Monday 2 June 2014

Inspiring moments - an encounter with Jan Vogler

Jan Vogler: photo credit Mat Hennek 2010
Jan Vogler: photo credit Mat Hennek 2010
This year will be the sixth Dresden Music Festival that Jan Vogler has programmed. A cellist with an international career, Vogler  has been Intendant of the Dresden Music Festival since 2009, as well as being artistic director of the Moritzburg Festival. The Dresden Music Festival is over 40 years old, it runs for three weeks from late May to early June and this year there are 45 shows. I met up with Vogler at the festival, before the recital by Karen Gomyo and Ismo Eskelin (see my review), to talk about the festival and his plans for it.

The festival is centred on the historic centre of Dresden and Vogler is clear that one of the particular benefits of Dresden is having so many different venues capable of taking concerts, many within walking distance of the historic centre and many being historic in their own write. Vogler remains keen on having the festival's concerts in the centre and sees this as a very positive, particularly as they are keen to attract visitors as well as locals. This year the festival is using venues such as the Semperoper, the historic opera house which functions also as a concert venue, the Albertinum, the restored 19th century art gallery which now has a 1000 seater auditorium, the baroque Palais im grossen Garten as well as the major historic buildings such as the Frauenkirche and the Residenz. The Albertinum now houses a collection of 20th century art, and Vogler is pleased that they were able to programme Ute Lemper's concert there, with Lemper singing 1920's cabaret songs whilst paintings from the period projected on the auditorium walls. Another, perhaps more unusual venue is VW's super modern factory Die Gläserne Manufaktur (the transparent factory) where VW's Phaeton cars are produced on a visible production line.

Vogler sees this very variety as a great strength. But for a festival city to function properly not only do the venues have to be in the same area but there have to be hotels and museums. Here too Dresden has great strengths, with the recent re-building and restoration of the historic centre creating many museums (both new and restored) and plenty of hotels. Vogler is pleased that many of the visitors to the festival come for a whole week, taking in all the music, art and culture that the festival has to offer.

Dresden: Palais im Grossen Garten
Dresden: Palais im Grossen Garten
During my recent visit to Dresden it was clear that the city is keen to be seen as a destination in its own right, rather than just somewhere to stop for lunch en-route for somewhere else and my own visits in the last few years have confirmed its many delights. As such the city, the festival and the tourist infrastructure are all working together. Vogler is clear that it is important for attracting visitors to the festival that there must be interesting exhibitions and museum, 'everything has to right, there must be good exhibitions and great concerts', and in this he has the city's support.

To this end, Vogler's view of the festival is that it must bring artists to Dresden who will attract visitors, as well as making the festival known abroad. Under his predecessor, the festival concentrated on the baroque period with the figure of Augustus the Strong being rather dominant. But for Vogler, the story of the destruction and re-building of Dresden is far more interesting, showing how we can overcome tragedies and re-build a city. He feels that people come and learn from it.

My recent visit to Dresden was my third, and each time I have been impressed at how the city has been re-inventing itself. During the early 1990's the mantle of the Soviet era still hung over many of the buildings, the Residenz and the Frauenkirche were still building sites. Then some 10 years later, a significant change had happened, not only was the Frauenkirche open but the Residenz had undergone an amazing restoration along with vast tracts of the old town. Now, on this visit, we are starting to see the full and final fruits of this in the new/old Dresden.

Vogler surprised some people with this year's festival as, despite the city's historic links with Wagner and Strauss, their music was not the festival's centrepiece, though it is heavily featured. For Vogler, an artist like Daniel Barenboim (who opened the festival conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin) is a much stronger focus. Barenboim's links with the East West Divan Orchestra chiming in with Dresden's own position at the confluence of East and West in Europe. In fact the theme of this year's festival is the Golden Twenties, not just the 1920's with Georg Kastner and German Expressionism, but the 1820's on the cusp between Beethoven and Romanticism, the 1720's with Bach and his cello suites and the 1620's with the invention of opera which the festival is reflecting with a performance of Monteverdi madrigals by Les Arts Florissants in the Frauenkirche. The festival always has a theme, but Vogler does not take the theme too seriously though it allows him to, as he puts it, work through different subjects and fantasies.

Dresden: The Residenz and its new roof
Dresden: The Residenz and its new roof
The variety of venues that the festival uses does provide some challenges. For instance, they give concerts in the small courtyard of the Residenz which has now been roofed over but in bad weather there is a lot of noise from rain hitting the roof. During my conversations with Vogler there was much discussion about whether the evening's rain would interfere with clarinettist Sabine Meyer's concert there (in fact it stopped just in time). Rain can be a problem in Dresden during this time of year, something the festival has to take into account. At one outdoor concert the orchestra refused to play, because of the weather though the concert went ahead; the concert was one called Dresden singt und muziert where locals come and sing along to well known classics. Vogler says that it is not high art but is certainly high enjoyment and an important part of the festival's wider message.

As a performer himself Vogler has experience the difficulties that a young performer can come up agains, with opportunities being either on a rather small scale or for jumping in at the last minute as a replacement soloist when you feel you may not have performed as well as you might. Vogler has come up with a rather distinctive type of young artists scheme to remedy this. Rather than give the young artists specific small opportunities throughout the festival, Vogler's Boheme 2020 project has brought together eight artists from different fields who are living together during the festival in an artists hotel. They have a manager who is their link to the festival,but the are completely free to do what they wish and come up with their own projects. The group includes a violinist, composer, video artist, director, dancer, poet and actors. Vogler says that they are free to do what they want 'within limits, don't spray paint the front of the building!'.

Their first event was the previous evening, a performance of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale at the Technical University in a hall normally used for experimenting with high voltage! Vogler likes that fact that the Boheme 2020 contribution is not curated, in contrast to the highly selected nature of the rest of the programme.

Whilst Vogler tours the world, playing his cello, he is also using the opportunity to hear and experience artists, to invite them to Dresden. He has recently heard Thomas Ades' In Seven Days and would like to bring this to Dresden. After hearing the Ukelele Orchestra, he brought them to the festival despite colleagues' scepticism and they proved a great hit.

But Vogler is also a performer himself and needs many hours with his cello. He relies on his festival team, who can all act pretty independently and during the festival he is still able to spend time practising. He often does so in the baroque Palais im Grossen Garten; when he tells me this he grins and adds that the guards lock him in for his practice sessions!

As a final question, I ask Vogler what he would do at the festival if money were not a limit. But he says that unlimited money doesn't do the trick, everything in the arts needs inspiration, and needs a reason. He is pleased that the festival is growing and sponsorship (with numbers rising at 10% per year). But almost as important is the recognition that something is happening, creating moments which are important in inspirational in people's life.

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