Salzburg Festival - no point in looking back

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.

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.
Elsewhere there are reports of links between Ryoichi Sasakawa and the Unification Church (a.k.a. 'Moonies') and its founder Sun Myung Moon.

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.

Photos come via Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
The Nippon Music Foundation owns some very impressive string instruments -

Many of these are on loan to leading musicians -

The Nippon Music Foundation website says - 'All NMF activities are made possible by the full support from The Nippon Foundation' -
Pliable said…
Email received:

The real problem with the Salzburg Festival is that it is not for “plebs” like ourselves.

If classical music insists on allowing festivals like Salzburg represent it’s interests, then classical music shall indeed become totally irrelevant.


David Cavlovic
Pliable said…
The following email has been received from Bernard Tuyttens in Brussels. Bernard's thoughtful points apply more to the Salzburg Summer Festival than its Easter counterpart, the two Festivals come under different organisations. His email provides a nice link to my recent post about the Salzburg Summer Festival recording of Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise -

Salzburg seems to be still very conservative. According to their former intendant Festspiele G. Mortier it is a kind of Dineyland, where no experiment is allowed ( L’ express interview). Salzburg was happy when Mortier finished his mandate. Quote from De Volkskrant : Formeel heeft Mortier ('ik ben en blijf jurist') dan ook nog geen ontslag genomen. Hij schrijft dat hij slechts aanblijft als aan twee 'voorwaarden' wordt voldaan: geen veranderingen in het programmabeleid, en geen FP & Ouml;-lid in het bestuur. Thus : he would have been ready to stay on 2 conditions: no programme chenges and no FP & Ouml member in the Board. One reason was that the FP & Ouml Board member imposed a Jugendverbot for a production : youngsrters minus 16 were not allowed. Etc, etc.. Conflicts between Mortier and , let’s say basic Salzburgian attitudes were plentiful. Mortier & Salzburg : it all stopped in 2001.

Just one quote from the NY Times: “He alienated numerous former allies, but he also made the Salzburg Festival a hotbed of innovation and daring. In his first full season, the summer of 1992, he presented the mystical and visionary five-hour opera "St. Francois d'Assise" by Olivier Messiaen, then a living French modernist master, directed by Peter Sellars and with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Mortier presented important productions of works by Monteverdi, Gluck and Rameau. But pride of place went to 20th-century works by Stravinsky, Janacek, Berg, Shostakovich and Ligeti. Mr. Mortier's presentations of Mozart operas, however, were denounced in the composer's home town as outlandish "Eurotrash" stagings. Leaders from Austria's right-wing Freedom Party said that the Salzburg Festival no longer represented their homeland. Mr. Mortier eventually quit in protest. “

Quite different nowadays: Vienna. The celebration for the 85th birthday of Boulez , last week , took place in Vienna. With succes. And Boulez addressed the audience in german.

And , just as an anecdote. Linz happens to be very different as well. When the city was cultural capital of Europe last year, they organised a festival for toy piano, a lovely instrument, from Mozart to Cage.
Pliable said…
Austria - I know it is somewhat off message but I cannot resist adding a quote from a truly excellent book that I read when in Morocco recently. Dutch journalist Geert Mak's 878 page 'In Europe' is a veritable journalistic tour de force. I strongly recommend it all readers.

A number of highly successful public relations campaigns were carried out after the Second World War. The Austrians succeeded in transforming themselves from enthusiastic co-culprits into fellow victims. The cautious Dutch suddenly became robust heroes of the rsistance, every one of whom had hidden Anne Frank in their attic. But what the French got away with borders on the unbelievable. Whenever the war was discussed in France, it was always in terms of glory and triumph, as though there had been no defeat, chaos, starvation, despondency or collabaration.
Pliable said…
Email received:

The film director Billy Wilder once quipped, “Only in Austria is Hitler a German and Beethoven an Austrian”.


David Cavlovic

Recent popular posts

All aboard the Martinu bandwagon

Will this attract young audiences? - discuss

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

Who are the real classical role models?

Mahler that dares to be different

Great music has no independent existence

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius

A year of stories that had to be told

Hitler's court composer was Harvard alumnus