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May 26, 2009

Another report from Dresden Music Festival

Greetings again from Germany.

When the Dresden Music Festival opened in 1978, the city’s inhabitants were officially East Germans, the government officially communist, and foreign journalists attending festival events were likely to be tailed by not-so-secret secret policemen. Everything, of course, is different now. As if to drive home that point, Jan Vogler, the dynamic, (East) Berlin-born cellist who is now the festival’s director, chose an overriding theme for 2009 -- Neue Welt (New World). It’s the first time that American music has been prominently featured at the festival. The roster includes the likes of ...

vocalist Bobby McFerrin, violinist/composer Mark O’Connor  and the Emerson String Quartet. Composers represented in the programming range from Stephen Foster to Elliott Carter. (If President Obama wants to attend a concert the night he’s scheduled to stay in Dresden next week, he could stop by the stunning  Frauenkirche and catch Carter’s thorny Cello Concerto performed by Vogler – if any Leader of the Free World ever chose to hear something by Carter, the music would never get over the shock). But the American theme is not exclusive, so traditionalists can find plenty to savor as well. The programs strike a sensible, appealing balance.

With several heavy-duty music festivals in Europe, the one in Dresden has not always caught a lot of attention beyond Germany. From the little I’ve experienced so far, I’d say that this annual event is likely to pop up on more and more radar screens. For one thing, Dresden is beguiling, especially the historic central city that continues to be lovingly restored and refreshed. It’s not that the legacy of the 1945 bombing has disappeared, but the sense of vitality and warmth here is palpable, the charm quotient high. It’s a perfect spot for a festival, given that the performance venues are all so accessible, an easy walk from many hotels.

Government support provides hefty support for the enterprise, covering a good portion of the 2.5 million Euros budget, but Vogler, who has dual U.S. citizenship and spends much of his time with his family in New York, has adapted American-style fundraising and sponsorships to the festival, significantly increasing private support. Ticket sales are strong, with lots of capacity crowds. Tourist-related businesses have to be enjoying the current and potential power of the festival to draw visitors.

Next year, Vogler plans a Russian theme, featuring the repertoire and musicians from that country, which used to be an ominous Big Brother around here. Times, attitudes, possibilities have all changed. It’s the music that remains the same great unifier.


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:38 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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