Aftershocks of the Salzburg cancellation

Aftershocks of the Salzburg cancellation


norman lebrecht

July 09, 2021

A message from CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddocks on the orchestra’s withdrawal from a highlight of its centenary year:

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


Statement this morning from the Salburg Festival:

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Chorus have been forced to cancel their participation in the opening concert of this year’s Ouverture spirituelle on Sunday, 18 July, due to mandatory quarantine upon their return. To our delight, within an extremely short period of time the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra has contacted its members throughout Europe, assembling 91 musicians from 18 countries for the project. In order to muster the large forces required by the main work of the evening, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna immediately agreed to cooperate with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, enabling 13 orchestra members to participate in this project, a lynchpin of the Festival’s centenary. The Festival would like to thank these two long-standing partners for their extraordinary effort in making this possible. Special thanks are also due to the Wiener Singverein. Despite the vacation season, it immediately assured us of its support. Thanks to many members of the Wiener Singverein cancelling or postponing their vacations, the chorus will perform with more than 100 of its members. After her orchestra from Birmingham cancelled, the conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla immediately agreed to work with the Festival on finding a new cast and will conduct the concert. For this, the Festival is profoundly grateful to the winner of its 2012 Young Conductors Award.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at the rebuilt Cathedral in Coventry in 1962. The Festival therefore deeply regrets that the CBSO is unable to travel to Salzburg. However, the fact that musicians from all over Europe will perform this work instead sends a strong message, very much in keeping with the founding idea of the Salzburg Festival as a European peace project.

The new constellation has occasioned a minor change of programme: instead of Friede auf Erden by Arnold Schoenberg, the choral cantata Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich by Felix Mendelssohn will be performed before the War Requiem.




  • Darrell says:

    If they can’t go on tour as an orchestra they can try it as a circus, because that’s what everyday life has become.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      It’s a case of this way today, that way tomorrow, all over Europe and with no coordination at all to allow arts organisations to plan effectively and in good time. The LSO is currently having a splendid time at the Aix Festival, having secured the cooperation of the French authorities. I’ve just been watching the Beethoven cycle being given by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (including a fair number of British musicians) at Baden-Baden, given with minimal social distancing and without masks, so it’s a real shame that the CBSO has again been so cruelly disappointed.

    • Edamame says:

      It’s all for the best considering the success of the overwhelming white privilege being halted dead in its tracks. Hallelujah!

  • Wurtfangler says:

    Surely the solution is obvious? Declare yourself a football club and don football kit. There are no rules for them.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Which says a lot about the way the UK government views the mega-bucks of the football industry and the penny-starved arts sector.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Well, as SD predicted some time ago – large orchestra with choir concerts (especially in a touring situation) will take a long time to come back. When will the next Mahler 2,3, or 8 be ?

    • Gustavo says:

      Mahler 3: September 2021 in Zurich, December 2021 in Berlin.

    • Matthias says:

      The next Mahler 3 is on August 7th in Salzburg in front of a full capacity Festspielhaus. That only involves domestic travel, of course.
      International touring remains incredibly unpredictable, as we can see.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The program change from Schoenberg’s troubled Peace on Earth to Mendelssohn is a sign of daring optimism:

  • Alan says:

    The issue is Brexit. As shown by Salzburg’s ability to actually have the show go on almost without change. But you all know that. Easier to blame covid. Britain being out of the EU is 100 percent the reason for this. And you know it.

    • Gustavo says:

      A Brexit Requiem

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      The reasons are exactly as I have explained above.

      • Alan says:

        The fact remains that if the UK was in the EU ten the CBSO would almost certainly be in Salzburg under the EU COVID Digital Passport system.

    • John DEACON says:

      This is an unfortunate outcome for the CBSO but, without a doubt and very sadly, the music world will find some goon to blame it entirely on Brexit …. the very sound reasons for which are not understood by those who failed to absorb their history lessons !

    • Allen says:

      You obviously missed Alexander Hall’s comment on the LSO at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

      Yet more Brexit derangement.

      BTW, Nissan seems to be doing rather well in Sunderland …..

  • Brahms70 says:

    Honestly, the CBSO is not a great loss for the Salzburg Festival. There are much better local, national, EU, UK, and galaxy orchestras. It is definitely a great financial hit for the CBSO.

    The reduction on the number of concerts in the EU (not the COVID measures) is a massive financial loss for UK orchestras, and unfortunately we will see soon a decrease in the quality of performance in UK orchestras because UK orchestras will not be able to hire musicians from the EU so easily (will have to rely mostly on its national talent pool), will get less top-class international conductors and soloist, and wages will lower since a good part of the income for orchestras such as the LSO, LPO etc. came from EU touring.

    Brexit has been the death sentence for top-quality orchestras in the UK. COVID19 has brought in the hangman.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      You may be right, you may be wrong. However, I think it’s worth pointing to the experience of the German Democratic Republic before its ultimate demise in 1990. Orchestras there existed in a cocoon and relied on home-grown talent. Admittedly, they had the benefit of a regime that was able to weaponise culture (and not just sport) for propaganda purposes, unlike the pitiful UK government which couldn’t care less how many orchestras and freelance artists lose out. Karajan recorded Die Meistersinger in Dresden, which also saw the likes of Kempe, Blomstedt and Jochum recording there (sure, money was in the frame). By the time the old GDR was opened up to the rest of the world it had three really first-rate orchestras in Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin (the Staatskapelle doubling as opera and concert orchestra, and none other than Barenboim was happy to take over the show there). So even if British orchestras have to say goodbye to the many European players who flew in for concerts and then jetted back to their other positions on the mainland, it may not be the case that standards suffer. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      The CBSO currently has at least 36 European concerts over the next two seasons. Brexit makes these harder, but we believe they will still all be possible. Just a lot more paperwork and some extra costs and other complexities. We are avoiding the territories such as Spain which are especially difficult for UK ensembles at present.

      And our financial model is of course different to that of the London orchestras you mention – in Birmingham, our musicians are paid a salary.

      In terms of the quality of our orchestras in the UK – there is no reason at this point why standards should fall over the coming years. Arguably the new UK immigration system makes it easier for musicians from around the world to take salaried jobs here than was the case pre-Brexit.

      Personally I still think Brexit is a terrible idea, mind you! But at work I am remaining rational and measured about how we deal with the consequences.

    • MJA says:

      What a ray of sunshine you are, Brahms70, and breathtakingly patronising to boot.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    This seems a sad set of circumstances. Alternative arrangements have obviously been made but there doesn’t seem to be much loyalty from the CBSO’s conductor agreeing to conduct the work with other forces. Interestingly enough, I have just recently bought the Testament CD of the first performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral on May 30th, 1962. Is the CBSO planning to perform the work in that same building for its 60th birthday next year, I wonder?