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Culture

Bavaria's Cultural Ambassadors Turn 60

Founded by WWII refugees from Czechoslovakia 60 years ago, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is considered to be one of the best German orchestras today. Several years ago, however, it almost went bankrupt.

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The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra moved into a newly-built concert hall in 1993

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, which recently celebrated its sixtieth anniversary concert, was founded in 1946 by former members of the German Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague. The musicians -- under the leadership of their general music director Joseph Keilberth -- came to Bamberg as refugees from Czechoslovakia after the end of World War II.

"It is really very moving when you consider how the whole thing started," said Paul Müller, the orchestra manager. "There wasn't a proper concert hall, there was no heating and there weren't enough seats. But there were plenty of very energetic musicians, who were determined to see this orchestra created. This is what happened and explains why they have been doing such a brilliant and totally fascinating job down to the present day."

The Prague musicians who came to Bamberg brought along an extraordinary sense of musical history. Mozart had traveled to the "Golden City" in 1787 to conduct the famous orchestra and had his opera "Don Giovanni" premiered in Prague in the same year. Carl Maria von Weber and Gustav Mahler were among the orchestra's chief conductors.

In Germany, however, a new orchestra had to be built from scratch, under very difficult post-war conditions. Yet only three years after the Bamberg Symphonic was established, it became the first German orchestra to perform in Paris after the war. That was the breakthrough and, since then, the orchestra, which bills itself as Bavaria's cultural ambassadors, has played its way into the hearts of music lovers around the world.

A co n ductor i n love with his orchestra

Weltkulturerbe Alstadt Bamberg Bamberg bewirbt sich als Kulturhauptstadt 2010

Bamberg is an idilyc Bavarian town

The orchestra is famous for its warm sound. British conductor Jonathan Nott, the orchestra's chief conductor, is happy to combine old and new elements in its concert programs.

"I noticed during the first concert that it is a very receptive orchestra, basically just interested in the music," Nott said. "I just try not to spoil anything and just guide them along, as it were, which is really how I see my job. They play, I direct their energy and see that I just draw them gently together."

The Bamberg Symphonic is proud of its 43-year-old English star conductor, who's been conducting the orchestra for six years.

"One of his great, really great qualities is the way he projects an extraordinarily positive mood," said cellist Markus Mayer.

"I find that whenever there's a difficult or extensive program, he always approaches it with a spirit of enjoyment and carries us along with him," said violinist Dagmar Puttkammer.

Mo n ey troubles

Performing some 100 concerts a year, half of which on tours around Germany and the word, the Bamberg Symphonic is one of the busiest German orchestras today. Since 1991, when the orchestra fulfilled its long-cherished dream to give a concert in Prague -- the Bamberg Symphonic has been performing regularly in Eastern Europe as well.

Karlsbrücke in Prag, Stadt

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra had its first concert in Prague in 1991

In its sixty-year long history, the orchestra has experienced turbulent times as well. Five years ago the orchestra had to fire its manager Mathias Weigman and the city of Bamberg had to choke up more than 2 million euros ($2.4 million) to consolidate the orchestra's debt. Since 2003, 80 percent of the orchestra finances have been covered by the state of Bavaria. The orchestra has now officially attached "Bavarian State Philharmonics" to its name.

None of that can spoil the celebratory mood these days though. The anniversary program which the orchestra recently performed in Bamberg was sold out. A European tour will follow.

The way to hit a high

Everyone is a little nervous before a concert and each musician has developed a personal recipe to combat the feeling.

"Not too many sweet things, caffeine, lots of coffee, not much of sleep," Nott said before the concert. "I mean right now I'm flying, but it's the way to hit a high."

Tradition demanded that the jubilee concert features a work by a Czech composer. This time it was Leos Janacek's ambitious "Glagolitic Mass." The audience was enthralled, and the after-concert party went on until the small hours.

"Now we're going to celebrate," a visibly relaxed Nott said after the concert. "We'll be on again tomorrow, but now I'll finish this beer at least."

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