Architects Criticize "Hollywood Bowl"

In Mauthausen


Sent to various lists on June 16, 2000.


Another commentary has been published about the Mauthausen Memorial concert performed by the Vienna Philharmonic.  It is entitled "Necessary Critic, False Addressee" and was written by the architectural firm commissioned to design the stage and lighting for the event.[1]  (I am posting a belated summary of this commentary since it is one of the more important and informative to appear. I was also asked for the latest information by someone writing an article.) 


The architects direct their comments to historian Marie-Theres Arnborn, who described the event as an "insulting and frivolous spectacle."[2] 


They note that four weeks before the concert the Austrian Interior Ministry (which is responsible for the Memorial Site) terminated their firm's contract. No reason was given, even though the planning had been completed and construction already begun.   Both the Interior Ministry and Philharmonic had approved the plans.


The general production was then placed in the hands of an advertising agency, Werbe Marketing GmbH, under the general direction of Pius Strobl, an executive member of Austria's State Television Network. 


Under the new organizers, a huge orchestra shell (about six stories tall) was constructed in the stone quarry where approximately 100,000 prisoners were worked to death.  The performance was projected onto large video screens in the central plaza of the camp (Appellplatz), as well as onto large outdoor screens in Linz and Vienna.  (They used the type of screens regularly employed at rock concerts.)  A massive amplification system was installed with speakers hanging from enormous construction booms at each side of the orchestra shell.  Each orchestra member had an individual microphone--contact mics for the strings and open air mics for the wind instruments.  The walls of the quarry were lit with colored lights.  The concert was recorded by Austrian State Television and broadcast by satellite throughout Europe.  It was also netcast on the worldwide web. To help pay for all of this, sponsors were obtained.


The architects note that they were well aware of the difficulties of presenting a concert in such a location, and express their strong disagreement with how their concept was altered by the advertising agency:


"We did not lose our sense for tact and decency--quite the contrary:  In our concept there were no video screens in the Appellplatz, no sponsoring, no 'Hollywood Bowl' as a stage for the Vienna Philharmonic and Wiener Singverein--, no amplification systems as in a tent festival.  We wanted to realize the memorial with tact, decency and sensibility.


"We thus remain firm, that the event on May 7 in the stone quarry of the former concentration camp Mauthausen was not carried out by us."


The article was signed by, Prof. Anton Falkeis, Prof. Karlheinz Müller, Prof. Klaus Bollinger, DI. Holger Simon, Techn. Dir. Klaus Kretschmer.


It is useful to analyse the Mauthausen concert from a larger political context.  Critics suggest the advertising agency's mass media stylisation of the event was part of an attempt by Austria's far-right government to end its international isolation. 


In this respect it is interesting to note that shortly after the concert Austria's hopes were seriously damaged when it was discovered that Jörg Haider has close ties to Colonel Gaddafi and that delegations of his party have been visiting the radical Arab state for many years.  The most recent visit was on May 9th, two days after the Mauthausen concert.


Austrian opposition MPs have demanded to know who paid for the trips and whether Libya was funding the Freedom Party.  Harold Göschl, Haider's party manager said: "Economic interests have then as now always been at the forefront of the trips.  But there were certainly no funds flowing to the party."  Although he denied charges that he had helped Gaddafi to set up a missile defence system, he admitted in an interview that he was prepared to supply anything "that helps Libya to strengthen its armed forces".[3]


These disclosures make it less likely that Austria's partners in the European Union will move quickly to lift sanctions.  Austria spends more money on its cultural budget than its defence budget, and appears to be using institutions such as the Vienna Philharmonic in a sort of __Kulturkampf__ to end its political isolation.  That the Philharmonic forbids membership to women and people of color has passed by most commentators.


William Osborne

(You may forward this post.  Please include the endnotes.)

[1]  __Der Standard__ (May 16, 2000)

[2] __Der Standard__  (May 6, 2000)

[3]  __The Telegraph__, London, May 29, 2000.