Franz Xaver Ohnesorg, Gidon Kremer, Dmitri Bashkirov, and Dorit Beinisch
Mr. Ohnesorg — his name means without worry in German — was born in Weilheim, in Bavaria. He was trained as a flutist but also earned a degree in management from the University of Munich. He worked as a freelance journalist before taking his first music management job, as a touring manager for the conductor Karl Richter and the violinist Gidon Kremer. From 1979 until he took his Cologne post, he was the managing director of the Munich Philharmonic.
Vitalizing the Ruhr area – The Ruhr Piano Festival concept

When Alfred Herrhausen, Rudolf von Bennigsen-Foerder and “Ruhr Bishop” Cardinal Franz Hengsbach joined forces in July 1988 and founded the Initiativkreis Ruhr [Circle of Initiatives for the Ruhr Region], their goal was to bring new dynamism to a region affected by major economic changes by launching initiatives oriented towards the future and designed to create a new collective consciousness, new models of cultural identification for the inhabitants of the industrial region termed the “Revier”. Quite auspiciously, the Bochum Piano Summer, founded by piano manufacturer Jan Thürmer, was starting to draw attention from outside the region. It was thus in need of effective support on the part of the Initiativkreis, and would soon transform itself into the Ruhr Piano Festival in 1988. Later on, in 1996, Friedhelm Gieske and Hilmar Kopper, then moderators of the “Initiativkreis Ruhr”, invited me to take up the Festival’s artistic direction. I was more than glad to use the opportunity to initiate original, yet consistent artistic program series that would help this new piano festival concept, which was already generating enthusiastic response, turn into a phenomenon capable of perpetual self-renewal, giving birth to further artistic cycles over longer periods of time. The program philosophy behind this piano event, which has now become the largest of its kind in the world, has fostered a series of program cycles, some of which run for several years in succession, designed to permit the largest possible number of people to experience the richest variety contained within the vast universe of piano music.
In accordance with the Circle of Initiative’s own “Think Big” principle, we started by convincing the greatest pianists of our time that the Ruhr Piano Festival’s newly attained stature already provided a good reason for them to participate – at best, on a regular basis. Thus, through the years, Pierre-Laurent Aimard has performed eleven times at the Festival, Martha Argerich ten times, we have heard Daniel Barenboim on fifteen occasions, Rudolf Buchbinder the same number of times, and we have heard eight concerts given by Chick Corea – thus we could go on perusing the entire alphabet of world-renowned piano names.

Yet these true celebrities – highly solicited on the worldwide concert scene, yet consistently present at our Festival in a density hardly found anywhere else – were not the only pianists whom we hoped would leave a long-lasting imprint on our general artistic profile. I was just as much concerned with inspiring a young generation via a wide spectrum of artistic initiatives. Nine of our current total of sixteen program cycles are thus entirely devoted to that very purpose, helping us lead our present-day state towards a promising future. Five of those nine cycles provide concrete opportunities for young pianists to demonstrate their talent, while the four other ones are concert series potentially oriented towards young concertgoers.

Thus, each year we invite at least twenty young pianists [international competition prizewinners, for example] to play their début recital at the Festival. Roughly a third of our yearly festival concerts are début recitals. After enjoying successful first runs, some of these ‘novices’ keep on coming back to our Festival year after year – thus proving this initiative’s long-lasting positive effects. Many of those débuts are preserved for posterity in our Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr boxed CD sets, clearly providing a thoroughly effective means of support for these young artists’ flowering careers.

We even have young pianists in mind when we honor great luminaries of the piano world for their life’s work by awarding them the Piano Festival Prize, since this honorary distinction is associated with a scholarship funded by the Initiativkreis Ruhr. The renowned winner of the Festival Prize chooses a young pianist as scholarship recipient for one entire year leading up to a début recital at the Festival. Thus, prizewinners Bella Davidovich [1998], Daniel Barenboim [1999], Dmitri Bashkirov [2000], Graham Johnson [2001], Leon Fleisher [2002], Pierre-Laurent Aimard [2003], Alfred Brendel [2004], Pierre Boulez [in 2005 we exceptionally chose to honor a composer for his entire piano output on the occasion of his 80th birthday], Chick Corea [2006] and Martha Argerich [2007] chose young pianists Peter Josza, Salem Abboud-Ashkar, Denis Lossev, Joseph Breinl, Nicolas Angelich, Tamara Stefanovich, Tim Horton, David Fray, Gwilym Simcock and Mauricio Vallina as scholarship recipients. In our jubilee year 2008 the Ruhr Piano Festival will award its annual prize to Maurizio Pollini.

We further attempt to reveal the profound, important connection between professors and students by presenting the great piano schools of our time in a specific program series. The first of eleven portraits up until now was dedicated in 1998 to the great Dmitri Bashkirov, a master who has quite successfully trained several generations of young pianists – first in Moscow, then in Spain. We re-invited Mr Bashkirov in 2006 on the occasion of his 75th birthday, when he presented outstanding students of the younger generation who are now among the ranks of his world-class students. In 1999 we followed up on that portrait of a Russian school with the highly renowned American class of Leon Fleisher. Then, in the year 2000, we presented the Italian Piano Academy of Imola, which, although relatively young, was already producing a series of astounding successes. We dedicated this same program series in 2001 to three generations of French piano pedagogues, represented by Yvonne Loriod, Dominique Merlet and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. In 2002 we had the pleasure of hosting the legendary Gary Graffman along with his students from the Curtis Institute. Our portrait in 2003 was dedicated to Indiana University’s Alexander Toradze Piano Studio. Our Festival’s overall Austrian focus in 2004 helped us draw our audience’s attention to the work of three Vienna piano professors: Oleg Maisenberg, Stephan Vladar and Paul Gulda. Then, the year 2005 presented a welcome occasion to invite one of the most important piano teachers in the US, the highly renowned Claude Frank, who honored us with his presence along with two of his former Philadelphia students. In 2007 we presented world-class students of the great vocal accompanist Irwin Gage. In 2008 this same cycle will feature a portrait of another outstanding Russian school – that of Alexei Lubimov, who will bring two of his best students with him to perform at the Festival.

Each year we invite the best conservatory students from Germany and abroad to attend the International Masterclasses of the Ruhr Piano Festival. Here, once more, we are indebted to great teachers such as Dmitri Bashkirov [1996, 2001], Adam Harasiewicz [1996], Irwin Gage [1997, 2007], Oleg Maisenberg [1998, 1999], James Tocco [2000], Russell Sherman [2002], Julian Joseph [2003] and Alexander Lonquich [2004] for providing outstanding artistic inspiration. In 2005 we asked Herbert Henck to be our guest, thus allowing chosen students to profit from this expert’s immense knowledge of contemporary piano music. For Mozart’s anniversary year 2006 we were able to engage Mozart expert Robert Levin for a masterclass on the subject “Musical Understanding – Musical Dramaturgy”. In 2007 Irwin Gage gave a vocal accompaniment master class at the Festival for the second time. Finally, in 2008, Alexei Lubimov will provide valuable advice to four students from East and West in the interpretation of works of Viennese Classicism and of the 20th century. We attach equal importance to creating fortuitous occasions for presenting conservatory students from North-Rhine-Westphalia – for instance, during the annual Night of Industrial Culture [Nacht der Industriekultur] or in regularly recurring museum visitors’ nights held at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, where we invite students from current masterclasses in Düsseldorf, Essen, Cologne and Münster to perform. From those same North-Rhine-Westphalian masterclasses we also invited students to perform in the program series entitled Klavier mobil, i.e. “mobile piano”, which took place from 2003 to 2006 and was specifically geared towards young apprentices working in the member companies of the Circle of Initiatives for the Ruhr Region [Initiativkreis Ruhr]. In each case, a piano was brought to the workplace or to another appropriate location on company grounds, enabling employees and apprentices to experience live piano music directly in their own work environment. We were thus introducing young workers in a variety of settings to the daily routine of the young pianist.

Last not least: we often set our sights on future audiences by organizing family concerts, for instance in 2001 when Peter Ustinov performed his own special version of the “Carnival of the Animals”. On many other occasions, these recitals were hosted by well known German comedian Konrad Beikircher, who turned them into a true festive experience for both children and adults. In our Austrian year 2004, Beikircher gave us a lasting impression of Joseph Haydn’s profound humanity, and in 2005, with the assistance of young North-Rhine-Westphalian pianists and with a twinkle in his eyes, he demonstrated the piano’s essential role in domestic music [Hausmusik] during the 1800’s. In 2006 we commissioned a new composition from Franz-David Baumann and the Panama Ensemble written for children ages 5 to 10, entitled “Tausend Stiefel” [“One Thousand Boots”] and based on a text by Max Kruse. In 2007 our two family concerts took place in Essen, under the title “In the Jungle with Katia and Marielle Labèque”. Children enrolled in Folkwang Music School joined up with the renowned piano duo to perform Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” on a colorful stage decorated and designed by Essen schoolchildren. Thus, since 2006, our Family Concerts have not only been concerts geared towards a young audience, but events where children are also the performers. The Jungle Project pertained to the Circle of Initiatives’ Education Program launched in 2006, the fruits of which were first presented to a wider audience in five concerts held at the Festival in 2007. Over 200 children, teenagers and young adults had become artistically active, and they now presented the results of their creativity in Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Essen in front of more than 2,000 concertgoers. In 2008 this program cycle will continue with two projects: “Musical Machines – Machine Art” and “Birdsong – Oiseaux exotiques”.

Introduced in 2006, the Festival’s Education Program now comprises the following focal points: “The Adventure of the Piano – Little Piano School”, “Encounters” and “Discovery Projects”.

“Let yourself be guided by the child” is the motto propounded by Kim Monica Wright, founder of the Little Piano School. The US-born Italian piano pedagogue works with very young children, some of them barely 18 months old, encouraging them in small groups to develop an approach to music and the piano in a playful way. They thus not only discover a fascinating musical instrument, but also develop a whole series of social and personal abilities that will be of use to them for the rest of their lives. In May 2006 the Ruhr Piano Festival brought Kim Monica Wright’s Little Piano School to the Ruhr area. Ever since then she has been introducing advanced Folkwang Conservatory students to her method. The first groups of children started meeting at Folkwang Music School in Essen in October 2006. One year later, eight young piano teachers were already overseeing groups of more than fifty children ages 2 to 5. Close collaboration between the Ruhr Piano Festival, Folkwang Music School and Folkwang Conservatory has ensured the Little Piano School’s optimal adaptability to local circumstances, while at the same time guaranteeing quality and enduring benefits of a project that serves as a true model in the area of pre-school music education.

Outstanding musical talent is something fascinating to behold. We marvel at first-rate pianists’ seemingly effortless playing, yet often overlook the complex interchange of musical judgment, creative intelligence and technical mastery that makes such performances possible. In our “Encounters” series we now invite great artists to make their exceptional abilities and vast knowledge readily accessible to people of all ages, for instance by hosting personal encounters at Folkwang Music School that offer essential motivation and inspiration to youngsters who are still learning the piano. In 2006/2007 children and youngsters from the Ruhr area thus enjoyed the opportunity of meeting up and working at the piano with Emanuel Ax, Katia & Marielle Labèque, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Michel Camilo. In 2007/2008 Tzimon Barto and the piano duo Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen will join this project.

One of the best ways of truly comprehending and valuing someone else’s outstanding capability is simply trying out the same task oneself – this certainly also applies to music. Why shouldn’t we offer children and youngsters the opportunity to become actively creative, thus enabling them to gain a better grasp of great composers’ outstanding accomplishments and a fuller overall enjoyment of classical music? The Ruhr Area Circle of Initiatives’ Discovery Projects are fundamentally oriented towards fostering the inherent creative abilities of children and teenagers from different backgrounds and with different levels of education. The activities most often take place in local schools and are specifically associated with a Ruhr Piano Festival concert whose featured works can be actively ‘discovered’ and more fully appreciated by applying one’s own creativity. Project participants work together in exploring new approaches; along with their aesthetic sensitivity, they are also training a wide variety of further social, emotional and cognitive abilities. The inclusion of other art forms and ongoing concerted efforts with other cultural and educational institutions in the Ruhr Area all contribute to ensure these projects’ inclusive character and long-lasting positive effects. The Discovery Projects regularly host workshops for teachers from different types of schools, offering them a multitude of ideas and creative approaches to music and art education. This initiative became a reality when renowned British educational expert Richard McNicol agreed to organize and oversee the activities associated with our Education Project.

The range of possibilities offered by North-Rhine-Westphalia’s musical infrastructure are certainly also well employed in our orchestra concerts. During the last years, we have been presenting Late Romantic piano concertos of the 20th century: these are works that one does not often hear elsewhere. In 1998 we had the Dortmunder Philharmoniker with Max Reger’s piano concerto; in 1999, the Bochumer Symphoniker with the piano concerto by Hans Pfitzner; and, in 2000, the Essener Philharmoniker with Ferruccio Busoni’s concerto for piano, orchestra and male chorus. This same cycle continued in 2004 with the Essener Philharmoniker playing Wilhelm Furtwängler’s piano concerto, and the Bochumer Symphoniker with Erich Korngold’s piano concerto for the left hand. We opened the new millennium in 2001 with the Bochumer Symphoniker and a concerto for two pianos and orchestra entitled Widerspiel, composed by York Höller [Cologne], followed that same year by the celebration of Hans Werner Henze’s 75th birthday with the Duisburger Philharmoniker performing his 1st Piano Concerto, along with his Tristan Preludes for piano, magnetic tape and orchestra. We owe a memorable performance of George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique to the contemporary music ensemble “musikfabrik nrw” in 2002. In 2005 we once more featured seldom heard piano concertos of the 20th century, this time with WDR Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra: Toru Takemitsu’s Quotation of Dream and Witold Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini in the transcription for two pianos and orchestra. That same year we also heard a West German première: Paul Hindemith’s rediscovered piano concerto for the left hand. In 2008 the WDR Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra will perform the European première of Tan Dun’s new piano concerto with Lang Lang as soloist and the composer as conductor, along with Tan Dun’s concerto for zheng and string orchestra with the soloist Yuan Li, broadcast live by 3Sat television. Unusual concert programs were also organized with the WDR [West German Broadcasting] Big Band, featuring a Gershwin evening in 2002 and a quite uncommon Erik Satie project in 2003. In 2006 we once more invited the WDR Big Band with Joe Zawinul, and we will hear them again in 2008 with Frank Chastenier and his unique “Mompou Project”. In 2007 the Duisburg Philharmonic and their conductor Jonathan Darlington inaugurated the Festival with an evening dedicated to Beethoven [including the Choral Fantasia and the Triple Concerto]. Later on that same year, the Bochumer Symphoniker teamed up with Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin for inspiring performances of Camille Saint-Saëns’s 5th piano concerto and Franz Liszt’s Danse Macabre. We will once more welcome the Bochumer Symphoniker for our Education Project entitled “Birdsong” in 2008, where they will participate by performing Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques.

Naturally, we also devoted the special years commemorating the deaths of Johannes Brahms and Frédéric Chopin to the performance of each of these composers’ two piano concertos: one two-concerto evening was with the Westphalian Neue Philharmonie, the other with the Bochumer Symphoniker. The latter orchestra also performed in 2003 for the 50th anniversary of Sergey Prokofiev’s death, when we featured all of his five piano concertos, followed in 2005 with the West German première of Paul Hindemith’s Piano Music with Orchestra, a score that had been lost for many years, originally written for performance by Paul Wittgenstein. Also in 2005 we invited the Basel Chamber Orchestra with Uri Caine and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra with Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa to play piano concertos by Philip Glass and Alfred Schnittke. The impressive Mozart cycle begun by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra [Kölner Kammerorchester] in 2004, featuring all 27 piano concertos, came to a close in 2006 with the celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday. The same occasion brought us Chick Corea with the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic as well as Thomas Larcher with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, each of them performing a Mozart concerto plus a new concerto composed by themselves. The focus on Beethoven in 2007 featured the Duisburg Philharmonic with the Triple Concerto, along with three evenings where Daniel Barenboim performed all of Beethoven’s five piano concertos whilst conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin. Thanks to support on the part of the RWE consortium and the City of Essen’s NATIONAL BANK, those three concerts were recorded and subsequently released on DVD.

Due to its very nature, the piano has played a pivotal role in chamber music since the mid-1700’s – especially in settings for piano/violin or piano/cello [with the piano mentioned first, as applies particularly well to Mozart, Beethoven and others], and in piano trios. Thus, for example, within the framework of our Mozart focus begun in 2004, we presented the so-called “Wunderkind sonatas” performed by Salzburg violinist Benjamin Schmid with Ariane Haering, who contrasted these early pieces with later works in the same genre. In 2006 we played host to the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival with its founder and artistic director Elena Bashkirova. That same year, young pianist Severin von Eckardstein and his chamber music partners performed Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s arrangements of Mozart piano concertos, and Gerhard Oppitz teamed up with Heinrich Schiff and performed all of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello. In 2007 we not only heard the Jean Paul Trio, but also a performance of Mozart violin sonatas by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Ayami Ikeba, as well as Beethoven violin sonatas performed by Emanuel Ax and Frank Peter Zimmermann. An exclusive series of three concerts featured pianoforte specialist Andreas Staier, who also teamed up with Isabelle Faust and Christoph Prégardien. In 2008 the Alban Berg Quartet will perform Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet and his String Quintet: their partners will be Elisabeth Leonskaja, Heinrich Schiff and Alois Posch. Furthermore, Elena Bashkirova will perform a Schubert recital with Michael Barenboim and Timothy Park.

Ever since I took up the artistic direction of the Festival twelve years ago, we have been continually and consciously lending special prominence to contemporary music, repeatedly featuring a special focus on the output for piano by composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen [1996, 2008], Maurizio Kagel [1997], Conlon Nancarrow and Wolfgang Rihm [1998], Wilhelm Killmayer and Moritz Eggert [1999], Pierre Boulez [2000, 2005], Morton Feldman [2001, 2002] and Hans Werner Henze [2001, 2006], the American composers Earle Brown, John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley [2002], the Russian avant-gardists [2003] and the new young Austrian generation of composers [2004]. We dedicated a similar focus in 2005 to Karl Amadeus Hartmann, presented by pianist Siegfried Mauser and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth; Hartmann’s heart-wrenching Sonate “27. April 1945” had already inspired us in 1998 to exhibit Günther Uecker’s powerful sculpture installation entitled Fall at Dortmund’s Harenberg City Center. Up until 2005, we featured ten premieres – eight of which were commissioned by the Ruhr Piano Festival-of works by composers York Höller [1997, 2005], Wolfgang Rihm [1997], Marc-André Hamelin [1998], Michael Harrison [2001], Wilhelm Killmayer [2002], Beat Furrer and Olga Neuwirth [2004] as well as Johannes Maria Staud and Marco Stroppa [2005]. Seven further premières took place in 2006 [including six commissions]: particular mention goes to “Geharnischt”, a piece for two player pianos composed by Steffen Schleiermacher, and Thomas Larcher’s piano concerto – we asked Larcher to provide us with a contemporary piano concerto scored for an orchestra featuring the same instruments that Mozart had at his disposal. We also heard a “Lied” for piano and cello, a birthday present composed by Sir Harrison Birtwistle for Alfred Brendel. Furthermore, from 1996 to 2006 we featured thirteen German and European first performances. In the year 2007 alone, the Festival presented ten world premières [including six commissions], two of which were “White detaches itself from black – six versions for piano” by Jan Müller-Wieland and “Parergon – seven piano sketches for Hölderlin” by Peter Ruzicka. Five German/European premières also took place, including works by George Benjamin and Kaija Saariaho. On the occasion of our 20th anniversary in 2008, the Festival has commissioned new works by Philip Glass and Vassos Nicolaou. We will also hear the European première of Tan Dun’s new concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra, with Lang Lang as soloist and conducted by the composer, and the German première of Tan Dun’s concerto for zengh and string orchestra. That brings the number of new works premièred at the Festival to a total of 64.

Truly contemporary music is also what we have been featuring in our jazz series, initiated twelve years ago as well. It presents the latest avant-garde currents of new, improvised music in Europe along with current developments in American jazz, both traditional and avant-garde. Over 50 jazz pianists who have accepted our invitations since 1996 make up a true international ABC: starting with Monty Alexander [2008], Götz Alsmann [2005], ranging from Dave Brubeck [1998] and Uri Caine [2001] to Michel Camilo [2000, 2003, 2005 and finally in 2007 with his own exclusive series of four concerts including one with guitar legend Tomatito and a further one in jazz trio formation], continuing with Frank Chastenier [2007, 2008], Chick Corea [1997, 2001, in 2005 with Bobby McFerrin!, in 2006 with his new piano concerto “The Continents”, in 2007 with vibraphonist Gary Burton and this year in 2008 with Al Di Meola, among others], Wolfgang Dauner [2000], Herbie Hancock [1998, 2003], Rubén González [1999], the Keith Jarrett Trio [2007], Paul Kuhn [2005 and now celebrating his 80th birthday in 2008 with Anke Helfrich, Hubert Nuss and Martin Sasse], Jacques Loussier [2004], Hubert Nuss [2005, 2006], Oscar Peterson [1997], the unforgettable late Michel Petrucciani [1997], André Previn [2004], Gonzalo Rubalcaba [2002, 2006], Helge Schneider [1998 – some concertgoers were surprised to discover that this German stand-up comedian is also a highly creative jazz pianist!], Gwilym Simcock [2007], Chucho Valdés [2006] all the way to free jazz legend Cecil Taylor [2004] and finally closing the alphabet with Aziza Mustafa Zadeh [2000, 2003] and Joe Zawinul [1996, 2006]. We recently introduced a new jazz ‘format’ in the wake of trumpeter Till Brönner’s resounding success at the Festival’s final concert in 2006 with his “piano friends” Larry Goldings, Don Grusin and Michael Wollny; now, for our 20th anniversary, we have invited Brönner to return, and this time he will team up with pianists Dado Moroni, Leszek Mozder and Olaf Polziehn.

Thanks to our audience’s vast curiosity, coupled with an encouraging growth in their overall receptive capacity, we have been able to start dedicating parts or the whole festival to a certain general theme focus. This was the case in 1997, the commemorative year of Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and in 1998, the Max Reger year. Followed by a theme focus on two countries, the US in 2002 and Russia in 2003, we then initiated our three-year Mozart cycle with a focus on Austria in 2004. Finally, in 2005, we dedicated the whole festival to the general theme of “Transcriptions and Paraphrases”, a seemingly boundless subject, inextricably associated with the piano. In 2006, we chose to continue in the same vein with a further piano-minded overall theme: “Variations”. Finally, in 2007, we dedicated the Festival to exploring the works of Ludwig van Beethoven [Mozart’s true “heir”]. For 2008 we have chosen to feature four different focal points: birthday celebrations [Elliott Carter and the late Olivier Messiaen’s 100th birthdays, Paul Kuhn’s 80th birthday and Tan Dun’s 50th – along with the theme “In memoriam Karlheinz Stockhausen” on the occasion of the recently deceased composer’s 80th birthday], “Reunions” on the occasion of the Piano Festival’s anniversary, “Schubert Parallels” and “Old and New [!] Piano Music from China”.

Such general themes permit us to organize more specific cycles – for example, when we chose to invite all Chopin Piano Competition prizewinners. Then, in the Schubert-Brahms year 1997, we pointed out connections and artistic affinities between those two composers. In 2006 we featured a Schumann cycle commemorating the 150th anniversary of his death. Such cycles quite often offer an occasion to perform a composer’s complete works. This was the case early in the Festival’s history, when a complete Chopin cycle was organized in collaboration with Joachim Kaiser. Later on, as part of our Russian year in 2003, we featured the entire solo piano output of Sergey Rachmaninoff and Sergey Prokofiev. Alexander Skryabin’s complete works for solo piano were then performed in 2005. Film cycles featuring historical material from the 20th century met with enraptured audience response as the century came to a close in 1999 and 2000. Concertgoers have also loved Jürgen Hocker’s recitals featuring music for player piano, an intermittently recurring series that profits from Hocker’s immense enthusiasm for his subject and his enormous amount of expertise. I can now also share my own personal fondness for Lieder with piano accompaniment with a raptly attentive audience showing high appreciation for our specific cycle at Herten Castle, where, since twelve years ago and in collaboration with Graham Johnson, we have been able to organize an ongoing cycle of Lied weekends featuring subjects and personalities such as Heinrich Heine [1997, 2006], then, to celebrate the Shakespeare year, “English poets and the German Lied” [1998], Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [1999], “The year 2000 – looking back on two hundred years of Lied composition” [2000], “A Lied odyssey through the seasons” [2001], “The ‘Johnson’: Graham Johnson’s ‘living encyclopedia’ on the subject of vocal music and poetry” [2002] and “Hugo Wolf and the women in his life” [2003]. In 2007 our thematic Lied cycle focused on the output of Beethoven and his Viennese successors, also featuring outstanding students of Irwin Gage [who played his farewell recital that same year in Herten Castle]. In 2008 we will focus on Schubert.

In October of 2006 [the ‘Mozart Year’], the Ruhr Piano Festival went on tour to Hamburg, Warsaw, Prague, Košice and Budapest. The programme consisted in Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s arrangements of Mozart piano concertos for chamber music ensemble [piano, flute, violin and cello], performed by Severin von Eckardstein, Andrea Lieberknecht, Andrej Bielow and Nicolas Altstaedt. Added funding provided by RWE enabled us to invite local young pianists in each town to participate as soloists as well.

This current total number of seventeen separate program ‘lines’ within the Ruhr Piano Festival is made possible due to the fact that, during my twelve years of endeavor to help vitalize the Ruhr area, I have been able to count on three important, reliable human factors: the loyalty of our performing artists, who often have also become good friends; constantly growing interest on the part of an audience which is increasingly mobile; and the unyielding support we receive from the corporate members of the Circle of Initiatives for the Ruhr Area [Initiativkreis Ruhr]. With the help of our highly efficient festival team, this harmonious triad of refreshingly human resources has fostered a phenomenon that can also be deemed impressive in terms of sheer numbers. In 2007 our Festival was present in 17 different Rhine and Ruhr area localities, on 33 stages with a total number of 81 concerts, nine of which were broadcast by Westdeutscher Rundfunk [WDR] radio. Four DVD releases were recorded at the 2007 Festival: the piano concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven as performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin in the Jahrhunderthalle auditorium in Bochum were published on two DVD’s in November 2007; furthermore, each of the pianists Boris Berezovsky, Roland Pöntinen and Marc-André Hamelin was portrayed on a separate DVD. Finally, 2007 saw the first annual release of PianoFESTIVAL magazine, published in collaboration with German classical music magazine FonoForum and made available at newsstands all over Germany.

By preserving and releasing recordings of outstanding performances, our boxed CD sets in the Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr have brought the Festival added prestige and renown. Since 2005, the Ruhr Piano Festival has been treading new paths in its attempt to preserve valuable artistic performances for the future. Ever since then, the number of CD’s published per Festival has not only considerably increased, but live Festival recordings are now internationally available in classical music retail shops and on the Web. This initiative pursues two distinct goals: on the one hand, that of continually promoting young pianists’ careers [in collaboration with FonoForum classical music magazine]; on the other hand, ensuring that recordings of rare piano music are made available worldwide. This collection is made possible by a team of four partners: the Avi-music classical CD label, WDR radio and television, FonoForum classical music magazine and, last not least, the NATIONAL-BANK [located in the city of Essen]. The Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr will reach its first crowning point in summer of 2008, when its 50th CD will be released on the occasion of the Festival’s 20th anniversary. A special edition will feature all 50 CD’s in nineteen boxed sets.

In the twelve years during which I have been artistically responsible for the Festival, we have reached a total audience of ca. 450,000 music-lovers -including 165,000 visitors in the years 2005 to 2007. In the course of the last decade the number of annual visitors has thus more than doubled! And let us not forget the important role played by our sponsors, those companies belonging to the Initiativkreis Ruhr who ensure that our Festival remains 100% privately funded – overall financial support figures have multiplied since as recently as 2004! I thus wish to express my most heartfelt thanks to all corporate members of the Circle of Initiatives.

“The Ruhr Region looks to the future – working together for success!” “Vitalizing the Ruhr area with new initiatives!” We at the Ruhr Piano Festival have provenly taken these basic ideas of the Initiativkreis Ruhr founders both seriously and literally. We will continue to put the best of our ideas and energies into making those dreams an ongoing reality.

Essen, January 2008
Prof. Franz Xaver Ohnesorg
Director of the Ruhr Piano Festival
and Managing Director of the Initiativkreis Ruhr
[Circle of Initiatives for the Ruhr Region]
Franz Xaver Ohnesorg Resigns as Intendant of Berlin Philharmonic
By Shirley Apthorp
andante – 9 October 2002

The Intendant of the Berlin Philharmonic, Franz Xaver Ohnesorg, has announced his resignation after just a year in office. Ohnesorg made the announcement, accompanied by chief conductor Simon Rattle, to the orchestra and the press on Tuesday.

In a press statement issued by the orchestra, “personal reasons” was the only explanation given for the precipitous and early departure (Ohnesorg’s contract expires in August 2006). “Since Prof. Franz Xaver Ohnesorg’s reasons for leaving are of a personal nature, all the parties involved have agreed to give no further information about his motivation for moving on,” the statement said. However, it was common knowledge that Ohnesorg, who left his previous post as executive director of Carnegie Hall suddenly and prematurely following two turbulent years, had provoked the ire of many in the course of his year in Berlin.

During his tenure in Berlin, Ohnesorg was largely responsible for the orchestra’s successful change of legal status from a governmental entity into a private foundation, a change aimed at freeing the organization from weighty bureaucracy and improving its long-term financial prospects. He introduced free program books, free cloakroom facilities and free cough lozenges to the Philharmonie; embarked on a project of more unified programming and presentation for the concert hall; and raised the orchestra’s Internet profile. Publicly, at least, he and Rattle enjoyed an amicable relationship.

However, many in Berlin were reportedly upset by the aggressive and abrasive managerial style that had made Ohnesorg a star when he ran Cologne’s Philharmonie hall. Just one day before his resignation, Ohnesorg appeared in court as private concert agencies accused him and the Berlin Philharmonic of unfair competitive practices — specifically, of undercutting the agencies’ prices for presenting visiting ensembles. (The court will decide by 5 November whether it will hear the case or not.) He had also infuriated the Scharoun Society, watchdogs of the legacy of the brilliant architect who designed Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall, when he ordered the construction of a large, unsightly bar in the middle of the foyer without requesting the group’s permission. A falling-out between Ohnesorg and the Berliner Festwochen meant that the Berlin Philharmonic was not part of the city’s main music festival for the first time since its inception.

Meanwhile, Philharmonic staff members were rumored to be unhappy about the inclusion in Ohnesorg’s contract of a clause allowing him a significant personal cut of any sponsoring money which he won for the orchestra. He stood to profit on a grand scale from the Deutsche Bank’s decision to increase by many times its already considerable contributions to the orchestra in order to fund an education project, the opening concert of the season, concert tours and improved marketing. But the degree to which that and other sponsorship packages were the result of Ohnesorg’s personal efforts was seen as debatable.

“A manager must be prepared to sit in the third row, behind the conductor and the orchestra,” Alice Stroever, the head of the Berlin parliament’s culture committee, told Agence France-Presse. “Ohnesorg was unable to do that. He smashed a lot of china,”

Over the last several weeks, as Rattle led first concerts as chief conductor of the orchestra, Ohnesorg, unquestionably one of the most prominent figures in German music management, slipped from the spotlight. It was not clear whether he had deliberately kept a low profile or whether he was simply eclipsed by the British conductor’s media allure. But it cannot have suited a man accustomed to being the center of attention and power to be ignored to such a degree.

Ohnesorg will stay in office until 31 December, and has agreed to remain as an advisor to the orchestra until 2006. There are no reports — or even rumors — as to his successor.

© andante Corp. October 2002. All rights reserved.

Ohnesorg Resigns from Berlin Philharmonic

Deutsche Presse-Agentur / andante – 8 October 2002

Franz Xaver Ohnesorg, the general manager of the Berlin Philharmonic, has resigned from his post after a year, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports. He steps down on 1 January 2003.

In a statement jointly signed by Ohnesorg, the board of the orchestra and newly installed chief conductor Simon Rattle, the Philharmonic said that the reasons for Ohnesorg’s departure were of a “personal nature,” and that “the parties have agreed to release no information” about his motives. According to the statement, Ohnesorg will remain an advisor to the orchestra until his contract expires in 2006.

Before coming to Berlin in September 2001, Ohnesorg had a short and controversial tenure as executive director of New York’s Carnegie Hall, during which several senior staff members resigned, some openly complaining that his management style was autocratic.

Further details to follow.

— Ben Mattison
Carnegie Hall Appoints Robert J. Harth as Next Executive Director
By Matthew Westphal
andante – 29 March 2001.

The New York Times reports that Carnegie Hall has selected Robert J. Harth, the longtime head of the Aspen Music Festival, to be its next executive director, replacing the controversial Franz Xaver Ohnesorg.

The 44-year-old Harth is himself a violinist and the son of a former concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During his twelve years at Aspen, the festival was transformed from a seasonal affair to a large-scale organization with a year-round schedule and two new venues constructed.

Mr. Ohnesorg has accelerated his departure from Carnegie, which was originally scheduled for August. He leaves the post on 2 April; the vice chairman and treasurer of Carnegie Hall’s board of directors, Klaus Jacobs, will serve as acting director until Mr. Harth’s appointment takes full effect on 17 September 2001, following the end of Aspen’s summer season.

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