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Georgia Blames NY Philharmonic For Canceled Concerts

Zarin Mehta, president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Zarin Mehta, president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
TBILISI -- Georgian Culture Minister Nikoloz Rurua says last month's cancellation of two New York Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts in Georgia was due to disagreements over the costs, which he blames on the orchestra's chief, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

Rurua told RFE/RL on October 21 that Georgian officials and philharmonic officials were unable to conclude a formal contract on the concerts in advance.

"They presented us with a very big bill -- an unexpectedly big price," he said. "This is not the fault of the orchestra or its musicians. The fault falls on the manager, [New York Philharmonic President and Chief Executive Zarin Mehta], who will soon depart from his post."

Mehta's contract with the world-famous orchestra is scheduled to end in August 2012.

The philharmonic was to perform on October 21-22 in Tbilisi and the seaside city of Batumi. But the Georgian government canceled the concerts less than one month before they were to take place, citing "unexpected financial difficulties" as the reason.

Rurua said the Georgian side was prepared to spend a maximum of 600,000 laris (some $320,000) for both performances and the orchestra knew this. But he said Georgian officials were presented with a cost of some 3 million laris (some $1.6 million).

"Naturally, we cannot afford to splurge such amounts of taxpayer money on just two concerts," he said.

Mehta gave RFE/RL a different version of events on September 30, right after the cancellation.

He said New York Philharmonic representatives were trying to get in touch with the Georgian Culture Ministry for several weeks "to find out what was going on," but were unable to contact anyone.

"Nobody in the ministry was even talking [to us], they did not have the courtesy to answer our calls or our letters," Mehta said. "And this is also very upsetting, the absolute, basic rudeness of the minister and the ministry."

Making Georgia a frequent destination for world-famous performers -- be it of classical or pop music -- has been an important aim of the cultural policy pursued by President Mikheil Saakashvili and his government. The problems with the New York Philharmonic may create new hurdles in this endeavor because of the worldwide publicity the story received.

But Rurua told RFE/RL that Georgia's reputation had "in no way" suffered. He said "nobody, no orchestra can deal with Georgia through blackmail. This was exactly the tone that [Mehta] used in the end and this is why he got a firm 'no' as the answer."