Rheingau music festival presents global classical music

Rheingau music festival presents global classical music
Rheingau music festival presents global classical music

Classical music from the Czech Republic, Nigeria or Brazil: the Rheingau music festival is set to present works with diverse sounds from distant countries.

Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak were renowned Czech composers who borrowed from the folk music of their homeland in their classical-romantic works.

“Ma Vlast” (My Fatherland) by Smetana, for example, is a homage to what is now the Czech Republic; while the famous “The Vltava” (also known as “The Moldau”) references the river that builds up from a trickle from its source over rapids to a large river that then flows into the Elbe in Germany.

The full orchestra of the Hessischer Rundfunk symphony orchestra that opens the Rheingau Music Festival every year are performing the Czech classics.

When the Armenian-French chief conductor of the orchestra, Alain Altinoglu, conducts music from other countries, he tries to capture the character of the people and their national sound.

“The Czechs are very generous, but also pessimistic. You can feel that in the music,” said Altinoglu. “There is also a certain simplicity, and I try to incorporate that into my interpretation.”

That interpretation got an enthusiastic response from the audience. And star violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who performed Dvorak’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Opus 53 with the orchestra, was acclaimed for his charisma and energy.

Young artists in focus at Rheingau

The Rheingau Music Festival is known for giving talented newcomers a stage. Founded in 1987, it’s one of the most important festivals in Europe, mostly for classical music, but also for pop, jazz and world music. This year until September 7, 155 concerts are scheduled at 25 locations in and around the wineries of the Rheingau region. The participating artists were carefully chosen by program director Timo Buckow.

One of those artists is Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina, who will perform Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. She made her Rheingau Music Festival debut in 2022, and the event has helped introduce her to an wider audience in Germany, where she now lives, studying at the Kronberg Academy, a prestigious educational institute for highly gifted musicians.

Another 2022 debut was made by Chinese-Canadian pianist Bruce Liu. Like Kobekina, he’ll be demonstrating his prodigious talent in several concerts over the course of the festival.

Diversity a major theme

But Buckow’s focus goes beyond choosing the stars of tomorrow. “You also have to look at what social issues are currently in the foreground,” he said, adding that diversity is a big topic at the moment.

“It’s also important for us to discover new music from this regard.”

This year, for the first time, festival organizers are daring to experiment with mixing classical music with sounds from distant countries in what they’re calling “diversity concerts.”

Chineke! Orchestra bridges gaps

Double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku was born in London in 1957 to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. When she was asked in 2014 for a study by the British Department for Culture why so few Black musicians could be seen on international stages, she took that as an opportunity to found the Chineke! Orchestra in 2015, consisting exclusively of Black and ethnically diverse musicians. “Chineke” means “God, creator of the world and of good” in the Igbo language, which is spoken by some 18 million Nigerians.

For her program at the Rheingau Music Festival, Nwanoku has chosen mainly pieces by contemporary composers of African descent, such as “African Suite” by Nigerian composer Olufea Sowande, considered the founder of Nigerian art music in the 20th century; and “Handpan Concerto” by young British jazz musician Cassie Kinoshi, who recently relocated to Berlin.

“Nwanoku is also pursuing a feminist approach. It’s a diversity project on many levels, you could say,” said Buckow. He deliberately included the orchestra in the program. “Even though we know that completely new music outside of the usual repertoire is somewhat difficult for our audience.”

To bridge the gap, the Chineke! Orchestra will also play “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, albeit arranged by Max Richter, with both orchestral and electronic sounds.

The handpan is among the instruments used by the Chineke! Orchestra

Peace-building cooperation

The “diversity concerts” also include a performance by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of Israeli and Palestinian musicians. Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the ensemble, will conduct the concert in August, with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist.

Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra stand for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians

It’s set to be a concert with a star cast and a message of peace. “This joint music-making by Israelis and Palestinians is particularly politically relevant in the current situation,” said Marsilius Graf von Ingelheim, the festival’s managing director.

Also as part of the diversity concert series, the World Youth Choir and the German National Youth Orchestra will perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the direction of Chinese conductor and composer Tan Dun. Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony 200 years ago and it has come to stand for the desire for peace and freedom for all peoples. Tan Dun’s “Nine,” based on the Ninth Symphony, will also be performed as a world premiere. Tan Dun will tour with his work and the two ensembles, and DW will stream the concert in September as part of the Beethovenfest.

Focus on Brazil: Bach meets samba

This year’s special focus on Brazil is largely due to 18-year-old violinist Guido Sant’Anna from Sao Paulo. Program director Buckow booked Sant’Anna for last year’s Rheingau Music Festival immediately after seeing him a 2022 violin competition. This year, he will also perform with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen .

Guido Sant’Anna performed in Germany for the first time at the 2023 Rheingau Music Festival

Sant’Anna has performed with several Brazilian ensembles, including the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year with a major tour and will also be a guest in the Rheingau. The orchestra also has music from its homeland on its program, namely the “Suite Vila Rica” by Camargo Guarnieri, who made Brazilian folklore famous in his classical works.

German violinist Linus Roth picks up on that approach with his SamBach project. Together with the Orquestra Johann Sebastian Rio, he combines works by baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach with Brazilian music. At the Rheingau Music Festival, he will play a Bach violin concerto paired with music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, as well as works by greats from the Brazilian bossa nova scene such as Antonio Carlos Jobim or Noel Rosa, who greatly influenced samba music.

Genre-mixing projects, especially ones incorporating South American music, help make classical music more accessible, said Marsilius Graf von Ingelheim. “Our festival also opens up classical music to people who feel excluded from long-established structures such as concert halls,” he said.

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