Dear friends of the Ruhr Piano Festival,
2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of an event that profoundly changed the modern world: the fall of the Berlin Wall. Four years earlier, several states signed the Schengen Agreement, which introduced major simplifications in trade and travelling among European nations. Unhindered movement among EU countries became a matter of course, and artists now freely come and go within European borders. In the course of our lifetimes, most of us have thus experienced two political events that have rendered international borders irrelevant for all practical purposes. Many citizens living on our continent now regard themselves first and foremostly as Europeans.
Such aspects of European history are reflected in the life stories of many artists who have performed at the Ruhr Piano Festival. That is why in 2019 we would like to direct our audience’s attention to our musicians‘ biographies. For instance, Giuseppe Guarrera, the annual Ruhr Piano Festival scholarship holder featured in our “Rising Stars” series, was born in Sicily but now lives in Berlin. Among our début performers this year, Alexandra Dariescu grew up in Romania but is now a UK resident; Mariam Batsashvili grew up in the Republic of Georgia, studied in Weimar, and has now likewise found her artistic home in Britain. Our “Living Legends” incarnate European citizenship of the world: Sir András Schiff grew up in Budapest, was knighted in Britain by Queen Elizabeth II and now lives in Florence; Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman lives in Switzerland; and the life story of Alfred Brendel is an almost exemplary illustration of European history. He was born in Wiesenberg (which is now part of the Czech Republic), spent his school days in Zagreb, studied in Graz, and has now been living for several decades in London. I am likewise overjoyed that another great piano legend will be performing the opening concert of the 2019 Ruhr Piano Festival: Menahem Pressler, now 95 years old, is a true citizen of the world who has lived and suffered through many of the major historical events of the 20th century. He was born in Magdeburg, fled the Nazi dictatorship when he was a young man and settled in the US, where he launched a world career with his renowned Beaux Arts Trio, a career he is now winding up with profoundly moving solo performances that are thrilling music lovers in many countries. Martha Argerich is likewise a legend in her own time. This year she returns to the Festival to perform here for the 25th time, in tandem with cellist Mischa Maisky, who was born in Riga and was trained in Moscow. Born, just like Argerich, in Buenos Aires, Daniel Barenboim has lived in Tel Aviv, London and Paris, and now calls Berlin his home: this year will mark his 28th performance at the Ruhr Piano Festival. And now that Grigory Sokolov is celebrating his 22nd appearance at the Ruhr Piano Festival, I can look back on how difficult it was to ensure travel and visas whenever we invited this great artist to come from the other side of the Iron Curtain to perform in the West in the 1970s and 1980s: today, thank goodness, things are different.
In our Education Projects – for instance in the borough of Duisburg-Marxloh in the north of the Ruhr Area – children and youngsters from many different cultural backgrounds meet and collaborate: kids who were born in raised in Duisburg work hand in hand with new immigrants who have arrived from Southeast Europe, along with refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions. Together, in our Education Projects, they are introduced to the European musical tradition. By learning to play with these pieces and dance to them, they grow to feel like a team: they form a community and learn the German language by singing it together. This is our true hearts’ devotion: European culture, the culture we all share. The point is not to try to “defend” our culture from supposed outsiders by re-erecting old borders, but to communicate this culture and help others grasp it. We are thus making European identity accessible to our new fellow citizens, sometimes even in a nonverbal way, thanks to music.
Thus, instead of devoting our annual focus to a certain composer or country as in previous years, the Ruhr Piano Festival has chosen a much broader subject as its main theme for 2019: music joins us all together in a community that crosses the generational divide to encompass Europe and the entire world.
As a prime example of world citizenship, the fabulous pianist Igor Levit, born in Novosibirsk, trained in Hanover and now living in Berlin, opts for social engagement with profound conviction. He unflinchingly risks strong intellectual and emotional exertion in order to present himself as “Citizen, European, Pianist”. Let us thus take up the call to be “Citizens, Europeans!” as the motto for this year’s Festival.
Eurocentrism, however, is something that obviously remains quite foreign to us. Thus, the 31st Edition of the Ruhr Piano Festival will welcome such illustrious artists as Emmanuel Ax, Philip Glass, and Jeremy Denk, all from the US; Canadian pianists Marc-André Hamelin, Chilly Gonzales and Jan Lisiecki; the Japanese pianist Maki Namekawa, and “Rising Stars” Ran Jia, Tiffany Poon and Changyong Shin from China, Hong Kong, and Korea, respectively. In our JazzLine series we look forward to welcoming international jazz greats such as Michel Camilo, Fred Hersch, Hiromi, Jacob Karlzon, and Harold López-Nussa.
Jeremy Denk, for one, will open his recital with Beethoven’s variations on the hymn “Rule, Britannia”. This bitterly ironic allusion steers our gaze toward an event which, in all probability, will unfortunately become a reality in 2019: an event that reflects a retrograde, anti-European sentiment by re-installing old borders. The United Kingdom plans to leave the European Union. In this year we welcome several fine artists from the UK: Graham Johnson, a legendary Lied accompanist and a staunch European; and also two young début performers who have recently been attracting major attention on the musical scene, 22-year-old James Bartlett, and the young Londoner Alexander Ullman.
In 2018 we celebrated the Ruhr Piano Festival’s 30th anniversary. If over the years we have been able to offer you such a fabulous selection of pianists, and if we have been able to commit our energies to significant, well-conceived long-term educational projects in the course of the last decade, it is all thanks to tireless dedication and generous support on the part of the moderators and member enterprises that conform the Ruhr Circle of Initiatives, which has held the Festival aloft as its cultural flagship project from the very beginning. And, naturally, we also have our sponsors to thank. As one of their exemplary representatives, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Rolf Martin Schmitz, who, not only as Chairman of the Ruhr Piano Festival Board of Trustees, but also as this year’s Festival Patron, has shown an exceptional degree of personal commitment to our joint project. I wish to thank RWE AG for their energetic support as our Main Sponsor for 2019, along with our partner foundations, our generous main Festival benefactors Helga and Dr. Winfried Materna, and, last not least, our many private donors, particularly those who have chosen to join our recently launched Jubilee Circle.
Along with my team of colleagues, I wish you many thrilling musical moments at the Ruhr Piano Festival!