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On the death of Marcello Viotti, by TESS CREBBIN


This week, the city of Munich and the classical music world were shaken by news of the 16 February 2005 death of Marcello Viotti, chief conductor of the ill-fated Bayerische Rundfunkorchestra that faces official dissolution in 2006. The Rundfunkorchestra is one of two orchestras of the powerful Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation. The other is the Bayerische Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons.

Italian by heritage and temperament, French by nationality and Swiss by birth, Viotti was an extremely present person in the local music scene so that nearly anyone who has anything to do with classical music here in Munich has met him, worked with him, or had coffee with him at some time. So, when the news filtered through of Viotti having suffered a stroke on Wednesday 9 February, during rehearsals for Massenet's Manon, the churches in Munich filled with people lighting candles for the beloved conductor who was ailing in a Munich hospital and from Friday onward had been kept in an artificial coma. They were the same churches where Viotti only months before had celebrated great triumphs with his Paradisi Gloria concert series of 20th century spiritual works. But all the prayers were in vain and whenever collective hopes for recovery are shattered it is a tough blow, so there are plenty of solemn faces in the city of Munich these days because Viotti was such a presence in the classical music scene and many people feel that things won't be the same without him.

Marcello Viotti conducting his orchestra. Photo © Bayerischer Rundfunk / Nina Hornung
Marcello Viotti conducting his orchestra. Photo © Bayerischer Rundfunk / Nina Hornung

Speaking of collections and blows, here is a brief run-down of Viotti's last months: the biggest blow for him was when last autumn the powers that be at the Bayerischer Rundfunk decided that his orchestra would be dissolved despite protests from public and musicians alike, and so the conductor had to look for a new job at age 50. Of course, he had plenty of other jobs to go to but he took this very personally indeed, and being as outspoken as he was, we all knew about it. He fought tirelessly for his musicians and for his orchestra, but it was all in vain. Collections of signatures, 65,000 in total, left the organizers at the Bayerischer Rundfunk cold. Bureaucracy had taken precedence over art and the orchestra was going to go, heaven knows why, because under Viotti's guidance it had risen to world-class standard. Everyone, but everyone, was aware of the immense efforts that Viotti had put into his orchestra to elevate its reputation: just think of the Echo-winning Rolando Villazon début CD, or the Tenor's Passion CD of Marcelo Alvarez, both the brainchild of Viotti. In fact, under Viotti and the orchestra's manager Gernot Rehrl, the number of tickets sold for concerts multiplied and so did the ticket subscriptions.

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Copyright © 20 February 2005 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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