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The only constant is change
©Sammy Hart

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The only constant is change

Interview with Alexander Liebreich, artistic director of Richard-Strauss-Festival

Top Music at Top Locations – that was the motto for Richard-Strauss-Festival which took place under new artistic direction for the first time after nine years. Alexander Liebreich, renowned conductor from Regensburg, was like a fresh breeze for the event – he repositioned the popular event’s concept and was able to get numerous stars like Lisa Batiashvili, Alban Gerhardt and Okka von der Damerau to play in extraordinary spots in and around Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In his interview Alexander Liebreich spoke about metamorphosis, the way the festival is rooted in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and new challenges.

"I generally feel the need for change and I like facing new challenges."

L.L./ The opening concert of Richard-Strauss-Festival had the title “metamorphoses.” In your first year as its artistic director: do you feel a need to change things – in line with this year's topic?

A.L./ I generally feel the need for change and I like facing new challenges. Metamorphosis or change, it’s a basic principle of human life and therefore the dynamic behind our existence.

L.L./ You had big shoes to fill, namely those of Brigitte Fassbaender who was in charge of the festival for nine years. Does that make you nervous?

A.L./ If I’d had to sing I would have been very nervous because Ms Fassbaender is a legendary singer. Following in her footsteps as the director of the festival was an honour and a pleasure. In the course of the past ten years I successfully directed and developed two international festivals and that’s why I’m looking forward to my tasks for Richard-Strauss-Festival. In this role I’ll have to think like an artist and a manager. Brigitte Fassbaender has coined the festival in her own way and now I have the honour of building on that.

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"Like any other art form classical music needs a fitting frame, but, historically speaking, it was always presented in different places and certainly also outdoors."

L.L./ “Rooted in the place” – that’s something one often hears in connection with Richard-Strauss-Festival. How was that rootedness reflected in this year’s event?

A.L./ The rootedness really is a result of the person Richard Strauss on the one hand, who consciously chose Garmisch-Partenkirchen as the centre of his family and his artistic life. Now we included young people at schools and music schools in the festival with two projects, the Open Stage and a dance project that they worked on for months.

A.L./ On the other hand, we as the festival, the team, the contributing artists were very present during the festival. The flags and banners at the city centre, the culture chairs outside the shops, the decorated shop windows, the companies that supported us, all that reflected the festivals deep roots in the town. And of course, this year, the locations played a part, too: Partnachklamm gorge, Wank mountain, Werdenfels-aula. We moved our concerts around the area.

"Like any other art form classical music needs a fitting frame, but, historically speaking, it was always presented in different places and certainly also outdoors."

L.L./ The locations used for Richard-Strauss-Festival are rather unusual for classical music. Sometimes you get the feeling the music could use large concert halls. Do you disagree?

A.L./ Like any other art form classical music needs a fitting frame, but, historically speaking, it was always presented in different places and certainly also outdoors.

"On the Wank’s sonnenalm we tried out a completely new concert format where we made several aspects of indulgence accessible."

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©Sammy Hart

L.L./ In 2018 not just the Ettal monastery but also Partnachklamm gorge and Sonnenalm on Wank mountain were used as event locations for the first time. Where does one encounter Richard Strauss and his works there?

A.L./ On the Wank’s sonnenalm we tried out a completely new concert format where we made several aspects of indulgence accessible: landscape, food, and music all flowed into one. Richard Strauss himself was an epicure, he enjoyed good food and playing cards. The programme presented by Munich Opera Horns was called “From Renaissance to Rosenkavalier” and Strauss’ “Rosenkavalier Suite” was part of the repertoire. Around Partnachklamm gorge one was able to encounter Strauss via an intense natural experience. He loved the landscape around Garmisch-Partenkirchen and would often go on long walks and hikes.

"Richard Strauss loved the landscape around Garmisch-Partenkirchen and would often go on long walks and hikes."

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©Sammy Hart
"I feel closely connected to the cultural diversity of Central Europe."

L.L./ There were several new programme items like musical hikes and singing master classes. Could you tell us what your thoughts behind the new programme were?

A.L./ The master classes have been part of the festival since the beginning, actually. It’s important to give young singers the opportunity to learn with experienced teachers. And what with the festival’s special atmosphere that’s twice as exciting – also for the audience. The music hikes were all new. I just love the amazing landscape around Garmisch-Partenkirchen and I wanted to make it the framework for a musical experience. During the music hikes we all went off together and the contributing musicians played musical pieces that fit the landscape’s character. Around the gorge people could enjoy wild and romantic as well as experimental sounds, by the Ettal mill the pieces that were played had all premiered by the water. We tried to use the music to underline the landscape’s character and to offer a particularly intense experience for the audience.

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"It’s important to give young singers the opportunity to learn with experienced teachers."

L.L./ As part of the new Open Stage young talents from the music schools in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Murnau present pieces of their own choice. How important is it to bring younger generations and classical music together?

A.L./ In this case the approach can only be uncomplicated and pleasurable. Classical music is a part of society, no matter your age.

"Myself and most of my colleagues are big fans of sport."

L.L./ A fireplace-talk with professional skier Felix Neureuther was also part of the programme – and at first one can’t help but ask: sports and culture, how does that work? What was your intention behind this?

A.L./ Myself and most of my colleagues are big fans of sport. During our rehearsal and concert breaks we talk more about Champions League results and World Championships than music. We musicians have to be able to motivate ourselves to deliver top performances, much like athletes, we have to train in order to be able to give our best at a certain time and we have to pay attention to physical and mental fitness. From that perspective the life of a musician is not so different from that of an athlete. Felix Neureuther is a very responsible athlete, a role model for many and seeing as he’s from Garmisch-Partenkirchen he is closely connected to the Werdenfels region’s cultural landscape. It was a pleasure to talk to him about the “Fascination Alps.”

"I feel closely connected to the cultural diversity of Central Europe."

L.L./ In September 2018 you will go from the Polish National Radio’s Symphony Orchestra to Czech Radio. Your father’s family is from the Czech Republic. Do you feel like you have roots there, too? How do you feel about going there?

A.L./ I will remain in charge of NOSPR until 2019 so I have another concert season ahead of me. It’s true, on my father’s side I do have roots in Bohemia and Moravia. And I feel closely connected to the cultural diversity of Central Europe.

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©Sammy Hart

The renowned conductor Alexander Liebreich, who is originally from Regensburg, was appointed as the Richard-Strauss-Festival’s new artistic director in summer 2017. As principal conductor and artistic director he has worked for Munich Chamber Orchestra and, more recently, for the Polish National Radio’s Symphony Orchestra. As of autumn 2018, Liebreich will take office as the principal conductor and artistic director of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Liebreich has performed on many of the world’s biggest stages and he has worked with excellent soloists.

www.richard-strauss-festival.de

www.alexanderliebreich.de


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