salzburg festival”. It merely cancelled its own appearance at that festival. Disappointing but rather less dramatic.