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History

Despite the new name and appearance, the Migros Culture Percentage Classics are soon approaching their 70th anniversary. In past years, this classical music series organised by Migros was known as the “Klubhaus Konzerte”. These performances of world famous orchestras soon became well established in the Swiss music life. The old name still pointed to the place where it all began: the Migros clubhouse.
In June 1947, Migros opened a “School for adults” in its clubhouse, housed in a Zurich town mansion on the General-Guisan-Quai (since demolished). Migros’ founder Gottlieb Duttweiler considered this clubhouse as a post-war biotope for developing a new social way of life. In Duttweiler's mind, economic growth was to derive from intellectual development. This vision led to the creation of the Culture Percentage, which is anchored in the statutes of the Migros Company since 1957.
In March 1948, Duttweiler trusted the Bernese film director Franz Schnyder with the management of musical events. A year and a half after its modest launching, the musical life at the Clubhouse started to bloom through the launching of an independent series of 24 “Klubhaus Konzerte”. This concert series was announced In the Migros magazine "Brückenbauer" of 24 September 1948 under the title “Great artists play eternal music”.
For Migros’ 25th anniversary in 1950, the Clubhouse’s management organised a series of festive concerts. The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra performed at the Zurich Tonhalle and in other Swiss cities, thus setting the principles of the future Klubhaus Konzerte, consisting of concert tours throughout Switzerland with great orchestras from abroad. Some 250 orchestras and choirs, as well as numerous world-famous conductors and soloists have performed do date for the Migros concerts.
From 1951 to 1963, Toni Stöckli was the first to hold the position of manager of the Klubhaus Konzerte. It is thanks to him that the series welcomed its first prestigious guests, such as Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Sergiu Celibidache, Maria Callas, Yehudi Menuhin and Jascha Heifetz. The Swiss orchestras partly looked upon these famous artists from abroad as a threat, an attitude which even led to a few harassing moments with the migration authorities. In October 1953, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra led by Karajan was for instance not allowed to perform in Berne. Stöckli quickly relocated the concert in Fribourg, bringing the audience to the concert venue with a special train service. The situation was defused when the Klubhaus Konzerte decided to also take Swiss ensembles such as the Tonhalle Orchestra or the Orchestre de la Suisse romande on tour in the country’s different linguistic regions. The highlight of the 10th anniversary of Klubhaus Konzerte, in 1958, was the Swiss premiere of Stravinsky’s "Threni: id est Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae", which the composer conducted himself.
Alongside the symphonic repertoire, Toni Stöckli’s policy also took into account large-scale oratorios and more recent composers such as Stravinsky. His successor Klaus Menzel (1963-1983) focused more on the classic and romantic repertoire and managed to convince the famous Russian Jewish pianist Arthur Rubinstein to perform for the Klubhaus Konzerte, despite the fact that he had refused to play in Germany or with German artists in the years following the Second World War. He nevertheless accepted to reconciliate with a German orchestra for the four concerts he gave with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnányi, Another of Menzel’s successful achievements was the first engagement of a Russian orchestra at the height of the Cold War, a daring decision that also led to problems with the migration autorities and even bomb threats.
Menzel’s management showed some signs of stiffening towards the end of his era. In 1984, Migros’ former Director of Culture Arina Kowner asked Jean Cordey, a Geneva-based agent for singers, to take over as Manager of the Klubhaus Konzerte (1984-1995). Since world-famous orchestras were then becoming overpriced, it was necessary to find new ways of keeping the concerts running, whilst gaining new audiences. This led to the idea of decentralising the Klubhaus Konzerte and organising numerous concerts in smaller towns such as Biel-Bienne, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Lugano or Visp.
As a result of this decentralisation, radio orchestras were frequently invited to perform for the Klubhaus Konzerte and encouraged to play lesser-known works by Swiss composers. Many of these performances were Swiss premieres. During Cordey’s time, Mario Venzago was entrusted with the organisation of a new series of concerts featuring young winners of the Migros Student Award. The conductor also developed a close collaboration with the Swiss Philharmonic Orchestra, an ensemble composed of independent Swiss musicians. A few recordings were made with this “Migros Orchestra”, which spurted the launching of “Musiques Suisses”, a CD label devoted to Swiss music, which was associated to the Klubhaus Konzerte from the 1990s onwards. Two operas recorded for this label – Othmar Schoeck’s “Venus” and Arthur Honegger’s “Les Aventures du Roi Pausole” – gained international awards.
In 1995, Jean Cordey left for Geneva to become Managing Director of the Orchestre de Suisse Romande. In choosing the musicologist René Karlen (1995-2000) as a successor, the Migros’ Director of Culture Arina Kowner wanted to focuse the Klubhaus Konzerte on more thematically designed programmes, including more contemporary music. This is how the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra came to be the first Latin American orchestra to perform in Switzerland for a Klubhaus Konzerte tour. Other ensembles specialised in contemporary music, such as the Klangforum Wien, the Collegium Novum Zurich and the ensemble Opera Nova, were also invited to add their contribution to the Migros seasons. In this context, the CD label Musiques Suisses also collaborated with the Consortium for the promotion of Swiss Music in publishing the “Grammont Portrait” series devoted to living Swiss composers.
Armin Brunner, former Director of the Music Department of the Swiss Television, took over the destiny of the Klubhaus Konzerte for the next nine years (2000-2009). Brunner explored new forms of music mediation by associating words and music. The concerts were preceded by musical introductions entitled “Magic of the Moment”, whose aim was to help to understand the musical programme by means of a collage of text and music. With works of composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Shchedrin, windows opened up on countries where the political opposition was a constant threat for musical creation. Brunner’s programmes did not only boast world-famous artists. Lesser-known orchestras from Brno, Lyon, Gran Canaria, The Hague, Hanover and Bordeaux also represented the colourful and multifaceted musical landscape and managed to convince the audience of the excellent quality of their musical performance.
The relaunch of these concerts as the “Migros Culture Percentage Classics”, the introduction of a new brand image and the appointment of conductor and pianist Mischa Damev as Artistic Director opened a new chapter in the long history of the Klubhaus Konzerte. In addition to artists and orchestras of international reputation, this series also offers Swiss talents a unique possibility to present their musical skills on the concert stage, accompanied by national and international orchestras, and continues of the sort the Culture Percentage’s aim to promote young talents in the field of classical music.