This year marks my fifth as Artistic Director of Festival Maribor, and our dialogue with European culture continues, quite auspiciously, during Maribor’s ascension as the 2012 European Capital of Culture. This is also a special year for the Australian Chamber Orchestra in that they are in residence for all eleven days of the festival.

We welcome the eminent American soprano and perennial ACO collaborator Dawn Upshaw as a partner in our opening program, sharing with us her talent in a wide range of styles, from a famously haunting song by a film composer, to the serene evening setting represented in Schumann’s Mondnacht. We end with the transfigurative power of love in Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

In Aspirational Nationalism we explore the psychological underpinnings of nationalism in music, with all irony intended. To reference the polemic Richard Taruskin, who holds the stance that the urging for any composer to “reflect their immediate geographic and temporal background (that is, to stay put in their place) is not only patronizing or authoritarian, it betrays an altogether anachronistic idea of what anybody’s immediate background is in an age when all the world’s music is instantly available, electronically, to one and all.” We’ll hear the Moravian Janáček, the Bohemian Dvořák, who, ironically, urged Americans to establish their own style, through to the very Australian Sculthorpe’s whimsical interplay between British colonialism and Australian nature. We end with the Hungarian Bartók, and his unabashed, dance-inspired Divertimento.

Following on Nothing from last year’s festival, the only way forward was a little bit of Everything. Our dear friend and collaborator Jon Frank recently brought forward this excerpt from a timely review by Kathryn Schulz of Jim Holt’s Why Does The World Exist:

We entertain the possibility, favored by some physicists, that “nothingness is unstable,” which means something was bound to happen. And we entertain the possibility that everything was bound to happen.

The uproariously talented entertainer Gerry Connolly has agreed to serve as master of ceremonies for Everything, and there are rumours afloat that Her Majesty The Queen will make an appearance. After Everything, we will be treated to an Exquisite evening curated by Satu Vänskä. There exists dialogue around the breaking down of musical barriers, and in many musical worlds, these barriers simply do not exist. This concert reflects this.

We are honoured to present to you the world premiere performance of Brett Dean’s Electric Preludes, commissioned by (longterm Festival Maribor supporter and close friend of ACO) Jan Minchin with Festival Maribor in mind. Brett’s new work is a response to visual stimuli, exploring the intersection between the virtuosity of acoustic instruments and the sound worlds that are only possible with electronics.

In our program of Joint Forces, Festival Maribor Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra musicians come together to revel in the sheer enjoyment of performance. From unbridled joy in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet to the natural invention of Mozart, a multifaceted perspective of music-making will be on display.

You’ve probably never heard a violin ensemble…and that’s because violinists are an island of egos unto themselves. If it’s a congregation of crocodiles and a murder of crows, then it’s a convivial comradeship of cellists you’ll witness and hear in CelloRocks.

This year’s festival also marks the European premiere of ACO’s multimedia project The Reef. Philosophically, our departure point for this work is an assumption that Art is a portal to notions existing beyond the material. This project attempts, amongst other things, to bring a sense of existential awe and wonder to the hard-boiled, while trying to boil away perceptions that “classical music” (whatever that may mean in 2012) is only for those boiled soft. I invite you into our dreams, as this music sings to the elements of the natural environment and forms a sonic dialogue with the mysterious and wondrous dance art that is surfing.

And in our closing performance we will once again amass a combination of musicians from countries across multiple continents including Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Italy, Hungary, Great Britain, Israel, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Finland, Canada, Russia, Japan, and of course, Australia. We bring our shared time together to an end with the humbling grandeur and joy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the anthem of the European Union.

Richard Tognetti
Festival Maribor Artistic Director

Between the Ruby Town Oracle and the Maribor Festival

At a theatre festival in Berlin five years ago, I was taken by a ten-day, non-stop performance/installation entitled The Ruby Town Oracle.

An abandoned factory hall, where they had once made locomotives, literally came to life: its space filled with 22 residences, a shop, a restaurant, a bar, a hairdresser… there was even a peep show and a military quarter. 40 professional actors from all over the world breathed life into the town, while the audience also played an active role in the event. Those wishing to visit the town first had to undertake a short course on the ethics of Ruby’s inhabitants and the rules of behaviour: a prerequisite for obtaining an entry visa.

I arrived in the town as a guest of the Goethe Institute as part of a group of cultural workers who had gathered from every corner of the world, and I entered Ruby in the company of a colleague from Pakistan. Our approaches, or the roles that we had chosen in the performance, were very significant. While I was occupied with various scenarios of potential manipulation, ranging from various forms of experiments to the banal logic of a reality show and the eyes of a big brother, my companion immediately merged with the town and blended in with all of its charm and traps. Our perspectives in observing the events were very different, so it is no wonder that our paths soon separated. In fact, we did not meet again until a few days later, when we were back to real life. Apparently, our colleagues at the Goethe Institute had to pry him away from the Ruby avatar and practically had to drag him away from the performance at the last moment so that he didn't miss his flight. He only just made it.

Each of the ten days in Ruby Town was a story in itself, irrespective of whether we are speaking about the actors who formed the basis of everyday life in the town or the visitors – both those who identified with this mysterious, parallel world, perhaps bringing to life in it some entirely third, fictitious, and previously unrealised identity, and those who remained merely viewers, observers, tourists…

My initial reserve and distance did not last. The performance overcame censorship – it captivated me, while at the same time shaking my foundations to the core. The extraordinary potential of the project, whose key potential showed itself in the intensive interaction between the protagonists, charmed me to the extent that I spent the remainder of my days in Berlin studying the production of the performance and the setting of Ruby Town.

Due to the fact that we were, at that time, up to our necks in preparations for the first Maribor Festival in its new guise, I sought parallels with the festival in its organisation, logistics and methods, which differ from conventional production and demand a great deal of time, flexibility, adaptability, imagination, inventiveness, improvisation and, above all, dedication.

The experience that I wanted to transfer to the Maribor Festival was the creation of a common world from the most diverse possible views and perspectives of an extremely diverse range of people. About one thing there can be no doubt: the world of the Maribor Festival successfully coalesced from the most diverse worlds, while at the same time offering this variety of constituent worlds the most diverse egresses: for some in the form of catharsis, for others it represented a kind of second life, for still others it was a challenge in the sense of testing one’s own limits, while for those who were not prepared to delve too deeply into this world it at least represented a high quality enrichment of everyday life.

Five years later, and with a wealth of experience from four festivals, I can confidently claim that we have been through virtually everything. From our own special equivalent of Big Brother, through the unpredictability of the oracle, to moments of catharsis and beyond…

The Maribor Festival 2012
Again this year the figures are revealing and fascinating: 43 string players, 40 choral singers, 21 wind and brass players, 8 vocal soloists, 5 percussionists, 4 performers on various kinds of ethnic instruments, 3 conductors, 3 pianists, 2 harpsichordists, 2 guitarists, 2 actor-presenters and, of course, our artistic director. Together with the organisational team, collaborators on the part of co-producers, lecturers at workshops, authors of specialised texts, translators, colleagues from the communication agency, sound engineers, the technical team, the recording team, film technicians, photographers, organisers of sheet music, coordinators of rehearsals and venues, drivers, the hostess service, collaborators at hosting venues, the festival club team, tuners and instrument suppliers, festival ambassadors and volunteers, all the way to security guards and the babysitters of our young family-friendly festival, we create anything but a classical musical story.

That which distinguishes us from the “classical” is simply a different view of musical creativity as such. Musicians from every corner of the world gather in various formations, exchanging ideas, polishing, refining, nuancing, levelling…  One concert follows another, the rhythm is extremely compressed, and even the small amount of free time that the musicians have – at lunch, dinner, socialising in the festival club, etc. – is spent together. They become a real festival family. Far from their everyday lives and routines, in time that stands still, in different time, in a certain way in healed time…

Key Figures of the Maribor Festival
For the fifth consecutive year, the artistic director of the festival, Richard Tognetti, is an inexhaustible source of ideas with a different take on things, different perspectives, different creativity and music. He is the creative motor without which the festival is unimaginable.

With their sincere love, generosity and dedication, Jan Minchin and Janet Holmes á Court offer the artists support that may not always be obvious, but nonetheless radiates through every note and every gesture of the festival.

We are grateful to the Maribor 2012 Public Institute, the Cultural Programme of the European Union, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, and the Municipality of Maribor for their (new and renewed) trust.

Of course, special thanks goes out to all of the sponsors and donors of the Maribor Festival, as today this kind of support is needed more than ever.

And not least – sincere and deeply felt thanks goes to you, dear visitors. Not only for listening, but because you have played an active part in the events of the Oracle in the city of Maribor.

The culmination of the first five years in its new guise will again bear the distinctive seal of the Maribor Festival: circumventing a classically composed programme and evading routine performances, right up to the conclusion with the great classic: Beethoven and his Ninth.

Join us again this time around.

Brigita Pavlič
Director of the Maribor Festival