25 May 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: The European Union Youth Orchestra – a question of conviction

“Of all the big-name conductors who worked with the EUYO in 1980s none brought more conviction to the task than Karajan.”

Joy Bryer

The European Union Youth Orchestra was founded in 1976 by Joy and Lionel Bryer as an institution for young musicians from the EU countries.

It was designed to represent ideas such as collaboration, social cohesion and peace and was headed by such prominent chief conductors as Claudio Abbado, Bernhard Haitink, Vladimir Ashkenazy and (as of 2015) Vasily Petrenko. Karajan had invited the Orchestra to the Salzburg Festival in 1979, so he was aware of its high quality when he went to Courchevel in the French Alps in May 1980. He was planning a concert with the EUYO under his baton for the following summer in Salzburg and rehearsed it in Courchevel. He met Edward Heath there – former Prime minister of Great Britain, amateur conductor and president of the EUYO – and the sixteen-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter whom he had invited to play the Beethoven violin concerto. On the photo they are pictured together with Joy Bryer.

Karajan’s biographer Richard Osborne, who talked to Joy Bryer, wrote: “He flew in for the preparatory sessions in Courchevel entirely alone; there were no minders, no advisers, no hangers-on. True he had rung up the mayor of Courchevel to ask if the local airport runway could be extended to take his jet. But that was the only Karajanism. (The answer was no, and he hired something smaller.) Once there, he had his own room on the campus, took all his meals with the students, held a number of informal seminars and went walking with Joy Bryer.

Of all the big-name conductors who worked with the ECYO in 1980s none, says Joy Bryer, brought more conviction to the task than Karajan or communicated a greater practical concern for the future: how and where these young musicians would find work, and in what conditions. And all this without a penny being asked by way of remuneration. Karajan paid his bills in Courchevel and conducted without a fee in Salzburg.”

One of Karajan’s concert masters at the Berlin Philharmonic, Thomas Brandis, instructed the young musicians before the rehearsal with Karajan and ended by saying: “He’s just like anybody else, but he’s a very good conductor.” Watch Brandis’ speech and a brief impression of Karajan rehearsing Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony here.

This film is a wonderful 25-minute documentary about the rehearsals of the Beethoven concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Karajan telling jokes about Sir Thomas Beecham, followed by the complete performance of the Beethoven at the Salzburg Festival three months later.

The Karajan Music Tech Conference in 2021 featured the head of the European Union Youth Orchestra, Marshall Marcus, and the chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, discussing with our CEO Matthias Röder.

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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