Facing budget cuts, the Anhaltian Theater in the city of Dessau and its Kurt Weill Festival launched a protest called a "Tweetfonie," proving that necessity is the mother of invention.
Not only the motto "Kurt Weill and the Media" gave this year's Kurt Weill Festival a very contemporary feel. Facing three million euros ($ 4.11 million) in cuts, the Anhaltian Theater and the festival called on artists and cultural actors to participate in an audacious multi-media project.
On a specially created website called "Tweetfonie," music lovers, both professional and lay, could use a virtual fingerboard to create a melody of their choice to then tweet to Dessau.
Tweeters from all over the world participated in the initiative, in which their musical works were automatically coded into letters as they were sent. The festival team passed a selection of the submissions to experienced composers and arrangers, who used the raw material to create orchestral compositions of a minute each.
From printer to note stand
In Dessau the short compositions were printed out and given to musicians of the Anhaltian Philharmonic, who under the guidance of Dutch chief conductor Antony Hermus, then performed the world premiere of the "Tweetfonie" on March 3.
"Nothing was prepared, and there were no rehearsals," Hermus explained during a live stream of the event. He wore a miner's helmet with a camera attached in order to give those watching from their computers at home an up-close view of the orchestra. The tweeted melodies that Hermus played on an electronic keyboard were more or less original but had been impressively arranged for full orchestra.
Most pieces were played twice in quick succession, giving the conductor the chance to hone both the speed and the dynamics of each. "I am dreaming gently of you," was the title of a tweet contributed by avant-garde composer Martin Gerigk, whose works have been performed at prestigious venues in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Leipzig.
His Dutch colleague Ruud van Eeten worked on a piece called "For Kurt," an homage to the festival's namesake. The Berlin Youth Orchestra and the Young Euro Classic Festival delivered a short composition which, when translated into letters, reads "Applause, applause, applause."
The 50 or so arrangers dealing with the 150-plus tweets included internationally famous Catalan composer Ferran Cruixent and New York rapper and DJ Gene Pritsker.
Concert with a difference
Being part of the audience at the Dessau theater was something like attending a public rehearsal. Some compositions given to chief conductor Hermus could not be played immediately as not all the instruments were readily available. The way around that was to improvise, a reportedly enjoyable experience for all involved. The show did not sell out, and the online transmission was not a worldwide sensation, but festival manager Julia Nickel was happy to report that at times "more than a hundred people" were tuned into the live stream at the same time. One Twitter user described the event as "a genuine pleasure to watch and listen to from afar."
But has the experiment succeeded in moving internet users to compose, to address a new classical audience through modern means of communication, and to use a new form of art to call for the continued financing of cultural endeavors?
To attract international support in a similarly precarious financial situation, Metropole Orkest, an Amsterdam-based pop and jazz orchestra, performed a tweetphony in 2012. The orchestra is still going, and has guaranteed state support this year.
In Dessau, where the presentation of the compositions took several hours, the question is whether such an experiment will have any lasting effect and can set new aesthetic standards. And whether it convinced the local government to rethink its funding plans remains to be seen.