The Ruhr Piano Festival in 2021: a success despite the pandemic
12,000 visitors; 45 concerts in 26 venues in 22 cities
Intensive educational outreach in all schools in Marxloh
The 2021 edition of the Ruhr Piano Festival concluded on Tuesday 16th November with a highly acclaimed performance by pianists Fabian Müller and Lorenzo Soulès at the Mercatorhalle in Duisburg. This was the first closing concert in the Festival’s history in which it featured its multi-awarded Educational Outreach Program: on this occasion, the audience was able to appreciate a choreography with the participation of students from four schools in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh.
Just as in 2020, this year’s Festival was divided into two separate seasons. Due to the pandemic, a ban on public concerts was still in force until mid-June; thus, the Festival’s first concert took place on 20 June. Then, after a summer break, the Festival launched its second season on 3 September. Thanks to these measures, ca. 12.000 visitors were able to attend a total of 45 concerts featuring 50 pianists from 19 different countries, performing in 26 venues in 22 cities. 17 concerts were sold out. Moreover, the Festival featured four additional concerts were featured as a free streaming offer on the Internet in May and in June, with a total of 53,000 visits.
In a press conference on 19 November in Essen, Festival Director Franz Xaver Ohnesorg and 2021 Festival Patron Thomas A. Lange drew up a remarkable track record of this year’s activities.
Festival Patron Thomas Lange affirmed: “We can regard this year’s Ruhr Piano Festival as an extraordinary success, particularly in view of the extremely challenging difficulties associated with the pandemic. As in the previous year, the loyalty of concertgoers and the firm discipline and commitment of the Festival’s organizing team under the reliable guidance of Festival Director all contributed to yield a highly convincing result. “
Professor Ohnesorg was full of gratitude and joy. “After so many months of cultural deprivation, we could feel that the Festival’s return was warmly welcomed by all”, he remarked. “The artists were longing to renew contact with their audience; concertgoers were profoundly moved, and the schoolchildren from Marxloh thrilled us with their dance skills and their enthusiasm for the Festival’s educational outreach projects. In short: I wish to thank all of those who have made these wonderful experiences possible: the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives, our general sponsor, and the NATIONAL-BANK AG, this year’s main sponsor, along with all other sponsors and promotors. Last not least, I wish to thank our faithful donors: in a year filled with financial challenges, their support was an enormous help”.
In spite of travel restrictions and quarantine measures which made the first series of concerts before the summer particularly difficult to organize, the Festival once again succeeded in attracting world-renowned stars of the international piano elite to come and perform in the Ruhr region. Thus, in the year’s first Festival season, the audience was thrilled to attend performances by artists such as Gabriela Montero (in an extraordinary recital programme including her improvisations on a silent Charlie Chaplin film), Igor Levit, baritone Matthias Goerne in tandem with pianist Seong-Jin Cho, Grigory Sokolov, Jan Lisiecki (who stepped in for Leif Ove Andsnes in Bochum), the piano duo Khatia and Gvantsa Buniatishvili, and Arcadi Volodos. In the second concert series after the summer, a number of longtime loyal Festival artists returned once again to perform: star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (with pianist Lambert Orkis and cellist Pablo Ferrández), Sir András Schiff, Krystian Zimerman, Marc-André Hamelin, and Jeremy Denk. In September, the Festival featured a particularly moving highlight at the Robert Schumann Hall in Düsseldorf: five concerts were held in honor of Sir Alfred Brendel, featuring performances by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Anne Queffélec, Imogen Cooper, Francesco Piemontesi, and Kit Armstrong (in tandem with violinist Andrej Bielow and cellist Adrian Brendel). All these eminent artists were thus able to wish their beloved teacher and mentor Alfred Brendel a happy 90th birthday.
Moreover, Festival Director Franz Xaver Ohnesorg invited 15 young pianists to perform their début this year at the Festival. Audiences were thus not only thrilled to hear the Russian classical musician Eva Gevorgyan and the Chinese jazz pianist A Bu (the two scholarship holders from 2020 and 2019, respectively), but also further début performances by artists such as Roman Borisov, Jonathan Fournel, Mariam Batsashvili, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Pallavi Mahidhara, and Giorgio Lazzari (who stepped in on short notice for Alexandra Dovgan).
Several recitals on historical keyboards originally planned for 2020 could finally be included in the 2021 edition. First-time Festival performances by the two internationally acknowledged fortepiano specialists Jos van Immerseel and Kristian Bezuidenhout were thus warmly applauded. Olga Pashchenko’s début recital in 2020 could only be featured as a radio broadcast; now in 2021, she was finally able to perform in front of a live Festival audience in the city of Hamm. In an event forming part of the “Early music in NRW” series organized in tandem with WDR broadcasting, harpsichordist Aapo Häkkinen performed at Hohenlimburg Castle.
In our JazzLine series, audiences were delighted to welcome the return of renowned American pianist Fred Hersch, the Cuban Ramón Valle and the Italian pianist Antonio Faraò, each of them in acclaimed appearances with their respective trios. In the city of Rheinberg, Christoph Reuter performed an evening of intelligent, tongue-in-cheek music cabaret.
We now plan to close 2021 with our traditionally held Christmas concerts at Gartrop Castle; this year, they are already sold out. After regrettably having had to cancel them in 2020 due to the pandemic, we hope that this year they can take place: we are looking forward to welcoming the piano duo Herbert Schuch and Gülru Ensari.
The Festival’s educational outreach program successfully continued to organize its multiple activities despite all the obstacles arising in the second year of the pandemic. As in 2020, we applied a double strategy. Depending on infection rates and adhering to corresponding regulations, workshop schedules were modified from one week to the next depending on the location, adapting them to the specific situation of each kindergarten, day care center or school. Thus, we were able to substantially expand our educational offer and reach a growing number of children and youngsters in face-to-face activities, while applying all the necessary security measures. The Festival also continued to conceive and upload a series of digital educational materials and interactive communication channels.
With its outreach activities, the Festival was once more present at all the schools in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh, as well as at two day care centers. During the period of home schooling and reduced class numbers, the Festival expanded and adapted its offer at Sandstraße Elementary School and Elly Heuss Knapp Gymnasium. You can gain concrete, direct insight into our outdoor activities with the children in June 2021 by watching a recorded streaming presentation (on the webpage: www.klavierfestival.de/education/mediathek ). Then, with the easing of restrictions in early summer, we were able to relaunch our activities in the remaining schools in Marxloh. Ever since April, several schools had started to work together on a dance and music project based on Darius Milhaud’s ballet La Création du monde, and the children were able to present their results in front of a live audience in the Festival’s final concert on 16 November.
Ever since 2018, the Ruhr Piano Festival has been reaching out in long-term cultural educational activities to all five schools in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh. In the three elementary schools, we organize intensive dance workshops, solfege lessons and composition groups (the latter at Grundschule Sandstraße), thereby proposing an active approach to music that invites the children to discover the fascinating world of music through the piano keyboard. The Ruhr Piano Festival is thus responsible for a creative cultural outreach with positive effects on society and on these children’s future. Ever since 2011, our long-term commitment has been made possible by financial support from Klöckner & Co SE. A second important partner joined these projects in 2015: the Mercator Foundation, with particular focus on the model project “ÜberGänge – building bridges with music and dance”.
The Ruhr Piano Festival organizes two further projects for children: Little Piano School and KlavierGarten, both of which we continued to expand in 2021 at the Folkwang Music School and at day care centers in the cities of Dorsten, Essen, and Marl. Now on a weekly basis, children ages 3 to 6 are introduced to the world of music in a series of games adapted to the piano keyboard. The Festival lays particular emphasis on continuing to offer these educational possibilities in neighborhoods such as Essen-Altendorf, where children particularly suffer from the pandemic crisis due to their families’ difficult social situation. Wherever and whenever face-to-face workshops were not possible, our teachers remained in contact with families and institutions online, and they developed tailor-made virtual lesson materials. A further emphasis is laid on ongoing training as well as on forming a new generation of teachers in workshops which are partially held online.
Ever since the beginning of 2021, the Ruhr Piano Festival has been systematically expanding the online dissemination of knowledge accessible to all. In January, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the death of Pierre Boulez, we uploaded a completely new, interactive version of our comprehensive website on the subject of Boulez’s piano work Notations, featuring an impressive collection of materials. You can visit the webpage on our musical knowledge platform www.explorethescore.org In March we then uploaded a new section featuring multimedia teaching tools for creative music-making developed by Richard McNicol on the basis of his many years of practical experience. Before the end of the year, we will likewise be uploading an entirely revised version of our digital resources on Stravinsky’s Petrushka. These free materials are highly valued by laypeople and music experts alike, as we note through echoes in the media and increased interest in our ongoing training programs.
The Ruhr Piano Festival will ring in the new year with an exceptional German premiere. On 29 January 2022 at Folkwang University of the Arts, concertgoers will be able to attend the German premiere of Luciano Berio’s “Twice upon…”, a work described as “theater without words for six groups of children.” Pupils from the Festival’s educational outreach projects in Duisburg-Marxloh and Bochum will interact with the musicians of Ensemble Musikfabrik from Cologne, conducted by Susanne Blumenthal. The same evening, a second concert will take place, featuring the same ensemble and soprano Sarah Maria Sun in Berio’s “Folk Songs,” as well as works by Stravinsky, Pousseur, und Janácek. Advanced ticket sales begin on Tuesday 23 November on our website www.klavierfestival.de
Your favourite concert is already sold out? Please register yourself on the waiting list. If there is a chance for tickets, we will contact you!
Please use this form for one event only.