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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 Ruhr Initiatives), their goal was to infuse a region undergoing major economic changes with a new dynamic by launching future-oriented initiatives designed to inspire a new collective consciousness: new models of cultural identification for the inhabitants of the industrial region known as the “Revier”. Quite auspiciously, the “Bochum Piano Summer” (founded by piano manufacturer Jan Thürmer) was just then starting to draw attention beyond the region’s borders. It thus needed effective support on the part of the Initiativkreis, and would soon transform itself into the “Ruhr Piano Festival”. In autumn of 1995, Peter Keitel suggested that the two Initiativkreis moderators Friedhelm Gieske and Hilmar Kopper invite me to assume the Festival’s artistic direction. This was a welcome opportunity to start conceiving innovative, yet consistent artistic program cycles that would make this new, phenomenal piano festival concept (which was already generating enthusiastic response) become an event capable of perpetual self-renewal. The program philosophy behind this piano event – now the largest of its kind in the world – has given birth to 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 rich variety one can encounter in the vast cosmos of piano music. 


The founders of the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives started applying the “Think Big” principle when they convinced many of the greatest pianists of our time that the Ruhr Piano Festival’s newly attained stature was reason enough to participate – at best, on a regular basis. Thus, through the years, Pierre-Laurent Aimard has performed nineteen times at the Festival, Martha Argerich sixteen times, we have heard Daniel Barenboim on twenty-three occasions, Rudolf Buchbinder on seventeen, and we have heard fourteen concerts given by Chick Corea – and we could go on covering the entire alphabet of world-renowned piano celebrities. 


In spite of high demand on the worldwide concert scene, these piano luminaries started performing on a regular basis at the Ruhr Piano Festival – more frequently and in higher concentration than anywhere else. But they were not the only performers who would leave a long-lasting imprint on our general artistic profile. As Festival Director I have dedicated just as much commitment and energy towards fostering the growth of a new generation of performers and young audiences, thanks to a wide spectrum of artistic initiatives. After several years of successful implementation, the Festival’s Education Program now comprises a total of eleven modules. Six of them provide concrete opportunities for young pianists, and four others are geared towards fostering and nurturing a potential audience of young music lovers. 


Thus, each year we invite ten to twenty young pianists (for example, international competition prizewinners) to play their début recital at the Festival. Such début recitals make up roughly a third of all festival concerts each year. Some of these novices, after a successful first run, return to perform at the Festival year after year – proof of this initiative’s long-lasting positive effects. Many of their débuts are preserved for posterity in our Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr boxed CD sets, thus clearly providing these young artists with an effective means of support for their budding careers. 


We even have young pianists in mind when we honor great luminaries of the piano world for their legacy by awarding them the Piano Festival Prize, since this honorary distinction is associated with a scholarship (sponsored up until 2010 by the Initiativkreis Ruhr, it is now funded by the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation). 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 oeuvre on the occasion of his 80th birthday), Chick Corea (2006), Martha Argerich (2007), Maurizio Pollini (2008), András Schiff (2009), Grigory Sokolov (2010), Elisabeth Leonskaja (2011), Radu Lupu (2012) and Marc-André Hamelin (2013) chose young pianists Peter Josza, Salem Abboud-Ashkar, Denis Lossev, Joseph Breinl, Nicolas Angelich, Tamara Stefanovich, Tim Horton, David Fray, Gwilym Simcock, Mauricio Vallina, Juho Pohjonen, Alexander Mogilevsky, Juan Pérez Floristán, Martín García and Charlie Albright as scholarship recipients. In 2014 the Ruhr Piano Festival awarded its annual prize to Krystian Zimerman – a pianist who combines profound intellectual understanding with colorful playing and perfect touch control. Zimerman’s exceptional musicianship and acute sense of sonority make him one of the outstanding musicians of his generation. Music critics all over the world have invariably raved about his “sense for nuances of sonority”, the care he applies in bringing out “parts, secondary parts and hidden voices”, his musical intellect, his “glowing intensity” his “focused genius”.   Furthermore in 2013 the Alfred Brendel Advancement Prize (bestowed by Aurelia and David Furtwängler) was awarded to Milana Chernyavska. 


We want to help our audience experience 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 twelve portraits until now was dedicated in 1998 to the great Dmitri Bashkirov, a master who has trained several generations of young pianists with great success – 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 North American class of Leon Fleisher. Then, in the year 2000, we presented the Italian Piano Academy of Imola, which, although relatively new, 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 receiving 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. On the occasion of the Festival’s general Austrian focus in 2004 we drew our audience’s attention to the work of three Vienna piano professors: Oleg Maisenberg, Stephan Vladar and Paul Gulda. Then in 2005 we invited another 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 our teacher-student cycle featured another outstanding Russian school: Alexei Lubimov with two of his best students. In 2009 we dedicated this annual cycle to Alfred Brendel, presenting four young pianists who were greatly influenced by him and whom he holds in particular esteem. Then, in 2011, we invited pianists Till Fellner, Francesco Piemontesi and Kit Armstrong to perform a homage to celebrate Brendel’s 80th birthday. We further celebrated this master pianist in 2013 under the motto “Alfred Brendel, The Mentor” with appearances by pianists Herbert Schuch, Milana Chernyavska, Kit Armstrong, Anna Vinnitskaya and Paul Lewis. 


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 selected students to profit from his vast knowledge of contemporary piano music. For Mozart’s anniversary year 2006 we were able to engage Mozart expert Robert Levin to give 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. In 2008 Alexei Lubimov provided valuable advice to four students from East and West on the interpretation of works of Viennese Classicism and of the 20th century. In 2009 we were able to ensure the participation of Sir Alfred Brendel: he gave our audience a masterclass on personally chosen themes, playing the examples himself at the piano, once more live onstage! In 2012, the great Alfred Brendel gave a masterclass for professional pianists for the first time at the Ruhr Piano Festival, devoting three days to convey his knowledge and experience to a group of Busoni Competition laureates. In 2014, Pierre-Laurent Aimard devoted a masterclass to the piano oeuvre of György Ligeti.  


For us it is equally important to find appropriate occasions to present conservatory students from North-Rhine-Westphalia – for instance, at the annual Night of Industrial Culture (Nacht der Industriekultur), where we invite advanced students from in Düsseldorf, Essen and Cologne to perform. Since 2003 we have been inviting students from those same North-Rhine-Westphalian conservatory piano departments to perform in the program series entitled Klavier mobil, i.e. “mobile piano”, specifically conceived for an audience of young apprentices working in companies who are members of the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives (Initiativkreis Ruhr). In each case, a piano is 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. Thus, we are introducing young workers in a variety of settings to the young pianist’s daily routine. 


Last not least: we have future music audiences in mind when we organize family concerts: in 2001, for instance, 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 left us a lasting impression of Joseph Haydn’s profound humanity. In 2005, with the participation 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 geared towards a young audience, but children also perform in them. The Jungle Project was part of the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives’ Education Program launched in 2006, the fruits of which were first presented to a wider public in five concerts held at the Festival in 2007. For over 2,000 concertgoers in Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Essen, over 200 children, teenagers and young adults presented the results of their artistic creativity. In 2008 this program cycle featured two projects: “Musical Machines – Machine Art” and “Birdsong – Oiseaux exotiques”. Then, in 2009, two new projects took place, each one held at two different venues: “Water Games – Jeux d’eau” and “Folk Songs”. Meanwhile, a fifth project was devoted to Játékok, György Kurtág’s ongoing anthology of children’s piano music. Kurtág’s pieces were used to introduce new music to young piano students, encouraging them to write short pieces themselves. In 2010 we continued in our efforts to make contemporary music a regular part of beginner’s piano repertoire by reducing some of the ‘fear’ of new works. For our new project “Piano Book” we asked six European composers (York Höller, Marco Stroppa, George Benjamin, Olav Lervik, Luke Bedford, Vassos Nicolaou) to write pieces for piano two hands and four hands, all conceived with the purpose of making new music easier to understand. Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich worked through these pieces together with young piano students, culminating in a public world première recital (the new pieces are available as sheet music under the title “Klavier-Festival Ruhr – Bärenreiter Piano Album”, and you can hear the recording in Vol. 26 of the Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr boxed CD collection). Further 2010 Ruhr Piano Festival projects included workshops, family matinees and discovery projects on the subjects “Music and Painting”, “Sound – Image – Sculpture” and “Polyphony”. In collaboration with the Folkwang Museum, we organized guided museum tours, a public concert and a lecture, all designed to illustrate the connections between paintings by Kandinsky and other artists with the music of Schoenberg, Richard McNicol introduced Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” to an audience of families at a matinee concert with the Bochum Symphony at the Philharmonie in Essen, and the foyer was transformed into an immense exhibit hall presenting the creative results of our different workshops. At the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg we dedicated another family matinee to the fascinating dialogue between music and the visual arts, inviting children and their parents to try out a “hands-on” approach to the relation between sound and sight, between sonorities, paintings and sculptures. Our educational activities now go on throughout the entire year. Once more, in 2012, they led up to the public presentation of Discovery Projects. In creative workshops entitled “Interludes”, children and teenagers showed the audience all that they had discovered through the music of John Cage. A further project combined song, dance and pantomime as aids to help children and youngsters “get a grip” on Pierre Boulez’s “Notations”. And Richard McNicol and the Bochum Symphony introduced parents and children to Charles Ives’ “Three Places in New England” in a family matinee entitled “Musik und tRaum”. In 2013, the Mercator Foundation will follow up on its highly successful model projects Little Piano School & KlavierGarten by prolonging and incorporating the KlavierGarten early childhood education project in primary schools. Our education projects now last all year round, culminating in the Discovery Projects. In the large-scale educational project Marriage Rituals: “Les Noces”, children and teenagers participated in creative workshops where they discovered Igor Stravinsky’s striking scenic work via an entirely uncommon approach. In cooperation with the water management association Emschergenossenschaft, the Bochum Symphony held a series of moderated family matinees with renowned pedagogue Richard McNicol, pianist James Maddox and the BOSYBRASS Chamber Ensemble, focusing on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are” and on the subject of nature, our surroundings and our dreams. In 2014 the Ruhr Piano Festival chose to group a major portion of its Education Programs for schoolchildren, conservatory students and adults under one chosen theme: the 2014 interdisciplinary project “A Year with Ligeti” was conceived in close collaboration with French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, well-known as a congenial interpreter of the fascinating music of Ligeti, who died in 2006. Those works served as focal point for the 2014 Discovery Projects as well as in the series KlavierModern – Contemporary Piano Music. This global education project is designed to integrate the widest variety of ages and school forms. 


For small children, the piano is not only a fascinating toy; we can also use it as the ideal educational tool to introduce them to the fascinating world of music. This is compellingly proven by our Piano Playground, consisting of two projects: Little Piano School and KlavierGarten. In 2006 the Ruhr Piano Festival introduced Italian music educator Kim Monika Wright’s groundbreaking “Little Piano School” method to the Ruhr area. Within a short time, and thanks to cooperation with Folkwang University of the Arts and Folkwang Music School (Essen), we initiated a project which is now regarded as a true model in the area of pre-school music education. Two- to six-year-olds in small groups are playfully introduced to music and piano playing. Advanced Folkwang Conservatory students and graduates not only help them discover a fascinating musical instrument, but the children also develop a series of social and personal abilities that will be of use to them for the rest of their lives. The sessions are tailored to meet their specific interests and needs. 


After an introductory workshop held at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen during the Ruhr Piano Festival in 2006, the two first Little Piano School groups began their activities at Folkwang Music School in October of the same year. By autumn of 2008, eleven further groups were underway. Kim Monika Wright trains the young teachers on a regular basis; a group of experts accompanies and advises them as they teach. The Little Piano School’s resounding success enabled us to substantially expand the project in 2009 and 2010. In collaboration with the Protestant Church of Westphalia, the Ruhr Piano Festival opened further Little Piano School groups under the name KlavierGarten in nurseries and kindergartens in the towns of Bottrop, Dorsten and Gladbeck. In December 2011 we were able to extend this “piano playground” to two further Kindergärten in the city of Bochum. By now, apporx. 300 children are being taught by 7 teachers in ca. 45 groups meeting in fifteen nurseries and kindergartens. Overall, in the Ruhr area, twelve teachers are using the “Little Piano School” method. In February 2013 we started training the fourth generation of teachers to become expert Little Piano School instructors. The Association of Friends and Promoters of the Ruhr Piano Festival supports this project by funding the purchase of all required pianos. 


The “Encounters series“ gives children and teenagers the opportunity to meet renowned Festival pianists in person, gathering important wisdom and inspiration not only from their piano playing, but from their general outlook on life. In terms of form and content, these sessions are just as diverse as the participating artists and youngsters. 


Thus, since 2006, a great number of renowned pianists who are friends of the Festival have been participating in the Encounters Series. In 2009, young piano students from the Ruhr Area had the opportunity to meet up with Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen, Emanuel Ax, Gabriela Montero and the sister duo Katia & Marielle Labèque. The sessions were filmed by well-known director Enrique Sánchez-Lansch. Premièred on 8 May 2010 in Essen, the resulting documentary “Piano Encounters” went on in November to become one of the prize-winning films at the Seminci Film Festival in Valladolid, Spain. We continued to program the “Encounters” series in 2010: Festival pianists Tamara Stefanovich and Francesco Tristano Schlimé visited schools in the Ruhr area, played in music sessions together with the schoolchildren and gave a recital for them in their own school. Such events combining a school session with a recital were featured in the Festival Education Program in 2012 and 2013.


With its Discovery Projects, the Ruhr Piano Festival seeks to help children and teenagers from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds to develop an active approach to music by proposing a series of creative activities. The projects span a period of several months. Guided by the Ruhr Piano Festival Education Team in cooperation with experienced artists and educators, participating schoolchildren are able to enhance their aesthetic abilities by creatively exploring music and the other arts. Working in teamgroups, they encounter a series of artforms that offer new experiences and open up unexpected horizons. This not only helps them become active listeners, but also awakens and encourages a wide variety of social, emotional and cognitive skills. Each Discovery Project culminates in a public performance where participating schoolchildren show the audience some of the results of their work. 


The active collaboration of local schoolteachers is essential in order for these projects to succeed. That is why the Piano Festival’s Education Department regularly offers educators a series of workshops associated with the Discovery Projects. A team of experts introduces teachers to a concrete project and provides them with a great variety of creative suggestions for planning innovative music and art lessons. Since 2009 we have been developing an extensive series of teaching and learning materials, available online to teachers and other professional users, and we continue to expand those materials on our website.


The range of possibilities offered by North-Rhine-Westphalia’s musical infrastructure are certainly also well employed in our orchestra concerts. For instance, we have been presenting Late Romantic piano concertos of the 20th century rarely heard elsewhere. In 1998 we featured 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 witnessed the West German première of Paul Hindemith’s rediscovered piano concerto for the left hand. In 2008 the WDR Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra performed 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. In 2009, the same orchestra accompanied Herbert Schuch in Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; in 2010, Bertrand Chamayou was the soloist in Richard Strauss’s “Burleske”. In 2011 the WDR Radio Symphony Orchestra accompanied Michael Korstick in Brahms’s two piano concertos, performed on the same evening. In 2012, the Bochum Symphony and Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed the Festival’s opening concert, and in the course of the 2012 season we also had the pleasure of hearing Wayne Marshall with the Cologne WDR Radio Orchestra, as well as pianist Yefim Bronfman with the WDR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste. In our 2013 opening gala concert, Igor Levit performed Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor with the Cologne WDR Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, Marc-André Hamelin will performed the Richard Strauss “Burleske” with Andris Nelsons at the baton. 


Unusual concert programs were also organized with the WDR Big Band, featuring a Gershwin evening in 2002 and an innovative Erik Satie project in 2003. In 2006 we once more invited the WDR Big Band with Joe Zawinul, and we had them again in 2008 with Frank Chastenier and his unique “Mompou Project”. In 2010, the WDR Big Band and the two soloists Simon Nabatov (piano) and Arkady Shilkloper (horn) sent the audience into raptures, a thrilling success repeated with Raphael Gualazzi in 2012. In 2013 we once more got to hear the WDR Big Band once more with Gerald and John Clayton. In 2014 the WDR Big Band teamed up with Jacky Terrasson for the first time at the Festival. The Duisburg Philharmonic and their conductor Jonathan Darlington inaugurated the 2007 Festival with an evening dedicated to Beethoven (including the Choral Fantasia and the Triple Concerto). That same year the Bochumer Symphoniker teamed up with Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin in inspiring performances of Camille Saint-Saëns’s 5th piano concerto and Franz Liszt’s Danse Macabre. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth in 2009, the same orchestra accompanied Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin in several of the composer’s rarely heard works for piano(s) and orchestra. The Bochumer Symphoniker also participated in the 2008 Education Project entitled “Birdsong” with its performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, then once more in 2009 in “Water Games”. Conducted by Steven Sloane, the Bochumer Symphoniker accompanied Jean-Yves Thibaudet in 2012 for our inaugural concert. In 2013 we had the pleasure of hearing the same orchestra with Leon Fleisher, Alon Goldstein and Katherine Jacobsen-Fleisher, featuring works by Britten, Poulenc and Mozart. In 2014 the Bochumer Symphoniker joined forces with pianist Markus Becker. The New Westphalian Philharmonic was invited to perform in 2009 alongside Lang Lang and Herbie Hancock (in their only appearance in Germany) in works such as Vaughan Wiliams’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. Now, in 2014, the same orchestra opend the Festival with pianists Leon Fleisher and Nicolas Angelich, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. 



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 double-concerto evening took place with the New Westphalian Philharmonic, the other with the Bochumer Symphoniker. The latter orchestra also performed in 2003 for the 50th anniversary of Sergey Prokofiev’s death, when we programmed all of his five piano concertos, followed in 2005 with the West German première of Paul Hindemith’s Piano Music with Orchestra (originally written for performance by Paul Wittgenstein, the score had been lost for many years). 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 while 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. That same DVD series with Barenboim’s live performances at the Ruhr Piano Festival continued in 2010 with his quasi-Herculean feat of performing both Chopin piano concertos in the same evening (under the baton of Andris Nelsons at the head of the Staatskapelle). Another live recording for DVD was added in Liszt Year 2011, when Barenboim performed both Liszt piano concertos with Pierre Boulez conducting – broadcast live by ARTE television to commemorate Liszt’s 200th birthday.  


Further orchestra highlights in 2010 included the acclaimed concert given by Murray Perahia and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and Ivo Pogorelich’s performance with the Sopot Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra. With his renditions of Bach’s keyboard concertos on the harpsichord, Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra transported the audience back into the Baroque age, while Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe gave a further thrilling performance of Bach concertos on the modern grand. In 2013 were thrilled to hear the great artists Maria João Pires (Basel Chamber Orchestra), Murray Perahia (Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) and Hélène Grimaud (Lucerne Symphony Orchestra). And in 2014 we heared Maria João Pires with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra (Kölner Kammerorchester). 


Due to its very nature, the piano has played a pivotal role in chamber music ever 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 launched 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 in Beethoven’s complete 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 performed Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet and his String Quintet: their partners were Elisabeth Leonskaja, Heinrich Schiff and Alois Posch. Elena Bashkirova performed another Schubert recital with Michael Barenboim and Timothy Park that same year. Along with his father Daniel Barenboim, Michael returned in 2009 and shared the stage with further soloists of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra in such works as Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Piano and Violin with Thirteen Wind Instruments. Mendelssohn’s 1st Piano Trio was performed by André Previn, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lynn Harrell; his 2nd Piano Trio was heard in a rendition by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, David Garrett and Gautier Capuçon. Last not least, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Valérie Aimard gave a recital that year with works for piano and cello by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. In 2010 we continued our chamber music series with highlights commemorating Schumann’s 200th birthday: Martha Argerich offered a riveting Schumann recital (recorded by ARTE for television broadcast) with Mischa Maisky, Renaud Capuçon, Gabriele Shek and Lyda Chen. Elena Bashkirova and the Erlenbusch Quartet sent the audience into raptures with Schumann’s piano quartet and piano quintet. Anne-Sophie Mutter also returned to the Festival for a recital featuring all three Brahms violin sonatas with Lambert Orkis at the piano. Also in 2010, Christian Zacharias and members of the former Alban Berg Quartet dedicated an evening to two chamber music milestones: Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, and Mozart’s Piano Quartet K478. In 2011, to celebrate the anniversary of Liszt’s birth, Andrea Lucchesini and Mario Brunello presented seldom-performed works for cello and piano, and Kit Armstrong’s piano trio performed the chamber music transcription of Liszt’s renowned solo piano piece, “Vallée d’Oberman”. In 2012 we got to hear the Hagen Quartet in tandem with Krystian Zimerman, and violinist Julia Fischer gave her Ruhr Piano Festival début accompanied by another newcomer – Ukrainian pianist Milana Chernyavska. Such chamber music highlights continued in 2013 with Frank Peter Zimmermann and Emanuel Ax in duo, then with Elena Bashkirova in tandem with Michael Barenboim, Tatjana Masurenko, Nicolas Altstaedt and Pascal Moragues. What is more, violinist Gidon Kremer appeared with pianist Sa Chen and cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite. In 2014, we were thrilled to hear Annie-Sophie Mutter with her piano partner Lambert Orkis, Elena Bashkirova in duo with Michael Barenboim, Herbert Schuch with Mirijam Contzen, and Giovanni Guzzo with Beate Altenburg.   


Ever since I took up the artistic direction of the Festival eighteen years ago, we have been continually and purposefully according special prominence to contemporary music, featuring the piano output of composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen (1996, 2008), Mauricio 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 to 2005 we had featured ten premieres – including eight 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 Steffen Schleiermacher’s Geharnischt for two player pianos, as well as to Thomas Larcher’s piano concerto (we asked Larcher to provide us with a contemporary piano concerto scored for an orchestra using 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 its 20th anniversary in 2008, the Festival commissioned new works by Philip Glass and Vassos Nicolaou. We also heard 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. In 2009 we premièred Vassos Nicolaou’s “Children’s Pieces” and Rudi Spring’s “Folk Song Bouquet”. Highlights in 2010 included the world première of sixteen pieces commissioned for the “Piano Book” project, along with the world première of Peter Ruzicka’s “5 SZENEN”. In 2011, commissioned by the Festival, Vassos Nicolaou and Olav Lervik wrote works in honor of György Kurtág’s birthday; we also witnessed the world première of Dieter Schnebel’s first and only piano sonata, the “Sonata in B Minor”. The Festival celebrated Alfred Brendel’s 80th birthday by commissioning a new work from Kit Armstrong for piano trio. In 2012 we heard the complete performance of York Höller's piano anthology entitled Doppelspiel, thereby bringing the number of premières which have taken place at the Ruhr Piano Festival to a total of 93 new works. Finally, in 2013, we heared a total of six new premières: Tamara Stefanovich performed new pieces by Vassos Nicolaou and Franck Amsallem, Sophie Mayuko-Vetter interpreted Peter Ruzicka's “late thoughts” on Franz Liszt’s piano piece Unstern. The Labèque sisters teamed up with the piano duo Maki Namekawa & Dennis Russel Davies for the world première of Philip Glass's Two Movements for Four Pianos. Marc-André Hamelin was the recipient of the 2013 Ruhr Piano Festival Prize, and he felt felt inspired to compose a Barcarolle. Finally, Severin von Eckardstein performed Sidney Corbett's  composition Grabmal Kundry which he had commissioned himself. In 2014, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis performed the German première of André Previn’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, jointly commissioned by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Ruhr Piano Festival.


“Contemporary” music, in the best sense of the word, is also what we have been featuring in our series entitled JazzLine, also initiated in 1996. 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 60 jazz pianists have accepted our invitations since 1996, thus forming 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 then in 2007 with his own exclusive series of four concerts, one of which was shared with guitar legend Tomatito and another of which was with jazz trio – then a further solo recital in 2009), 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 in 2008 with Al Di Meola, among others; solo in 2009; in 2010 with his legendary Freedom Band and Roy Haynes, in 2011 with the revived formation Return to Forever), Wolfgang Dauner (2000), Herbie Hancock (1998, 2003 and, in 2009, in tandem with Lang Lang), Rubén González (1999), the Keith Jarrett Trio (2007), Paul Kuhn (2005 and then, in 2008, celebrating his 80th birthday 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 and, once more, in 2011 with the German National Jazz Orchestra conducted by Jiggs Whigham), 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). In 2009, the SWR Big Band led by Gerald Clayton gave the opening concert, presenting the art of soul piano for the first time ever at the Festival, with Frank McComb, Kevin Hays and an illustrious host of further top-notch jazz musicians as featured band soloists. On the occasion of trumpeter Till Brönner’s closing Festival concert in 2006, we introduced a new jazz “format” featuring his “piano friends” Larry Goldings, Don Grusin and Michael Wollny. In view of their resounding success, we invited Till Brönner back to celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2008, on which occasion he teamed up with pianists Dado Moroni, Leszek Mozder and Olaf Polziehn. In 2010 Brönner once more crowned the Festival with a thrilling finale – a true “jazz marathon” with Larry Goldings, Mulgrew Miller and Frank Chastenier. In 2011 we welcomed several renowned artists new to the Festival: vocalist Patti Austin with Olaf Polziehn, and the New York Voices with pianist Claus-Dieter Bandorf. In a new concert format, the “Jazz Lounge”, we had the pleasure of hearing the Michael Sasse Piano Trio with John Goldsby and Mario Gonzi. Our “JazzLine” series likewise featured the Dieter Ilg Trio. At the 2012 Ruhr Piano Festival Raphael Gualazzi performed with the Cologne WDR Big Band; further concerts featured the jazz trios formed around Ramon Valle, Jacky Terrasson and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Another highlight was the joint appearance of Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin. And for the fourth time in a row, trumpeter Till Brönner closed the Festival with an evening entitled “My Piano Friends”, in which he introduced us to two more of his favorite piano colleagues, Vladislav Sendecke and Jacky Terrasson. In 2013, jazz pianist Gerald Clayton returned to the Festival with the WDR Big Band conducted by his father, John Clayton. And trumpeter Till Brönner made an appearance with his current quintet. The marvelous Michel Camilo came back for a solo performance, and Chick Corea performed with his current quintet formation "The Vigil". In 2014, the JazzLine featured more variety than ever before – eight concerts, including the multitalent Chilly Gonzales (who established a new Guiness World Record for the longest solo-artist performance in 2009), a solo recital by Chick Corea, an evening with Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers, the return of Jacky Terrasson to the Festival (this time in tandem with the WDR Cologne Big Band), and concerts with the respective trios of Monty Alexander, Stefano Bollani and Pablo Held. The closing evening willl once more be hosted by Till Brönner & His Piano Friends. 


Since we have been continually nurturing our audience’s musical curiosity, their overall receptive capacity has been steadily growing – thus making it possible for us to start dedicating parts or the whole festival to a chosen 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 launched our three-year Mozart cycle with a focus on Austria in 2004. In 2005 we dedicated the entire 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”. In 2007, we explored the works of Ludwig van Beethoven (Mozart’s true “heir”). For 2008 we chose 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 late composer’s 80th birthday), “Reunions” on the occasion of the Piano Festival’s anniversary, “Schubert Parallels” and “Old and New (!) Piano Music from China”. In 2009, the Festival commemorated a series of composer anniversaries by concentrating on Felix Mendelssohn, Joseph Haydn and George Frideric Handel (the latter led us to feature the harpsichord in recitals for the first time). In 2010 we naturally paid tribute to the legacy of Schumann and Chopin. And to celebrate the Ruhr’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, we paid homage to J. S. Bach, the great European musician. In 2011, it was natural that we presented a great number of works composed by piano titan Franz Liszt on the occasion of his 200th birthday. In 2012 we will focus on two cultures: France and the US, corresponding with the anniversaries of five composers who exerted an important influence on the history of music in the 20th century: Claude Debussy (150 years), Maurice Ravel (75th anniversary of his death), George Gershwin (ditto), John Cage (100th anniversary of his birth) and Philip Glass (in 2012 we celebrated his 75th birthday). In 2013 we expressed our celebration of the 200th birthdays of Verdi and Wagner is expressed in a cheerful tongue-in-cheek motto: “Let’s go to the opera!” In spite of the two opera composers' meagre solo piano output, we proposed a variety of ways to explore theire influence on the vast territory of piano transcriptions and paraphrases. And we featured further focuses on the works of Benjamin Britten (100th birthday), Francis Poulenc (50th anniversary of his death) and Leon Fleisher, who in 2013 celebrated his 85th birthday. The 2014 Ruhr Piano Festival featured five general theme focuses: first of all, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss. We also hosted a quite exceptional Beethoven Summit, with the rare occasion of hearing Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas in three different versions: by Krystian Zimerman, by András Schiff and by Igor Levit. Furthermore, the Festival explored piano repertoire for the left hand, which was richly expanded when Paul Wittgenstein, maimed in World War I, commissioned several composers to write works for the left hand alone. In 2014 we also set further accents with our journey to the universe of etudes, and this year our JazzLine offered an exceptional quantity of eight concerts throughout the Festival. 


Such general themes permit us to organize more specific cycles – for example, when we chose to invite all Warsaw 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 hosted a Schumann cycle commemorating the 150th anniversary of his death. Such cycles quite often serve as 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 when the former 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. My own personal fondness for Lieder with piano accompaniment is something which I can now share with many others. Our raptly attentive audience has shown high appreciation for a specific event at Herten Castle, where, in collaboration with Graham Johnson over the past fourteen years, we have been able to organize an annually recurring 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 (that same year, Mr. Gage also played his farewell recital in Herten Castle). In 2008 we focused on the Lieder of Franz Schubert and on those of Mendelssohn in 2009; we then followed suit in 2010 with artsongs by Schumann and Chopin, and in 2011 with seldom-performed songs by Franz Liszt. In 2012 Graham Johnson once more offered our audience two evenings in succession, featuring a total of 50 Schubert settings of texts by 25 different poets. And in 2013 the world-renowned accompanist devoted the same recital series to the lesser-known artsong output of Benjamin Britten and Francis Poulenc. In 2014, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth, the Festival featured two vocal recitals of his Lieder – with great singers such as Dame Felicity Lott. 


In October of 2006 (the ‘Mozart Year’), the Ruhr Piano Festival went on tour to Hamburg, Warsaw, Prague, Košice and Budapest. The program 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 the RWE consortium enabled us to invite local young pianists in each town to participate as soloists as well. 


Over the years we have been developing the seventeen aforementioned program series with persistence. Such long-term consistency in a Festival is only possible because, in the course of my 18-year endeavor to 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 steadfast support we receive from the corporate members of the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives (Initiativkreis Ruhr). With the help of our highly efficient festival team, this harmonious triad of refreshingly human resources has fostered a phenomenon likewise impressive in terms of sheer numbers. In 2014 our Festival was present in 22 different Rhine and Ruhr area localities, on 29 podiums with a total number of 66 concerts, several of which were broadcast by the radio stations Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Deutschlandfunk (DLF), Deutschlandradio Kultur and Deutsche Welle. Six DVD productions from the Ruhr Piano Festival are currently available: the Beethoven piano concertos performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin in the Jahrhunderthalle auditorium in Bochum were released in a double DVD boxed set in November 2007; furthermore, each of the pianists Boris Berezovsky, Roland Pöntinen and Marc-André Hamelin is portrayed on a separate DVD. Daniel Barenboim’s performance of the two Chopin piano concertos with Andris Nelsons conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle was released on DVD in late 2011. A further Barenboim coupling, this time with Liszt’s two concertos, followed in 2012 with Pierre Boulez conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin – released on CD and on DVD. Furthermore, in collaboration with German classical music magazine FonoForum, the Piano Festival has published four annual editions of PianoFESTIVAL magazine


By preserving and releasing recordings of outstanding performances, our series of boxed CD sets entitled Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr has brought the Festival added prestige and renown. Since 2005, the Ruhr Piano Festival has been treading new paths in its endeavor to preserve valuable artistic performances for the future. Ever since then, the number of CD’s published each Festival year has not only considerably increased, but live Festival recordings are now internationally available in classical music retail stores and on the Web. This initiative pursues two distinct goals: on the one hand, the ongoing promotion of young pianists’ careers (in collaboration with FonoForum classical music magazine); on the other hand, the widespread worldwide distribution of valuable recordings of rare piano music. This collection is made possible by a team of four partners: the “CAvi-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 reached its first crowning point in the summer of 2008 with the release of its 50th CD on the occasion of the Festival’s (and the Ruhr Initiative Circle’s!) 20th anniversary. A special edition featured all 50 CD’s in twelve boxed sets. In May 2014, the Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr released its 100th CD. 


Ever since January 1st, 2011, the Ruhr Piano Festival has been managed by a Foundation (with initial capital provided by its founding donor, the NATIONAL-BANK AG). The Festival also retains its representative status as the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives’ most outstanding cultural project. In 2011 an international circle of co-founders laid a further financial basis for the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation and proceeded to expand it by launching a highly successful fundraising campaign. In 2013, to celebrate our Silver Anniversary, we launched the “Silver Circle” Fundraising Campaign, which will be prolonged once more under the patronage of Traudl Herrhausen in 2014.


Naturally, apart from those donations and contributions, the Festival still depends on sponsoring as its other main source of income: In 2014, a total of 56 sponsors an donors ensured that the Festival continued to project a radiant image while setting the highest standards in 2014, with further support porvided by five further partner foundations.  But the most important element of our success is you – our audience. In my nineteen years as Ruhr Piano Festival artistic director we have attracted a total audience of over 830,000 music-lovers, including 540,000 visitors in the years 2005 to 2014 alone. Thus, in a decade, the number of annual visitors has more than doubled! The sponsoring figures have even multiplied several times over, thus ensuring that the Festival remains a 100% privately funded event. I thus wish to express my most heartfelt thanks to all corporate members of the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives, and to all our sponsors. 


“The Ruhr Region looks to the future – working together for success!” That was the motto chosen by the founding fathers of the Initiativkreis Ruhr, and we at the Ruhr Piano Festival have provenly taken it both seriously and literally. We will continue to employ our best creative energies in order to go on transforming that dream into a resplendent annual event of worldwide renown. Essen, July 2014


Prof. Franz Xaver Ohnesorg


Vita

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