5 Questions for... Thorsten Schmidt

28 March 2018

2018 marks the beginning of an exciting long-term collaboration between the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the prestigious music festival Heidelberger Frühling. The orchestra and festival share than just the same founding year; a similar philosophy and mindset is reflected in their work as well.

In this year’s edition, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra has the honour of appearing twice in Heidelberg: at the festival’s opening concert – with conductor François-Xavier Roth and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras – and also at the festival’s closing concert, with MCO Artistic Advisor Daniele Gatti.

To launch this new collaboration, MCO Managing Director Michael Adick spoke with Thorsten Schmidt, Director & Manager of Heidelberger Frühling, shortly before this year’s festival opening concert about the directions this partnership will take, what it means to be turning 21 in the 21st century, and the positive challenges of working on both an international and local scale.
Thorsten Schmidt

In 2018, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Heidelberger Frühling embark on a long-term partnership. What are some of your goals for this partnership, and what do you hope to achieve?

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra stands for precisely the curiosity and innovative excellence that we also strive for. Through our partnership, we hope to highlight the ways in which our identities complement each other, and how – in doing so – it brings out our common strengths.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra performing at the 2018 Heidelberger Frühling opening concert under François-Xavier Roth

Heidelberger Frühling is known for its wide palette of programmes and series that deal with different creative processes. What would you like to explore (and create) with the MCO, through concerts and beyond?

Due to renovations at the Stadthalle, Heidelberger Frühling will have to get by without its main venue in 2020 and 2021. These circumstances present a creative challenge for us: in these two years, we will have the opportunity to discover the city in new ways through our concerts. Together with the MCO, we look forward to pursuing questions relevant to today’s world, test out urban situations and experiment with new concert venues – with and without a roof!

Heidelberg's Kongresshaus Stadthalle

Like the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Heidelberger Frühling turns 21 years old this year. The MCO, in celebrating its 21st birthday, strives to be the orchestra of the 21st century. In which ways does the festival strive to be a festival of the 21st century? What does it take?

That’s a big question! The world changes constantly and sometimes surprisingly quickly – one can only think of the refugee crisis, which up until a few years ago hadn’t played such an influential role on the world stage as it does today. To sense these changes and to react to them artistically: this is the ever-relevant challenge of a festival in the 21st century. Because festivals are, even in the 21st century, places of communication and understanding within a community; places for celebrations and artistic experiences, but also for reflection and pause.

Heidelberger Frühling and the MCO share many similarities: a commitment to excellence and innovation, active listening, openness, going beyond boundaries. What do you think have been the most important tools for the festival to make these dreams a reality?

Heidelberger Frühling was, from the beginning, a local initiative and it has remained so up to this day. For me, this is the most important part of the equation: the loyalty and support of our audiences make it possible to for us to transcend borders and to try new things. Our audiences come because they know that the festival – with its commitment to quality – will not disappoint. And it is also of course due to artists who return again and again to the festival, especially because they are given many artistic freedoms. Igor Levit, Thomas Hampson, Jörg Widmann: these are only a few names. We are happy that the MCO will become part of this community of curious people who are open to experimentation.

One thing that sets Heidelberger Frühling and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as an international nomadic collective and as part of the global community apart is the definition of “home”. The festival, while engaging artists and audiences from around the world, is also intricately tied to the city of Heidelberg. What role does “home” play for the festival? How does the festival engage in a dialogue with its community?

Heidelberg is the perfect festival city. Many people are already familiar with Heidelberg’s role in literature and music history; it’s also a picturesque city that brings together intellectual urbanity and the geographical intimacy that many outstanding festival cities (Salzburg and Edinburgh come to mind) share. Because of all of these reasons, Heidelberger Frühling is glad to be so closely associated to Heidelberg. We can see that audiences in Heidelberg are proud of their festival and the fact that it attracts so many outstanding artists to their city. In this way, the festival strengthens the feelings of each visitor that Heidelberg is home. We are also curious about the different options (particularly in terms of concert locations) that the city has to offer. In exploring these possibilities, we hope to move our audiences to constantly rediscover their hometown.
Heidelberg's magnificient views

If we are allowed a sixth question... how would you describe the MCO in five words?

Excellence, mobility, internationalism, eagerness to experiment, passion.

Photos: Geoffroy Schied / Nikolaj Lund / Heidelberger Frühling-studio visuell