Saturday, 22 September 2007

Katharina Wagner and Christian Thielemann present their visions for the Bayreuth Festival (aka. The Bayreuth Succession - episode 3)

Yes - it´s a soap opera (literally speaking..) - but nevertheless entertaining to follow from the sideline....

Below follows my translation of the entire interview given to the Frankfurter Allgemeine by Katharina Wagner and Christian Thielemann, where the two announce their candidacy to take over the Bayreuth Festival once Wolfgang Wagner retires, and explain their views on the future of Bayreuth.

There´s actually quite a few interesting statements to be found here:

„The wonderful obligation to continue the tradition “ - Thielemann and Wagner interviewed by Eleonore Büning in Frankfurter Allgemeine September 22th 2007:

Mrs. Wagner, history repeats itself: You want to lead the Bayreuth Festival together with Mr. Thielemann just as the widow Winifred did [in the 1930´s] together with another citizen of Berlin, conductor and director Heinz Tietjen?

Katharina Wagner: Yes, this is correct. We have decided, as a team, to declare our candidacy for running the Festival.

Then you, Mr. Thielemann, should maybe also aim for a Musical Director position in Berlin, so as to keep up with the historical comparison [with Heinz Tietjen]?

Christian Thielemann: No, thanks. I am very happy in Munich with the Philharmonics. I would not even give up or neglect Munich for Bayreuth either. But Katharina and I have been speaking together frequently and a lot of our discussions were about the future of the Bayreuth Festival, and then we suddenly realized, that we completely agree on all the major issues concerning the future of the Bayreuth Festival.

Can you date the beginning of this harmony exactly?

Christian Thielemann: When I first came to Bayreuth in the 80´s as an assistant to Daniel Barenboim, Katharina obviously was still much too young. I cannot remember when exactly we first met. But since I started to conduct in Bayreuth, in 1996, I´ve had very close daily contact with her, because she at that time worked as an assistant director at the Meistersinger production. And now the obvious question in front of us is, how we would like things to continue in Bayreuth. We are both able to imagine ourselves exchanging and mixing up ideas together. Since we know each other so well, we can also be mercilessly honest with each other. In addition we both have the right age for a new era to be launched in Bayreuth.

Katharina Wagner: Regarding the new era, one must realize several things: Artist contracts already signed with the current festival management run until 2015. If one does not want to risk loosing a considerable sum of money, the present contracts should be honoured, if at all possible. That means: For the first eight years, basically we´d only been administering the estate of Wolfgang Wagner. I do not want to be uncharming, but it is nevertheless a fact that my cousin Nike and my half sister Eva would not have the possibility of developing their own Festival profile, for reasons of age alone. Before they would have their hands free for their own planning, they would be far beyond the retirement age...

...because of the fact that your father had negotiated himself a lifetime contract. Wolfgang Wagner is at the same time Partner and Managing Director of the Festival. One of the reasons, why the Bayreuth Festival have cornered itself artistically in such a way as it has..

Katharina Wagner: This image of the Bayreuth Festival as being closed-up must be broken. The Festival is financed with public funds, which obligates one to seek openness.

Christian Thielemann: I find it shocking how common it is today, in the various cultural enterprises, to waste public funding, which arises from taxpayers money, because new managers of theatres or orchestras assume everything must be done differently. One changes the leadership, destroys everything that came before you, breaks contracts, dismisses employees. We do not intend to do that in Bayreuth. We want continuity.

That is, you want to hold on to the canon of the ten "main works," from "Dutchman" to "Parsifal" which have remained since Cosima´s days?

Christian Thielemann: Yes, definitely. At the Wagner Festival, you play Wagner, what else? But we do not oppose new ideas. For example, we think that it would be about time to organize a public "listening event" in the Festival House in order to examine, how the legendary acoustics of the Festival House really work [for which type of music]. Renowned as amazing, this house would probably be ideal for the works of Schönberg or Stockhausen. The acoustics here do probably not make the same difference for Richard Wagner´s early works [before the Dutchman]. My Bayreuth experience as a conductor suggests to me that a piece with a very thick instrumentation probably does not come through here at all or at least sounds differently. Richard Wagner knew that as well. The original version of the Dutchman differs considerably from the later version.

Katharina Wagner: It does not make sense to play pieces in Bayreuth which do not benefit from the acoustics here.

Christian Thielemann:Even Wagner himself made changes to the instrumentation of The Ring after it premiered here. Now, to make a general statement, that the acoustics in Bayreuth are so wonderful and suitable for all kinds of music, is dishonest, as long as there is no proof to sustain it.

Will you produce operas together? The Ring? Tristan? Which piece?

Katharina Wagner: We sit here together on this couch coming from very opposite positions. If you put the two of us together, definitely something interesting would come out. I can say so much: Mr. Thielemann is not an opponent of innovative staging ideas.

Christian Thielemann: Exactly, and particularly because we live in a visual age, we need a very strong musical handwriting/mark. But nevertheless, a strong performance develops only if two strong partners work together. For me, as a conductor in the pit, it is wonderful if I know, that what comes from the stage is beautiful. The director and conductor must work together as equal partners.

What piece would you like to stage together?

Katharina Wagner: I would love to make Tristan with you….

Christian Thielemann: … I with you also. But not in Bayreuth, since the planning there does not allow for it.

What do you plan to do about the current Wagnerian singing crisis ?

Christian Thielemann: In Bayreuth there is the additionally problem that voices, which sound magnificent in Vienna or Berlin do not carry through to the audience in the Festival House. This has to be tested on the spot. Thus, in the future, auditions should only take place in the Festival House. Also, several experiments have been conducted with the orchestra: While conducting his Meistersinger, Barenboim tried several times to reposition the musicians in the pit, something which Karajan already tried out with his Tristan - and in the end the musicians were positioned exactly as they were from the beginning. This is the attraction of Bayreuth! This beautiful obligation to continue the tradition! I suspect that many new ideas in Bayreuth fail simply because of the conditions of this special house. On the other hand we must ask ourselves the question: What is left to do?

Katharina Wagner: Under no circumstances do we want to destroy the myth which is Bayreuth. In Bayreuth only a limited selection of Richard Wagner´s work is to be played. Another cornerstone of our concept is that we think the Festival should be a pioneer in the staging/performance of Wagner's work.

Bayreuth is today farther away from this vision than ever. Also the exclusivity is no longer given, and from Kiel to Ulm one may today at the city theatres hear both better sung, better played and more excitingly produced Wagner operas. You want to preserve Bayreuth as a myth, preserve the exclusivity and at the same time create avant-garde productions of the operas. Is it really possible to achieve all this? And how?

Christian Thielemann: Step by step. First of all, we will get major conducting colleagues to come to Bayreuth, who were never here before: Simon Rattle, Zubin Mehta, Kent Nagano. And so on. It is true, that Wagner´s operas are played everywhere today. But there is also a crisis in Wagner conducting. Because Wagner operas were politically suspicious after the war, the tradition of the Wagner conductors in Germany broke off to a large extent. We want to try to redevelop this conducting tradition in Bayreuth, starting from scratch.

Katharina Wagner: It would be wonderful, if Barenboim came back. Also I could very well imagine introducing myself to Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Bayreuth.

This idea would have been highly original twenty years ago. And which directors do you want to see in Bayreuth? Hans Neuenfels?

Katharina Wagner: A combination such as Chéreau and Boulez may not have been a mere coincidence. Only aiming to be original always comes second to the artistic quality. To "release" strong artistic personalities should be a further characteristic of the new festival line. Of course there will be conflicts if you match a strong director with an equally strong conductor. But one knows that only through conflicts and risks will you achieve the highest quality. And above all: If hired by the Bayreuth Festival, one must accept to leave all personal pride at home.

Christian Thielemann: We do not come to Bayreuth because of money or pride. We come because of "the Festival Idea". And that idea has remained intact since the founding of this House. In Bayreuth, the receptionist sits beside the tenor in the cafeteria, which is just one of the small things contributing to the unique atmosphere of this family business. And one must also be able to simply hang around in Bayreuth, listening to the rehearsals of others. I believe, there is such a thing as a prototype Bayreuth conductor: Those succeeding here, have always been the experienced conductors with additional theatrical experience.

"Children, create something new!", Richard Wagner said. Where are the contemporary pieces? What about the "art of the future “?

Katharina Wagner: Obviously we could, as my cousin Nike, throw around clichèes like: "We want to open Bayreuth to new ideas." It is exactly like in politics: Promises are made, which cannot be kept. To change the actual pieces played here, one would also have to change the donation statute. We not only want to engage top-quality artists for the productions, but we are also very interested in the future. We intend to create a Festival Academy for conductors, composers, singers and directors. This Academy should focus on the future of music theater.

Christian Thielemann: In a time, where young talents are easily burned up and record making play the major role in the business, it is important to firmly oppose this development. It will be the task of Bayreuth to clarify: What is Wagnerian singing today? What is Wagnerian conducting today? How does one plan a whole „Ring “? How does a singer work with the director? I am one of the very few conductors, who have been conducting certain works again and again - and for that I have been criticized and insulted because of my allegedly too small repertoire. But Bayreuth is very special. If a conductor arrives here and does not really know the piece he is conducting, then it is like fighting fifteen battles at the same time.

Katharina Wagner: Anyone wanting to work in Bayreuth, has to pass on knowledge to the younger generation. In this way we intend to create new quality in the Wagner performances. That is going to be more expensive. And therefore we must find ways for growth of the Festival, without relying on public funding. Marketing strategies are part of our concept as well. We already have ideas in the drawer, which will make the Bayreuth Festival administration more effective.

Does this Academy work for the duration of the Festival or for the whole year?

Christian Thielemann: In the beginning, only in the summer, later all year round. There are older singers, singing Gurnemanz for fifteen years, like René Kollo [?] and Hans Sotin, who should definitely pass on their knowledge here. That applies to the conductors as well. An assistant like Christoph Meier, who worked for many years in Bayreuth, can take over „Tannhäuser within two days “. This idea is actually an old one. Also Horst Stein began as an assistant to Knappertsbusch and I began as an assistant here as well. This Festival Academy is only a natural development of this tradition. Katharina and I are more or less the first graduates of this academy.

Does contemporary music have a place in your academy?

Katharina Wagner: Not yet. Initially, the Academy is to offer practical apprenticeship positions relating to dramaturgy, public funding and marketing.

Christian Thielemann: Everything that takes place in the Festival House apart from the actual music of Richard Wagner, must be first clarified and defined. Before these baseline conditions are in place, we will not start anything new. One of these conditions, as I said, is the examination of the acoustics. That will take place immediately in the first season. Afterwards, we may then begin the discussion on what is to be created at this house.

Has the Board of Directors already been informed about your application and your concept?

Katharina Wagner: No, it doesn´t work that way at all! The Chairman Toni Schmidt has explained again and again publicly that the Board of Directors will discuss the Festival Management succession at the next meeting. But, as yet, no follow-up procedure for my father has been introduced, therefore there is also no application procedure. My father has not yet handed in his resignation though...

and he will not do so, before you are ready to succeed him. However, your father knows about your proposition?

Katharina Wagner: Yes, Mr. Thielemann and I spoke to him about our ideas. For him, this would be a basis on which to build an acceptable solution. We are declaring our candidacy to the public, because this is a public position. The Board of Directors must then decide the value of our candidacy. Our concept is public and may be read by everybody. And in 2015 we will have developed a new profile for Bayreuth for the subsequent years. But let us be quite clear on this: Our decision to work for the Bayreuth Festival will naturally limit us both in our artistic possibilities elsewhere. We are available now, but we will not wait forever.

Christian Thielemann: I have occupied leading positions in the music business for twenty years and I never had the ambitions to run a theater. But Bayreuth is not any theatre, Bayreuth is Bayreuth. I am passionate about this idea.

The drama continues here..

1 comment:

Inter Glossa said...

Thanks so much for this. I found the section where they talk about exploring the acoustics of Bayreuth more thoroughly (Leo Beranek has done scientific evaluations of the acoustics among other researchers but that is not what they are driving at here). It would be lovely to hear the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun played there, as Debussy seems so influenced by the Zaubergartenmusik and Parsifal generally there.

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