Friday, 21 September 2012

Haus of cards

Having consulted my Wiener Musikleben eyes and ears (pictured), hard-bitten cynics the pair of them, and spoken to a well-placed source in the, um, basement of the Konzerthaus, I feel moved to weigh in again with some observations about Bernhard Kerres’ departure:

1) There was discontent with Kerres from the start
Described as ‘fierce resistance’ in this 2007 report, and to an extent understandable: following an unsuccessful attempt at an opera career, during which he founded the Wiener Taschenoper (his only experience of artistic management prior to the Konzerthaus appointment), Kerres went into business and never looked back. And as we have seen with Pereira this summer, the Austrians prefer to keep sponsors at arm’s length, so the impression of Kapsch levering ‘their’ man into the top job probably didn’t go down too well either. Now, Kerres turned out to be a capable Intendant, but the Viennese don’t let go of grudges too easily and particularly when they are proved wrong, as anyone who has met my grandmother will attest.

2) Kerres led a self-sufficient operation
The team Kerres assembled is an efficient unit, and it is quite possible he lacked patience for the various layers of supervisory bureaucracy (in this case, a board, a presidium, and grandly titled ‘senate’) typical of Austrian public institutions. Unlike Salzburg, where president Helga Rabl-Stadler now has Pereira halfway house-trained, the higher positions at the Konzerthaus are pretty much toothless, meaning that egos need to be regularly massaged and the appearance of influence kept up. Intendanten forget at their peril that their future, come contract renewal time, lies in the hands of these otherwise powerless functionaries.

3) He’ll be back
Kerres is wisely choosing not to burn his bridges, and has even diplomatically conceded a few regrets. Vienna will be closed off to him for a while but the classy departure should stand him in good stead and victims of Viennese back-stabbing usually suffer no damage to their employability, if anything the opposite (see Dominique Mentha).

4) The six million euro canard
Grounds for dismissal don’t come any more convenient to the fiscally cautious Austrians than structural debt. Kerres did the responsible, indeed necessary artistic thing, leaving only enough cash left over to service interest payments, money which some of those aforementioned functionaries have claimed to resent eating in to the budget each year. This seems just an expedient fig leaf for personal differences, but now that the issue has been raised the house will have to make efforts to deal with it. A change of guard usually sees some political traction, but there is no guarantee of outside support and without it Naske won’t be able to retire this debt over the next five years without compromising artistically. Which leads us to:

5) Doubling down on Naske
When Kerres was hired he made it through a long list of 160 candidates, ten of whom were interviewed exhaustively on their qualifications and vision for the house. Naske was also a candidate back then and with some degree of internal support, as his appointment by cabal this time round demonstrates. And as he is carefully signalling, if only by omission at the moment, the debt problem Kerres was not able to solve is not a matter he is going to slash budgets over. These two things alone add up to a position of strength that should remain formidable even if his face turns out not to fit, that is if the Konzerthaus is mindful of what acrimonious internal politicking did for the Volksoper over the last ten years.

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