Farewell to Kissinger Sommer after 30 glorious years



Kari Kahl-Wolfsjaeger, the founder of Bad Kissingen Festival (Kissinger Sommer) and its general manager ever since she founded it 30 years ago, is originally a Norwegian. After she dropped out her medical training, she had an education in the fields of stage direction and art history. As for being a festival manager, this occupation is not something Kahl-Wolfsjaeger has been involved in since her youth. She was a columnist for 16 years in ''Capital'', which is a respected magazine in Germany, and during this time, she travelled all across Europe and wrote art and culture articles. Kahl-Wolfsjaeger’s relation to music is based on her father, whom she referred to as “he had absolute musical ear”. Her father, who she defines as a multi-instrumentalist, had never had any instrument that he picked up, yet didn’t play. According to her, it seems she did not inherit this absolute musical ear quality from her father, but she emphasizes specifically that she plays the piano and understands music well.

After living in Berlin and later in Köln for long years, Kahl-Wolfsjaeger lives in Munich nowadays and she also resides in Bad Kissingen since 1984. Having been called by an influential legislator friend of hers about organizing a classical music festival in Bad Kissingen, which is one of the most important hot spring towns in Germany, Kahl-Wolfsjaeger did not leave this call unanswered and started looking into Max Littmann Hall, that was built in neo-Baroque style between the years 1911 and 1913. Max Littmann Hall, carrying its architect’s name; with its cherry wood claddings and warm acoustics, has become the main location of Kissingen Sommer since that day.

With her expertise in being a festival organizer and manager, Kahl-Wolfsjaeger became famous in a very short period of time as it seems, because after the demolition of Berlin Wall in 1989, when she receives the offer from Weimar and Bad Reichenhall for organizing similar events, she goes to these cities as well and plants the seeds of classical music festival. In fact, she ensures that Beethoven Festival in Bonn, which is known to be the oldest classical music festival in Germany, founded by Franz Liszt, and called off at some time in the recent past, is reborn from its ashes.

The Regentenbau (Regent's Building) which hosts Max Littmann Hall was erected by Prince Regent Luitpold between 1911-13.

Max Littmann Hall has a warm atmosphere and acoustics mainly because of the cherry wood used in its interior decoration.

However, Kahl-Wolfsjaeger’s main big achievement must be the fact that she founded Bad Kissingen Classical Music Festival, known as Kissinger Sommer, thirty years ago. Bad Kissingen, which she says it has half the budget of Bonn Beethoven or Dresden Music festivals, is one of the most well known in Germany, heaven of classical music festivals. Turning into a favorite destination for lots of classical music stars between the end of June and the end of July every year, Kissinger Sommer gives off a “family festival” impression just like Verbier Festival in Switzerland or Beethoven Festival in Warsaw. By “family festival”, I mean that the same big names are attending the festival as artists constantly every year. Cecila Bartoli, Grigory Sokolov, Arkadi Volodos, Daniil Trifonov and many others are among the star artists, whom Kahl-Wolfsjaeger started to invite to Bad Kissingen since the end of 1990’s and the beginning of 2000’s, when these names have not been much famous yet. This family atmosphere has also settled in the city’s most glorious historical hotel Kaiserhof Victoria, which functions as the headquarters of the festival for years. At the hotel Kaiserhof Victoria where all star performers coming to the festival also stay, it is possible to see Helene Grimaud while having breakfast, and Daniil Trifonov eating lunch.          
One of these star names is Fazıl Say. Kahl-Wolfsjaeger says, Say attended to the festival for seven or eight times till today. During my visit to the festival, a day after I watched the concert at the evening of 20th July, in which Daniil Trifonov was the soloist, when a lady at the lobby of the hotel I was staying showed me the booklet and asked “Won’t Trifonov come in 2017?” it was my duty to relieve her by saying that hers was a preliminary program that was aimed to introduce only a few concerts of 2017.

When I asked to Kahl-Wolfsjaeger that who determines the artistic policy of the festival and the attending musicians, she replies me by saying “I”. By visiting the important art capitals of the world every year and inviting the musicians she watches and listens with her own eyes and ears in these cities with the aim of organizing the festival program, Kahl-Wolfsjaeger doesn’t believe choosing performers through auditions or via recordings is a healthy method. She says, “They can be very good performers, however that is not important for me if they can’t get a hold on the audience with their performances.” In other words, ‘being able to give a powerful performance’, is the most important thing for Kahl-Wolfsjaeger, after being a good musician.

Kahl-Wolfsjaeger isn’t working with too many assistants. Normally, she deals with all of her work with only two assistants, but naturally, she increases the number of her workers around the festival time. Still, however, she takes everything and every work under her control that it can be said that even a bird can’t fly over the festival area without her permission. There is no area she is not involved in, from determining the rehearsal times of the musicians to overcoming the last minute cancellations.

I made this interview with the founding general manager (intendantin) of Kissinger Sommer, Mrs. Kari Kahl-Wolfsjaeger at the lobby of the historical Kaiserhof Victoria Hotel.

It must be tiresome, even for a skilful manager like Kari Kahl-Wolfsjaeger to deal with a prestigious festival as Kissinger Sommer for 30 years from soup to nuts that, this year, she is going to retire from the management of the festival she founded. In other words, 2016 is the last year of the Bad Kissingen Festival with Kahl-Wolfsjaeger. When I asked why she is leaving her child, she said, “I thought this is enough now. 30 years is not a short time. It has always been a satisfying engagement that makes me happy, but every good thing has to come to an end. It’s time to pass the torch to my successors.” Since the person she wishes to see on her seat wasn’t approved by the city, another person she doesn’t know was appointed for the role. I feel that this development demoralized Kahl-Wolfsjaeger, but I don’t give her hard time about this subject which she is obviously sensitive about.

When I say, “Then what will you be doing from now on? I don’t believe that an art manager as lively and assertive as you can retire,” she reaches for her purse, takes out a brochure and passes it to me like confirming my thoughts. She doesn’t want me to break the news, since she hasn’t announced it officially yet but, when I take a look at the brochure, I understand that Kahl-Wolfsjaeger is planning to hold a new festival next year in Munich, which will bring the great and young stars of our day together.

After five minutes of leaving my side with her purse and hat that she never takes off, seeing Kari Kahl-Wolfsjaeger in the restaurant section getting into a huddle for work with pianist Helene Grimaud who is going to give a concert that very night at the festival, doesn’t surprise me at all…

Serhan Bali
Bad Kissingen



    Akçaağaç Sok. Görhan Apt. No: 1/1A Acıbadem Üsküdar / İSTANBUL | T: 0532 343 9328 | F: 0216 326 39 20