The composer Robert Schumann, the clarinetist Sabine Meyer and the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein are in focus at the statewide music festival in the North of Germany from June 30 - August 26.
The festival begins at the Music and Convention Center in Lübeck on Saturday, with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and cellist Sol Gabetta performing a program of works by Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz and Edward Elgar. Thirty-seven days later, it draws to a close there in a gala featuring Russian diva Anna Netrebko.
Whereas in earlier years, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (SHMF) would focus on the music and musicians of a particular country, it now casts the spotlight on composers.
Titled this year "Exceptionally Romantic," the festival dedicates a total of 86 concerts to the work of German Romantic composer Robert Schumann.
"Never have we been better able to delve into a composer," said festival director Christian Kuhnt.
Not only Schumann's compositions, but his promotion of other composers — also through his activities as a music journalist — and his biography itself lend themselves to program ideas: a manic-depressive, Schumann died young but created a diverse oeuvre in nearly every genre.
The lineup of artists performing Schumann's works at the festival include the Japanese violinist Midori, the Austrian-British pianist Sir Andras Schiff, the German violist Nils Mönkemeyer, the young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki and Elisabeth Leonskaja, a Russian pianist of legendary status.
The playbill also includes conductors Christoph Eschenbach, Sir Antonio Pappano, Paavo Järvi, Thomas Hengelbrock and Vladimir Jurowski and ensembles such as the Artemis Quartet, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the performing groups of North German Radio (NDR).
In 1986, the year it was founded, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival was given a shot of international glamour through the presence of Leonard Bernstein.
A year later, Bernstein founded the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, which has reconstituted itself each year since in 30 auditions in Asia, the Americas and Europe.
This year, 120 young musicians from 25 countries will rehearse all summer and perform in concert — notably Gustav Mahler's First Symphony under the musical direction of Christoph Eschenbach.
Leonard Bernstein, who died in 1990, is being celebrated in the centennial of his birth worldwide with 2,000 events on six continents.
The SHMF gets in on the act on August 25, Bernstein's birthday, when festival founder Justus Frantz leads the Symphony of Nations in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony — at the location where Bernstein once celebrated his festival debut: the Baltic Sea Hall in Kiel.
At an event titled "Nighttime Conversations," Jamie Bernstein will share private memories of her father, and three concerts dedicated to Bernstein are scheduled at the NordArt facility in Rendsburg-Büdelsdorf. Titled "The Big Bernstein," they feature the American organist Cameron Carpenter, the Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger and German clarinetist Sabine Meyer.
Robert Schumann never made it to Schleswig-Holstein, but was intrigued by the description of the region in letters from his wife Clara
Big names, big numbers
"I'm looking forward to the special ambiance there," says Meyer. The clarinetist is in the spotlight as the festival's portrait artist. She is contributing to 19 concerts with self-devised programs, including a workshop for young clarinetists.
Other big names at the festival include the celebrated German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the Latvian-German violinist Gidon Kremer. American jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and German songwriter Judith Holofernes are also scheduled.
With 202 concerts in 64 municipalities, a yearly budget of €10.4 million ($12 million) and 190,000 available tickets, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival is one of the biggest in the world. The 107 venues stretch across the state of Schleswig-Holstein and into Hamburg, southern Denmark and northern Lower Saxony.
The concept of inviting world stars to perform at unusual locations in the countryside was an immediate success back in 1986, and was followed by many imitators.
The festival was soon offering about 200 concerts — and the momentum never stopped.