International Bach Academy
“Preserve the proven, shape the new”

Helmuth Rilling
Helmuth Rilling | Photo (detail): IBA / Michael Latz

Generation change is underway: for more than thirty years, church music specialist Helmuth Rilling shaped the international Bach Academy; now he is succeeded by Hans-Christoph Rademann, who has made a name for himself as, among other things, founder and director of the Dresden Chamber Choir. A transition with prospects.

When the conductor Helmuth Rilling was awarded the 2001 Hanns Martin Schleyer Prize, the laudation was delivered by the businessman Berthold Leibinger. Leibinger, an influential patron of the arts with excellent connections to political circles, is one of the most important sponsors of the International Bach Academy (IBA), and its chairman. Leibinger lauded the conductor, who was a long-time personal friend of his, as a “bridge builder”, a “Karajan of Baroque music”. Piquant is that, as with Karajan, who in the end fell out with his Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, at the turn of 2011/12 there were also sharp differences at the IBA.

Leibinger, a far-sighted businessman, wanted to arrange for Rilling’s successor in good time. It was agreed to hand down the baton on the eightieth birthday of the conductor in May 2013. Then everything turned out different. Rilling disapproved of the decision not to extend the contract of Christian Lorenz, the intendant who had worked alongside him, beyond February 2013, and the founder of the Bach Academy resigned, after 31 years as its artistic director, on February 9, 2012 “with immediate effect. Stuttgart was shocked. In the meantime tempers have calmed, and though Rilling and Leibinger have not (yet) returned to their old friendship, no one, as with Karajan, wants to let the matter end without reconciliation.

2013 Stuttgart Music Festival

Thus the two sat in the same room in early November 2012 when Rilling’s successor Rademann and the new intendant Gernot Rehrl, lately intendant of the Radio Orchestra and Choirs Ltd. Berlin, presented in outline their first Stuttgart Music Festival, a festival produced annually by the International Bach Academy. The interest in the room was immense, for the Bach Academy is one of the constants of the city’s musical life. The entire state of Baden-Württemberg is aware of the international attraction of the institution and of its founder Rilling. Everything is aimed at the future: that was the most important message at the headquarters of the IBA, a Gründerzeit house in the style of a Italian Renaissance palazzo in Johann Sebastian Bach Square in the west of Stuttgart. And, though it looked for a time to be uncertain, there will be a formal transfer of leadership between Rilling and Rademann.

The changeover will take place at a gala concert on 24 August 2013 at the beginning of the Music Festival, which will last until 8 September; Federal President Joachim Gauck has announced his attendance. Rilling will conduct the cantata Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life; Rademann the cantata O Eternal Fire, O Origin of Love. Thus the concert will symbolise reflection and renewal in Bach. The importance of the founder of the Academy will remain central, promised Rademann, in accordance with the motto: “Preserve the proven and shape the new”.

History of the Bach Academy

It all began in 1981 – and then again not exactly. In that year Helmuth Rilling founded the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, but this was the inevitable step on a long journey. As a young choir director, Rilling had formed a choir of enthusiastic singers in 1954 in Gächingen, about twenty kilometres east of the city of Reutlingen. The first concerts were a success. Since many of the participants came from Stuttgart, the group moved their rehearsals to the state capital, though they retained the name of the Gächinger Kantorei. Rilling, now a choirmaster, church music director and professor, was discovering more and more of the vast country called “Bach”. For children of Swabian religious culture, this music includes theology, research, scholarship – and the transmission of all this knowledge. That was the birth of the Bach Academy, and the interplay of these three fields was laid down in its statutes.

Today the triad has shifted somewhat, for the Academy sees itself primarily as an organiser. This includes six Academy concerts in the Beethoven Room (especially oratorios), master classes during the Bach Festival, seminars, lecture-concerts and the Stuttgart Musical Festival, a comprehensive classical music festival in late summer. Further, the IBA is the umbrella organisation for several ensembles: the Gächinger Kantorei (although an international trademark, it is still a project choir, albeit with a number of singers who have been members for decades); the Stuttgart Bach Collegium; and two junior choirs. Research and teaching today mainly take the form of music education for lay people and experts – for example, general studies and various seminars.

Reputation gained through tours

All this is financed by the IBA, which has a staff of twenty people, with roughly one-third of the funds coming from its own revenues, another third from subsidies from the city of Stuttgart, and the final third form the state of Baden-Württemberg and from sponsors and donors, the last forming a group of 1,500 members, an important engine of the IBA. The Bach Academy’s reputation rests not least on its tours and activities abroad. Even before the founding of the IBA, Rilling and the Gächinger Kantorei made guest appearances in America, Japan and Israel. After 1981 they gave concerts and Bach academies in East Germany and Eastern Europe, all of which had a political dimension and brought Rilling and the institution the highest social recognition.

The prospect of tying in to this tradition is so enticing to Rilling’s successor Hans-Christoph Rademann that he will move from Baroque Saxony to pietistic Swabia. And in point of fact Rademann’s career began exactly as did Rilling’s: with the founding of a choir. Since 1985 Rademann, who was born in 1965 in Dresden, has formed “his” Dresden Chamber Choir into top ensemble whose repertoire ranges from Renaissance music to works of the twenty-first century. Nor was Rademann untrue to his roots when he took over the choir of the NDR from 1999 to 2004 and became the chief conductor of the RIS Chamber Choir in 2007. Biographically, therefore, everything fits about Rilling’s successor, for last but not least Rademann’s was also a member of the Dresden Kreuzchor. One can hardly grow up in closer association with the intellectual and spiritual world of Johann Sebastian Bach than that.