SWR chief Peter Boudgoust has responded to an open letter by 160 maestros calling for a halt to his plan to merge two orchestras. I’m not changing anything, says Boudgoust. You can wave your arms as much as you like, but I’m standing firm. His response is remarkable for its failure to address any of the issues raised by the conductors in their letter. Read it in German here and in our translation by Simon Morgan below:
it is understandable that you raise your voices against the merger of two orchestras. Because you’re right: from 2016, Germany will have one orchestra less. There’s no way of sugar-coating it and I won’t even try. But as much as I’d like it to be, it is not the duty as Intendant for South German Radio to maintain the numbers of the German orchestral landscape.
Licence-fee payers in Baden-Württemberg and the Rhineland-Palatinate expect their broadcaster and its chief to use their licence fees to finance good programming, for reliable news broadcasting, for investigative journalism in both TV and radio, for up-to-date and informative background information on its online pages, for moving and touching TV films and exciting series, for gripping documentaries and for informative and topical cultural reporting. It is this which the legislative requires of us when it states in the SWR broadcasting and media law that a broadaster’s range of offerings must serve to inform, eductate, advise and entertain. In particular, it must make a contribution to culture. There’s no talk anywhere of a broadcaster having to keep and maintain orchestras.
Nevertheless, this is something that SWR does, in contrast to other public broadcasters, a fact which no-one takes them to task over. And the SWR does so willingly and with complete conviction: it maintains and keeps two symphony orchestras in Baden-Württemberg, a vocal ensemble, a Big Band and an experimental studio. It is also contributes to a symphony orchestra in the Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland. Without the SWR, there would be no Donaueschinger Musiktage, no Schwetzinger Festspiele, and no RheinVokal Music Festival.
For me, too, the decision to merge the two orchestras was not an easy one.
But it is imperative. As Intendant, I can’t ignore the prevailing financial conditions if the entire fabric of what we offer is not to disintegrate completely. Against this background, we’ve been implementing cost-cutting and restructuring measures for the past four years at the SWR. Nearly all divisions face 25-percent cuts. That is the only way we can continue to offer programming for all licence-fee payers, both young and old. Only then can we be in a position to afford and produce award-winning programmes. Only if everyone within the SWR contributes and participates in the restructuring process can we extend accessibility and equip our regional studios with a multi-media presence, not least so that they can continue to report about cultural events in future.
Culture will continue to play a major role in our programming, maybe even a bigger one than before. As part of the proposed realignment of SWR television, we’re planning to relaunch our cultural magazine and cultural topics will be even more important in our extended news programmes. This means that we’re placing culture in the focus of our programming and want to reach even more people than before.
This holistic approach means, however, that the orchestras and ensembles must participate and be involved in the restructuring process. That is the driving factor behind the process of evolution that has been intensively debated within the SWR and its decision-making bodies. In the end, it was this that led to the broadcasting council’s decision to merge the two orchestras.
It was not a decision that was taken lightly. But even after a year, I am convinced that it was the right decision, however painful it might be. Shutting our eyes to the economic realities would effectively have meant having less and less money each year for two orchestras, for good musicians, high-calibre conductors and sufficient rehearsal time. In the end, we would have had to accept the slow death of two orchestras.
Yes, we would then still have the two SWR orchestras in 2016. And instead of your open letter, you would have written to me, applauding me for being a staunch campaigner against the overall decline of culture. But I doubt whether the audiences would have continued to applaud these two orchestras as they slowly bled to death. Yes, we will have one orchestra less in Germany in 2016. But with the new SWR-Symphony Orchestra we will at least have one more orchestra whose future is secured.