Friday, 27 July 2012

Salzburg and its faces saved

Just as this year’s Salzburg Festival settles into its stride, an end to the 2013 Budget impasse has been announced. Alexander Pereira and the supervisory board have reached one of those creative Austrian compromises in which no demand is given up and, more crucially, nobody loses face. 2013 will see a €60m outlay rather than the €64m Pereira lobbied for, but his big project that faced the axe (bringing the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and El Sistema, details as yet unknown, to Salzburg) has had its financing outsourced and so will go ahead. Let us review the absurdity of the situation for one moment: the Kuratorium’s main objection to such rapid budget increases was the outsized influence of sponsors in the new financial arrangements, and yet in removing El Sistema from the Zentralbudget they have agreed that the entire €2.6m project will be directly funded by a sponsor (the Hilti Foundation, already an El Sistema donor). Wilfried Haslauer, chairman of the board, stresses that this makes it a ‘one-time’ special project and that ‘we do not want this as a general model for the future financing of the festival’. Pereira says that the main thing is that this and the new Salzburg Festival ball – outsourced to the Friends, according to the model he implemented in Zürich – are secured and everything else is ‘wurscht’. I wonder who has the upper hand.

Another consequence of the budget agreement is that the Festival won’t expand quite as Pereira planned. The number of events will be reduced from 248 to 200, and the tickets from 260,000 to 256,000 (compared to 220,000 last year, before the length of the Festival was extended). By the next meeting of the board Pereira must disclose all sponsors, according to Salzburg mayor Heinz Schaden, in order to avoid another Alberto Vilar situation (how flattered Pereira must feel at the faith in his corporate connections).

Still, Pereira speaks proudly of the praise his projects have garnered recently. Mentioning that Jim Oestreich’s favourable review of his Ouverture spirituelle week made the front page of the New York Times yesterday, he said ‘what other cultural institution can claim that?’

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