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Rheingau Music Festival returns with powerful sounds

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To open the 35th Rheingau Music Festival, which runs June 25 through September 3, a full orchestra and choir performed together in the packed Eberbach Abbey. Such powerful music had not filled the monastery since before the pandemic. The pieces performed, Antonin Dvorak’s symphonic poem “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Symphony No. 2 “Lobgesang,” had been selected before Russia’s attack on Ukraine. But as festival founder Michael Herrmann said in his opening address, the works “take on a symbolic character” in the context of the war.

“In Dvorak’s ‘The Golden Spinning Wheel,’ evil is destroyed. In Mendelssohn’s song of praise to God, people overcome the night to see a new day, going from darkness to light,” Herrmann added.

A Czech fairy tale

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote “The Golden Spinning Wheel” in 1896 after returning from the US, where he was a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Music.

ALSO READ: Ukraine: Music as a refuge from war

At the time, composers created a number of symphonic poems; in such works, the orchestral music alone tells a story in tonal painting, without singing.

“The Golden Spinning Wheel” is inspired by a folk tale. It tells the story of a king who wants to marry a village girl called Dornicka. However the girl is killed by her step-mother, who would rather marry her biological daughter to the king.

The murdered girl is magically brought back to life by a sorcerer and is reunited with the king. The step-mother and her biological daughter are punished with death. Good triumphs over evil in the end.

A new conductor for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony, one of the most renowned orchestras in Germany, performed the festival’s opening piece under its new chief conductor, Alain Altinoglu.

The noted French conductor has headed the orchestra since last September, but many of his public concerts were cancelled due to COVID and replaced by video streams instead.

But despite the challenging pandemic situation, Altinoglu noted that he immediately developed a good connection with the orchestra: “It was so easy to make music together. The orchestra has a very high level and can play any repertoire,” he told DW.

At the festival opening within the old walls of the abbey, the orchestra mastered both works with ease.

A significant heritage site: Eberbach Abbey

Eberbach Abbey in Eltville am Rhein in southwest Germany was a former Cistercian monastery founded in 1136.

In the winter of 1985-86, it served as a location for the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel, “The Name of the Rose,” starring Sean Connery.

Managing director Marsilius von Ingelheim is pleased that music is now being played at full capacity again in the venue.

“Major choral works and oratorios can be played again at Eberbach Abbey, after two years of doing without them completely due to COVID,” he said.

This year, the music world is honoring the 175th anniversary of the death of the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: “We have scheduled a Mendelssohn weekend with his oratorios ‘Paulus’ and ‘Elias,'” von Ingelheim explained.

Mendelssohn’s new genre: the choral symphony

In his choral symphony that was played at the opening of the festival, “Lobgesang,” Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy supplemented the symphony form with a cantata performed by a choir and soloists.

With the participation of the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir, over 100 people were performing. The choir is known for its full sound and at times almost drowned out the orchestra.

Mendelssohn Bartholdy certainly saw Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a model that inspired him to integrate a choir in a symphony.

The cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach were also a decisive influence for the composer of the Romantic era.

Mendelssohn Bartholdy had rediscovered the Baroque composer’s cantatas, passions and oratorios in the 19th century and was responsible for his revival, starting with a performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” in 1889.

“You can sense the influence in his choral cantata when he lets the choir sing as if in a fugue,” said Altinoglu. “You can feel the Romanticism in the whole work, but at the same time Lutheranism that keeps coming back. An interesting fight between two poles.”

Mendelssohn Bartholdy used biblical quotations and hymns in the text, such as “Let us lay down the works of darkness and take up the weapons of light / The night has passed, the day has come” — the passage Michael Herrmann was referring to in his opening speech.

The atmosphere of the former monastery adds the rest, says Alain Altinoglu: “When you conduct in a place like Eberbach Abbey, you can feel the special charisma of its centuries of history. Everything that happened here gives off a special energy.”


To open the 35th Rheingau Music Festival, which runs June 25 through September 3, a full orchestra and choir performed together in the packed Eberbach Abbey. Such powerful music had not filled the monastery since before the pandemic. The pieces performed, Antonin Dvorak’s symphonic poem “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Symphony No. 2 “Lobgesang,” had been selected before Russia’s attack on Ukraine. But as festival founder Michael Herrmann said in his opening address, the works “take on a symbolic character” in the context of the war.

“In Dvorak’s ‘The Golden Spinning Wheel,’ evil is destroyed. In Mendelssohn’s song of praise to God, people overcome the night to see a new day, going from darkness to light,” Herrmann added.

A Czech fairy tale

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote “The Golden Spinning Wheel” in 1896 after returning from the US, where he was a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Music.

ALSO READ: Ukraine: Music as a refuge from war

At the time, composers created a number of symphonic poems; in such works, the orchestral music alone tells a story in tonal painting, without singing.

“The Golden Spinning Wheel” is inspired by a folk tale. It tells the story of a king who wants to marry a village girl called Dornicka. However the girl is killed by her step-mother, who would rather marry her biological daughter to the king.

The murdered girl is magically brought back to life by a sorcerer and is reunited with the king. The step-mother and her biological daughter are punished with death. Good triumphs over evil in the end.

A new conductor for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony, one of the most renowned orchestras in Germany, performed the festival’s opening piece under its new chief conductor, Alain Altinoglu.

The noted French conductor has headed the orchestra since last September, but many of his public concerts were cancelled due to COVID and replaced by video streams instead.

But despite the challenging pandemic situation, Altinoglu noted that he immediately developed a good connection with the orchestra: “It was so easy to make music together. The orchestra has a very high level and can play any repertoire,” he told DW.

At the festival opening within the old walls of the abbey, the orchestra mastered both works with ease.

A significant heritage site: Eberbach Abbey

Eberbach Abbey in Eltville am Rhein in southwest Germany was a former Cistercian monastery founded in 1136.

In the winter of 1985-86, it served as a location for the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel, “The Name of the Rose,” starring Sean Connery.

Managing director Marsilius von Ingelheim is pleased that music is now being played at full capacity again in the venue.

“Major choral works and oratorios can be played again at Eberbach Abbey, after two years of doing without them completely due to COVID,” he said.

This year, the music world is honoring the 175th anniversary of the death of the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: “We have scheduled a Mendelssohn weekend with his oratorios ‘Paulus’ and ‘Elias,'” von Ingelheim explained.

Mendelssohn’s new genre: the choral symphony

In his choral symphony that was played at the opening of the festival, “Lobgesang,” Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy supplemented the symphony form with a cantata performed by a choir and soloists.

With the participation of the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir, over 100 people were performing. The choir is known for its full sound and at times almost drowned out the orchestra.

Mendelssohn Bartholdy certainly saw Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a model that inspired him to integrate a choir in a symphony.

The cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach were also a decisive influence for the composer of the Romantic era.

Mendelssohn Bartholdy had rediscovered the Baroque composer’s cantatas, passions and oratorios in the 19th century and was responsible for his revival, starting with a performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” in 1889.

“You can sense the influence in his choral cantata when he lets the choir sing as if in a fugue,” said Altinoglu. “You can feel the Romanticism in the whole work, but at the same time Lutheranism that keeps coming back. An interesting fight between two poles.”

Mendelssohn Bartholdy used biblical quotations and hymns in the text, such as “Let us lay down the works of darkness and take up the weapons of light / The night has passed, the day has come” — the passage Michael Herrmann was referring to in his opening speech.

The atmosphere of the former monastery adds the rest, says Alain Altinoglu: “When you conduct in a place like Eberbach Abbey, you can feel the special charisma of its centuries of history. Everything that happened here gives off a special energy.”

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