Lighting the way: A center for early music | Music | DW | 09.03.2012
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Lighting the way: A center for early music

The early music scene in Cologne has long been developing tremendous potential. Musicians focusing on styles of music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque now have a new home in the Center for Early Music.

In 2004 the ensemble Concerto Köln started renting office space and a rehearsal room in Cologne's historic Helios building. The site was once home to a company named after the Greek sun god and produced big bulbs for lighthouses in the late 1800s.

The lighthouse the company built in 1882 rises high above the other buildings in the city's Ehrenfeld district, a landmark to the neighborhood's industrial past. Concerto Köln are not the only ones who now reside in this downtown lighthouse. The newly established Center for Old Music (ZAMUS) has since moved in as well.

Although Cologne has long been the epicenter of Germany's early music scene, until now there has not been a place where like-minded musicians could meet or rent an inexpensive rehearsal room. It was clear to Concerto Köln and Jochen Schäfsmeier, the head of the ensemble, that something needed to be done. So they started began planning a community center.

"The idea developed," said Schäfsmeier, "because there was just so much room here and because public sponsors tend to support larger projects rather than one single ensemble or another."

Divergent goals

Guests at the ZAMUS open house

The center's open house drew big interest

Though there is a degree of competitiveness between Cologne's various groups focusing on early music, the project attracted an abundance of supporters. They helped to found the Cologne Association for Early Music, which now functions like an umbrella organization for relevant programming in the city.

The process involved bringing together the often divergent views and goals of managers and musicians. Finally, precise plans for the development of the center were pinned down to convince public and private investors of the center's merit.

"We want to create rehearsal areas, as well as offer office space and work opportunities to various ensembles," explained Jochen Shäfsmeier. "We were able to win over the city and the state and have already completed the first phase of construction."

The first ensembles, like Capella Coloniensis, Das Neue Orchester and Cantus Cölln, have already been able to move into the office space of the center. Also the rehearsal rooms are open to rent at a very cheap rate, and musicians have access to several harpsichords and a fortepiano. Following another phase of construction, rooms to accommodate visiting musicians overnight will be finished and available by the summer.


Martin Sandhoff and other guests at the opening

Martin Sandhoff (Concerto Köln) exchanged with guests at the opening

The old Helios tower has been brought back to life and with it a social network for early music has been established. Local musicians can look forward to having a platform to rehearse, discuss and come together to develop joint projects and ideas.

Some cooperative projects have already taken off.

"For example, we had a performance at the Beethovenfest last year and were able to work with a string quartet from the early music scene in Cologne," Jochen Schäfsmeier said.

And since the offices at the ZAMUS lie close together, there is always the possibility to pass on concert inquiries from one ensemble to the other.

The next generation

Kids attend a ZAMUS concert

The ZAMUS aims to make educational outreach a priority

But the Cologne Association for Early Music has more in mind than just offering a home and network to early music aficionados. The group aims to host a variety of symposia, concerts and educational projects to draw in the public at large.

One example may be student concerts free of charge, which Concerto Köln has already been organizing for several years. The target audience: students between the age of 8 and 18 years who would otherwise have little or no access to classical music.

By getting direct contact with the musicians, children can not only overcome inhibitions but also learn more about fascinating sounds from past centuries. The concerts for young people are of great personal benefit, stressed Martin Sandhoff, Concerto Köln's artistic director.

From his point of view, educational events should make up the majority of the projects ZAMUS takes on.

"During the last student concert, the host thought of a few parts where the kids could be involved. What happened then can only be described as a magical moment - the musicians could be seen thinking to themselves: Wow, that was something very special!"

Author: Marita Berg / nh
Editor: Rick Fulker