The Polish theatre manager and festival director Krystyna Meissner, the American director and visual artist Robert Wilson and the late Belgian opera director Gerard Mortier were awarded the Goethe Medal. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of the Goethe-Institut, conferred the official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany at the Residential Palace in Weimar on 28 August. The conferment in 2014 was the sixtieth occasion on which the Goethe-Institut honoured figures who have performed outstanding service for international cultural relations.
The conferment was held on 28 August – Goethe’s birthday – at the Residential Palace in Weimar and attended by Claudia Roth, Vice President of the German Bundestag, Christoph Matschie, the Thuringian Minister of Education, Science and Culture and Stefan Wolf, the mayor of the city of Weimar.
Acceptance Speech by Krystyna Meissner
Krystyna Meissner received the Goethe Medal for her role as a special mediator between the theatre scenes of Europe. Meissner was born in 1933 in Poland, where she is nicknamed the “Iron Lady of Polish Theatre.” She looks back on a long career during which she managed ensembles and festivals and worked as a director in opera, theatre and television. As initiator and director of the international theatre festivals Kontakt and Dialog Wrocław, Meissner created hubs for theatre professionals and productions from all over Europe. Many German directors and choreographers, including Thomas Ostermeier, Christoph Marthaler, Sasha Waltz, Jossi Wieler, Stefan Pucher and Peter Stein, owe Meissner their debut performances in Poland. The Goethe-Institut also looks back on many years of cooperation with the director, which began during Meissner’s time as manager of the Kontakt festival. To this day, Meissner is active as a director and is also involved in various projects in the German-Polish theatre. In her laudatory speech, the dramaturge and journalist Renate Klett summed up Meissner’s significance for the theatres of Europe by saying, “the foreign audience marvels at Polish theatre, the Polish audience marvels at the international and all together marvel at Krystyna Meissner for her courage and her skill.”
Gerard Mortier was awarded the Goethe Medal posthumously. The Goethe-Institut honoured the opera director, who passed away in March, as a singular European cultural protagonist and daring innovator in music theatre. Lehmann highlighted that he always influenced the German opera and cultural scene in central positions. Born in Ghent in 1943, Mortier, who studied law and communications, held positions including those of manager and artistic director of the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhrtriennale. He always aimed to enthuse a young audience in particular for opera. The decision to honour Gerard Mortier with the Goethe Medal was made before his passing; he received the news gladly. Sylvain Cambreling, his long-time companion, accepted the award on his behalf. Cambreling is presently the music director of the Stuttgart Opera and Principal Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra Tokyo. In her laudatory speech for Gerard Mortier, Nike Wagner, director of the Bonn Beethovenfest, characterized his work as visionary, and the man as a world citizen. “The fearlessness with which Mortier acted merely from the impetus of the man of arts, of the artist director, was as impressive as it was spectacular,” said Wagner.
“We recognize Robert Wilson as an internationally respected figure whose work offered us new interpretations of German culture,” said the Goethe Medal Conferment Commission in their nomination of the American director. Robert Wilson was born in Waco, Texas in 1941, studied business economics, architecture and stage design and, since the 1960s, has made a mark on the world’s stages with his extraordinary productions, which are always a combination of dance, movement, light, sculpture, music and words.
Robert Wilson also began working in Germany early in his career; many of this works premiered here and gave important stimuli to German theatre. Wilson re-discovered many plays by German writers such as Heiner Müller and Tankred Dorst in his own manner and rendered plays and material by Büchner, Brecht and Strauss for the international, contemporary theatre. This made Robert Wilson a protagonist of German-American cultural dialogue in recent decades. Today, Wilson lives in New York, where he is the artistic director of the Watermill Center, which he also founded. In his laudatory speech for Robert Wilson, Thomas Oberender, artistic director of the Berliner Festspiele, drew parallels between Wilson and Goethe: “Both made impacts beyond their own cultural groups and made their boundaries more permeable, both were agents of dialogue, interpreters in one way or another.” Wilson’s world of aesthetic autonomy corresponds to Goethe’s “world literature” in the way we see the foreign.
In cooperation with Kunstfest Weimar, the Goethe-Institut organized a conversation with Krystyna Meissner, Robert Wilson and Sylvain Cambreling on the day of the award conferment. The discussion about the allure of German theatre was moderated by Christina von Braun, cultural scientist and vice president of the Goethe-Institut.
The Goethe Medal was established by the executive committee of the Goethe-Institut in 1954 and acknowledged as an official decoration by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1975. From 1992 until 2008, the award ceremony was held annually on the anniversary of the death of Goethe in Weimar. Since 2009, it has taken place on 28 August, Goethe’s birthday.
Since it was first awarded in 1955, a total of 335 figures from 62 countries have been honoured. The awardees have included Adonis, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell AKA John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Agnés Heller, György Ligeti, Ariane Mnouchkine, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Billy Wilder and Helen Wolff.
The award ceremony is organized in close partnership with the Foundation of Weimar Classics and the City of Weimar. The discussion with the awardees is held in cooperation with Kunstfest Weimar.
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