Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Karajan gets ahead in Salzburg
Why are conductors always remembered for their failings? Much has been written about the less appealing side of Herbert von Karjan. But when I was working for EMI I saw the more human side of the maestro. At the Salzburg Festival in 1977 Karajan both directed and conducted the first Salzburg production of Richard Strauss' Salome. and that summer I was very fortunate to be representing EMI at the Salzburg Festival together with Peter Andry and Peter Alward. Over the years Karajan had established the tradition of hosting an informal barbecue and sports event for the Festival musicians, singers, and production staff in the grounds of his magnificent house at number 41 Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße in Anif, to the south of Salzburg. The EMI team, including me, were invited to the 1977 Karajan barbecue a few days after the opening of Salome.
In the stables behind the house in Anif Karajan kept, alongside his treasured race-specification Lancia Delta Turbo, a battered VW Bug. This was sometimes used when the conductor and his wife Eliette wanted to eat incognito in one of Salzburg's pizza restaurants or attend a rock concert in nearby Munich. The day before the barbecue the maestro donned dark glasses, pulled his Goodyear cap over his eyes and drove in the Bug down to the big Billa supermarket outside Salzburg to load up with crates of the local Märzen beer. (EMI and Deutsche Grammophon picked up the tab for the booze on alternate years).
A local blacksmith had been commissioned to forge an extraordinary round barbecue, and a relaxed and joking Karajan installed himself in the centre of this magnificent fire pit wearing a chef's hat with a HvK monogram. It is the only party I have ever attended where principals from the Vienna Philharmonic played selections from The Sound of Music as we ate and drank. Karajan never stopped multi-tasking, and he would indicate tempo changes to the musicians with his basting brush as he prepared the feast.
The centrepiece of the barbecue was the magnificent head of a wild boar shot in the surrounding forest, and which simmered on the coals as everyone joined in the mandatory sports events. Eliette von Karajan never took part in the races, but presided as line judge. Although this was downtime for her husband, he could not suppress his natural competitive instincts, and Karajan invariably won his races against competitors several decades younger than him. Although the atmosphere was very light-hearted it was rumoured that a notable violinist with the VPO was once banished to a back desk after beating the maestro. My previously unpublished header photo shows Karajan winning the 100 metres sprint at the 1977 Festival by a short head. More Karajan memories here.
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