Terrible news from Germany, courtesy of Norman Lebrecht: the Südwestrundfunk (Southwest German Radio) has announced radical cutbacks to its two fabulous orchestras, the SWR-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, and the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Stuttgart. One may be forced to merge with the other unless these cutbacks are rescinded.
Click here for the petition. The text next to the two check-boxes reads: “I agree to publish my name for the campaign “Orchestra Savior (optional)” and “Please keep me informed about the progress of this petition (optional).” German-speakers should take a look at this site (Friends of the SWRSO).
Lest you think that these are minor ensembles, you couldn’t be more mistaken; they’re world-class. Each has its own history and tradition, its own catalogue of excellent recordings–in short, its own identity. (Videos of each below.)
The Baden orchestra’s fame–especially for new music–started with its first music director, Hans Rosbaud (one of my favorite conductors of all time), and the orchestra’s numerous recent recordings with Michael Gielen have amply sustained its reputation. (Many critics consider their Mahler cycle one of the best, if not the best.) The orchestra also plays an important role in the Donaueschinger Musiktage, one of the world’s most important new music festivals. The new music director is François-Xavier Roth; judging from his recordings with his chamber orchestra Les Siècles, he’s a major talent.
Here, Gielen conducts the orchestra in a beautifully shaped performance of Mahler 1 (ignore the fatuous comment underneath):
The Stuttgart orchestra is also world-renowned; in the seventies it was directed by Sergiu Celibidache (with radio recordings released on DG), in the eighties by Sir Neville Marriner, and for over a decade by Sir Roger Norrington, whose period-style recordings of Holst, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, and Mahler (never mind Brahms or Beethoven) may raise some hackles, but are never less than thought-provoking. Georges Prêtre, enjoying an “Indian summer” in his career, is honorary conductor, and the gifted French conductor Stéphane Denève is now music director.
Watch the Stuttgart players here, tearing into the last section of Respighi’s Pines of Rome under Prêtre. (Love the percussionists at 4:28, and Prêtre looks positively insane.) How could anyone think of putting some of these guys out of a job?