Beleaguered Salzburg Easter Festival's new supremo Peter Alward reassures Guardian readers that his sponsors have remained "amazingly loyal". Elsewhere Bloomberg reports that "the annual 10-day Easter event is sponsored by Vontobel Holding AG, Audi AG, the Nippon Foundation and Vienna Insurance Group", while the Salzburg Easter Festival website confirms that the Nippon Foundation has made "annual contributions since 1996".
At least one of those loyal sponsors has an interesting history. The Nippon Foundation is a non-profit philanthropic organization doing praiseworthy work in education, social welfare and public health in Japan and many other countries. But that benevolence comes at a cost. Ryoichi Sasakawa who founded the Nippon Foundation in 1962 is seen in a US Army photo above. His obituary in the New York Times obituary in 1995 explains the context of the photo:
Mr. Sasakawa, a native of Osaka, was the last living member of a group accused after World War II of the most serious war crimes. After Japan's surrender in 1945, he was imprisoned for four years by the American occupation forces. But prosecutors failed to prove him guilty of helping finance and wage the war or of profiting from Japan's wartime occupation of Manchuria.Elsewhere there are reports of links between Ryoichi Sasakawa and the Unification Church (a.k.a. 'Moonies') and its founder Sun Myung Moon.
Mr. Sasakawa formed and led the Patriotic Masses Party in 1931 after being discharged from the former Japanese Imperial Army. He supported Japan's war on its Asian neighbors, and even formed his own private air force. In 1939 he flew one of his 20 bombers to Rome to pose for pictures with Mussolini [see photo below]. In 1942 he was elected to the lower house of Parliament.
In 1948 Mr. Sasakawa began expanding his fortune by operating dozens of motorboat race courses throughout Japan. He donated nearly $1.5 billion in proceeds from the legalized gambling operation to scores of people and organizations, and received prizes from the United Nations.
But Mr. Sasakawa's critics have suggested that his charities were part of an elaborate public relations campaign meant to divert attention from other activities. During the cold war, he became an anti-Communist campaigner and was accused of maintaining connections with organized crime groups often associated in Japan with ultranationalist causes.
By comparison another of the Festival's loyal and longstanding major sponsors, independent Swiss private bank Vontobel, is a real pussycat. In January 2010 a Zurich court acquitted two former Vontobel senior executives accused of forging documents and mismanagement. In 2008 the private bank's shares plunged after reports connecting it with a tax evasion investigation, while back in 2001 three of Vontobel's senior executives were fired for 'not adequately executing their duties'.
The Karajan Foundation retains a 25% stake in the Easter Festival which has an annual budget of $8.1m, and the conductor's widow Eliette von Karajan reportedly inherited a tax-sheltered estate worth $500m. Festival artistic director Simon Rattle joined the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002 on a reported salary of £500k, plus recording and guest conducting income. The Festival's resident orchestra the Berlin Philharmonic enjoys an annual budget of $38m, almost half of which comes from the public purse via the Berlin Senate. Top ticket prices for Rattle and the BPO's Götterdämmerung at this year's Salzburg Easter Festival are $684, with the cheapest going for a bargain basement $255.
As Peter Alward reminds us "we live in difficult economic times". Or as Eliette von Karajan says about the Salzburg Easter Festival "there is no point in looking back and lamenting".
That is Benito Mussolini above with Ryoichi Sasakawa. Another famous Italian was less enamoured with Salzburg's politics.
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