Orchestra turmoil ongoing
Musicians vow to continue protests against Culture Ministry's contested moves
Posted: May 26, 2010
Wagnerová defends the musicians' no-show, calling them "guardians" of public interests.
The good news from the Czech Philharmonic is that no more abrupt concert cancellations are being planned. The bad news is the orchestra's controversial decision not to play its May 7 concert is only the latest move in a larger, ongoing feud with the Culture Ministry that is far from over.
"We were terribly sorry to cancel the concert, but we felt we had no other choice," said Jaroslav Pondělíček, a viola player and member of the orchestra's artistic board. "After many unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the ministry, the orchestra members felt so desperate, we decided to go public with our concerns."
Feeling that their side of the story has still not been clearly told, Pondělíček and three other orchestra members, along with Orchestra Manager Dana Wagnerová, agreed to a meeting with The Prague Post to explain their actions and thinking. What emerged over the course of a two-hour conversation was a portrait of a poisoned relationship with Václav Riedlbauch, former director of the orchestra and now culture minister. It was Riedlbauch's dismissal of his successor, Vladimír Darjanin, on the morning of May 7 that prompted the cancellation that night.
According to the orchestra members, they had been assured by a deputy minister just the day before that Darjanin's job was safe. After he was summoned to the ministry the morning of May 7 and dismissed, the musicians held a meeting in the afternoon and "spontaneously" decided not to play that night as a protest.
There was some discussion of reading a protest statement and then performing.
"But, if we had done that, no one would have paid attention," Pondělíček said. "We knew there might be a negative reaction, but we felt forced to do it."
The musicians detailed a scenario that stretched back to December, when rumors of Darjanin's demise first began to circulate. They responded with letters and, more recently, a petition to the ministry in support of Darjanin - all of which, they say, went unanswered. This hardened their feelings against Riedlbauch, with whom they had fought over everything from programming to finances during his tenure at the orchestra, and strengthened their conviction that he had a personal vendetta against Darjanin.
Darjanin's dismissal, they said, is symptomatic of a larger problem in the country's cultural structure, in which the major arts institutions are heavily dependent on government funding, and officials serve at the pleasure of the culture minister.
"The tactics are like those used during communism in the 1950s," said viola player Ivan Pazour. "It's dictatorship, not leadership."
Still, why punish the public for a bureaucratic feud? Wagnerová turned that question on its head by portraying the musicians as guardians of the public's interest.
"Without consistent vision and leadership, the quality of the orchestra and the performances will deteriorate over time," she said. "This would harm the public much more than not playing one concert."
That attitude runs deep in an orchestra with many musicians who have been with it for years, even decades, and have come to regard themselves as the true protectors of its artistic quality and legacy. That was clear when the name of Darjanin's successor, former Czech Radio head Václav Kasík, came up in the conversation.
"A bad joke," Pazour said with a dismissive shake of his head.
Meanwhile, the controversy is taking a toll. Early on the morning of May 23, a tour of China the orchestra had planned for the fall was canceled.
"It's because of the great instability of the situation," Wagnerová said, denying it may have been a consequence of the orchestra's no-show May 7.
And it hasn't changed the musicians' determination to continue their campaign against the ministry, which could go on for some time.
"The orchestra has existed for more than 100 years," Pazour said. "If it takes five years to push for change in the system, and keep the orchestra from falling into mediocrity, that's a very small period of time."
Frank Kuznik can be reached at
Tags: Philharmonic, Orchestra, Culture Ministry, musicians, Darjanin.