Schumann Festival Zwickau 2013 – a very positive outcome

Report by Wolfgang Meyer 

Zwickau pays tribute to Robert Schumann every year. The great composer of the Romantic period would have turned 203 this year. The Municipality of Zwickau, the Robert Schumann Society Zwickau e.V. [registered association] and the Robert Schumann House all paid tribute to the artist with a large programme between 2nd and 23rd June including a total of 20 events.

Richard Wagner, one of the most important composers of the Romantic period along with Robert Schumann and part of Schumann’s artistic environment for many years, would have turned 200 this year. They knew each other, they liked each other in spite of all their differences of character, and they used to take notice, often in a critical manner, of the other’sworks. For this reason, the Schumann Festival 2013 was themed “Schumann and Wagner”.

The programme, both demanding and rich in content, included a number of great concerts involving top international artists, but also a multitude of smaller but nonetheless attractive events, such as lieder recitals, chamber concerts, readings, a children’s afternoon, as well as a variety of academic talks within the scope of an academic seminar lasting several days.Unfortunately, the opening event, a performance of the Wagner opera “Tannhäuser”, had to be cancelled due to severe risk of flooding to the town centre of Zwickau.

The highlight of this year’s festival was the premiere of movements 3 and 4 of Schumann’s Symphony in G minor, the “Zwickau Symphony”. Those had been left unfinished bySchumann and have only now been reconstructed und partly supplemented in a meaningful manner by the Leipzig composer Olav Kröger. The performance on period instruments took place within the scope of this year’s symphony concerts held at the festive Zwickau concert hall and ballroom “Neue Welt”.

As customary, the festival included an anniversary celebration for Robert at his memorial, on which occasion Lord Mayor Dr Pia Findeiß paid tribute to Schumann’s personality, work and artistic significance, hundreds of blue balloons took to the skies, hundreds of red roses were deposited at the memorial, and various ensembles played music until late in the evening.

The opening of a special exhibition on the subject of Schumann and Wagner attracted great interest, with exhibits elucidating the personality of both artists, including writings, varioustypes of correspondence, autograph manuscripts, portraits, as well as diverse documents from the archives of the Schumann House, which were shown to the public for the first time, and many more items.

Since 2003, on a two-year cycle, the Robert Schumann Prize of the town of Zwickau has been awarded to personalities who have made particular contributions to his life, his work, and its interpretation. This year, the Prize went to the American musicologist Jon W. Finson and the Swedish violinist Ulf Wallinn.

Jon W. Finson is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is deemed to be one of the most distinguished musicologists of the USA and a committed Schumann researcher. He is the author of numerous publications on the life and work of Robert Schumann. Dr Thomas Synofzik, Director of the Schumann House, paid tribute to hisoutstanding academic and artistic achievements, and also highlighted the long-standingfriendly relationship of Prof. Finson with Zwickau and the Schumann House, in particular.

The Swedish violinist Ulf Wallinn is not only an internationally first-class artist in greatdemand, he is also a professor at the Berlin Academy of Music “Hans Eisler”. Dr Michael Struck, the Schumann Prize winner of 2009, highlighted the significant contribution made byProf. Wallinn in the field of interpretation of Schumann’s works, particularly the revival of Schumann’s only Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO 23, written in 1853 but premiered at the Deutsches Opernhaus [German Opera House] in Berlin in 1937 only.

The prizes were presented by the Lord Mayor of Zwickau, Dr Pia Findeiß, and the 10,000euro prize money was divided between the two winners. In their words of thanks, the two artists paid tribute to the extraordinary significance of Schumann’s work and also expressed their great joy at being awarded the prestigious prize.

A selection of Wagner’s opera paraphrases in the arrangement by Franz Liszt was also doubtlessly part of the special highlights of the festival. These, together with works by Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt, were presented by the famous Ukrainian pianist Boris Block to a cheering audience at the Robert Schumann House.

About two dozens of female students and one male student of the Robert Schumann Conservatoire further ensured a great concert evening with works for piano two and four hands, lieder and duets by Robert Schumann. Such student concerts have been integral part of the annual Schumann festival programme since 2006, and it is always fascinating to witnessthese young and committed artists performing full of enthusiasm at the concert. The youngest one, a little pianist, was just about eight years old.

A lieder recital at the Zwickau Art Collections with Uta Simone, soprano, and Georg Christoph Sandmann at a grand Göhler piano, a Parsifal arrangement for piano four hands by Engelbert Humperdinck with the piano duo Shoko Hayashizaki / Michael Hagemann. On top of this, a late night concert at which Thomas Synofzik made sound Clara Wieck’s famous grand piano, performing works by Wagner and Schumann, which, in spite of the late hour, met with an extraordinary response, and so forth… The list is far from complete.

A performance of the only Schumann opera, “Genoveva”, staged in a paper theatre at theKleine Hofstube [Small Parlour] of Osterstein Castle in Zwickau is certainly also worth mentioning.

At the closing event, a remarkable concert themed “Schumann and Wagner meet Jazz”, familiar motifs of famous Wagner operas and Schumann compositions were presented in a most unusual manner, with the Leipzig “Lora Kostina Trio” playing excerpts from “Tannhäuser”, “Lohengrin”, the famous “Walkürenritt” [“Ride of the Valkyries”] and others in a modern jazz version, including own compositions and arrangements.

The festival was simply fantastic. Music lovers from near and far all fully agreed on this, and the artists themselves were very happy with the programme, the organisation, as well as various boundary conditions. The good visitor response proved that, despite all assertions to the contrary, classical music is by no means a sterile and elistist out-of-touch business.

The fact that the Zwickau Robert Schumann festivals have gained more and more authority going far beyond the region is corroborated, on the one hand, by the participation of top international artists, including from the USA, France, Japan, China and other countries, and, on the other hand, by ever increasing attendance figures over the years, at which visitors spare no way and effort to attend the celebrations. Hence, the result of the Robert Schumann Festival 2013 can be considered perfectly pleasing and positive.

Translated by Th. Henninger

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