It is almost two years ago that I have been asked to become the new artistic director of the distinguished music festival „Settimane Musicali di Ascona“. I gladly accepted, not only because it is my home town, but also because I liked the idea of getting to know the other side of the music business, actually without knowing exactly what lay ahead. Moreover I felt tempted by the opportunity to promote artists of great integrity: Due to the complete independence of the “Settimane” it was possible to design a program that is wholly untouched of well-known illustrious promotion schemes, and guarantees only the highest artistic quality.

A leap into the present – Three days ago the first festival’s edition under my responsibility was opened with an excellent concert: The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelson gave us a brilliant performance of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, after accompanying Latvian Soprano Kristine Opolais who sang Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder. Her wonderful interpretation revealed these famous pieces in a different light. She is capable of great dramatic expression and instinctiveness at the same time, and the composition benefits from her effortlessly powerful high register.

It is no coincidence that songs were performed at the opening concert: The focus of this year’s Festival is on the German Lied. This can be understood as an Hommage to legendary German Soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who gave Lied Recitals at the “Settimane Musicali” several times, and even resided in Ascona for many years. The program aims to honor her memory. Therefore I’m particularly glad that I managed to engage two of Schwarzkopf’s own students: Christiane Oelze with Strauss’ „Four last Songs“, together with Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under David Afkham, and Matthias Goerne with Mahler’s „Rückert Lieder“ under Daniele Gatti conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Also the final concert of the whole season in October is going to be devoted to the fine art of Lieder singing: Together with Juliane Banse I will give a Recital with songs of Mendelssohn, Schubert, Liszt and Britten.

Of course there are many other concerts worth listening to: Guests will be amongst others Andras Schiff, the Emerson String Quartett, Alfred Brendel, Renaud Capucon, Christian Zacharias, Jonathan Biss, Truls Mork, Daniel Müller-Schott, Fabio Biondi and the Hilliard Ensemble. The full program can be found here:

Finally, for all lovers of distinguished singing here is a wonderful recording of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Gerald Moore – at the Settimane Musicali in 1967! We can see here that the emergence of great music does not necessarily depend on the circumstances: At that time the concerts were held in a non-conditioned municipal gymnasium…