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New York Philharmonic Trip to Georgia Called Off

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Two concerts by the New York Philharmonic in the Republic of Georgia next month have been cancelled after the country’s government backed out, citing unexpected budgetary constraints. The cancellations will cost the orchestra hundreds of thousands of dollars and came with just a few weeks' notice.

Zarin Mehta, the president of the Philharmonic was informed of the cancellation in a letter dated September 10 from the Georgian ministry of culture.

"Of course it stings," he told WNYC’s John Schaefer. "We have to renegotiate all of our ticket contracts, hotel contracts, our charter cargo contracts. We have three days where we have to find something else we can do. We had a soloist in Georgia. Yes, it’s not pleasant. It’s not the extra work but it was an unprofessional, discourteous behavior on the part of the Georgian government which I find unacceptable.” 

In addition to the cancelled dates in the former Soviet republic, the orchestra’s European tour is scheduled to extend through Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, France and Luxembourg, ending on November 4.

The performances were to have taken place on October 21 at the Djansug Kakhidze Tbilisi Center for Music and Culture in Tbilisi, the capital city, and the next day at Batumi, an up-and-coming resort town on the Black Sea near the Turkish border.

Mehta speculated that the costs for the latter concert became prohibitive. “They wanted us to do a massive outdoor concert, which they were going to televise throughout the country,” he said. “That seemed very exciting to us too. That concert probably cost them a lot to put up a stage, a sound system and lights and get transportation into this small seaside town.”

The cancellation marks a new setback for an orchestra with an increasingly ambitious touring agenda. Just a year ago, a planned trip to Cuba was called off when the United States government barred the patrons who funded the trip from going along. The orchestra continued on with a two-and-a-half week Asian tour that included its first concerts in Vietnam in October 2009. In February 2008, the Philharmonic made a historic trip to communist North Korea.

Mehta said that the dates in Georgia were negotiated in late 2009 and the country’s government was paying the Philharmonic a fee and underwriting some of its travel expenses.

The initial idea for the trip came from the violinist Lisa Batiashvili, one of the most famous classical musicians to have emerged from Georgia, who has become a frequent soloist with the New York Philharmonic. Batiashvili told The New York Times that she suggested the visit to the orchestra and to President Saakashvili, who, she said, quickly made it happen.

The cancellation comes as Georgia's once-booming economy has suffered from investor flight due to the global economic crisis and its five-day war with Russia in August 2008. The country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been in New York this week for the UN General Assembly session and for meetings with potential investors as he seeks to revive Georgia's struggling economy.

Mehta noted that the president’s Dutch-born wife, Sandra E. Roelofs, is herself a musician.

He added: "It’s a very strange occurrence and I can’t think of any parallel."