German reunification enlarged my musical experiences
Maria Santacecilia. Last year Dresden Music Festival’s motto was “New World” and this year it is “Russlandia”. The city of Dresden was located in the middle between the East and West, and the Festival was founded during the Cold War. Now 20 years have passed since the Berlin Wall fell, and you think it’s time to have a fresh look at Russian music. But I’m sure that some people in Dresden still feel sensitive about the Russian question. Many of them remember how life was when the Soviet Union permeated every aspect of daily life, and what they remember has not much to do with this imaginary Russlandia. Don’t you think there is a gap between their experiences from 20 or 30 years ago and the somewhat idealized Russia of the Festival? Are they ready for this and were they ready last year for the New World Festival with the conflicts of the past perhaps still painful?
Jan Vogler. I had all these thoughts when I was working on the program and I still felt I wanted to do this extensive showcase of Russian music and artists especially in Dresden. The real surprise is the enthusiasm and extremely positive response we are getting from our audiences even though the festival has not begun yet. We have two elements in the Festival which are particularly interesting to see in the context of the city of Dresden. We have some of the great testimonials from the time of the Cold War such as those from Roshdestvensky, Bashmet, Maisky or the Borodin Quartet. These wonderful artists still remember the times before the Iron Curtain came down. Other groups of artists include the Russian National Orchestra, the Mariinsky Theater, even the new Bolshoi. All these institutions have either changed drastically or were founded after 1989 (for example the Russian National Orchestra). This way our program reflects both: history and change. I grew up in East Germany and have my own set of emotions and memories of the time when”big brother” - that’s what we used to call the Soviet Union, not without irony - was present in the daily life of every citizen. And I am looking forward to updating my picture of this great cultural region which has produced some of the greatest music and is continuing to produce some of the greatest musicians of all times.
M.S. You are the artistic director of Moritzburg and Dresden Music Festivals. Like many other big Festivals, Dresden reflects the contradiction of being aimed at everyone, but at the same time, it has quite pricey tickets for the concerts. As a cultural manager of the 21st century, who takes everything which is around into account, how do you try to connect the events of the Festival with its social context? Do you think it is enough to have the new dancing project like the one in Berlin?
J.V. We have tickets for less than 10 Euros available for almost every concert. It is very important for me to make it possible for everybody to be part of the festival audience. At the same time we are attracting international audiences and for them it is incredibly enticing to go to Dresden and have a wonderful time seeing the beautiful museums during the day and to hear some of the world’s best musicians in beautiful venues at night. We feel a strong social responsibility, and the two projects this year, ‘Anatevka’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ are part of that effort. In both of them people living in Dresden can participate in the artistic production. We also have an affordable subscription series for concert goers under 30, and we give a chance to highly gifted young players to be on the same stages as the international stars.
M.S. Has the financial crisis affected Dresden Music Festival? What about Moritzburg Festival?
J.V. We are working very hard to compensate for the economic crisis. We are having extremely strong ticket sales this year and this is one element that helps to make the festival more independent. In 2009, which was my first year as manager, we had very good ticket sales, and so I was prepared to take a step back in 2010, but we are pleasantly surprised to learn that we have a realistic chance of coming close to a sold-out festival in 2010. And since 2008, internet sales have increased by 400 %. We are also happy to welcome a new sponsor, the Ostsächsische Sparkasse on board. But in general I think the Dresden Music Festival needs to enlarge the budget further in order to gain more recognition in the circle of the great European Festivals and to take a leading role among the German festivals. About Moritzburg, I can say that it is mostly a privately funded Festival, one of the few in Germany. Because of the financial crisis we suffered a little bit, but we only lost less than five per cent of the donors; but I think they love this Festival so much that we would be the last thing they would take their money away from. We are optimistic that we will come through this crisis without too much suffering.
M.S. Mostly elderly people go to the concerts in Moritzburg Castle. Can anything be done to attract younger people to classical music?
J.V. We do a lot, really. We aim our activities at different publics. The concerts in the castle are the most exclusive. The tickets are sold out quickly and the concert hall does not have a big capacity. The people who go to these concerts are very close to the Festival and they bought the tickets even before the sale because they are members of our club. That’s a rather conservative audience, although we’ve had contemporary music, such as John’s Harbison “Composer Portrait”, and they quite liked it. The younger audience comes to different shows such as the concerts we have in die Gläserne Manufaktur. We also have family concerts where the people are very active and it’s incredible to see how educated kids in Dresden are.
M.S. Probably the building in which the concert is held has a lot to do with the people who go to the concerts.
J.V. Absolutely. The venue, the program, the style of the presentation… We don’t want to exclude audiences because they are old. That would also be unfair. We greatly value their dedication, support, and their experience as concert goers. At the same time it’s important to get new audiences.
M.S. Your programming in both Festivals is somewhat eclectic. This year’s Dresden Music Festival includes many different activities aimed at different publics, and there is even a Klezmer night. Isn’t it risky widening too much the field of a Festival which is regarded as being classical?
J.V. I feel very connected to the younger audiences and I want to break down barriers and walls between so called ‘classical’ music and other types of music. With Russlandia we are telling a story, the story of a country and a culture which is constantly changing. Klezmer for example - which developed especially as the music of the Jewish population in Russia - is a very good tool to show how important tolerance and peace between different cultures are. And again, there is Klezmer in Shostakovich’s music, and also in Chaikovsky you can find elements of 19th century Jewish music.
M.S. Your repertory as violoncellist is eclectic too, do you agree? You’ve experimented with Jimi Hendrix music and with Tango. How does this music contribute to your career and to you as a musician? Your choice of repertory speaks of you as a musician. What do these choices communicate to the public?
J.V. I grew up in East Berlin in the 1970s and 1980s, and well into the 90s. I focused almost exclusively on studying and performing the great classical composers. German reunification was a big chance for me to explore the world and enlarge my musical experience. I recently learned a lot from playing music such as Hendrix and Tango. I added new colors to my playing which I also use in my interpretations of the Dvorak or Shostakovich concertos. Shostakovich, especially, was very interested in popular music and elements of jazz and film-music appear even in his most serious works. Playing and recording this repertoire also connects me with new audiences which I feel is an essential part of my mission as a performer.
M.S. It’s incredible how different the music is from the live composers that you play. This year 2010 you will premiere Mansurian and Harbison. How do you manage to go into such different worlds in depth?
J.V. My relationships with both composers are strong. John Harbison was composer- in- residence at the Moritzburg festival 2009. I had the chance to study his chamber works and communicate with him about the concerto. Besides, the conditions for the premiere are really ideal. Maestro James Levine will start to rehearse the concerto in the week before the concert. The violinist Mira Wang and I are very happy to have the chance to work with him and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on this wonderful double concerto. I always admired the works of Tigran Mansurian and played his earlier cello concertos long before I met him in person. The first drafts for this new concerto came early and working on it felt like revisiting a place that has slightly changed, but still has the same character. I can’t wait to hear the piece for the first time with the orchestra in a few weeks.
M.S. Every year the Moritzburg Festival Academy welcomes young music students from all over the world who come together to form the Festival Orchestra and play in several chamber music formations. What are the purposes of this project?
J.V. The Academy supports young musicians. We give them our audience, because the Festival always sells out. It is interesting that some students only want to be coached. In those cases they must go to Master Classes because we only help a little bit. Here they discover music by themselves. We get many applications every year and we can only invite 40 young musicians with full scholarships, including their flights. The Academy is a way of sharing the success of this Festival with young musicians, so that everybody can see how they play. That brings them into public attention.
M.S. Many young musicians want to be soloists rather than chamber music players. How can they be convinced that this is an important genre too?
J.V. I tell young students things like: “you won’t be a soloist”. And I tell them that explicitly because when I was young I didn’t even think of being a soloist. That is too much to ask for. It may happen, but life is like a journey. When I was young I tried to play the cello as well as I could. My parents were orchestra musicians, so I tried when I was 19 to get the best possible job, and that was the principal cellist of Staatskapelle Dresden. After that some conductors told me that I would leave the orchestra at some point and slowly this idea grew inside me. But I do not believe that a person can actually plan a solo career. There are too many factors to take into account: character, business instinct, talent, luck, communication skills, friends…A young musician must be able to play in an orchestra, or in a chamber group, and it’s important to understand that one must enjoy music whatever position he occupies. Music is not more enjoyable when you are soloist, quite the opposite, actually. Many soloists suffer a lot.
M.S. And chamber music has importance in itself. It is not a refuge for those who have not succeeded as soloists…
J.V. Chamber music is the most intimate and satisfying music that exists because of the way in which the musician can communicate with others in small groups. I think our young musicians understand this after being here although it takes them a little while. We also teach them that music has a lot do with hard work and discipline, not with dreaming. Dreaming is good, but during the daytime we all must work hard.
For more information on Dresden Music Festival webpage