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Politicians could learn from Beethoven, says festival head Ilona Schmiel

Utopia, freedom and international exchange are at the core of this year's Beethovenfest. Beethoven has a particular power that brings people together, says the festival's Director Ilona Schmiel.

Festival Director Ilona Schmiel speaks to a reporter

Ilona Schmiel says Beethoven inspires enthusiasm

Each year, Beethoven's birth city of Bonn hosts a month-long festival celebrating the composer's music and its continuing impact. Beethovenfest begins on September 10, 2010. This year's festival takes place under the motto "Into the Open" and features innovative concert formats that relate to the theme of utopia and freedom in music.

Beethovenfest Director Ilona Schmiel talked with Deutsche Welle about this year's event and its international dimensions.

Deutsche Welle: What does the festival motto - "Into the Open" - mean?

Ilona Schmiel: The phrase comes from an elegy by [German poet Friedrich] Hoelderlin written in 1800, and this is also the time period we're exploring with this year's festival. Part of how we're doing that is by presenting music from Beethoven's era, which was marked by a social shift toward egalitarianism. We're also looking ahead and asking what the music of the 21st century will be like and how contemporary composers can be integrated into our program.

Since utopia and freedom in music relate to the festival's theme, we will investigate utopia in the form of two examples from South America. Other countries will also come into focus by way of two films on the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Kinshasa Symphony.

Do you think the Romantic or utopian idea of music is represented more in countries that don't belong to the so-called "Western" world?

That concept is experienced there more strongly because the environment is different. Here in Western Europe, we're sometimes too complacent to really appreciate the power of music and the passion to fight through difficult living conditions. Music can integrate people and take on meaning that we often don't appreciate enough in the West.

Members of Bakkushan sit on a sofa

With rock band Bakkushan and other acts, the festival goes beyond classical music

What steps are you taking to expand the audience for the Beethovenfest?

We looked for artists that ask themselves how to address audiences of the future, regardless of age. I think multi-percussionist Martin Grubinger is a good example of what I mean. He and six other musicians are going to give an unbelievably exciting concert. They'll create a surround-sound effect in the Beethovenhalle in Bonn by performing on six stages simultaneously.

We've had a lot of discussions about how to get young people involved and what they expect from a festival. I have a co-director at my side who is 16, and she's in charge of a project featuring a competition between a "Baroque band" with violinist Daniel Hope and a rock band called Bakkushan.

Is there a good network and exchange among Beethoven festivals, or is it more of a competitive situation?

It's more of a network than a competition. We have good exchange with the Beethoven festivals in Warsaw and Caracas. In 2004, I traveled to Caracas and made contact with Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of the National Network of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela. This year, he is serving as patron of the Beethovenfest. I cannot imagine anyone that would fit better with this year's theme of utopia in music than Dr. Abreu.

What makes him stand out?

The 200 musicians that make up the Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra stand outside of a building before a concert

The Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra has 200 members

Thirty-six years ago, he realized that music can be used to help socialize an entire country and looked for projects that can show our audience just how that takes place. Viewing society, culture and the educational canon together came about out of necessity in some countries, but that can be a model for us. I think it's a big mistake that, particularly in Germany, we view these three areas as being so distinct from each other.

We are bringing the enormous Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra from Venezuela for this year's festival. Just the size of the ensemble is amazing to see, and the enthusiasm that emanates from the stage is a kind of fundamental experience. I expected their concert to sell out, but I never thought it would sell out as quickly as it did.

The Beethovenfest Bonn has already had exchanges with many countries. What international partnerships are planned in the future?

Beethoven plays such a big role everywhere in the world. In 2013, we're planning a "Beethoven satellite," and there will definitely be further concerts in Brazil.

I think it would be a good idea for the government in Germany to get behind music. Beethoven doesn't have to be viewed as something very traditional but rather as a figure that inspires a lot of enthusiasm and that is imbued with a very particular power. I think that could be drawn upon in national politics.

For instance, our festival was much more successful in the media in Sao Paulo than either our finance or foreign ministers, and there are good reasons for that. I think that with this positive approach and innovative ideas, a lot can be done to bring people together.

Interview: Rick Fulker (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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