Every Easter, von Karajan gets a new toy

THIS APPEARED IN THE 4/25/88 WORLD EDITION THE Salzburg Easter Festival should be called ``The von Karajan Festival.'' Ever since its founding in 1967, it has been his festival. It's his toy - his opportunity to realize his own conception of ideal musical performance in the choice of artists, repertory, stage direction, and presentation.

Each year, the festival allows him to select an opera that he can both direct and conduct. To this lyric piece he adds a major choral work and two orchestral concerts, all featuring his own Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

White Mercs and the Maestro

This year's festival was an especially gala occasion, for it marked both the Maestro's 80th birthday and his 50-year association with the recording industry. Store windows throughout von Karajan's native city of Salzburg were filled with portraits of him and copies of his more than 300 different record albums. These window displays ran the gamut: Mercedes-Benz exhibited a 1936 white Merc sport sedans set off against photographs and paintings of the Maestro, while a local housewares store put von Karajan's picture in the midst of a medley of pots and pans.

For festival-goers, Salzburg is as much a social event as it is a musical celebration. Ticket prices for the four-event festival preclude all but an affluent crowd, since a pair of front-center seats in the 2,500-seat festival hall go for about $1,400. (Tickets must be ordered from one to five years in advance.) Most the men wear black tie, while the ladies appear in elegant evening dresses. By 6:30, the time the concerts begin, everyone is in place. There are no vacant seats, no latecomers.

The keystone of the festival is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, an ensemble that von Karajan has conducted for over 50 years, and of which he was appointed Music Director for Life in 1955. As one critic notes, the orchestra is an extension of von Karajan's arm, for he has selected each of its members; he has trained and worked with the group for so long that the members know his every wish and command almost before he indicates it in word or gesture.

The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the few orchestras in the world today that has a special character, a unique sound. The color reflects von Karajan's musical personality: a lush, old-fashioned, romantic timbre, with sonorous strings of rich, golden-hued tone; hauntingly melodic woodwinds; and bright, ringing brass.

(See box for highlights from this year's festival.)

The Salzburg Easter Festival is not to be confused with the famous Salzburg Festival, which is held each summer as an entirely separate entity.

The summertime Salzburg Festival was founded in 1920 by the theatrical genius, Max Reinhardt, with a production of the medieval morality play ``Everyman'' on the portico of the cathedral. Although ``Everyman'' continues to be a regular part of the Salzburg summer program, the festival soon became an essentially ``Mozart Music Festival,'' honoring the composer who was born in this city in 1756.

A foretaste

The two festivals do overlap somewhat. Thus the Easter Festival offers a foretaste of the summer program. Von Karajan's Brahms ``Requiem'' from the Easter Festival will be repeated on Aug. 27 and 28 at the Salzburg Festival, and in place of his new ``Tosca,'' the Maestro will restage his ``Don Giovanni'' from his 1987 festival. But these make up just a small part of the entire summer festival, which runs from July 27 to Aug. 30.

The summer program will include some 169 separate concerts, recitals, ballet, and opera performances. Highlights will include multiple performances of Mozart's ``Le Nozze di Figaro'' conducted by James Levine, guest conductors Sir Georg Solti and Seiji Ozawa, and a score of world-famous artists in recital, including Luciano Pavarotti.

Certainly the 1988 Salzburg Easter Festival has been a triumph for Herbert von Karajan, a man who retains an indomitable spirit in the face of obvious physical adversities: He can no longer walk to the platform unaided, and sits on a camouflaged stool when he conducts. The enthusiastic applause that capped each of his performances was not only a tribute to his discerning musicianship, but also to his courage.

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