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.
PHOTO OF JAN VOGLER BY SASHA GUSOV COURTESY OF DRESDEN MUSIC FESTIVAL