Arts & Entertainment

Pandemic threatens to silence iconic Vienna Boys’ choir

By Wanda Rudich

Vienna, Jul 1 (efe-epa).- Members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir gather around an indoor pool. Their crystal clear soprano and alto voices fill the space with magic as they rehearse a Gregorian chant.

An audience might enjoy the performance in 2021, but the choir will first need state aid to avoid bankruptcy as a result of the coronavirus economic crisis.

The future of the world’s most famous children’s choir “unfortunately does not look very good,” president and artistic director Gerald Wirth tells Efe.

The history of the choir dates back over half a millennium and, as a non-profit association, is mainly financed by live performances something they have not been able to deliver since 8 March.

The future is still clouded with uncertainty.

So far, 113 concerts have been canceled, a figure that “is expected to increase to 200” by the end of the year, the choir’s spokesperson Tina Breckwoldt tells Efe.

She says the pandemic is “a catastrophe for all organizers of cultural events, as they fear the lack of an audience and cannot take the risk of paying the rent for spaces.”

“We just canceled the United States tour planned for fall and also the Germany one in December,” she adds.

Concerts would be allowed in Germany but the strict social distancing measures mean they would perform in venues at only 25 percent, and that “is not profitable.”

Nor will the seven performances that were originally planned at the prestigious Salzburg Festival take place.

Spain was the choir’s last destination with concerts in Marbella, Lleida, Barcelona, ??Toledo, Alicante, Valencia and Madrid in the month of February.

Losses to date have climbed to 800,000 euros but longer-term projections are dismal with the choir losing up to 2 million by late 2020, which may mean insolvency.

“For weeks we have reached out to various ministries and the Vienna City Council, although we have no concrete answers for the moment. But yes, we are expecting some help,” says Wirth, after admitting the organization will struggle to pay staff from September.

The choir just needs to keep afloat until things are back to normal again, something that could happen by next spring if there is a Covid-19 vaccine, he adds.

The choir and its educational system are listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Its annual budget usually hovers around 3.2 million euros, a sum that covers salaries, practical things like vaccinating children for tours and heating the headquarters in Augarten Palace.

The boarding school where the 99 singers aged between nine and fourteen is also financed.

The bulk of the expenses go towards paying staff and the education of the children, food and lodgings and their iconic blue and white sailor costumes.

“We cover 75 percent of the budget with concerts and performances. The rest comes from royalties or copyrights of the recordings (audio and films), sponsorship and some donations,” Breckwoldt says.

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