Cologne's Festival for Early Music is going in new directions during its run from February 22 to March 3. 'Strong Women' are the focus - composers, musical protagonists and performers.
Strength was tested even before the opening concert by both the women and the men behind the Festival for Early Music in Cologne: Italian soprano Gemma Bertagnolli had to jump in at the last minute for her colleague Manuela Custer, who'd fallen ill. A new program was printed, and the mood among the performers was running high as the festival got underway under the motto "Starke Frauen" (Strong Women).
Violinist Florian Deuter is convinced that the festival will help Cologne's early music scene stand out, thanks in part to the new venue, the Balloni Hall in Cologne.
"The location is great," enthused singer Gemma Bertagnolli, adding, "The acoustics are right on point too." Balloni is a former factory building in the now trendy district of Ehrenfeld. Stars like Jennifer Lopez and Jon Bon Jovi have played there. Now Baroque sounds fill the brick edifice.
A new profile
The Center for Early Music (ZAMUS) has been based in Cologne for one year, offering a home base to the numerous early music ensembles that have established themselves in the city on the Rhine.
"We actually have a brand new festival, and it reflects well on the city of Cologne," said Thomas Höft. Heading both the festival and ZAMUS, he's also behind the festival motto - "Strong Women."
Women of strength, beauty and song
Höft said the organizers were looking for a topic that "is current but nevertheless allows for telling stories from the past." The program takes up its theme in three distinct ways.
"First you have the composers who are still underrepresented today in concert programs," said Höft. A very broad view of early music is thus taken, including works by female composers from the 19th century, such as Fanny Mendelssohn, Emilie Mayer and even Germaine Tailleferre, who lived until 1983.
On the other hand, the strong women banner encompasses pieces of music that feature powerful female protagonists, including Queen Dido in Henry Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas" as well as the holy figure of Mary. Several programs in the festival center on femininity in Catholicism.
Strong women who make music form the third and final dimension of the program. With singers like Emma Kirkby, Anne Azema, Miriam Andersen and Arianna Savall, Cologne has put together a true "Who's who?" of the scene. But that's only half the work - the task at hand is attracting new, perhaps broader audiences to Ehrenfeld for the shows.