An interview on Leipzig Bachfest with Alexander Steinhilber



Dr. Alexander Steinhilber is the Managing Director of Bach-Archiv in Leipzig. ‘Geschaeftsführer’ is the original German title of his post and he’s quite new in this job, having started in 2016.

I made an interview with Mr. Steinhilber about his new title and Bachfest which he’s responsible for at his office in the Bach-Archiv, situated in the magnificently restorated Bosehaus overlooking Thomaskirchhof.

First of all, I would like to ask you the exact duties of Geschaeftsführer. Because sometimes we get confused, I also realize that our readers might also get confused. Could you please identify your job for us?
We are making this interview at the management offices of Bach-Archiv. There are three people at the top of the management. There is Sir John Eliot Gardiner who is the president of Bach-Archiv. There is Prof. Dr. Peter Wollny who is the director and I have been working here as the managing director since the middle of February 2016. We have a managing board and half of the board is the so called “Stiftungsrat”. That is the committee consisting by representatives of the City of Leipzig, the Free State of Saxony and the  the Germany Federal Republic. This is the structure that we have. I’m responsible for all of the financial and organizational matters and I’m also responsible for the so called “Künstlerisches Betriebsbüro” that organizes The Bachfest. Sir John Eliot Gardiner is the artistic director of the Bachfest and I’m responsible for the organizational and financial matters of the festival so my duties here are more managerial than artistic.
What were you doing before undertaking this post in Bach-Archiv?
Before Bach-Archiv, I was responsible for music in the Ministry of Culture in Hamburg for the last five years. I began working here on February 2016 and the festival was already planned. The former managing director Dettloff Schwerdtfeger was mainly responsible for The Bachfest 2016.

While I was in Hamburg in 2014 I was assigned a project on Johann Sebastian Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. When I had visited Bach-Archiv at that time I had met Franziska von Sohl, Peter Wollny and other people. I liked the way of thing done here because I myself is a musicologist. I studied in Berlin and Göttingen. My main subject is manuscripts before 1550, and of course I’m good informed in Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact I knew Bach-Archiv 20 years ago while I was in Berlin and sometimes I used the library in Leipzig. In 2014 I got the chance to meet the people here. Once I saw the announcement one the paper searching for a managing director, I thought it might be an interesting job for me. At the Ministry of Culture, Hamburg I was giving the frame for cultural work but I here I could paint a picture which is situated in the frame. The job definition sounded attractive to me.
What are your initial goals for Bachfest?
We have capacity problems in the festival and I admit that it is rather a luxury problem. Tickets of most concerts, opening concert and the last concert are sold out months before. This is in some ways not good for a managing director, people ask for tickets everyday. It is not easy to tell people that we are sold out. We know that we must change this situation and we try to change it in tight cooperation with The Gewandhaus. We will also cooperate with the Leipzig Ballet at the Leipzig Operhouse for the next seasons.

Maybe you can think of putting extra concerts to overcome the problem…
Yes, that is one part of our strategy for the next years. The other challenge for us is that the need to make Bach-Archiv and Bachfest more attractive for the Leipzig inhabitants. When we look at the attendants of the festival we can see that only 20 percent of them are the inhabitants of Leipzig and that is not enough for sure. 35 percent of the audience is international guests and the rest come from the other cities of Germany. I personally think that the reason of Leipzigers’ low attendance to the festival stems from the fact that they actually have small Bachfests in Thomaskirche every Friday and Saturday for only 2 Euros. I think that is one of the reasons why they are not so interested in the festival concerts and because of this we try to develop other concert venues and especially some unconventional ones like the zoo or a construction zone etc.
I share your feelings about the unconventional venues for the concerts. For example, as you may already know, Frankfurt Oper has staged its Rinaldo production in the Bockenheimer Depot…
Yes you’re right and also remember the concert project of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in an electronic music hall in Berlin. It was sold out many weeks before. 10 years ago, a friend of me and I had done a concert of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the Aluminum Hall near Basel. So yes we will try to put the music in these kinds of venues. I think it would be interesting also for Leipzigers to attend these concerts at unknown or unconventional places with an unconventional repertoire. Also we need to develop the programs of the concerts that we do at the marketplace. We have to change a bit to attract more Leipzigers to that wonderful space. I think that we can attract especially the younger generation with more unconventional places and programs.
Which kind of collaboration do you have in mind with The Leipzig Opera? Bach doesn’t have any opera but maybe some Baroque operas may be staged…
Yes, I don’t think that we should integrate Salome of Richard Strauss since everything in our program should fit the motto of Bachfest. This year in the program we have Monteverdi’s Orfeo conducted by the Catalan musician Jordi Savall but it will be in the Gewandhaus and not in the Opera. Starting from this year we have a more intense collaboration with the Gewandhaus. Since this is the festival of the city of Leipzig we should enable the city own its festival through its leading musical institutions.

Leipzig Bach Festival opened with a concert of works by Bach and Mendelssohn in St. Thomas Church on the 9th of June.
As a music journalist and writer each year I attend to different kinds of festivals in Europe and in my opinion Bachfest is very successful in using the city’s different corners as concert venues. What about the surrounding area? For example do you have beautiful castles in this region like some other German cities have?
Not really… There is a small castle (Gohliser Schlösschen) in Leipzig but nothing more. I personally like to develop venues outside of the city circle. Leipzig is a small city and there is no problem to go from one place to another. The infrastructure of the city is also very efficient; with trains or other public transport vehicles, people can very easily go outside of the city. We will also work on this.
What about your budget? Is it going up or going down comparing to the previous years. How is your financial situation?
No it’s not going down, on the contrary it’s a bit going up but who knows? It is a question of politics as you know. The ticket sales grew up about 5 percent compared to last year.
What is the percentage of tickets sales in your operational budget?
The ticket sales and the funding of the city of Leipzig are the two main budget items of Bachfest, in addition there comes a fund of the Free State of Saxony. We add the sponsorships to these items. We also have to develop the sponsorships because I believe that Bachfest should also be interesting for the international sponsors as well.
You have also Turkish Airlines as the main transport sponsor. I think that TA has been your sponsor for the fourth year in a row. Are you pleased to work with TA?
Yes, it is very uncomplicated to work with them. There are many offers coming from them to us and we try to use all of them.
Do you have some special benefits for the members of international Bach societies who want to visit the festival?
We only have a certain discount for the American friends of The Bach-Archiv because they support The Bach-Archiv and in return they get some ticket discounts from us.
Since you are an international festival, what is your general attitude towards different cultures and their music?
Sometimes people complain that we perform a lot of religious music by Bach in the festival. What we shouldn’t forget is that Bach’s music is universal and it’s beyond all religions. The texts of his works are Christian but they are not only focused on Christianity. Those texts were written for humans and the main idea of them is the necessity of having a good living and dying, what comes after death etc. These things are common thoughts in all of the religions as we know. For example we have many visitors from Japan. Some of them don’t understand the text at all and they just listen to the music because of its universal character. Let’s not forget that in Bach’s times, people from different cultures; Catholics, Protestants and Jews were living side by side in Leipzig. On the other hand, we don’t concentrate only on cantatas and works with Christian texts but we also have many instrumental music that differs from year to year. We like to have an inter-cultural dialog in Leipzig.
Have you ever thought of inviting Middle Eastern musicians, singers to the festival to give cross-cultural concerts?
Every year we organize a choir academy in the festival. We had young Chinese choristers in the previous years and this year we have Finnish guests. What you ask to me is also a question of budget but we will keep this in mind for the upcoming years.
Serhan Bali



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