For 30 years Kari Kahl-Wolfsjäger has directed "Kissinger Sommer," bringing stars like Lang Lang to Bad Kissingen. After her final year, she looks back on some notable moments of the international music festival.
Her trademark is the hat. Kari Kahl-Wolfsjäger wears one each day, sometimes casual, sometimes an eye-catching model.
Having attracted classical stars of world stature to the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen, Kahl-Wolfsjäger has also repeatedly shown an extraordinary instinct for discovering young talent. Sopranos Diana Damrau and Mojca Erdmann and pianists Igor Levit and Lang Lang were all introduced to the German public at "Kissinger Sommer" (Kissingen Summer). The festival has also given contemporary composers such as Moritz Eggert the opportunity to present themselves and their music in the "LiederWerkstatt" (Song Workshop). All have remained in close contact with the festival in the years to follow.
DW: You created "Kissinger Sommer" and basically personified it over the past 30 years. The artists were onstage, but you put the program together.
Kari Kahl-Wolfsjäger: I did it all! In fact, there's nothing I didn’t do!
So you're the person who can best say: what is so special about the festival?
Actually, since I created it, I cannot give an objective opinion. And I'm a journalist, not an artist. I studied some musicology, but mainly English literature, art and theater. And I worked as an assistant producer in theater and opera. But I'm a journalist first and foremost.
But you must have had an idea behind it.
Of course! I had an idea every year. But it was actually a member of the German parliament, Eduard Lintner, who got me to come here. He had the idea for a festival in Bad Kissingen. I'd started to work for the business magazine Capital two years before and was reporting from festivals all over Europe. I was traveling to London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin every month and, as often as I wanted, to New York. So I thought, "What am I going to do here, in the Bavarian province?" I simply wasn’t interested.
So how did he convince you?
I saw these halls - the big hall, the Max Littmann Hall, and the other four halls - and was thrilled of course. The conductor Thomas Sanderling was with me, and when he saw them, he said, "Are you crazy? Not even Salzburg has these halls!" So I agreed to do something small-scale, maybe a week or so. In fact, the first edition of "Kissinger Sommer" lasted three weeks, which was more than I thought I could manage besides my normal work. But as a journalist, I already knew many famous artists. So the great singers René Kollo and Peter Schreier came. So did the soprano Katia Ricciarelli, the actor Peter Ustinov, and the violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, whom I first met when he was 13 or 14 and who must have been about 18 in the festival's first year, 1986. I have to admit: I had it easer than most, getting this kind of festival off the ground.
The Regent's Hall in Bad Kissingen, a work of the Munich architect Max Littmann, was built between 1910 and 1913
There must be many moments in the past 30 years that are vivid in your memory. Please tell me about one.
One moment is very special, not a purely positive one though. The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter came here three times. On his third visit, we had lunch at Steigenberger Hof with his wife Nina. Then I went to my office, and he went to rest up before his recital in the evening.
Nina then sent the piano tuner over to me - we didn't have cell phones back then! He told me Nina wanted to talk to me. "Kari," she said, "Slava can't play. He's just shaking." There had been a thunderstorm, and Richter had such a shock. He had heart problems. We had a full house that evening, and it was about two and a half hours before the concert.
So I tried to think of who could step in. You can't get anyone to come to Bad Kissingen in two hours! Then I remembered: Lars Vogt, a young and gifted pianist, was still here because he wanted to attend the concert.
I asked at the reception for his room number and banged at the door. He came out in underpants and a T-shirt. I said "Lars, get dressed, you have to go onstage, Mr. Richter is ill!" I think he didn’t understand at first, so I repeated: "Get ready for a recital and start to think of what you're going to play!" I even waited in front of the door to his hotel room, just to make sure he couldn't get away. He was about 22, a strong young German boy, very gifted! In the end: the concert was great!
The next "Kissinger Sommer" will be the first one without you. What will you be doing next year around this time?
I’ll do the Lieder Workshop in Bad Kissingen together with my successor, Tilman Schlömp. And I’m planning a new festival in Munich in May. Big stars and young artists!
So you won’t rest!
No, why should I?
"Kissinger Sommer" ended on July 24th. As an afterthought to this year's festival, Lang Lang will give a special performance on October 25 in Bad Kissingen to say farewell to Kari Kahl-Wolfsjäger. His concert will mark the end of her three decades as festival director.