Roger Quintana as the golfing virgin Fidel Castro in rehearsal

Saturday, 14 July 2012

I am in Duesseldorf for the Schumann Festival. A bubbly resident English woman guides a group of journalists round the music landmarks. There’s the clock on the quayside marking the spot where Schumann jumped into the Rhine on Rosenmontag during carnival 1853. He was still in his night-shirt, dressing-gown and felt slippers so was not noticed among the costumed revellers who were busy turning cartwheels (a gymnastic trick invented by Düsseldorfers after their success in the Battle of Worringen in 1288). It was raining. The boatmen who hauled him out were given a medal although few apart from Clara were pleased to see him back. He was glum, taciturn and unliked where Mendelssohn, who had recommended him for the post, had been charming, brilliant and loved. That’s the Lambertuskirche, Mendelssohn’s church, there, next to the Seaman’s Museum. The Duesseldorfers flocked to join the world’s second oldest mixed choir the Musikverein, founded 1816, but started to dodge rehearsals when Schumann arrived. Want to look round? Just five minutes then as we have a lot to see. What’s that? It’s a memorial to Germany’s first opera, Orpheus and Amphion by Martin Peudargent, staged here in Duesseldorf in 1585, would you believe. Behind the Kunstpalast is the Robert Schumann Music School, which has the best classical guitar department in Europe, and behind that is the Arena where the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest was held. The Arts Academy has a gallery of paintings of the Duesseldorf School, one of whose members Emanuel Leutze painted America’s best loved painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, which hangs in the White House, here – so it’s the Rhine he’s navigating! You can tell by the bocks of ice apparently. Here’s the Blue Note club run by world-famous DJ Henry Storch. here’s Em Pöötze, the oldest jazz club in Germany, and that salmon-coloured building is the Cream Cheese which Frank Zappa started as Germany’s first disco and first place to rule ‘no jeans or trainers’. See that tower? What’s the German for power station? Kraftwerk. Exactly! They were all at the art school but spent most of their time in the conservatoire, experimenting and perfecting their robotic style.

In keeping with the rock references, pianist Katia Labeque and her band give an amplified concert of Beatles and Schumann songs in the Tonhalle, the city’s concert hall. The venue was built as a planetarium and the pinprick lights in the dome are arranged as constellations. The suave Intendant Michael Becker tells us the hall is one of only three in Germany, the others being in Berlin and Leipzig, to finance and run its own orchestra. He says he has the youngest audience in Germany and talks of ‘re-socialising’ adults into classical music fans. He boasts he has no debts and neither does the city. These facts amaze the journalists who all come from places which have long since accepted debt as a necessary condition of life. There’s a smaller concert hall, the Robert-Schumann-Saal beneath the Kunsthalle where I hear the Erlenbusch String Quartet play works by Webern, Sibelius and the piano quartet by Schumann. Michael Barenboim leads from the first violin chair and his mum, Elena Bashkirova, plays the piano. In the interval, I lose myself in a privet hedge maze outside the bar, which has been grown for the purpose of ;osing audience members who have heard enough.

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