Dear music lovers and friends of the Ruhr Piano Festival,
with the programme I have prepared for my 28th and last season as Director of the Ruhr Piano Festival, I wish to thank you, above all, our esteemed audience, for your faithfulness and for the enthusiastic rounds of applause with which you have particularly welcomed our young pianists. But I also wish to thank all those who have made it possible for me and my team to help the Ruhr Piano Festival grow over the course of almost three decades to attain its global reputation. All along the way, we have received essential support from the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives, from our loyal sponsors, our generous donors, our cultural partners, and, last not least, from all the artists who have left their mark on the Festival’s artistic profile ever since my first season as Director in 1996. And we naturally also wish to thank all the pianists who have joined us since then. In our search to achieve long-term improvements in the Ruhr Region, I am particularly pleased that we have succeeded in developing and establishing an Education Program that has been functioning ever since 2006 and which has received a number of outstanding prizes and awards. The Festival’s Education Program helps underprivileged children attain an improved level of personal development through music: for instance, in Bochum, in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh, and in the northern Ruhr Area. We have been able to offer a total of over 1,000 annual workshops for children in Duisburg-Marxloh; meanwhile, for the past 15 years, our Little Piano School has been awakening the curiosity of three- to six-year-old children, encouraging them to discover the fascinating world of music in over 50 groups that meet twice a week. The power of music can thus work its wonders where it is needed the most, and for that I am profoundly grateful. In so doing, I am also aware that we have been able to concretely realize one of the visions originally propounded by Alfred Herrhausen, co-founder of the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives.
For all these reasons, my farewell season should be a special one, offering you a programme that impressively demonstrates the full kaleidoscope of rich possibilities we find in piano music.
This year’s Festival programme is based on three historical constellations that manifest themselves in three concrete years: 2023, 1923, and 1823.
The year 2023 stands for the continuation of the “Lifelines” series we launched in 2022, celebrating the friendly ties many outstanding artists have maintained over the years with the Festival, thus enabling us to invite the great pianists of our time in a frequency and intensity that is unique the world over. Thus, in 2023, we will be welcoming Martha Argerich for the 30th time, Grigory Sokolov for the 25th; András Schiff returns for his 24th appearance, and Hélène Grimaud as well as Arcadi Volodos shall be performing here for the 18th time each. Last not least, the great violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will be giving her 15th performance at the Festival: on that occasion, at the Philharmonie auditorium in Essen, I will be awarding the Ruhr Piano Festival Prize for the last time by placing it in her hands.
A great number of younger artists have also become faithful friends of the Festival. Ever since his first performance here in 2011, Igor Levit has returned every year, on occasion more than once each year: thus, in 2023, we welcome him for the 18th and 19th time in a solo appearance as well as in an exclusive first performance with jazz legend Fred Hersch at the Anneliese Brost Musikforum in Bochum. We have also had the pleasure of inviting Jan Lisiecki for every Festival season, occasionally several times a year, ever since his first performance here in 2015. Thus, we will be welcoming him for the 16th time at the Historische Stadthalle in Wuppertal, where he will give a recital with duo partner Julia Fischer, after having previously concertized at the Konzerthaus Dortmund with the Basel Chamber Orchestra (Kammerorchester Basel). Two very special young artists have been at the Festival’s side ever since their early youth, and both have shown energetic commitment by supporting the Festival’s Education Program for many years. We thus welcome Fabian Müller for the 28th time; meanwhile, we shall be celebrating pianist Lorenzo Soulès’s 20th appearance at the Festival on the occasion of his vocal recital with tenor Christoph Prégardien in Essen-Werden.
In our JazzLine series, we are looking forward to the return of trumpeter Till Brönner, who will be with us for the 11th time in the format “My Piano Friends”. German jazz pianist Frank Chastenier performs for the 9th time at the Festival: this season, he has adapted his programme to our focus on “1923” by featuring a series of songs and jazz compositions that were all written in that year. The Gerald Clayton Trio will be coming to Oberhausen; meanwhile, in Wuppertal, we look forward to Götz Alsmann, who has concocted an exclusive programme of Beatles songs for the Festival. Fred Hersch returns to the Festival with his trio, performing at the Zollverein in Essen. And we shall likewise be welcoming two artists who enrich the gamut of genres in our season programme in a way I find important: Chilly Gonzales and Helge Schneider, the latter at the Lichtburg cinema in Essen, improvising live to Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie classic “The Kid.”
Three world premieres will take place at the 2023 Ruhr Piano Festival. For Sir András Schiff, Italian composer Luca Lombardi has written “Novembernacht,” a piano solo work that Schiff will feature in a recital programme full of subjacent interconnections among works by Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Leoš Janáček. Then, on the occasion of the Festival’s closing concert, we will have the privilege of launching Philip Glass’s new piano concerto, in the excellent hands of Maki Namekawa, Dennis Russell Davies, and the MDR Symphony Orchestra. Contemporary soprano Sarah Maria Sun will place a special accent in our programme by giving the late world première of hitherto unpublished songs from György Ligeti’s youth: indeed, in 2023 we also wish to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the great Hungarian composer’s birth by featuring, among others, his brilliant solo piano cycle “Musica ricercata” and the complete “Etudes”. We will also get to hear the piano concerto Ligeti wrote during his last phase, featured in a lecture-concert moderated by no less an expert than Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who returns to the Festival for the 36th time, the concerto will be performed by Lorenzo Soulès. Schoolchildren from the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh will have spent part of their school year learning more about Ligeti’s multifarious output by creating music pieces and choreographies based on his works. Thus, in the course of two evenings, the schoolchildren will present the results of their projects to our audience within the framework of the Festival’s Education Program.
The year 1923 stands for a historical event that left profound marks on our region’s inhabitants: the Occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops, caused by the lack of reparation payments after the First World War.
The level of hardship at that time was immense; currency devaluation was of almost unconceivable proportions. At the same time, the music world was daring to try out new experiments and embark on new paths that remain fascinating to this day. Tobias Bleek has curated a focal theme for this year’s Festival, entitled “1923: Music in the Age of Extremes”. In a series of moderated concerts, lectures, and guided museum tours we are offering in cooperation with the Ruhr Museum and the Folkwang Museum (both in Essen), you will be able to plunge into that early 20th-century period which remains so fascinating for the inhabitants of the Ruhr region. At the same time, Bärenreiter Editions will be publishing Tobias Bleek’s book “In the Frenzy of the 1920’s: Music in a Year of Extremes”.
Finally, we will turn our gaze two centuries into the past toward the year 1823, when Franz Schubert wrote some of his most beautiful compositions. Indeed, the Festival will be featuring a further focal point on Schubert and the year 1823. In his recital in Bottrop, Jos van Immerseel will be exclusively playing works Schubert wrote exactly two hundred years ago. But further artists of the likes of Janina Fialkowska, Lauma Skride, Fabian Müller, Yaara Tal/Andreas Groethuysen and Elisabeth Leonskaja have grouped their recital programmes around works of this Romantic composer whom I admittedly hold close to my heart. For the Festival’s opening concert at the Philharmonie in Essen, Joseph Moog and the Anima Eterna Brugge orchestra will be playing Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy in Franz Liszt’s thrilling arrangement for piano and orchestra. Performing on period instruments, the Anima Eterna Brugge orchestra conducted by Jos van Immerseel will likewise be featuring extracts of Schubert’s incidental music for the play “Rosamunde,” also from the year 1823. Naturally, Schubert’s outstanding lieder output will be allotted its fitting role in a series of vocal recitals given by Graham Johnson (whom we are welcoming for the 53rd and 54th time!) and mezzo-soprano Sophie Rennert, as well as by tenor Christoph Prégardien accompanied by Lorenzo Soulès, and by baritone Matthias Goerne accompanied by Markus Hinterhäuser.
Already in the month of March 2023, we will be proposing a sort of “prelude” to the Festival: a musical overview of five centuries of music for keyboard conceived by Kit Armstrong. The young American pianist loves to make new discoveries: he is an excellent researcher who knows how to divulge his findings to a wide audience. Thus, we are looking forward to an exceptional series of five recitals at the Anneliese Brost Musikforum in Bochum, each recital focusing on keyboard music from one of the centuries between 1520 and 2020. We thus look forward to a multitude of surprises! I am still pondering whether we should also propose a “postlude” to the Festival in October and November…
Our Christmas concerts at Gartrop castle have become a beloved tradition that ring out the year in a holiday mood. This year, the wonderful Elena Bashkirova will thus be in charge of the last concert I will have planned for the 2023 Ruhr Piano Festival.
I began this foreword by thanking all those who make our work possible. I now wish to close it by thanking those who carry out the concrete task of organizing a major event such as this one: namely, my highly regarded Festival team. First and foremost, I wish to thank Birgit Glasow-Carl, our Artistic Director; along with Marco Ligmann, our Commercial Director, and Tobias Bleek, who supervises the Festival’s Education Program – as well as every one of my highly motivated colleagues. In public speeches I have often made it clear: this project is not a solo piece for a director. It has always consisted in authentic teamwork, and I am profoundly grateful for that! At the same time, I look with confidence into the future, knowing that this team will be led by Katrin Zagrosek. Ever since early 2022, the Festival’s Strategy Commission already had the foresight of choosing her as my successor. Thus, Ms Zagrosek will be joining our team in early 2023. I can thus rest assured: from 1st January 2024 on, the Ruhr Piano Festival will continue to forge its successful path. You, dear audience, thus have many reasons to remain faithful to this thrilling cultural event in the future!
With warm regards
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