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Viotti's Paradisi Gloria series was famous beyond city and even country limits, with tourists from as far abroad as the United States and Japan lining up for tickets. Viotti did not smoke, drank only the obligatory glass of wine that doctors recommend for good health, and was sportive: in his spare time, he went scuba diving, fascinated by the calm serenity of the underwater world. So, why is he dead at age 50, one week after suffering a stroke during rehearsal? No personal opinions here, just a brief look at what the others have to say: the newspaper Abendzeitung, one of the most influential in the city, writes about Viotti's death under the heading 'stroke through stress', citing his constant commuting between Munich, where he worked, Lorraine where he lived with his family, and Venice, where he was musical director of La Fenice. And wherever he was, he always gave 100 per cent and more. In Munich, for his Rundfunk Orchestra, Viotti always went the extra mile and then some. He didn't just conduct: he cared. About his musicians, of which the cellists were especially close to his heart as he himself had started out in his musical life studying cello, piano and voice. About the singers, with whom he would breathe along, as could be expected from a former singer. About his public, with who he was always friendly, accessible and extremely dedicated to giving them top value for money. It was because of Viotti that the Bayerische Rundfunkorchestra became what it was: one of the most loved and respected orchestras in Germany. Robert Braunmüller, of the Abendzeitung's Arts and Culture pages, writes: 'Unfortunately, Viotti's commitment and dedication were not appreciated enough by the Bayerischer Rundfunk.' Perhaps he should have known that his work in Munich would be stressful: his predecessor, Giuseppe Patane, who took over the Munich Rundfunkorchestra in 1988, suffered a fatal heart attack while conducting Rossini's Barber of Seville!

And indeed, the circumstances surrounding the orchestra's dissolution are somewhat stressful just to follow, much more so if one had been a part of it. In autumn 2004, the orchestra's dissolution was officially announced but, remembers Braunmüller, '... strangely, initially they had pressured Viotti to extend his contract with the orchestra until 2007. And a few days later they announced that the orchestra would be dissolved.' Then came the firing of orchestra manager Gernot Rehrl, something that made Viotti angry enough to resign his own position at once. 'From what I recall,' explains Braunmüller, 'there was a concert-version of Rusalka that John Fiore came to conduct as guest conductor. In an interview he said that it was a scandal to dissolve an orchestra of such fine reputation and that this must be prevented. And then, to make matters worse, during the actual concert performance, Fiore stopped, turned to the public and addressed them, saying what was happening was despicable and that the plans to do away with the orchestra must be stopped by public pressure. Yes, and then Rehrl was blamed for not having stopped this from happening, and as a result he was fired. Viotti was furious, resigned, but agreed to continue as de facto chief conductor until 2006 so as not to let down his musicians.'

The fact is that Viotti and his orchestra had enormous support among the public and nobody wanted to see him go.

'We never had as many readers' letters as we did about this issue,' remembers Braunmüller. 'All of them in support of Viotti and his orchestra. And the other big newspapers, including the national Süddeutsche Zeitung, had the same happen to them. Never before or afterwards did we have such a public outcry. And believe me, this is not the first orchestra to face dissolution. But it is an orchestra that was enormously loved by the public and so was Viotti, its conductor. But the powers that be didn't care about that and still went ahead with their plan. Now they have somewhat relented and the orchestra supposedly will be reformed, in a smaller version with only fifty musicians.'

The tabloid newspaper Bild, a large circulation national newspaper, quotes Viotti's mother as saying: 'I am convinced that he had too much stress in the preceding months.' Further, it quotes Norbert Genschke, a board-member of the Society of Friends of the Rundfunkorchestra, as saying last week after Viotti suffered the stroke that would finally kill him: 'I am sure this is the result of recent events here.'

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Copyright © 20 February 2005 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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