Dear friends of the Ruhr Piano Festival,
“Vive la France!” That is the emblem we could choose for our 2018 jubilee season. 100 years after the end of the First World War, and on the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy, we will be celebrating Franco-German friendship with fabulous music and the best pianists of our time. We are also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the decision that gave rise to the Ruhr Piano Festival. It was taken on 16 July 1988, when Alfred Herrhausen, Adolf Schmidt and 11 other figures of public life were invited by the “Ruhr Bishop”, Cardinal Franz Hengsbach, to meet at the Episcopal House in Essen and to convene about the future of the Ruhr Region, whose coal and steel industries were facing a momentous crisis. Together they decided to found the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives. And that was also the moment when Alfred Herrhausen proposed the idea of organizing a classical music festival that would feature concerts and recitals across the entire region. Thus, from 1989 on, the Bochum Piano Sommer, a local activity, was transformed into the Ruhr Piano Festival. As the cultural flagship of the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives, the Festival continually gained in momentum: by the mid-1990s, it had become the largest and most significant piano event of its kind in the world – particularly with the addition in 2006 of our Education Projects, which enabled us to put social responsibility into action. In 2010, when the Ruhr Region was named European Capital of Culture, the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives adopted the Capital of Culture concept of ongoing cultural promotion to take a logical decision: to transform the Ruhr Piano Festival into an autonomous, responsible body in the form of a Foundation, thereby providing it with a stable structure designed to last, and capable of extending its great success story into the future.
2018, the “Debussy Year”, offers us a number of splendid opportunities to celebrate these anniversaries: for instance, we are thrilled that we have been able to invite the most outstanding French pianists of our time, including Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Hélène Grimaud, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, to perform at the Festival. We will hear a series of marvelous Gallic works: not only a great number of compositions by Debussy and Ravel, but also three of Camille Saint-Saëns’s rather infrequently performed piano concertos, along with further solo piano pieces of his pen. We will also discover other French rarities: for instance, works by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Charles Widor, Louis Théodore Gouvy, and Ernest Chausson. Our program focus on France also allows us to feature exciting piano duo recitals: with Yaara Tal & Andreas Groethuysen, with the GrauSchumacher duo, Antony & Joseph Paratore, and Arthur & Lucas Jussen. Furthermore, the Maki Namekawa & Dennis Russell Davies piano duo will be paying homage to the great Leonard Bernstein on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Of course, apart from our focus on France, we are looking forward to many other encounters: with Daniel Barenboim in three Beethoven piano trios, or with Igor Levit in the two Schubert piano trios. Other artists returning in chamber music formations this year will be Kit Armstrong and Khatia Buniatishvili, as well as the violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Frank Peter Zimmermann with their respective piano partners Lambert Orkis and Martin Helmchen. We joyously look forward to several artists who are likewise returning to the Festival: the legendary Maurizio Pollini, Dame Mitsuko Uchida, Yuja Wang, Rafał Blechacz, Marc-André Hamelin, Sir Andras Schiff, Daniil Trifonov (along with Gidon Kremer), Arcadi Volodos, and the wonderful Elena Bashkirova, recipient of the 2018 Ruhr Piano Festival Prize. A further outstanding reunion will take place in the course of the three vocal recitals at Herten Castle, where Graham Johnson will be celebrating his 50th appearance at the Ruhr Piano Festival! Naturally, we have also invited a number of young artists to give their debut performance this year: thus, we will be hearing Vikingur Olafsson, Sergei Redkin, Amadeus Wiesensee, Jamina Gerl, Inga Fiolia, Mao Fujita, and Yekwon Sunwoo for the first time.
Our multi-prizewinning education projects are being further developed in 2018. One of our main focuses is in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh, where we help integrate and encourage a great number of children and teenagers from immigrant families by offering workshops featuring music and dance, and also, more recently, an introduction to solfège. Starting in February 2018, the third primary school in Marxloh will become part of our program: we will thus be reaching all pupils in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh with our projects. In 2018 we will also be prolonging our integration project at the Waldschule in Buchholz, where pupils from standard primary and secondary education collaborate with others who have special needs. And of course we want to go on encouraging the youngest children’s abilities by offering the Little Piano School, an early musical education method created by Kim Monika Wright, in 19 nurseries and kindergartens in the towns of Gladbeck, Dorsten, Marl, Essen, Recklinghausen, and Bottrop, thereby reaching a total of ca. 350 kids.
I particularly wish to thank all those who have made our work possible again this year. Especially the Circle of Ruhr Initiatives, along with this year’s main sponsor Deutsche Bahn AG, our 65 corporate sponsors and promoters, and all partner foundations and private donors including Angelika and Dieter H. Vogel, our featured annual donors for 2018. I also want to specially thank all members of our new Jubilee Circle, who, on the occasion of our great 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert, will be making generous donations to the Ruhr Piano Festival Foundation. I naturally extend my heartfelt thanks to our Festival artists: particularly to those who, out of friendship with the Festival, will be performing free of charge for the benefit of the Foundation on 9 March 2018 at the Historische Stadthalle in Wuppertal.
My colleagues and I are looking forward to a splendid season of performances and wish you, our dear audience, as much pleasure in experiencing it as we have felt in preparing it for you!