A portrait of the director of the Schumann Festival at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf.

Romanticize yourself! - Maja Plüddemann & the Schumannfest at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf

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"I am a person who definitely needs the international. I love belonging to different cultures. You can draw so much from them."

Robert Schumann is not only the namesake of the annual Schumann Festival at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf. His romantic music and that of his contemporaries is at the heart of the festival and also provides inspiration where you wouldn't expect it. As a result, the current title "Romanticize yourself!" is more than appropriate. Symphony concerts, romantic song recitals and chamber music are flanked by music projects that combine jazz and tango, African singing or hip-hop with Schumann and his legacy. And with the Skyline Concerts on the top floors of three Düsseldorf skyscrapers, a format that was successfully tested last year is entering its second round. Maja Plüddemann, assistant to Tonhalle director Michael Becker and a double bass player, has been running the Schumannfest since last year. We met and interviewed her.

"Romanticize yourself!" is the motto of the Schumann Festival at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf. What opportunities does this year's festival programme offer to respond to this call?
"Romanticize yourself!" is an invitation to everyone to trace the romantic spirit that Robert and Clara Schumann embodied in this city and continue to embody today. The focus is on romantic music. But the festival offers a wide range of musical content. Robert Schumann was an incredibly interested and innovative person, he was very open to new ideas, other genres and cultures. I always like to ask myself the question: 'What would Robert Schumann, if he were alive today, say about the orchestras, ensembles and especially the more unusual formats of the Schumann Festival? But the romantic feeling, the special decorations, the early summer ambience are also important to us. Visitors should immediately feel that it's the Schumann Festival and that we allow ourselves to go into the emotions.

You have German roots, but were born and raised in South Africa, where you also began your music studies. You moved to the Mozarteum in Salzburg for your master's degree and were later a member of various Portuguese orchestras. Is your "cosmopolitanism" reflected in your work as director of the Schumann Festival?
I am a person who definitely needs the international. I love belonging to different cultures and have not only lived in Lisbon for a long time, but have also traveled a lot in South America. Part of my family comes from the Baltic States. I think you can draw so much from different cultures.

Anyone looking at the program may be surprised to discover a tango evening and dance event entitled "The Edge of Tango". The Sonico Tango Octet from Brussels will be playing Astor Piazzolla and Eduardo Rovira, among others. Followed by a milonga in the rotunda! Tango and Schumann, how does that go together?
In fact, the Sonico Tango Octet will be performing a work by Robert Schumann! I always find it fascinating how well Schumann can be transferred to other genres, as the evening with singer Lia Pale and her wonderful jazz quintet shows. With tango, it is simply the case that the spirit of Schumann can be strongly reflected. Robert Schumann stands for absolute honesty and great personal openness. He dispenses with any filter between himself and the audience, he is himself and does not cultivate an image. Schumann truly revealed his deepest feelings.

Openness and unfiltered experience are always the focus at the Tonhalle. For example, when the South African cellist Abel Selaocoe and the Manchester Collective are guests with their joint program "Sirocco". It is a fast-paced trip from Stravinsky and Haydn to African singing and body percussion, with a detour to Danish folk song.
Abel Selaocoe connects cultures like no other. He was born and raised in South Africa and brings his musical tradition with him. At the same time, he is a first-class, classically trained cellist. Then there is his voice, his throat singing. It's like a force of nature, you have to experience it. The artist and the Manchester Collective, which consists of strings, electric guitar and various percussion instruments, are an incredibly interesting and dynamic ensemble. We think they need to be heard in this city, and we have deliberately taken the liberty of inviting them to the Schumannfest.

Romanticism also means an appreciation of nature. Stegreif - The Improvising Symphony Orchestra is a guest with the "Symphony of change". It is about perspectives on sustainability, a topic that the Tonhalle is also addressing this season as part of the zodiac concerts with "Green Monday".
This season, we have placed a very strong focus on sustainability - specifically on what measures we can use to become more sustainable in our operations. The "Symphony of change" was a perfect fit! The central question is: what do we need to change so that our planet can continue to thrive? Stegreif aus Berlin is an ensemble that deals intensively with social issues. At the same time, we simply have 30 incredibly great musicians on stage - 30 soloists who play for 90 minutes completely without a conductor and without sheet music, and also without chairs, because they move around the room. In addition to works by Clara Schumann, the program also features pieces by Hildegard von Bingen and Wilhelmine von Bayreuth, for example, which were recomposed by female members of this orchestra: At first, the respective piece of music sounds in its original form, but then changes and transforms into something contemporary. We hear jazz, we hear modern music, Latin beats, different styles, because this ensemble is also multinational and everyone brings their traditions to the table.

In the "Schumann Re:sampled" project, the compositions of Clara and Robert Schumann are combined with hip-hop.
We asked a group of hip-hop artists to explore both the music and the life themes of Robert and Clara Schumann. They were on fire. I'm very excited about this concert.

What significance do Clara and Robert Schumann have for the city of Düsseldorf?
Clara and Robert Schumann came to this city as a couple of artists and had an incredibly dynamic impact on musical and cultural life. They were extremely well connected, their home was a meeting place for musicians, poets, writers and artists from the school of painting. There was a great exchange of ideas, including on political and social issues, which went far beyond music. Our Skyline concerts are a tribute to this salon culture. As with last year's premiere, there will once again be three chamber music evenings above the rooftops of Düsseldorf - a very special concert experience and an opportunity for the audience and artists to get into conversation with each other.

Further information

The Schumannfest 2024 has begun. Until June 23, the Tonhalle Düsseldorf and five other venues - including Palais Wittgenstein and Maxkirche - will present concerts that "celebrate the freedom of music" and "build a joyful bridge from the Romantic era to the present day", according to the announcement. The entire festival program includes around 20 concerts.
Further information at tonhalle.de.

Interview: Eva Westhoff
Photos: Press photos Tonhalle & Visit Düsseldorf

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