Festivals and Concert Series Not only for lovers and professionals: concert series and festivals

Along with LP and CD recordings, radio played a decisive role in the popularization of early music in the past decades. Today, there is a plethora of early music festivals and many concert series in Germany.

Nowadays, not only is the number of the German early music events huge, but also their broadness in stylistic terms. There are festivals with historical instruments and others with modern ones. Some festivals have themes, others do not. New players and singers have taken over the reins at many an event. Some conventional classical music festivals now decorate their programmes with experts of historically informed performance practice. Although this sometimes only scratches the surface, there are now classical music festivals which are hardly conceivable without early music.

This certainly applies to the music festival Potsdam Sanssouci, which has built bridges since 1991. Here, local music history reaches out to other venues. Other classical music festivals, where historical performance practice plays a representative role, are the Brühler Palace concerts (including the Haydn Festival in the Augustusburg Palace), the Schwetzingen Festival, and the Festival Rheinvokal.

Handel and Bach on pedestals

The German festivals with the longest performance traditions of early music in historical fashion are dedicated to the two most famous German Baroque composers Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. In particular, the Handel Festival Göttingen, whose origins date back to the 1920s and which can call itself the world's oldest festival of early music, as well as the Bachwoche Ansbach – founded shortly after World War II – invited early music specialists from the 1970s onwards.

After the end of the GDR, the Handel Festival in Halle (which had been in existence since 1952) and the annual Bach Festival Leipzig, founded in 1999, paid homage to the famous St Thomas Church Cantor. In Germany today almost a dozen events are dedicated to the music of Handel and Bach. Proceedings start each spring at the Thuringian Bach Weeks and extend to the autumn with smaller events in Weimar and Köthen.

The variety of Central Germany

What is remarkable is the concentration of these festivals in Central Germany, an impression reinforced when one looks at other offerings in the region: the three-part Schütz Music Festival at the memorial sites of bad Köstritz, Dresden and Weißenfels, the Magdeburg Telemann Festival, the Zerbst Fasch Festival and the Gülden Autumn Festival are the most important. Here, the rich history of these cities is reflected as well as the ability to organize (with relatively small financial resources) a series of events that attract interest outside the region. The early music of the Middle Ages up until 19th century repertoire also gives minor communities the chance to offer high quality concerts as well as broad musical events to their citizens. While almost all festivals which were launched in the 1980s in cities such as Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Heidelberg engender great ambitions and have long since vanished, early music in more bucolic locations continues to bloom. Imaginative and dedicated organizers succeeded with the Franconian Summer or the Uckermark Music Weeks in making whole tracts of land become a kind of festival map. The Erzgebirge Mountains Music Festival and the Early Music Days in Saarland strive after these aims, located as they are at opposite ends of Federal Germany.

Specialist Festivals and their attractions

Baroque music dominates most early music festivals and programming. However, lovers of even older sounds can attend two specialist festivals. For the fans of medieval music, the Festival Montalbâne in Freyburg an der Unstrut has, since 1991, exerted undeniable attraction. Similar aims are found at the Wittenberg Renaissance Music Festival. Specialised in a different kind of way, the Stockstädter Festival, which revolves around Ascension Day, has become a Mecca for recorder fans. A festival with international reputation is the Early Music Festival Regensburg, held at Pentecost, which offers countless German and European ensembles a chance to make their debuts. Also, the Early Music Festival Herne, held in November, is very important. It always has some kind of motto and complements its concerts with an exhibition of instruments and a symposium. More models of the German early music scene are the Festival Knechtsteden and the Zeitfenster-Biennale Berlin, which again and again convince audiences with their ideas and programming.

Concerts held throughout the year

Festivals are the focal points of German early music activities, but there are also various concert series offering events distributed throughout the year. Some of these are organized by ensembles that have since become quite distinguished, such as famous Baroque orchestras like the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, the Freiburger Barockorchester, and Concerto Köln, the latter organising concerts in its hometown and elsewhere. Other events offer the chance to hear local specialists on historical instruments, in particular the Forum Alte Musik Köln. There are however also thematically oriented series such as the one of the Heinrich Schütz Association in Dresden, where major historic buildings are the venues, or Le Nuove Musiche in the castle of Schleissheim near Munich, or the concerts in the parish of St. Aurelius in the former monastery of Hirsau, in the Black Forest.

Many German concert series are connected to instrument collections, such as Early Music Live held at the State Institute for Music Research Berlin, the Schlosskonzerte Bad Krozingen and Musica Antiqua in the Germanic National Museum of Nuremberg, held since 1956. Here Franconia Studio of the Bavarian Radio plays host. Series other than those of the stations of Germany's ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft öffentlich-rechtlicher Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Association of Public Service Broadcasters of the Federal Republic of Germany), specifically the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), have early music offerings. And WDR 3 offers music in North-Rhine Westfalia, with evening concerts of early music.