After boycott, orchestra takes legal action against minister
One of the great state cultural institutions, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, is suing the culture minister for alleged financial mismanagement in a bitter row that has boiled over and is now threatening the city’s annual musical highlight, the Prague Spring International Music Festival.
The orchestra left for a series of concerts in Spain May 10 and is due back May 19, but refuses to guarantee any further performances in Prague. The festival runs from May 12 to June 4.
Stunned Prague concertgoers were treated May 7 to the sound of silence after the orchestra refused to play. The ornate surroundings of the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall echoed to boos and heckles as well as applause from the audience rather than musical harmony.
The orchestra’s boycott followed a day of upheaval that saw the orchestra lodge a criminal complaint against Culture Minister Václav Riedlbauch for suspected mismanagement, spokesman Jiří Hrabovský said May 8.
The complaint was in response to the dismissal by Riedlbauch (also the former head of the orchestra) May 7 of orchestra Director Vladimir Darjanin, as he also accused his successor of financial mismanagement.
“Until the ministry meets our demand and keeps Darjanin, the orchestra is ready to continue protesting in various forms,” said Hrabovský, who emphasized he is not a spokesman for the institution but for the actual musicians.
“The musicians have confirmed to me they are standing behind Darjanin,” he said. “They want to ask the culture minister to give him the opportunity to show he is a good director, which he is. He did not have enough time to prove it, and he inherited problems from Riedlbauch. Until the ministry meets this demand, musicians are ready to continue their protest in various forms. ? I cannot guarantee Prague Spring concerts will be excluded.”
However, organizers of the Prague Spring concerts were optimistic the orchestra would honor its commitments.
“I am not worried,” Roman Bělor, Prague Spring director, told The Prague Post. “The contracts for the concerts have been signed. I think the Prague Spring concerts will not be harmed. Our relations with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra are very professional.”
The criminal complaint against the culture minister centers on an audit before Riedlbauch became minister and was the orchestra’s director (2001-09). He became culture minister in 2009 and was replaced by Darjanin as conductor.
The audit covered the six-year period of 2003-09 and, according to Hrabovský, a sum of 80 million Kč was spent rather than put aside as financial reserves for the orchestra.
Hrabovský said lawyers acting for the orchestra believe this is tantamount to lack of financial discipline in managing a state property.
Riedlbauch, in turn, defended his action May 7 against Darjanin, alleging there were shortcomings in the orchestra’s current financial management and the 2011 budget.
The ministry also accused Darjanin of being involved in commercial ventures that could give rise to a clash of interests if he stayed on as orchestra head. Darjanin denies any potential clash of interests.
Riedlbauch told reporters May 10 that Darjanin was just not up to the job.
“Unfortunately, it has become clear for some time that Darjanin, who was chosen by my predecessor, Václav Jehlička, was not a good choice. I could give many examples of when he did not follow regulations,” he said. “We invited Darjanin to explain some ambiguities in the management of the philharmonic during his tenure and to give his budgetary projects for 2011. We wanted to know why there was such a huge drop in planned incomes, which were to drop by a third, i.e. 10 million Kč, as well as increased expenditures. Darjanin was not able to answer any of these questions; he only promised to send the answers by mail.”
“I did not expect a detailed analysis on individual items from him, but just general strategic objectives. He could not defend the amounts,” Reidlbauch added.
In response, Darjanin pinned the blame on Riedlbauch.
“Our budget reflects the reality of today, and is marked by losses caused to the orchestra by my predecessor, Riedlbauch,” he said.
Members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra argue that sacking Darjanin is a gross and indiscriminate interference into its affairs.
“Such conduct in its malice reminds us of the 1950s, and it is a violation not only of political culture but also of all norms of decency,” they said in a statement.
– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.