A quieter mezzoforte before the fortissimo of the Beethoven year 2020: Beethovenfest director Nike Wagner told DW about this year's program, whose motto is "Moonlight."
DW: How does the motto "Moonlight" translate into music?
Nike Wagner: Moonlight is a very lyrical and romantic theme. It has inspired poets for centuries, and composers as well. I can spontaneously recall for example Schumann setting Eichendorff's poem Moon Night to music.
But the peg to the festival's motto was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Performances of the dreamy adagio in the first movement get millions of clicks on the internet today. It will be performed three times during the festival: once by Pierre-Laurent Aimard on a modern piano, but then also on a fortepiano and in a modern transcription by Giselher Klebe for horn and piano.
We are bringing together a number of other works inspired by the moon: nocturnes and serenades, in the form of a small chamber music cycle. But the night can also be uncanny, for example with Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, played by the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra from Moscow: It features an entire witches' Sabbath.
The program also includes a comedy opera by Joseph Haydn, The World on the Moon. And then comes the Salzburg Marionette Theater with a Fidelio in miniature, as well as Robert Schumann's oratorio Paradise and the Peri. But there will also be dance, performances and films.
In view of Beethoven's upcoming anniversary year 2020, is the theme "Moonlight" a kind of mezzo-piano before the fortissimo-attacca?
Yes, we deliberately cut back a bit in 2019. We see this year as one to take a breath before the great anniversary year of 2020.
Your programs often lead to reflection or present music in a larger context, for example by including historical aspects or references beyond the field of music. Couldn't it be just a series of concert evenings, where music lovers would simply find entertainment and relaxation after a long day of work? Would that be worthwhile too?
It's something I can conceive. But if you go to a concert, exhausted from work, and it's for example one of the Beethoven symphonies conducted by Teodor Currentzis — no matter which symphony, it's like a shot of adrenaline! This is due to his extremely energetic performance style, his sharp accents and great precision. He's currently the most unusual and interesting conductor on the scene. And he will be performing the entire Beethoven symphony cycle with us in March 2020.
Then I have a treat for classical connoisseurs. I have managed to organize a collaboration with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Wagner and Beethoven belong together: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is the only thing that can be performed in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus apart from Richard Wagner. During the anniversary year, my cousin Katharina Wagner will have the Ninth Symphony performed there, and I have suggested, "Then simply come to Bonn and play the Ninth for the opening of the autumn season of the Beethovenfest." And that wasn't complicated at all.
A sign of changing times in the long-quarelling Wagner family?
Yes! The fathers of the third generation have passed away, the times have changed, and now two of Wagner's great-granddaughters have come to an agreement.
After five years as the Beethovenfest's artistic director, are you satisfied with the public's reaction?
I wasn't last year. The festival ran a deficit due to low attendance. The reason for this is relatively simple — many people commented on the situation through open letters — people in Bonn did not accept the World Conference Center, the WCCB, as a concert venue. In 2017 they were still curious, but by 2018 many had disappeared. We must continue to work with this risk. This modern hall isn't that bad, but perhaps the people of Bonn prefer homey and romantic venues. The ball is in the city's court.
With hindsight, did Bonn shoot itself in the foot a few years ago by abandoning the project of building a Beethoven festival theater?
We'll never know. A large festival theater would also have been a great risk for the city. From where would we have drawn the audience? Now we are in this other mess, with the renovation of the Beethoven Hall that will not be finished at the beginning of the Beethoven year.
But are any major construction projects completed on time these days? Look at the restoration of the Staatsoper Berlin, for example: How long did that take! Now we have to deal with this frustration in Bonn. We'll switch to the Bonn Opera — or to the WCCB for big events.
When you conceive a festival program, do you also take into consideration what the public supposedly or explicitly "wants"?
Every year we conduct audience surveys. But so far they have not led to any change in my behavior as a program organizer. There are too many different opinions for that. The surveys show that the majority of the audience comes from the Bonn region and hardly from other cities such as Munich or Berlin. This is by no means a bad thing, because it's a densely populated region, with its own traditions in music and visual arts.
Bonn has the house where Ludwig van Beethoven was born and the Beethoven Archive, as well as the influence of Beethoven's historical culture and tradition. But without further specific concert venues, can Bonn ever attain the status of the Beethoven city per excellence, as is the case for Bach in Leipzig or Wagner in Bayreuth?
There is a great advantage for Bonn, because Beethoven did not live in any other German city. We can say that we are the only German Beethoven city, and that's true. And that's the asset we need to build on. But Bonn is not a tourist city. Beethoven could perhaps contribute to boosting tourism in Bonn? But as I said, the venues have to be prepared for that. And that's happening with the Beethoven Hall, and there's also the magnificent Beethoven Orchestra in this city!