The Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival marks its 30th anniversary in 2016, staging 178 concerts from July 2 through August 28. Points of focus include the composer Joseph Haydn and the pianist András Schiff.
Founded in 1986 by German pianist Justus Frantz, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (SHMF) "has lost none of its strength," in the words of director Christian Kuhnt, who last year, in his second season, set a new record of visitors: 154,000.
Along with Frantz, the festival had a charismatic co-initiator: the American conductor, composer and music educator Leonard Bernstein. Inspired by the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts, they set out to release classical music from the ivory tower and make it more accessible both geographically and conceptually.
Following the SHMF example, there are now several big regional summertime festivals in Germany that combine recreation with serious music and tourism with the opportunity to hear top stars of the classical music scene.
A state inundated with music
The festival still has unique selling points in its 31st season, including five "Music Fests in the Countryside" in picknick style, two mini-festivals for children and a program encompassing the entire state of Schleswig-Holstein and more, from Lower Saxony to southern Denmark. Part of its flair are the 104 venues, from concert halls and churches to manor houses, sheds and cow stalls.
Unique to the festival is the Orchestra Academy, an orchestra of 130 young instrumentalists selected from 1,700 applicants worldwide - and a chorus of proficient amateurs.
From Papa Haydn to puppet theater
Long taking a particular country, its traditions and musicians as a theme, the SHMF now spotlights historical composers and living musicians. In 2016 the focus is on Joseph Haydn and András Schiff.
His own musicians called him "Papa Haydn," and the name stuck. The enduring images is that of a loveable but not terribly exciting, bewigged old master who paved the way for the great Mozart and Beethoven. Wrong, says Christian Kuhnt: "Both composers have a lot to thank Haydn for, and they'd be astonished to know that they are better known today than he is." Presuming that there's a lot of Haydn still worth getting acquainted with, the festival features his music in about 100 concerts.
Ten concerts are dedicated to András Schiff - or rather, the 62-year-old Austrian-British pianist of Hungarian heritage has set them up himself. "We tell the artists, 'Do what you want," explained Kuhnt. Schiff can be heard solo, in tandem with artists he chose himself and even with the Salzburg Puppet theater.
The stars line up
Among the prominent artists on this year's program are Croatian pianist Ivo Pogorelich, German clarinetist Sabine Meyer and British violinists Nigel Kennedy and Daniel Hope. Renowned orchestras like the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields from London are also on the playbill.
Portuguese fado, Irish folk, chansons, music for winds and electronic beats accentuate the program of mostly classical music, 178 concerts in total, for which 172,000 tickets are available.
After the downbeat on July 2 in the Music and Convention Center in Lübeck, the SHMF officially begins a day later at the same location and with the program of Joseph Haydn and Béla Bartók repeated, Thomas Hengelbrock leading the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra with political and arts celebrities in the audience.
Bolstered by the Festival Chorus, the same body of musicians plays at the finale on August 28 in Kiel, as Haydn's oratorio "The Creation" sounds out under the musical direction of Roger Norrington.
The festival will mark its 30th anniversary in Büdelsdorf on July 16 and 17. Performed then in a former steel forgery on the grounds of "NordArt," a major exhibition of contemporary art, is another Haydn oratorio, "The Seasons."