In Duisburg, in a digital press conference to mark the closure of the Festival on 28 October 2020, Festival Director Franz Xaver Ohnesorg and this year’s Patron Erich Staake took stock of the activities in 2020 and communicated positive results – in spite of coronavirus, and although the Festival had only begun on 4 June because of lockdown.
2020 Festival Patron Erich Staake opened the press conference by explaining the reasons for Duisport’s engagement as this year’s main Festival sponsor. “Our commitment is an investment in the Rhine and Ruhr region as a business location. We, too, want to make the region more attractive, and that requires the presence of top-notch cultural offerings. That is consistent with our corporate identity: our focus at Duisport is on quality. Everything we undertake should have great value and meet the highest standards. We want to be among the best. We want to remain one step ahead of the competition. And we see that criterion fulfilled in the Ruhr Piano Festival, where top-notch performances can be admired. We also have much in common in the way we applied crisis management during the coronavirus period. In spite of the virus, we at the Port of Duisburg have been operating at 100% capacity, and the Piano Festival likewise enjoyed a successful launch. Franz Xaver Ohnesorg and his team managed to remain flexible: they proposed new offers, made rapid changes of plans when necessary, and successfully commercialized their new product. The Ruhr Piano Festival’s small team thus accomplished something gigantic, and we acknowledge that feat.”
Franz Xaver Ohnesorg followed up on Erich Staake’s praise for his team. “In good conscience, I was only able to accept the challenges involved in making the necessary short-term adjustments to maintain this year’s Festival because I knew I could count on an exceptionally productive, highly motivated team. A dream team. They are the ones I want to thank first and foremost this year, from the bottom of my heart. Just imagine what we had to achieve: accepting the return of 31,000 tickets, only to reissue them according to new auditorium seating plans in compliance with strict distancing regulations. You can understand how grateful I am to my co-workers.” The Festival Director then proceeded to thank all entities that collaborate with the Festival. “Of course I also wish to thank all Festival partners who have shown their full-hearted support in the course of this difficult year: the concert halls, who jointly planned and implemented hygienic protection concepts; our general sponsor, the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives, which has financed the Festival over the past 32 years; this year’s Main Sponsor, Duisport, faithfully standing at our side for the second year in a row along with this year’s Festival Patron Erich Staake; all of the individual corporate concert sponsors who remained faithful to us in solidarity; our partner foundations, who have shown the greatest comprehension; our generous donors, and, last not least, our faithful, enthusiastic and – in view of coronavirus protection – well-disciplined audience of music lovers along with all those fans who generously re-donated the value of the concert tickets they were returning. To close, I extend my profound thanks to our artists for their faithfulness and commitment in ensuring 51 concerts where the power of music became extraordinarily palpable. And of course I particularly thank the authorities for the confidence they placed in our team, trusting that we would indeed respect public health guidelines by holding the 2020 Ruhr Piano Festival in a civically responsible manner.”
Within the framework of a timeline originally projected from 21 April to 11 July, the 2020 Festival had planned to feature all the works for solo piano ever composed by this year’s jubilarian, Ludwig van Beethoven. Already during the first lockdown, the Ruhr Piano Festival uploaded a digital concert series onto its website: “music for the home”, which was accessed 14,500 times until the end of May. Meanwhile, the Director’s team managed to rescue the majority of concerts foreseen until the end of May by reprogramming them after the summer holidays. As soon as the State of North-Rhine Westphalia allowed concert halls to re-open at the end of May, the Ruhr Piano Festival was one of the first international music events to relaunch its series of live concerts by early June. In the first group of concerts up to 10 July, the Festival was able to organize a total of 30 events. Following an elaborate public health plan to protect all members of the audience, each recital took place without an intermission, and each one was held twice in order to respect the official limitation to 20-25% auditorium capacity. The Festival then launched its second concert series on 30 August, applying new public health guidelines. Auditorium capacity was now extended to an average of 50%; thus up to 1,000 music lovers could attend at the same time. A third series of twelve concerts was projected to begin on 24 October. However, in view of rising infection rates, new restrictions in the current Covid Protection Ordinance were imposed and new municipal decrees were issued, and the concerts had to be cancelled.
In spite of those restrictions, the Festival was able to welcome ca. 15,000 concertgoers; indeed, 38 of the 53 concerts were sold out. 5 of the 12 concerts originally projected from October to December 2020 were also sold out in advance. By March 2020 the Festival had already sold 31,000 tickets. These either had be exchanged for new tickets on new dates in accordance with the public health safety norms for auditoriums, or they had to be refunded. Many customers decided, however, to donate the value of their ticket to the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation.
With two sold out “extra” concerts featuring Daniel Barenboim and Lang Lang, the Ruhr Piano Festival launched into the Beethoven Jubilee Year with a rush of enthusiasm. Then it was officially inaugurated in Bochum by Rudolf Buchbinder with a programme including the German première of a series of newly composed Diabelli variations commissioned by the Festival and its European partners. Further highlights in the first season then included artists of the likes of Jan Lisiecki, Igor Levit, Olli Mustonen, Sir András Schiff, Elisabeth Leonskaja, and Martin Stadtfeld, to whom we extend our heartfelt thanks. The second post-summer season was launched with a vocal recital given by baritone Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisiecki, followed by the return of high-ranking artists such as Gerhard Oppitz, Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen, Anne-Sophie Mutter with Lauma Skride, Víkingur Ólafsson, Ivo Pogorelich, Denis Kozhukhin, Lika Bibileishvili, Janina Fialkowska, Bomsori Kim, Rafal Blechacz and Pierre-Laurent Aimard to the Festival stages, many of whom had not performed a single concert in months. In two recital programmes each, Kit Armstrong and Ronald Brautigam were at least able to perform portions of the originally foreseen complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas on fortepianos. The Festival’s “JazzLine” featured concerts with Till Brönner and his “piano friend” Olaf Polziehn, the Dieter Ilg Trio and Chilly Gonzales with Olga Scheps as his special guest.
A third planned series of twelve further concerts was projected to begin on 24 October. But in view of a rapid increase in the rate of infections, the restrictions in the Covid Protection Ordinance of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia were reinforced and a series of new municipal decrees were issued, leading to the cancellation of the third series of concerts. Festival Director Prof. Franz Xaver Ohnesorg noted: “Twelve of our concerts featuring artists including Maria Joao Pires, Khatia Buniatishvili, Evgeny Kissin, Arcadi Volodos, and Gidon Kremer – in other words, close friends of the Festival – all had to be cancelled. Although the reasons for cancellation were more than justified, it felt like a painful amputation. We also think of all the disappointed members of our audience who had found well-protected solace in the concert halls of the Rhine and Ruhr region ever since June – venues where they could regenerate their wounded spirits in the company of like-minded music lovers, protected by quasi-ideal hygienic conditions following the public health concepts we had developed in collaboration with the region’s concert halls. Similarly to the Salzburg Festival, we can assume that no infection whatsoever took place at the 2020 Ruhr Piano Festival, thanks to strictly observed hygienic rules and an exemplary degree of discipline and respect observed by all members of the audience. Having to go without live concerts in the current situation, this valuable experience shall help us fulfill all requirements for holding live classical music events within the framework of a 100% privately funded festival such as our own in the very near future.”
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