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Music

Ilona Schmiel: Art requires strong-mindedness

Beethovenfest director Ilona Schmiel has won over audiences by putting together wide-ranging programs full of original concepts. In this interview, she gives some background on the 2012 festival.

DW: This year's motto - Eigensinn (Strong-mindedness) - comes from a Beethoven quotation. How is the concept reflected in the program?

Ilona Schmiel: Beethoven was always ahead of his time - always provocative, shocking - and he's gone down in music history as a revolutionary. We live in a world that is globalized, digitalized, that unfolds in virtual ways, that's sometimes almost depersonalized. But the greatest achievement remains creativity: putting oneself live in front of an audience with the highest expectations and then communicating something that's moving, sensuous and worth experiencing.

In the 21st century, I think we need this kind of artistic Eigensinn that much more because the greatest creative achievements can only come about when a person is able and willing to go his or her own way. History shows that artists who followed their own paths for their entire lives are the most successful in the end. And that success doesn't always come during their lifetimes.

But you've put together a living and lively festival with artists who are still with us. Which artists who have followed unique paths are appearing at this year's festival?

The Hungarian Andras Schiff is one example. What he expresses and interprets in Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas seems one of a kind to me.

Another prototype when it comes to a completely individual approach to making music is the Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, at the opening concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He is a member of a very young generation that will do big things.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Herbert Blomstedt is known for his strict stryle


At the public viewing of that concert another aspect stood out: Andris Nelsons doesn't just make lovely music; it's also fun to watch him when he conducts. He seems not to have any bones in his body!

That's true. He also has a real talent physically. When you watch him, you immediately want to sing or play with him - it's pure energy.

Another example - just as strong-willed, independent and in a late career - is Herbert Blomstedt. He is 85 years old and has had major successes around the world. I have to say, in the last five years, something extra has emerged in his conducting that gives insight into the incredible depth of his experience. I'm excited that for the second time in his life, he appears with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which has been our Orchestra in Residence since 2004. The musicians told me in advance that they love, appreciate, but also fear working with Blomstedt.

The Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is strong-minded in a different way. Every musician in the orchestra is a shareholder of it, and that heightened degree of personal involvement is audible.

And we have a choreographed concert: Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with violinist Midori Seiler and the Berlin Academy of Early Music. The special thing here is that the orchestra has been split into two parts and is included in the choreography. The soloist also participates in the dance.

What all can the world's perhaps most important Beethovenfest pull off? For example, there are cycles of Beethoven's piano sonatas and string quartets. There's a symphony cycle again. But this time it's more than just a presentation of works in the repertory.

We came up with an interesting concept together with the Philharmonia Orchestra London. At the festival, we integrate the five parts of the world symbolized by the five Olympic rings most recently seen in London. So along with Beethoven's symphonies, there are five compositions from each of these five regions.

American composer John Cage (Photo by H V Drees/Getty Images)

John Cage reflects this year's motto - Eigensinn


You mentioned the choreographed concert earlier. What other unusual concert formats are on this year's program?

Turning to composer John Cage: many of his works are heard in the three museums of Bonn's Museum Mile. Not all of them are ones where you sit or stand in place. So the audience can wander through the sounds, in a sense.

We have a wonderful and young classical band called Sparks. They're two recorder players who perform on at least 25 instruments. And we also have a "vegetable orchestra" from Vienna, for example. These musicians show how you can take zucchini or cabbage and make music out of it. And it's important to note that they also play music of the 21st century - techno, but they'll start out with classical.

And as long as we're talking about unusual formats: one of the most unusual young orchestras is the third generation of the Youth Orchestra of Caracas from Venezuela. 180 young people and children on the stage. And when they play Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, the whole auditorium practically explodes with energy.

Interview: Rick Fulker

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