Interview with: Philipp SteinThe idea behind Zeitgeist
Grafenegg once again achieved pleasing visitor numbers in the summer of 2023. It seems that the tried and tested is working. So why the idea of Zeitgeist?
We want to invite people to try something new. That's difficult if we don't explain it. The goal is not to water down our program but to simplify access to it. With Zeitgeist, we want to motivate people to visit us and experience our programmes. Furthermore, we want to show our existing audience new perspectives, such as exploring areas of our park they've never seen before. The same goes for the program: why shouldn't people who regularly attend concerts by the Tonkunstler Orchestra also listen to our other major project, the Grafenegg Academy Orchestra? To do that, we need to provide them with guidance.
The focus is on being an international orchestra festival with renowned artists. What does Zeitgeist do for the Grafenegg Festival?
With Zeitgeist, we want to provide signposts: ideally, these will lead people to concerts they might not have considered otherwise and will show new audiences why it's worthwhile discovering Grafenegg. As a major orchestra festival, it's important to remain future-proof, especially in times when questions arise such as, «Is it even sensible to have orchestras traveling around the world for concerts?» and «How much carbon footprint can a leisure event actually have?»
In the future, we'll still need musicians who can perform at the highest level and bring joy to what Grafenegg lives for, which is the performance of classical orchestral music. However, these musicians also need to be capable of engaging with their audience beyond the concert. That's why we founded the Grafenegg Academy, which focuses on things like how to structure a concert programme, how to communicate with the audience about content, and what kind of repertoire exists off the beaten path.
Over the past few years, the Academy has been very successful in stimulating the interest of many young musicians and getting the audience more excited about where the next generation of orchestral musicians is heading.
Speaking of the Grafenegg Academy - how did this initiative come about, how did it evolve into what it is today, and what are your hopes for the future?
As a publicly funded cultural institution, we are committed to supporting education. Therefore, we want to take the initial steps to educate young musical talent. Having begun with a very successful composers' programme, our workshop Ink Still Wet, it was only natural to subsequently focus on nurturing orchestral talent. We can signpost the path from education to profession quite well. The Academy is about providing tools to navigate the ups and downs of this profession while maintaining fun and motivation, just as in any other profession. As a musician, you always have to inspire your audience, something that can only be achieved if you are genuinely passionate about what you do. We collaborated with Alina Ibragimova, Håkan Hardenberger, and Colin Currie, the first three curators of this project, to discuss the needs of the orchestra and its musicians, and then developed this program from there. In 2024, the curatorial team will expand to include the first conductor, Ilan Volkov, who will be an exciting addition. Over the next few years, we will have a group of 10 to 20 highly-committed, top-class curators who will continue to drive the Grafenegg Academy Orchestra in various line-ups.
My hope is that in ten years, the world's most important orchestras will have recruited their young musicians from former members of the Grafenegg Academy because they appreciate our progressive thinking in the cultural sector. A further dream is for the Academy to serve as a model for others to follow, or for us to find collaborations by which we can export the Academy model. And I hope that it is not seen as a criticism of university music education but rather as a valuable complement.
The Composer in Residence is a central part of the festival and Zeitgeist. How is the decision made about who takes on this role? What connection is established between Grafenegg and the selected composers?
The Composer in Residence is selected by our Artistic Director, Rudolf Buchbinder. In the case of Enno Poppe, it is clear that we are always on the lookout for composers who are also conductors. At the same time, he has shown through his previous works that he responds to external events, something we believe is well-suited to Grafenegg as an inspiring place. We hoped Enno Poppe would be inspired by this environment, and he was. Another consideration is that the Composer in Residence leads the Ink Still Wet workshop. Therefore, we need someone interested in passing on their knowledge to younger composers, and Enno Poppe fits the bill in that regard as well. We are confident that many composers will be interested in working with him and benefit significantly from the experience. In his case, he has also written a lot of chamber music and works for smaller ensembles, and so he knows how to transition from small to large forms.
What role does the Tonkunstler Orchestra play in Grafenegg's development?
The Tonkunstler Orchestra itself didn’t see itself as a specialist orchestra for contemporary music. That's why we originally decided that this orchestra should collaborate with a leading composer each year to keep up with current musical developments. All the composers we have had here in recent years – from Konstantía Gourzí to Georg Friedrich Haas, and Philippe Manoury last year – believe they are one of the best orchestras for contemporary music in Europe, and they take contemporary music very seriously.
The European Union Youth Orchestra is deeply rooted in Grafenegg and has been based here since 2023. How does the EUYO fit into Zeitgeist?
The EUYO has a similar role to the Grafenegg Academy Orchestra in that it also focuses on nurturing young talent. What makes the EUYO special is that they explicitly say, «We are a European orchestra.» They require at least one participant from each EU member state, while also ensuring that only the most highly-qualified participants make it into the orchestra. So, it's not only a significant political project; it also works incredibly well artistically. The EUYO has created numerous friendships between Europeans and contributed to cultural and personal exchanges. It operates as an outstanding ambassador for what Europe can achieve: to bring people into conversation, so they can address their differences through art, culture, and language rather than through other means.
What are the challenges for an international orchestra festival in terms of environmental protection?
As an international touring festival, there is a significant issue that orchestras come from all over the world, with each orchestra consisting of 100 to 200 individuals. You can easily imagine what an incredible carbon footprint that international tour will have. In Grafenegg, we are not within the catchment area of a major city, most of our visitors arrive in their own cars. We have taken some first steps, such as by achieving certification for our venue according to the Austrian ecolabel standards.
But of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. In the coming years, we will work intensively to make sure that people can travel to Grafenegg in an eco-friendly manner. Greater sustainability will also involve working together through partnerships to make longer tours possible again, so that each flight across the Atlantic is not just for two or three concerts, but rather for ten or eleven. What is most important to us is the cultural exchange between countries and between different people. We don’t want to restrict this but to work on minimising this environmental impact as much as possible.
How does the renovation of the Reitschule contribute to Zeitgeist? Why does Grafenegg need another concert hall?
Grafenegg is not getting an additional concert hall, but rather an improved. A new venue always brings new opportunities to protect the environment. For example, the current roof will be renovated and optimised for energy-efficiency in the future. Furthermore, a bigger foyer for the Auditorium will be created.
The Rudolf Buchbinder Hall will be able to host the existing formats, such as pre-concert talks and Late Night Sessions, but also new ones creating access to our programme in a way that we couldn’t have done before. Much of what this venue offers aligns with Zeitgeist.