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Vienna Boys' Choir faces crisis over rent bill

Members of the Vienna Boys Choir perform during a visit of Austrian President Heinz Fischer (not pictured) at their home in Vienna, January
Members of the Vienna Boys Choir perform during a visit of Austrian President Heinz Fischer (not pictured) at their home in Vienna, January

VIENNA (Reuters) - The world-famous Vienna Boys' Choir faces a financial crisis that could put it out of business if it does not reach a deal over the rent for its concert hall and school.

The choir, whose roots go back to the 13th century, may have to pay 200,000 euros ($263,000) per year to stay in the Augarten Palace after an agreement for it to use the building rent-free in exchange for renovation work was declared invalid.

The Austrian Court of Audit said the deal amounted to an illegal subsidy.

The private, non-profit choir said on Wednesday it hoped to reach an agreement with politicians on the rent but that the alternative was closure.

"It is impossible for us suddenly to raise an additional 200,000 euros a year. We will not manage it. This rent would actually mean the end of the Vienna Boys' Choir," it said.

The organization of 100 singers, divided into four touring choirs, covers two thirds of its 2.8 million euros in annual running costs through 300 live performances a year, plus additional revenue from recordings and other media appearances.

The remaining costs of the choir, whose former members include composer Franz Schubert and conductor Hans Richter, are covered by private donations and sponsors.

In addition to the choirs, whose performances reach live audiences of about half a million every year, it has 300 pupils in its specialist music schools, a quarter of whom pay no fees.

The choir paid most of the costs of rebuilding the Augarten Palace after it was badly damaged in the Second World War, using the proceeds of its first U.S. tour in 1948.

It carried out another major renovation in 2003. ($1 = 0.7612 euros)

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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