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A Conversation with Bernhard Kerres

A Distinct Flavor to Vienna’s Concert Life

B. Kerres (© Nancy Horrowitz)

Bernhard Kerres has been CEO and Artistic Director of the prestigious Vienna Konzerthaus since 2006. A trained opera singer, he also studied business at New York University and holds a MBA from the London Business School. Before his position at the Konzerthaus, Kerres was a strategy consultant for high technology companies and held several key positions in the field of high tech and communications.

“Management and Music. Emotional Intelligence combined with Business Skills. This is the unique world of Bernhard Kerres” says his website. And Bernhard Kerres has another little known talent: baking pastry… delicious, Viennese pastry!

B. Kerres (© Lukas Beck)

The Vienna Konzerthausgesellschaft celebrates its 100th season this year. Herr Kerres has created, in collaboration with one of Vienna's finest confectioners, a special birthday cake for the Konzerthaus. It is orange (Konzerthaus' signature color), fruity and yummy.

ConcertoNet: Herr Kerres, what are the ingredients for a successful season at the Vienna Konzerthaus?

Bernhard Kerres: Of course basic ingredients are a healthy mix of orchestra concerts, matching the right soloists with the right conductors, solo recitals, chamber music concerts, song recitals, jazz performances etc. But the real challenge in making pastries is to find the right connection between the different layers of the cake and the icing. For the “Konzerthaus Torte” I chose orange marmalade to blend the layers together. It was quite a challenge to create the right taste for this marmalade: the balance between sweet and acid taste had to be just right. In fact, a little acidity brings out the sweet marzipan taste of the cake much better. There will be concerts by the world’s top orchestras this season, but then there will be a concert cycle with the prestigious contemporary ensemble PHACE. There will be the traditional classical repertoire but also performances of the winning compositions from Konzerthaus’ competition for young composers. All that will blend together to give the “Konzerthaus Torte” its unique and fresh taste. But is not only about the taste. The consistence of the cake has to be right too: not too soft, not too hard. Last week for example, we had a program with music by Richard Strauss but also John Cage. Aribert Reimann will write a new piece to precede Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the Centennial Concert at the Konzerthaus.

ConcertoNet: What is your favorite cake decoration this season?

Bernhard Kerres: My icing on the cake is for sure the first ever residence of the Berlin Philharmonic at the Vienna Konzerthaus. But also our beloved Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach - as a sing-along on December 9th. The audience is invited to join in the chorals. And Orff's Carmina Burana with our ((superar)) project and the percussionist Martin Grubinger. In the near future I am looking forward to Nelson Freire playing the Schumann Piano Concerto, and of course, legendary jazzman Sonny Rollins, who will perform at the Vienna Konzerthaus for the 3rd time.

ConcertoNet: Vienna is known for its music and pastries. Is there a connection?

Bernhard Kerres: So far only in Salzburg - who hasn't heard of Mozart and Mozartkugeln. Interestingly enough we were the first ones to create such a connection here in Vienna, and we didn't only earn applause for it... A good glass of wine, a bite of cake, that’s part of a good evening at the Konzerthaus. We have to get rid of the idea that going to a concert is like going to a church service, where one has to sit quiet and exit with heads down cast. Going to a concert should be a positive experience, sometimes thought provoking, always elevating.

ConcertoNet: Let's talk about funding for the arts. How is the funding of the Konzerthaus pie sliced between the public and the private sectors?

Bernhard Kerres: Over 50% of our budget actually comes from ticket sales. The public sector contributes with 13% to our annual budget, sponsoring accounts for almost 10%. A considerable part of our annual budget comes from membership to the Konzerthaus Society, and another not too small slice of the pie is covered by hall rentals.

ConcertoNet: Several smaller institutions have had their cake funding cut - should the public sector concentrate on a few prestigious institutions or keep alive as many small arts organizations as possible?

Bernhard Kerres: The funding of the arts has to be completely remodeled in Austria under two aspects. Firstly, art has to be accessible to as many people as possible. Making music has to be available to young children because it is crucial for their personal development. Without developing the potential that can be triggered by artistic activity, we risk mutating into a robot society. Secondly, we also need top quality in arts performance. It is like a pyramid: in the arts business we have to make sure that we have a broad basis – every little village, for example, needs its brass band of decent quality - but there has to be also the Vienna Philharmonic concert at the Konzerthaus. We in the arts business have to ensure this broad spectrum. Looking at the waste in the Austrian Government budget – for example the defense budget – Austria has to remember that arts and music are Austria’s brand identity. The government should prioritize this brand identity and this should be reflected in its budget. Also, Austrian tax laws should make giving to the arts for businesses and private persons more attractive.

ConcertoNet: Talking about cakes, pies and bread: The Viennese Anker bread factory will be re-dedicated as a Community Arts Center next year. It will become the new home of ((superar)), you just mentioned. ((superar)) is an educational program initiated by you and close to your heart. From an early age, children improve their personal and team building skills through singing and dancing together. It is a program similar to the Venezuelan “El Sistema”. Tell us about it!

Bernhard Kerres: ((superar)) is absolutely my favorite project! Singing and dancing together is crucial in the development of any child. I often take business leaders to witness a ((superar)) lesson. Watching these children interact and come together in the most natural way, one immediately understands why this kind of basic arts education is indispensable for tomorrow’s citizens of the world. The Anker Bread factory lies in the 10th district of Vienna, where underprivileged children and families could most benefit from exposure to the positive effects of music making. The name ((superar)) has no particular meaning - it is a portmanteau. Significant are alone the double brackets that stand for the dimples in children's cheeks when they smile.

(© Konzerthaus Vienna)

ConcertoNet: If you would bake again at the Konzerthaus, would you do anything differently?

Bernhard Kerres: Not much actually. I am very happy that despite difficult economic times we were able to increase our subscription numbers by over 10%. I am gratified, that the Konzerthaus Vienna was able to establish international partnerships with Shanghai, Venezuela, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York and with St. Petersburg, Russia. If I had to redo the recipe for the “Konzerthaus Torte” I would maybe add a slivered almond or two here and there. And I would prefer sharing it only with people who believe, as I do, that music must play an essential part in everybody’s life.

ConcertoNet: You recently announced your resignation as CEO and Artistic Director of the Vienna Konzerthaus at the end of this centennial season. What cake do you plan to bake next? Where will the bakery be and when can we come to savor?

Bernhard Kerres: I am carefully evaluating several offers with my family. Nothing is decided yet. I might continue baking in Austria, I might be baking somewhere in Asia - we will decide in the weeks to come!

ConcertoNet: Herr Kerres, thank you for your time. You will be missed here at the Konzerthaus. May you continue baking delicious cakes!

Konzerthaus Vienna
B. Kerres’s Website

Wiebke Kuester



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