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May 29, 2009

One more report on Dresden Music Festival and Jan Vogler's vision for the enterprise

Finally got enough sleep (nothing like sitting on a runway for 90 minutes or so before the final, shortest leg of a 13-hour three-part journey home to wipe you out), so I feel reasonably cogent enough to make some final thoughts about attending a portion of the 2009 Dresden Music Festival.

In short, I can’t wait to go back. There was something about the combination of the place itself and the inviting mood of the festival that impressed me greatly. I don’t have the advantage of being able to compare all the hot-spot arts festivals around the world, so some may consider my views suspect, but I think Dresden has what it takes to register on the cultural map in a much bigger way than it has. Although it may not hit quite the picturesque peak (and, happily, not the snob quotient) that is part of the Salzburg Festival, it sure has the requisite charm and ease of mobility, providing patrons diverse venues all within an easy walk.

And this year’s lineup in the German city certainly can hold up to the competition in many ways, given visits by the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic with Gergiev, the Concertgebouw with Dudamel, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Rene Pape. Starry names that any international festival would be happy to offer. Dresden has its own considerable musical assets, of course, and this year’s lineup makes ...

good use of them -- the Dresden Philharmonic with Masur and Anne-Sophie Mutter; the Staatskapelle Dresden performing Haydn’s Creation with a solo roster that includes Ian Bostridge. (Dresden's opera house isn't fully integrated into the festival, but there's talk of doing that in the future.) And then there are the American artists participating, given that the festival’s overall theme this summer is the New World: Dawn Upshaw, Emerson String Quartet, Bobby McFerrinn, Mark O’Connor.

The festival’s creative, buoyant director, cellist Jan Vogler, has exactly what you need for such a venture – a vision. He wants it to be up there with the festivals in Lucerne and Edinburgh (I’ll have to figure out a way to get to those places someday so I can deepen my comparative analysis). And Vogler sees the festival as a way to reflect his own belief that musicians should “try to influence society, to create a little bit of the future, and not just be products shipped around the globe.”

Speaking to a group of visiting critics in a free-ranging discussion that also included American composer Aaron Jay Kernis (a chamber concert featuring his music is part of the festival), Vogler addressed the issue of what Dresden itself provides as a base for such a musical enterprise. “Our biggest catastrophe was that was Dresden was destroyed in the war,” he said. “But the message of the city is that wounds of war can heal and people can live in peace.” The greatest symbol of the healing, the recently rebuilt Frauenkirche, on the spot where rubble had remained since the 1945 bombing, was the site of the Vienna Philharmonic concert so compellingly conducted by Gergiev earlier this week. “He wanted to play in that symbolic place,” Vogler said. Gergiev will be back for next year’s Dresden Festival, which will have a Russian theme, and I’m already calculating the prospects of getting over there for that one.

My last day in Dresden included that session with the critics – Americans, Canadians, French and Italian – held at Volkswagon’s Glaserne Manufaktur (Transparent Factory), where the up-market Phaeton cars are assembled. That architecturally stunning, super-eco-friendly complex makes a Dresden visit doubly worthwhile.

Then it was off to check out two houses in the outlying areas, houses of interest to us music types – one where Weber lived (he used to walk two and a half hours into the city for his work at the opera house), the other where Wagner composed Lohengrin. Later, back in town, it was off to another festival event, a rare performance of Antonio Lotti’s Teofane, an opera that had its premiere in Dresden in 1719. This was only a concert version, delivered in an enclosed courtyard of the Residenzschloss. A staging would no doubt have helped distract attention from the fact that Lotti wasn’t a terribly inventive composer. He relied on so many familiar formulas, both melodic and harmonic, that the ear eventually grew a bit weary. But a very snappy, virtuosic orchestra – the Dresdner Kapellsolisten – and a mostly successful cast gave it a good shot, led by Helmut Branny.

In the end, all too brief an encounter with an inviting city and an invigorating festival.

If I had been able to stay longer, I would have particularly looked forward to hearing Vogler perform Carter’s Cello Concerto next week; he's an ardent champion of the complex score. He told me that Marin Alsop came to hear his recent performance of it in Munich. It would be very cool if she programmed it for the Baltimore Symphony and brought him here. “Baltimore has a very good orchestra,” said the mostly New York-based cellist, “and I love when I can just take a train to play a concert.”  

PHOTOS BY YOUR HUMBLE BLOGGER (Frauenkirche, top, and Weber house)

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:42 AM | | Comments (1)


We spent a few days in Dresden last May and attended some concerts, including a Baroque music concert in the Nikolauskirche. Beautiful city and a great place for a music festival, with one of the world's greatest art museums, too.

Thanks for commenting. TIM

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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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