Replacement seems to be the dernier cri in the world of classical music. One pays a fortune for a golden ticket with a dream team and ends on an expensive seat to see the usual suspects. For example, I was eager to see Genia Kühmeier for the first time. I know Berlin does not have the charms of Paris and Vienna, but she definitely has a problem with the town. She has cancelled her only concert here in two years – a Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Bernarda Fink and the Berlin Barock Solisten. As I had the curiosity to check on the Philharmonie website, I found there Sandrine Piau’s name and no explanation about Kühmeier’s disappearance. It’s been a busy week and – after the French soprano’s very disapponting performance in the Konzerthaus’s Messiah in December – I have finally opted for staying home. Then there was the Deutsche Oper’s Rosenkavalier – Martina Serafin, Alice Coote, Lucy Crowe and Kristinn Sigmundsson. I can imagine more glamourous casts than this, but this was a solid one and I was curious to see it, even if – again – this was a REALLY busy week. Again my morbid curiosity made me check the website – they had only changed three out of four soloists for household names without any serious disease mentioned. Der Rosenkavalier is a long opera and Michaela Kaune and Kurt Rydl are hardly must-sees (if I do not mention the new Octavian, it is because I have never ever heard her name before). As we are not speaking of Elektra or Brünnhilde or those roles very difficult to cast, I guess that changing almost every soloist for less enticing options is something that comes close to fraud. This is not the same thing as having Waltraud Meier replace Deborah Voigt, or Joseph Calleja replace Rolando Villazón. If you advertise a visiting singer of some renown in an old production, you should expect that the audience would jump at the occasion to see something new and not the nth revival with all-too-familiar singers. Again my decision was to stay at home.
However, the Berliner Philharmoniker has gone this evening beyond all limits of replacement in my experience; I had tickets for Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle plus Ligeti’s Lontano and Double concert for flute, oboe and orchestra. Christoph von Dohnányi would conduct and Charlotte Hellekant and Matthias Görne would sing. After this week’s cancellation-fest, I was prepared to see Michaela Schuster and Hanno-Müller Brachmann. Indeed I would prefer to see them – so I was almost hoping for cancellations. But when you decide to play God, God always teach you a lesson.
As soon as I got to the box office, I was told that, since Dohnányi was sick, we would have instead Neeme Järvi conducting Brahms’s Akademische Festouvertüre, the Overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon and Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites. As you see, pieces of similar nature, atmosphere and complexity of the ones originally scheduled… I give it a thought and said Neh, thanks – I would like to exchange my ticket for another concert. “I am sorry, Sir, you have bought a ticket for the Berliner Philharmoniker and that is what you are getting today”. Wie so?! Is now the Berliner Philharmoniker like Madonna? You just pay for the privilege to see it – and if it decides to play O Tannenbaum, then you should thank God for that?! Then I thought – what happened to Charlotte Hellekant? Matthias Görne? Are they sick? Are they dead? Has someone called them and said “You know, stay at home and have a dinner at Borchardt with the fees for the concerts you are not singing anymore”? And what about the orchestra – had they not rehearsed the Ligeti and the Bartok pieces at all? So they were no prepared? And could another conductor – such as Barenboim will do for Levine – not take over? Or am I really that naive to believe in unexpected turn of events, while they knew since long time ago that this concert would not take place and then took three ready-to-play concert pieces to cash the box office money after all? No – I guess this is just some sort of swindle. I am a lawyer and I guess one should get what one has paid for. I understand that no-one can guarantee that this or that soloist will be healthy (or even alive) for an event years after contracts have been signed, but one can always produce some soloist or some conductor to perform what has been advertised, unless an earthquake or some sort of fatal pestilence has happened. But saying that there is no problem when one has to pay expensive tickets to see Bartok and then being treated to Weber (no offense to Weber – I like Weber, but his music is very different from that of Bartok), this is not acceptable. Curiously, if you go to their virtual concert hall, it is said that if you paid for the BROADCAST of the Dohnányi concert, then you are entitled to a replacement! I know customers are treated like dogs in Germany, but this goes beyond any sense of decency. End of rant.
Update – I have received a very kind and informative letter from the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Intendentin, Ms. Pamela Rosenberg, who explained to me that the program alteration was due to the exceptional circumstances in which 13 conductors declined to replace Cristoph von Dohnányi in such short notice. The fact remains that the Berliner Philharmoniker does not refund or offer replacement tickets when such alterations are made, but exceptional circumstances are supposed to be exceptional at any rate. In what regards me, I believe it was gracious from the Intedentin to answer herself my letter and I deem myself in peace with the Berliner Philharmoniker.