The only Positive Thing about the Brexit

Kronberg Academy gives the Chamber Orchestra of Europe a home

  • A festival in Wiesbaden: Christian Tetzlaff and Vilde Frang play Bach with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Photo: Lutz Sternstein

Translation of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article “Das einzig Positive am Brexit”
Published 24th October 2018

The only Positive Thing about the Brexit

Kronberg Academy gives the Chamber Orchestra of Europe a home

Something great is happening in the small town of Kronberg. The huge construction pit above the tracks, where the suburban railway line 4, coming from Frankfurt/Main, ends, is filling up. The hotel that will border on the newly emerging Casals Forum of Kronberg Academy, is already in the process of getting its topmost floor; the wire mesh for the new concert hall with its 550 seats is under way; the walls for the hall are to be poured shortly. Kronberg Academy is on schedule. In about three years, the Casals Forum will be opened: It will house a concert hall, classrooms, a violinmaking workshop, and a hall for the exam auditions, in order to provide the students of this private university for extraordinarily talented string players with the best of all imaginable conditions.

What this means was formulated by cellist István Várdai, who recently graduated from the Academy as follows: Kronberg had been a “shelter” for him, where he was allowed to concentrate on his musical development without worries, and in an inspired manner. This is exactly, what the founder and director of Kronberg Academy, Raimund Trenkler, a cellist himself, had had in mind: tailor-made support for high-flyers and protection from too early access of the music market to personalities still in development.

The forum will bear the name of the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, who saw himself as a humanist and had, at that time, belonged to the candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. He died on November 22, 1973 – and this date is important for Kronberg Academy to this day. For, on Casals’ twentieth anniversary of death, the first concert of the Cello Festival in Kronberg took place with the cooperation and sponsorship of Casals’ widow Marta Casals Istomin and the cellist Mstislaw Rostropowitsch. It marked the birth of Kronberg Academy and was a quarter of a century ago. The fact that Kronberg Academy celebrated this jubilee in a big way is a matter of course and would in itself only be worth a small mention, had the occasion not been used to make an astonishing announcement.

For Trenkler managed to win over the Chamber Orchestra of Europe as the resident orchestra of the future Casals Forum in Kronberg. The Chamber Orchestra – as a purely privately funded ensemble emerging from the youth orchestra of the European Community – has achieved undoubted fame, at the latest since the recording of all symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven under the musical direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This fame, however, is by no means limited to the “historical performance practice”, as distinctly as one could hear the inspiring training by such an eminent head as Harnoncourt in the interpretation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” in Wiesbaden. At the Musica viva in Munich, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe had recommended itself only in June this year as the expert for new music that – as it was said in this newspaper (dated 11th June) – “lets the competition tremble”. In Munich, the director David Robertson fell to his knees out of gratitude.

Now, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, whose members live all over Europe, wants to make Kronberg its fixed place of work, perhaps establish a series of concerts in the new hall, and possibly transfer its office including the management from London to Kronberg soon. The Casals Forum, designed by the architectural office Volker Staab, would not only become a new international center for chamber music, but also a heavyweight of orchestra culture. In Wiesbaden, Monika Grütters, State Minister for Cultural and Media Affairs, euphorically called this “the only positive thing about the Brexit”.

Grütters was welcomed to Wiesbaden by everyone, even State Minister Boris Rhein as the representative of the State Government of Hesse, with cheerful attentiveness. She had brought with her wonderful news: The Federal Government is increasing its share in the construction costs of the Casals Forum to 21.5 million Euros, and thus bears almost half of the budget, which is currently estimated to be over 45 million Euros. Originally, the Federal Government wanted to contribute ten million, and then two and a half million were added in 2016, and this year, another nine million Euros. The State of Hesse bears four and a half million, thirteen million are privately financed; the remainder consists of equity capital. The construction costs had risen because the base plate had to be additionally anchored.

Grütters emphasized that, actually, it was not the Federal Government’s job to support private music academies (even though it is doing so at the Barenboim-Said-Akademie in Berlin, which the Minister did not mention). However, she said that Kronberg Academy “was high-level and first-class” and had such a prominent position in the education of string players that it was of national relevance for Germany. Moreover, the ongoing operation of the academy was exclusively borne by private sponsors, after all – completely without any public money.

Important artists who had imparted authority to the academy over the past quarter of a century, played at the festival concert in Wiesbaden: the violinists Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff and Vilde Frang, the violist Juri Baschmet, and the cellist István Várdai – several generations in hopeful coexistence, which is the basis of Kronberg’s strength. Since October, also two pianists are among the currently 27 students, as with the “Sir András Schiff Performance Programme” also the piano is becoming part of the Kronberg excellence cluster for chamber music.

Jan Brachmann

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