Artistic director Thorsten Schmidt and co-artistic director of the Musikfestival Igor Levit in a thought exchange about the festival motto “Together”.
Let’s start with a thesis: Socially, we are united today by a considerable degree of focus on the individual. One has the impression that the focus of individual action is above all on one’s own advantage, the satisfaction of one’s own interests. How can I make progress faster? Where can I develop myself best? And perhaps also: How can I best bring in my identity, what defines me, how can I bring in what moves and interests me? We form a “we” out of all the “I’s” and call it society.
If it were that simple. We are in the midst of a major transformation process. The global world village leads to enormous challenges: Diversity must be taken seriously and translated into social action. We need to manage climate change. This will not work with declarations of intent, but only through a serious change in individual and economic actions. Political crises must be overcome, global equality of opportunity must be achieved. Technological progress must be shaped and, through political processes, reconciled with the legal achievements that made our individual development possible in the first place, with a wealth of civil liberties. And that is just a small sample of the range of current challenges. All of this requires collaboration, community, a we that is always different. But what ultimately holds this “we” together? What keeps it alive? What does it bring to fruition? And: What do we expect from him? In recent years, especially in times of pandemic, it has become clear how differently this common we is viewed. The world is changing so rapidly that a single person can only understand the smallest parts of it. Comprehensive problems that are not within the narrowest sphere of influence of an individual cannot be dealt with alone. We need the community. And society needs the active, creative, contentious and tolerant association of individuals to become an energetic community.
TS: We can only have an impact if we manage to convince or be convinced and then act collectively. Doing something together means acting in a system. It is associated with consideration, balancing of interests, processes of negotiation, withdrawal of one’s own interests for the benefit of an overall result which in the long run means an improvement of the own situation for each individual. Even if it has not reached the optimum of its own desires and goals. Anyone studying economics learned over a long period of time that the actors in economic activity – that’s all of us – act rationally and basically want to satisfy their own needs first. In other words, first me and then let’s see what happens to the others. These assumptions, attributed to so-called homo economicus, shaped the image of the era of neoliberalism in recent decades. Not always with wise impact assessment. When we look at the state of our Earth, we realize that a little more critical impact analysis might have been wiser. But are these assumptions about the fundamentally selfish orientation of man correct at all? The Dutch historian Rutger Bregman puts forward a different thesis. Humans are basically good towards their fellow species, that is, they are by nature concerned with unification and peaceful coexistence. Anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow re-read human history, using a wealth of sources to interpret humans as social beings who have always been capable of social projects. That gives us hope. Against the backdrop of the challenges posed by the global transformation process, one thing seems clear: The neoliberal paradigm, which is primarily oriented toward maximizing individual needs, no longer works. Problems
can only be solved together.
IL: I am interested in the question of how we can find a common basic attitude that makes us capable of acting as a society. Should we start more from a we and less from the I? This is a central question, the answer to which has serious implications for all of us. Mankind has experienced social systems in which the individual basically had to subordinate himself to the goal of society as a whole. These were not necessarily exemplary systems. So, how is this we constituted? Working that out will be a challenge; the process of singling out is strong. During the pandemic, many of us learned to take better care of ourselves and to entertain ourselves at home alone. In common places we have internalized to keep our distance, in private ones we have found joy in streams or social media platforms. This brings home to us just how high human adaptability is and how quickly social conditions change. But it also shows how quickly social paradigms can be called into question or declared obsolete.
TS: That’s an important point. What do we derive specifically from this for the Heidelberg Spring? The central task of a festival is to create communication spaces through everything we do, i.e. through programs, through the invited artists, through opportunities for encounters in the surroundings of the events, in which experiences can reverberate and be discussed, sometimes controversially. So we create a microcosm for a time that shapes a social community. Here there is an idea that a we on the part of the festival designs and creates the framework. Whether it works or not depends on how the participants get involved. Maybe a first clarification approach for your question?
IL : A delightful – and successful one! – But togetherness also only comes about when everyone feels seen. This is a basic requirement and sometimes gets a bit lost. The objective of the festival community becomes complex when you realize that we invite a lot of different people to the concerts and events. Everyone thinks differently, has experienced different things, sets different priorities. When we succeed in making people on, behind and in front of the stage feel seen, comfortable and taken seriously, then a truly valuable togetherness is created. And that in turn means creating spaces in which such coming together and being together can succeed.
TS : In what we develop and create as a festival, the focus is always on the people we want to reach with what we develop. But it is not only the way from us – and here I include the artists – towards the audience. The whole thing is ultimately a two-way process. People come to the concert to experience something and then go home touched and inspired. They probably do not know that they contribute decisively to the success of the concert. Reminding them of this is a central part of our work. In their moodiness they affect the stage. You know best that the atmosphere in the hall immediately communicates itself to the artists and contributes significantly to the success of the concert. This mood of the audience is largely dependent on the right framework conditions for a concert experience and the before and after being well designed by us. Our task is to create a sense of community and thereby eliminate the separation between stage and audience.
IL:We have marked out the next five years as a period to artistically reflect the theme of “Together” at the Heidelberger Frühling Music Festival. Of course, our cooperation is not new. We both have known each other for 13 years, working closely together for the festival, thinking together, creating many things together over the years. Accordingly, nothing really changes. And yet everything changes. After all, you made a conscious decision by asking me if I wanted to join the artistic direction. And those who know you know that this was also connected with the desire to put everything concerning the festival to the test. I think it’s important to consider together how even more creative, meaningful community can emerge from artists and audiences. And in doing so, we do not presume to solve the world’s problems, but stick to what we stand for and work for. Where and how do we want to meet? What issues do we urgently need to negotiate together? And how do we want to talk to each other?
TS : And yet, perhaps we can exemplify through our collaboration and what we develop over the next five years how challenges can be overcome together. What we have set out to do is connected with one of the most important components of cooperation: Trust!
IL: That’s right. At that time, I entered a space with the Heidelberger Frühling in which great trust was and is placed in me. I have listed here the most basic
Learned things – far beyond scales and playing legato. This begins with speaking on stage and continues through encounters with a wide variety of people to the
Feeling that it’s okay if a concert doesn’t go perfectly. So many things have happened in the last few years. From then on, I have been such an integral part of the music festival that I feel I belong here as a matter of course, and I have hardly formed such a close connection with any other festival in the world over the past few years. This is crucially due to the people who operate here. I perceive the Heidelberger Frühling as a gift in my life. Now I give something of myself to the festival and together we give something to the audience. That may sound a bit pathetic. But that’s what it’s all about in these rough times: realizing that you’re considerably stronger together and, above all, you’re not alone.
TS : It doesn’t sound pathetic at all. We have found over the years how valuable it is to work together. In addition to a basic trust, we share a similar associative mindset, an open, constructive culture of debate, and a common interest in relevant issues in our society. We are both convinced that a festival must constantly evolve as a place to come together, and in recent years we have found a common language for this task. But of course we are also aware of differences. In fact, we especially appreciate them. Our exchange and the intellectual friction are central for me. You see the world with completely different eyes than I do. And that is exactly the opportunity of our cooperation.
IL: On the other hand, it’s also clear that you have 26 years more experience shaping and managing a festival. You have things and contexts in your head that I’ve never had to think about at all, like artistic and financial responsibility or talking to politicians or sponsors. So we approach a topic from different perspectives. And accordingly, of course, there is friction and a lot of discussion. But we have always spoken with a common voice and will continue to do so in the future. So much for our exchange of ideas, which we would like to share with you. Following the idea that two ones together do not form a two, but an eleven, we have decided to shape the next five years together. Together you are more than the sum of your parts. This also sounds like a pathetic phrase, but it serves as a compass, a guiding principle in our work. In the festival program, you will repeatedly encounter different aspects of coming together from an artistic perspective: What happens, for example, when music from different cultures meets on stage? How do composing visionaries create a sense of togetherness about their work, some of which spans centuries? How do migratory movements, which repeatedly form a new community, affect musical development processes? How do musicians form the ideal conditions for artistic cooperation? And we are venturing a completely new form of bringing together: 20 young soloists will come together on the festival campus around the Universitätsplatz in Heidelberg’s old town and, starting with the opening concert, will let us share the fruits of their labor as a festival campus ensemble, performing in various instrumentations, in festival campus concerts, but also in neighborhood concerts with free admission.
Come on by, join in the fun – we look forward to spending time with you!
Your Igor Levit and your Thorsten Schmidt