A podium for the Baltic Sea region
Making the Baltic Sea region resound
World-famous musicians such as Mstislaw Rostropowitsch, Kurt Masur or Ute Lemper have already attracted and still attract the Usedom Music Festival to the island of Usedom, but also guests of state such as Queen Silvia of Sweden, Mikhail Gorbachev, the German Chancellor or former German Presidents. For three weeks from September to October, visitors to the festival, which brings together the countries of the Baltic Sea region, experience the stars and treasures of music from the Baltic Sea region. The annually changing country-focus then shows the whole musical diversity of Northern Europe. At the special concert venues on the island of Usedom, the Usedom Music Festival allows visitors to experience the incomparable atmosphere of a cosmopolitan two-country island facing the states of the Baltic Sea region. The musical riches of the countries and regions connected by the sea are staged in atmospheric churches, picturesquely situated castles, the magnificent buildings of the imperial baths or in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s largest industrial monument in Peenemünde. ‘The Usedom Music Festival makes not only the island, but a whole region resound. In fact, the cultural island of Usedom is part of a large family that the Baltic Sea does not separate, but rather connects,’ said the German Chancellor during the celebrations of the festival’s 25th anniversary.
Musical pearl and one of the biggest thematic festivals
The history of the event series began in 1994, with the aim of showing guests how beautiful the island can be in September, after the end of the school holidays. The director of the Usedom Music Festival Thomas Hummel won Kurt Masur, Gewandhauskapellmeister in Leipzig and also chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, as the first patron. He also established a connection to the New York foundation Young Concert Artists. From there, prize winners of the international competition of the same name came to the beach of the Pomeranian Bay. A small transatlantic bridge that still stands today.
Since 1999, the Usedom Music Festival has established itself as the ‘Podium of the Baltic Sea’: every year, one country in the Baltic Sea region is now exclusively at the centre of the programme for the duration of one season – with its music and its musicians. Ten countries belong to the Baltic Sea region: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Finland. There are countries large and small, countries with famous musicians, countries that have tended to be in the shadow of other celebrities. At the Usedom Music Festival each of these countries gets the same space, the same attention.
This commitment to bringing people together has already been honoured by numerous awards: In 2006 the Tryton Cultural Prize of the city of Swinoujscie, in 2012 the multinational orchestra Baltic Sea Philharmonic, initiated by the Usedom Music Festival and Nord Stream AG, received the honour ‘Excellent Place – In the Land of Ideas’, in 2015 the orchestra received the European Cultural Award as ambassador of the Baltic Sea region and in the years 2015 to 2018 the Usedom Music Festival carried the EFFE seal of approval of the European Union for its ‘artistic and social commitment with an international and global perspective’.
With a three-week programme, the Usedom Music Festival is one of the largest theme-based music festivals in the world, says Festival Director Thomas Hummel: ‘Theme-based festivals usually last only four to seven days, and long-term festivals usually don’t commit themselves to any focus on content. The Usedom Music Festival, which is at home in both Poland and Germany, is a rarity in this respect’.
Peenemünde concerts – international landmark, sounds that unite people
The Peenemünde concerts are also unique in the German festival landscape. Together with the Historical-Technical Museum and the Northern German Radio, the Usedom Music Festival put the turbine hall of the Peenemünde power station into operation as a concert hall in 2002. Where rockets used to be developed and tested, applause now roars. During the ‘Third Reich’, the Peenemünde Army and Air Force test facilities were working on the development of ‘secret weapons’ – including the Aggregat 4 (‘V2’), the world’s first large rocket. It brought death to many thousands of people, but it was also the first successful launch into space. Today Peenemünde is a place of international encounters and peace education with its museum in the power station, cultural events, special exhibitions, project days, workshops and work camps.
Under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich and with over 250 musicians involved, Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ was performed in the turbine hall of the former power station. Since then, conductors of international standing have been engaged. Kurt Masur, appointed Honorary Patron of the Usedom Music Festival in 2012, gave three of his last concerts and two international master classes for young conductors here. Krzysztof Penderecki (2003, 2014), Christoph von Dohnányi (2004), Esa-Pekka Salonen (2005), Alan Gilbert (2006), Andris Nelsons (2007), Christoph Eschenbach, Kurt Masur † (2012 and 2013) and Neeme Järvi (2010, 2013), Paavo Järvi (2013) and Kristjan Järvi (2008, 2009, 2011-2018) and many more consolidated the high musical standards of the Peenemünde concerts.
Music education at the heart
Since 2006, a gem of the island has enriched the festival: the castle of the Count von Schwerin family in Stolpe, located in the very south of the Stettiner Haff. Together with the Stolper Schlossverein, the Norddeutscher Rundfunk and the Tonkünstlerverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Usedom Music Festival has created the Baltic Sea Music Forum. Year after year, the Lithuanian cellist David Geringas gathers highly talented master students around him and presents the results of their joint work in a concert.
In 2008, the Usedom Music Festival took a big step into the wide world: with the support of Nord Stream AG, a new orchestra was founded – the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. The Estonian conductor Kristjan Järvi gathered excellent young musicians from all ten Baltic Sea countries and formed a new orchestra with his energy, his musicality and his enthusiasm for the culture around ‘the Mediterranean of the North’. From its base in Peenemünde, the orchestra has since conquered the whole of Europe and has become an ambassador for Usedom in the concert halls of the world.
In addition to the three-week regular festival in September and October, the Usedom Music Festival also includes the Usedom Literature Days in spring and the International Days of Jewish Music. The Young Usedom Music Festival with children and youth projects as well as the competition of the Achterkerke Foundation are firmly integrated into the main festival.
In the meantime, the Usedom Music Festival attracts up to fourteen thousand guests per year from home and abroad and radiates – also through the radio broadcasts of its concerts – far into the world.