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Culture

Reinventing a German Classic

Faced with a drop in public funding, Germany's orchestras are exploring ways to re-establish themselves as essential cultural institutions. At stake is the survival of one of the world's richest classical music scenes.

As the director of the Berlin Symphonic Orchestra, Andreas Moritz had hoped to celebrate the orchestra's 40th anniversary this year. Instead, he's likely to announce the ensemble's demise in the very near future.

"If we cannot find a major partner within a few weeks, the orchestra will be gone forever," he said, adding that he's not angry at Berlin's city government for revoking millions of euros in subsidies last year.

"We're not entitled to anything," he said, adding that he's not had much success in attracting private sponsors so far. "It's our own fault that it got to this point."

Berliner Symphoniker mit Nena

German pop singer Nena (center) appeared with the Berlin Symphonic Orchestra as the narrator in "Peter and the Wolf" last year.

Working for next to no money, the orchestra has maintained its regular program, including school concerts with seriously reduced ticket prices. It's their only chance to convince potential investors of the orchestra's qualities as a musical ambassador, Moritz said.

"If we don't continue full speed ahead, if we don't show what we can do, we're not going to find anyone," he said.

Losing public support

Das Filmorchester Babelsberg im Großen Saal des ehemaligen DDR-Rundfunks in Berlin

The German Film Orchestra counts an appearance at the Academy Awards among its most memorable concerts

It's a problem many of Germany's 136 professional orchestras are facing. Just recently, Potsdam's German Film Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in Munich have been threatened with closure.

Germany's miserable overall economic situation has meant cuts in funding, after decades of plentiful state sponsorship. Now, ensembles across the country are waking up to the fact that they can no longer take the government's money for granted and need to do more to attract a younger audience that has private sponsors in tow.

"It's absolutely necessary to free culture from elitism," Moritz said. "It's the only way to prevent further cuts in public funding."

Gerald Mertens, the director of the German Orchestra Union, agreed. Orchestras in competitive markets such as Berlin, Munich or the Ruhrpott region in North Rhine-Westphalia will be particularly pressured to distinguish themselves, he said.

"They have to become more active in documenting their societal value," Mertens said, adding that while Germany remains the world's No. 1 market for classical music, it lags far behind Britain and especially the US in terms of innovation.

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