Florian Merz

On behalf of culture and for Bad Elster

Florian Merz has achieved his goal. “Bad Elster, located at the heart of Europe, has become a trend-setting culture and festival town for the benefit of the region – and it now acts as a model.”

However, things did not look rosy for the culture of the town situated in the southern part of the Vogtland region when the young, 24-year-old conductor and graduate musician arrived there from Düsseldorf at the beginning of 1992. “I had the task of disbanding the local orchestra within six months and burying cultural activities. Nobody could see any future in this field for Bad Elster. I did not fulfil my commission out of a sense of conviction and finally was able to create structures to be able to continue the traditions here with a contemporary flavour – thanks to visionary support, primarily from the town of Bad Elster and Sächsische Staatsbäder GmbH,” the 48-year-old now explains. For Florian Merz, that meant “turning the orchestra upside down” and developing a unique, artistic profile for the Chursächsisch Philharmonic – and working efficiently and effectively in public and behind the scenes. “We’ve managed to create something special using limited resources in comparison with others.” Based on the musical potential for success, Merz finally founded the Chursächsisch Event Organisation Company in 2002. The Chursachsen started with annual turnover of EUR 250,000 – the figure is now EUR 1.7 million. Following an initial figure of 22%, the company now covers about 60% of its costs – in the cultural arena, this is such an exception that other cultural centres from all over Germany are asking the managing director Florian Merz what he and his slim and competent team are actually doing right.

 “Bad Elster has been part of my home since 1992 – the other part is Düsseldorf. I’m involved in many responsible tasks there too – as the publisher of the major daily newspaper Rheinische Post, as deputy chairman of the supervisory board and a partner of the associated, internationally successful media group. In the meantime, I’ve become what you might call an ambassador for Saxony and Bad Elster. I love wearing the St Heinrich’s lapel badge, which the royal house of Saxony presented to me in 2013 because of my special commitment to Saxony. I’m proud to be able to represent this fantastic state.” He also received the renowned German/Czech EUREGIO EGRENSIS honorary prize in 2014.

Conductor Florian Merz

The conductor and his role model

How did Florian Merz come to discover culture at Bad Elster for himself? It has something to do with his great role model, as he himself explains. “I feel closer to Joseph Haydn than anybody else. He lived in Vienna and that was the reason why I studied music there. Earlier, he moved to the provincial town of Eisenstadt with 4,000 inhabitants and I did something similar.” A small bust of Haydn, which he purchased as a student, is still Merz’s sacred possession. “I had to make my mark in the provinces,” the dominant composer of Viennese classical music once said and he set up a cultural centre in Eisenstadt during the almost 30 years of his work there, which became well-known across Europe. His life is an incentive for Florian Merz, who is also challenged by the issue of “how the provinces can become a lighthouse”. He has really succeeded with the nine historical event sites in Bad Elster, including the King Albert Theatre, the open-air theatre and the KunstWandel Hall, with 1,000 cultural events every year now and 200,000 visitors. Guests from near and far are repeatedly amazed at the high quality of the artists and ensembles from all over the world that they can enjoy playing live in Bad Elster. Merz says, “Operas, operettas, musicals, all types of concerts, plays, readings, cabaret evenings and children’s events take place all year round and are part of the regular programme. The King Albert Theatre with its approx. 70,000 visitors per annum forms the centre of the cultural and festival town of Bad Elster. Since it reopened in 2004, the theatre has featured more than 30 “honorary artists” like Wolfgang Stumph, the Semper Opera House in Dresden, Max Raabe and Johannes Heesters†. The general musical director Florian Merz himself manages to put on about 40 events each season conducting his Chursächsisch Philharmonic with symphony concerts and as a guest at many other music theatres. The philharmonic based in Bad Elster, which now consists of leading musicians from Central Germany, has specialised in so-called historical performances with original instruments from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, most of which come from the neighbouring musical town of Markneukirchen. And Florian Merz finds even more in common with his role model Haydn here. The role played by the Hungarians for the Viennese classical musicians in Eisenstadt, which is close to the border, is what the Czechs are for Merz. “We live at the heart of Europe. I love the particularly creative Czech mentality and working with them.” Partner productions developed, for example, with leading theatres from Prague, Plzen, Liberec and Usti nad Labem and working with Czech orchestras – as the EUCHESTRA EGRENSIS – testify to the close links.

100 years König Albert Theater

“In Bad Elster, we place great importance on developing our traditions at a high-class level. But we don’t view our task as worshipping the ashes, but passing on the flame! The town has been a royal Saxon spa since 1848. The theatre was opened in 1914 as the last German court theatre and has enjoyed the person protection of the Wettin royal family since then. The patron of the King Albert Theatre today is Alexander Prince of Saxony and it was welcomed into the renowned “European Route of Historic Theatres” with a special ceremony in 2015.

Personal details

  • Born in Düsseldorf in 1967
  • Florian Merz founded the Classical Philharmonic in Düsseldorf in 1982 at the age of 15 and he put on 18 opera productions and regular symphony concerts, among other things. 
  • 1984-88: studied music at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, then completed his military service
  • Since 1985: guest conductor for approx. 60 orchestras around the globe/major awards as a conductor
  • 1991/92: managing director and general musical director of the Chursächsisch Philharmonic
  • Since 2002: managing director and general musical director of the Chursächsisch Event Organisation Company (Chursächsischen Veranstaltungs GmbH) 
  • Honorary positions include: “advisory committee member” on the Vogtland District’s county council, an advisor to the Vogtland/Zwickau cultural area, a member of the board of the Robert Schumann Companies in Zwickau and Düsseldorf, a member of the board of the Rheinische Post Anton-Betz Foundation
  • 2016 nomination to ambassador of Vogtland