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Interview Ilona Schmiel: The New General Director of Beethovenfest Bonn

Ilona Schmiel: My aim is to be as successful as in the last five years, to be at the end one of the very prestigious festivals in Germany, at first I have to say, but also to have the idea how could we deal with the audience development, because we are all worldwide in the same situation concerning this part of our festival business. On the other hand, we have the problem and also the challenge that we have the pieces of Beethoven and his music all over the world – he is known, he is famous. So, I have to find a way how I can show the pieces of Beethoven with the best artists, with the best performers, but on the other hand, I have to find some composers who are very interesting to confront Beethoven’s oeuvre with it.

So, definitely the Beethoven-Festival as we know, but not everybody else knows, is not only Beethoven. Could you expand on that a little bit on that, please.

Yes, for the next four years, we try to put out the international relations which Beethoven founded during his lifetime. So this means, at the beginning in 1796, he started to travel, for example, to Prague. So, he had teachers at his time, they were coming from Bohemia and from this region. So, it means that we have the opportunity and the chance to put out special relations between musicians from that time up to the contemporary music today. So, we have also invited, for example, a younger composer Jurai Filas. He is now the director of the conservatory in Prague and he has a composition class there, a master class, and he is directly in the tradition of Antonin Dvorák. And Antonin Dvorák died 100 years ago and he was also a person and a composer of whom we know that he was really interested in Beethoven’s symphonies. And his style was formed during the study of Beethoven’s symphonies in his own oeuvre. So, that means that we have to put the focus on several composers, also on very unknown compositions, for example of Adalbert Gyrowetz or Frantisek Koczwara, “The Battle of Prague”, for example, a very special piece and that we try to put them in the right light, to give them a chance because they are nearly unknown today.

And so, Bohemian-Moraving composers, is this really the special theme of the Beethoven-Festival 2004?

This is the special theme, this is one part, a certain part of the whole program and we have also, in addition to that, special programs for these pieces and these ideas concerning the audience development situation. So, that means that we try to find a new concert form, for example. We will have a night of pianos and that means that we have pieces of composers who composed for one pianist up to 20 soloists at the same time. This is a focus starting with the Bagatelles of Beethoven and then confronting them with them music of the 20th century. That means having Ravel, having Debussy and all these pieces who are only created for pianos in different versions. And this means, having a whole night, five hours, only piano music and parallel in the studio of the Beethoven-Halle you could hear the whole work for one piano, for soloist, of Leos Janácek. So this means also the confrontation with the Bohemian-Moravian region. And we will also have in the foyer other pieces. So this means, that the audience is able to create their own program which they like to be part of during that night.

So, in terms of audience development, you are not thinking only of a wider audience, but are you also thinking of a younger audience?

Yes, we will also have special projects for children, for example. They will have – I can’t translate that – a “Schnitzel-Jagd”, that means they have concert situations in little groups, they are all together, 20 or 25 persons, and they change the places in the Beethoven-Hall. That means they are on stage in one concert situation, they are in the room where the musicians are normally having their rehearsal situations, they will be in the technical room, they will be in a studio like here. So, they are also learning and maybe they have the chance for the first time to learn the situation backstage of a concert hall. And they will hear pieces, little pieces, of Beethoven’s time in Prague of other composers.

But also getting to the big stars in the international Beethoven-Fest, as it has been called up to now, and could you correct me on this, is there a new name now and what are some of the star names that are going to be performing in 2004?

We have a new name. We are in the international league, this means that we are now the Beethoven-Fest Bonn. The Beethoven-Fest Bonn, there is, all over the world, no other Beethoven-Fest with this name. And I think we are international as you said already, we are having Murray Perahia, Kent Nagano, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Martina Jankowa, Thomas Hampson, Yundi Li, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Deutsche Symphonie Orchestra. We will also have some other soloists, Pierre -Laurent Aimard and so on and so on. I think, this is enough to tell for 2004 at the moment, but also in the future we will have big orchestras coming from the US. And I think, we are really happy that we could deal with them at this time, because you know our situation is very hard and we have to put the focus on the money, on our budget. But at the moment, we are really happy that we have a special support from the City of Bonn and we have many sponsors and many other persons who will support us, so I am really thankful that we have this situation.

On radio and on CD worldwide, there is no lack of Beethoven’s music, you can get practically every scrap of music he ever wrote on CD. What, in your view, is the value of having live concert performances broadcast through media partners around the world?

Broadcasting of live performances is a totally different for me than having a production in the studio. So, if the performers are good enough, than you will feel that it is a special situation, and my hope is that you have a little bit the idea of being live there.

We do our very best to try to convey that as well. So I thank you very much.

Thank you very much