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Music festival amid COVID-19

Gaby Reucher
May 27, 2021

Organizers of the Rheingau Music Festival, slated to start in late June, have come up with new ideas to hold concerts keeping COVID-19 restrictions in mind.

Cellist Pablo Ferrandez
Cellist Pablo Ferrandez has been a regular at the festivalImage: IGOR STUDIO

For a year now, the Rheingau Music Festival organizers have been preparing for the 2021 season — and not just musically. Exactly one year ago, the festival had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canceling for the second year running was out of the question, and so the organizers immediately began to work out how a festival could go ahead despite the pandemic.

Music in historical venues

Since 1987, the Rheingau Music Festival, of which DW is a partner, has been enriching the European festival scene with top-class concerts, including classical, pop and jazz music. Marsilius von Ingelheim, managing director of the festival, describes its special charm: "It is the combination of music, historical venues and the fascinating landscape, which is famous for its Riesling wines.” In other words, a place where one could sip a glass of wine while listening to good music.

However, many of the historical venues high above the vineyards are too small to accommodate enough audiences given the COVID restrictions. This is also the case with one of the most popular venues for concerts at the Rheingau: the Fürst von Metternich Hall in the Johannisberg castle. Director General Michael Hermann did not want to exclude this venue, which offers an expansive view of the Rhine Valley. He therefore commissioned an architectural firm to design a mobile cube, which would meet all acoustic and visual requirements. Work on the cube, which will be constructed directly next to the castle, is due to start in the first week of June.

Steinberger Tafelrunde, Rheingau Musik Festival in Eltville am Rhein
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Holschneider

A mobile concert hall to counter COVID-19

"We have built one of the biggest mobile concert halls in Europe: a cube for around 1,000 visitors that has been specially developed for concerts," says von Ingelheim in a conversation with DW. The cube, made of wood, glass and metal, will be used above all, to present chamber music to newcomers, which is a highlight at the festival.

Visually, lighting effects will be used to change the colors within the cube. The seating arrangements meet social distancing requirements and 500 visitors can be accommodated at a time. Seats further away from the stage are positioned higher to afford visitors a good view.


The most important is, of course, the acoustics in the 45 by 20-meter space. "It's not a big tent like at other events, but a fixed room with adjustable acoustic panels on the walls, which can be aligned for acoustic optimization depending on the requirements," Ingelheim explains. The special walls reflect the sound right up to the last row.

Safety as an added attraction

The new cube is not the only attractive concert venue with sufficient space. Even historical places like the Kurhaus of Wiesbaden or the Eberbach Abbey will be hosting shows. Stars like Canadian jazz musician and pianist Chilly Gonzales, and Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili will be playing at the Kurhaus Wiesbaden. Buniatishvili is the "Artist in Residence" at this year's Rheingau Music Festival.

Both the Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrandez as well as the clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe and the Camerata Salzburg ensemble will be playing at the Eberbach Abbey. Instead of one concert with a fully packed hall, there will be two concerts a day with half the number of visitors that can be accommodated at these venues in normal circumstances.

Rheingau festival's Director General Michael Herrmann sitting in a beach chair
Managing Director Marsilius von Ingelheim (left) with Director General Michael HerrmannImage: Tanja Nitzke

Similar to the attempts at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Summer 2020, there will be 1,000 roofed wicker beach chairs for audiences at the pop and rock concerts.

"We do not want to present our safety concepts as awkward, but more as an attraction," Ingelheim says. He adds that he doesn't want an "in-between" festival, where a couple of events take place, but an actual festival with more than 200 concerts. Ingelheim is optimistic that everything will take place as planned from June 26 to September 5. The mobile cube is also slated for use after the festival, with many cities already asking to borrow it.

This article was translated from German.

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