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02/05/2008

From the Feuilletons

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

The new Bayreuth

88-year-old Wolfgang Wagner, director of the Richard Wagner Festspiele in Bayreuth since 1951, announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down and handing over the reins jointly to his daughters Katharina Wagner (29) and Eva Wagner-Pasquier (63). He has been running the festival single-handedly since the death of his brother Wieland in 1966 and the issue of his successor has been hotly disputed. Initially he planned to hand over artistic control to his wife, then to his daughter Katharina and he recently he managed to put Nike Wagner (63), his brother's daughter, firmly out of the running.

For Julia Spinola in the FAZ, "the sense of relief that inevitably sets in at this long-awaited moment in the Wagner world, cannot mask the fact that the resignation of Richard Wagner's grandson is nothing more than a chess move in a deeply corrupt game. It was opened by the Secretary of State for Culture, Bernd Neumann, and Bavarian Culture Minister, Thomas Goppel, who promised old Wolfgang that his wishes would be fulfilled: the decision for this double leadership guarantees that only Wolfgang Wagner's blood will flow into the future. The family branch of Wolfgang's brother Wieland, the protagonist of the 'new Bayreuth' aesthetic liberation process which followed the undesirable involvement of the Festspiele with the Nazi elite, has been completely knocked out of the game."

Reinhard J. Brembeck of the SZ is delighted by the decision and looks beyond Nike Wagner as the representative of "outdated" directorial concepts, optimistically into the future. "This solution is not only acceptable to the various fractions on the founding board (Federal Government, Bavaria, Bayreuth, Friends of the Festspiele, the Wagner family) but it is also artistically convincing. ... Only at first glance does it seem dynastically and politically motivated. The decision, which brings together an opera expert (Eva) and an impassioned theatre director (Katharina), marks a new orientation in the opera business which can be felt all over Germany."

Christine Lemke-Matwey of the Tagesspiegel is less sentimental. "Business stays in the family for the time being. But the two girls will have to do quite some work on their images. Eva, the cultural manager, has always worked away in the background and attracted little attention, and Katharina, the young director may be mouthy, quick-witted and incredibly deep voiced, but that’s about all so far. Let's not forget the third party in the group, the conductor Christian Thielemann who has always held the stirrups for little Kathi, and without whom she would never have got where she is today..."


Other stories this week

Die Welt, 02.05.2008

Pianist Alfred Brendel is on his farewell tour. Manuel Brug asks why he is so loved by his audiences. "Brendel is neither good looking or sexy, but he is clever and whimsical. Brendel has never been a rock-solid technician let alone a steaming virtuoso. His choice of repertoire is sparse and has shrunk still further in recent years. He is sturdy – aside from the coughing in the concert hall – rarely ill and free of airs and graces. This pianist is so far away from every fashion and unpretentious to the point of pretentiousness that, had marketing and PR campaigns held the same sway decades ago as they do now, one might think this was his schtick or his branding. "


Die Welt, 26.04.2008

At the "National Culture Revisited" symposium organised by the Goethe Institute to question the role of national cultural work in an increasingly globalised society, journalist Mely Kiyak gave a speech in which she criticised the invisibility of immigrants in contemporary German culture. "The painters of the New Leipzig School paint cities and people how they see them. strange I think to myself, they didn't see us in the museum. I watch modern adaptations of the classics in the theatre and look closely to see if I can spot a Turkish fruit and veg shop somewhere in the stage design, but no. I read theatre magazines which call for a new realism in the theatre, I read book reviews that say the majority of new novels are not doing enough, that young authors are only describing their own little world. I can only agree."


From the blogs, 26.04.2008

In irights.com Robert A. Gerhring comments on the open letter from the German Music Association which was signed by the bulk of Germany's well-meaning artists (sic) and which appeared in full-page ads in three major papers (more here). The artists are demanding tight surveillance of internet use and blocked access for illegal downloaders. "At the beginning of April the European parliament overruled the implementation of these very measures. A narrow parliamentary majority backed a proposal which called upon member states to abandon the idea of blocking internet access. But there is no mention of this in the open letter to the German Chancellor."


Berliner Kurier, 26.04.2008

A few weeks ago the dead body of Russian artist Anna Mikalchuk was found in the Spree. The police assumed it was a suicide. Mikalchuk moved to Berlin last year, together with her husband the philosopher Michael Ryklin – almost certainly to escape Putinism. Ryklin had described in a book how an exhibition organised by Mikalchuk in Moscow was shut down by the Church with the brutal support of Putin's henchmen (more here). Research carried out by the tabloid paper Berliner Kurier has thrown the suicide theory into doubt. It is strongly critical of the police, which waited several days before carrying out an autopsy on Milkalchuk's body. "The corpse was delivered to the forensic medical department but was only examined after a number of other cases had been attended to. A devastating decision. As the Kurier discovered, the body had been weighed down with stones – but even this did not alert the police. They obviously assumed that the dissident had weighted herself with stones before jumping into the Spree."

The Berlin police force has been accused of not sufficiently following through sufficiently on their investigations. "'Our investigations have revealed nothing to suggest criminal activity,' police spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski said one day later. But the case is still open," according to the Berliner Zeitung on 28.04.2008


Frankfurter Rundschau, 29.04.2008

Sociologist Peter Wagner draws a grim conclusion from the Italian elections. In his view, the Italians voted for a corrupt government because they are corrupt themselves. After all the Prodi government had made considerable headway in the battle against tax fraud and bureaucracy. "But the government failed to see how many of its citizens had benefited from the chaos in the country and as such, that its success in combating corruption would not be convert into votes. ... Tax fraudsters, book fiddlers, profiteers from lack of transparency in the legal system and xenophobes had vested interestes in seeing the government fall. But many of them lacked the courage to admit this publicly before the elections and only dared confess their sins in the safety of the polling booth."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.04.2008

Christian Jostman was at the Balkan Fever Festival in Vienna and puts paid to a few prejudices: "The authentic-ethnicity label that has always been stuck on the music of South East Europe is a personal bugbear of Richard Shuberth, the festival's initiator. 'The Balkans are sophisticated,' he says. And he is borne out by Karandila and the other bands featured, from Roma music stars like Taraf de Haidouks (listen) to the Armenian oud player Haig Yazdjian (listen). There is an entire musical sub-continent to discover here, where Thrace borders on Louisiana, in hearing distance of Arabia and Cuba. And in the middle lies Vienna."

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