The Young Euro Classic festival for youth orchestras in Berlin is the largest of its kind in the world. KfW is the event’s main sponsor. Gabriele Minz, co-founder and general director of Young Euro Classic, and CEO of KfW Group Günther Bräunig on the special aspects of youth orchestras, the importance of the European idea and the sing-along event of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt square on 4 August 2019.
About Ms Minz
Dr Gabriele Minz is the co-founder and general director of the Young Euro Classic festival which is being held this year for the 20th time. The economist with a doctorate in psychology has been the managing partner of Dr. Gabriele Minz GmbH Internationale Kulturprojekte since 1996.
Ms Minz, you are an economist and psychologist. Mr Bräunig, you are a lawyer. What is your relationship to music?
GABRIELE MINZ: I always had a great love for music, and dancing as well, but I had absolutely no talent for making music myself. My favourite kind of music is jazz, by the way.
GÜNTHER BRÄUNIG: In my family, we all had to learn to play an instrument. I started with the recorder, but I would have preferred to play the piano. Which is why I didn't play the recorder for long. But I was always very open to music, also to dancing. Today, I also especially love jazz.
Ms Minz, you have been organising the Young Euro Classic Festival since it started in 2000. How did that come about?
MINZ: At the time, I met a young woman who was really excited about youth orchestras. According to her, they are completely overlooked in the music scene and yet so immensely important. I thought this was really exciting. I then developed a concept for presenting youth orchestras here in Berlin in the millennium year 2000. Which is how the first Young Euro Classic came into being.
So the festival started out more as a private initiative?
MINZ: It was actually inspired by the young music scene, and it was taken up by several people. The chairman of the FreundeskreisEuropäischerJugendorchester (Friends of the European Youth Orchestra), which was founded at the time to organise the festival, is still the chair: the former director of Deutschlandradio, a national German public radio broadcaster, Willi Steul. That's who I discussed it with back then. The year 2000 was a good occasion – we played in the capital for four incredible weeks.
About Mr Bräunig
Dr Günther Bräunig has been the Chief Executive Officer of KfW Group, the main partner of the Young Euro Classic festival, since 2018. Born in 1955 in Wiesbaden, he studied law in Mainz and Dijon and received his doctorate in Mainz. After working for Commerzbank and Airbus, he joined KfW in 1989.
You mean the festival was bigger then than it is today?
MINZ: Yes, there had never been such a dense concentration of so many youth orchestras to see and hear in once place before. At the time, we thought that the festival would be held only once. And of course we wanted it to be a success. It was extremely well-received by the public. Which motivated us to continue.
KfW has been there as a sponsor from day one. Why did it decide to get involved?
BRÄUNIG: 20 years ago I was still head of the Board Secretariat, which means I was also responsible for communication, marketing and sponsoring. Our head of communications came up with the idea, I think he knew Willi Steul from other contexts. At the time, the idea of promoting this festival was a good match for our company. We were new to Berlin having just bought the old Berlin Staatsbank, or national bank, on Gendarmenmarkt square. We had just invested a lot of time and money in remodelling and renovating the branch, and KfW, as more of a Frankfurt institution, was also expecting to have greater visibility in Berlin.
Meaning that the young festival and KfW were in the right place at the same time?
BRÄUNIG: Yes, it was all about youth, about classical music, about Europe, the Berlin location, it all fit together wonderfully. Which is why KfW was enthusiastic about the idea of the Young Euro Classics very early on. Of course, we also took a risk. Normally as a sponsor you associate yourself with established names. But in this case, it was like letting a youth football team play in the enormous Allianz Arena: they don't really go together. Later, the success of the festival inspired us to keep going together.
MINZ: It has to be said that such a huge platform for youth orchestras was something completely new to the world at the time. A topic of discussion here in the cultural scene has been that institutions like the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt square, a dedicated partner and supporter right from the start, should not be degraded by letting young, not yet fully trained people play in them!
Young Euro Classic
The festival took place from 19 July to 6 August 2019 in the Konzerthaus Berlin. One of the highlights was the performance of the European Union Youth Orchestra with Beethoven's Ninth on 4 August.Learn more
These concerns were then evidently dispelled.
MINZ: The audience's reactions to the young people's enthusiasm and abilities were enormous. But the musicians also often played at a very, very high technical standard.
BRÄUNIG: These young artists and their enthusiasm for the opportunity to play for a large audience were a key motivator for us to take this risk and even to support the festival as a main sponsor from 2005. We often saw that the young musicians gave it their all during the performance and even continued to play afterwards, they just didn't want to stop playing. It was so different from professional concert pianists or orchestras who are just doing their job. This is one of the special features of the Young Euro Classic.
They confidently describe themselves as “the world's most important festival for young orchestral musicians” ...
MINZ: I would still say that, yes. However, we are seeing a growing interest in youth orchestras around the world, which are now also invited to renowned festivals. The Young Euro Classic has certainly contributed to youth orchestras becoming more acceptable.
The orchestras come from all over Europe, but also from surprising regions of the world. Can the festival also be seen as a kind of development aid for music?
MINZ: I'd hesitate to call it development aid. The orchestras that are invited to perform here can be expected to meet a relatively high standard. The Dominican Republic, which is participating for the first time this year, also has a relevant cultural life. The German ambassador there, who is familiar with our festival, called me and said that they had an incredibly good youth orchestra. We checked it out – and it's true. We also don't want an orchestra to embarrass itself. But of course you're right: in many countries in Latin America, Asia and also Europe, the chance to perform once in the hip city of Berlin and in the venerable Konzerthaus for an enthusiastic audience is already highly motivating if you put in the effort. We hear this again and again.
“The young musicians mature through their work with experienced conductors.”
First as an attentive listener to Beethoven's Ninth and at the end a sing-along as active participants: both in the concert hall and outside on the Gendarmenmarkt square, everyone present sang the “Ode to Joy” on 4 August. Inside under the direction of Maestro Vasily Petrenko, outside led by choir director Carsten Gerlitz. The European anthem was the crowning glory of the European Weekend with the European Union Youth Orchestra. The entire concert has been broadcasted at 8 pm live on Gendarmenmarkt square – a joint initiative of KfW Group and Young Euro Classic.
BRÄUNIG: For many young people, it is sometimes the first time that they go abroad as musicians. It costs a lot of money to transport an orchestra. That's why youth orchestras can't constantly travel the world like other big orchestras with prominent names. Of course they spend the whole year working towards this event – for them it's the highlight of the year. You can tell they're excited. In this respect, we are already giving the young people special support through the festival.
MINZ: In fact the musicians are motivated to develop further when they are home again. Many, many musicians who have performed here in the last 20 years have ended up in large orchestras. Among them are incredibly talented musicians who perform better than they ever thought possible in such a challenging context. Our artistic director, Professor Dieter Rexroth, has often said that the young musicians rise to the challenge in this concert and in the competition with the other orchestras.
Does it also help that you can repeatedly engage well-known conductors for the festival?
MINZ: Yes, absolutely. The young musicians mature through their work with experienced conductors and challenging programmes. This year we have Christoph Eschenbach as the conductor for an academy project of Germans and young Greeks. Since we chose Europe as the overarching theme this year, we also wanted to learn about the cradle of Europe, namely Greece, in our group. A new German-Greek orchestra will perform mid-festival.
BRÄUNIG: A kind of reconciliation.
MINZ: Yes, we sometimes say, building bridges with music, at least for a moment.
They call it “cultural diplomacy”. A Palestinian-Israeli orchestra, which is part of this year's programme, fits well with this theme.
BRÄUNIG: It's good to keep bringing things together that act as bridges. These themes can include music and sport, but also of course the economy. Traditionally, economic relations have often strengthened or paved the way for political ties. This is something that links KfW with the festival. The European idea was evident from the outset, but you have also taken it beyond the borders of Europe, Ms Minz.
MINZ: Correct, we had guests from outside Europe relatively early on. Israel even participated the first year because of the special friendship and connection to Israel.
Correct, we had guests from outside Europe relatively early on. Israel even participated the first year because of the special friendship and connection to Israel.
MINZ: Yes, they play a role. There is, for example, the orchestra from Great Britain, which very actively pursued its application this year, saying: “We want to play with you, in the European Choir.” We see again and again that the young people also identify very strongly with the European idea, which the festival is named after. Mr Bräunig, I am sure you remember the Portuguese evening two years ago. At the end of the concert, five young Portuguese went to the stage ramp, and everyone expressed why they liked being European from a very personal point of view. These five musicians then sang the “Ode to Joy” a cappella. It was deeply moving.
BRÄUNIG: We were very moved. The financial hardship of the orchestra was also so great that we collected a donation afterwards. During the 20 years of the festival we have experienced deeply emotional moments again and again. This evening was one of those moments. That is why the Young Euro Classic is always a very special event for us, too.
Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” is once again the focus of a very special concert this year. There will be a big sing-along event on the Gendarmenmarkt square. What is the significance of this song for you and for the festival?
BRÄUNIG: Many people perceive “Ode to Joy” as a European or even the European anthem. That is why it is not entirely without risk to put this piece directly in the spotlight. I once heard a Brexit supporter say: “The Europeans can get lost with their Beethoven and this Ode”. It has also become more and more difficult to commit to Europe; this doesn't necessarily resonate immediately. It seems much easier to be against it, and you find supporters right away. But sometimes you just have to take the risk and show support for Europe.
“The European idea was evident from the outset.”
MINZ: In this spirit, we will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on 4 August with the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Ernst Senff Choir at the Konzerthaus Berlin. We are inviting people to come to the Gendarmenmarkt square, to listen and then to sing the “Ode to Joy” together at the end of the concert.
BRÄUNIG: We are looking forward to a musical public viewing that has never existed before. All this reinforces my experience with Ms Minz, who has constantly developed new ideas over the 20 years of Young Euro Classic and has always taken risks. And the successes to date indicate that this experiment will also be well received.
Music is the art form that has the most direct access to our emotions. Do you think that music is a good way to convey the European idea and make us better Europeans?
BRÄUNIG: I wouldn't go so far as to say that it makes people better Europeans. If they have a positive experience and are inspired the evening of the concert, they might think about it again the next day and ask themselves: “How else will I benefit from Europe?” Then we would have accomplished a lot.
MINZ: A lot would be accomplished then, yes. There is already a kind of Young Euro Classic audience, which is also very open-minded. We notice this every evening.
But you also offer your audiences an extremely broad range of events that go beyond a music festival. This year you are doing projects with two schools or inviting scientists from the Max Planck Institute to talk about what music does to our brain before a concert. Will the festival continue to develop in this direction?
MINZ: This year is more of an exception. To mark the 20th Young Euro Classics, we are focusing on noteworthy milestones in the history of the festival. That is why, for example, there is a literary section devoted to writing about Europe. As early as 2005, we asked authors to write something in response to the question: “How do you imagine Europe in 2025?” Some of them have become quite well-known today, such as Michal Hvorecký, Tanja Malyarchuk, who won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize last year, or Saša Stanišić.
Will the liaison between KfW and the festival continue in its 21st year?
MINZ: It wouldn't end because of us. I think this liaison is very productive. We are working to ensure that it continues. This platform for young musicians is now so well known internationally that something would be missing.
BRÄUNIG: We have worked together very successfully for the past 20 years – and want to continue to do so in the future.
Published on KfW Stories: 18 June 2019.