Music for the North

Classical music and jazz are making their way into barns and cowsheds, shipyards and mansions – not to mention the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Until the end of August, young musicians will be performing alongside world stars at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, a long-established cultural event with an international reputation. HSH Nordbank, a member of the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe, is one of the festival’s main sponsors and very first partners. Every year, the festival highlight is the presentation of the Leonard Bernstein Award. In 2017, the prestigious award will go to 24-year-old Kian Soltani, already an outstanding cellist.

The venue: a gorgeous summer evening on the Basthorst estate at the height of the harvest season, with just a few thunderclouds lurking on the horizon. The time: shortly before eight o’clock. Guests are already gathering in front of the former cow byre, where they will listen to pianist Martin Stadtfeld performing in the barn’s unusually intimate surroundings. This is just one of the 100 or more musical venues for the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, each of which has its own very special charm – just one of more than 100 concerts that, like so many others, is already sold out. The director of the SHMF, Dr. Christian Kuhnt, explains the festival’s popularity. “We put outstanding artists directly in touch with audiences in local venues so that together, we can explore the beauties of northern Germany.”

SHMF is the biggest classical music festival in the world

The SHMF logo – a series of musical staves modified to suggest northern themes such as water, green countryside, wind and hovering seagulls – reflects this ambition. No wonder this richly varied festival, with its carefully planned musical program, has become so popular. Since it first started back in 1986, it has grown to become the largest festival of classical music in the world. In the early years, the festival would concentrate on one country each year, but since Dr. Christian Kuhnt took over as director, he has been blazing new trails. In 2017, the composer’s retrospective focuses on Maurice Ravel: “As we draw together our program, starting with a soloist’s portrait and a composer’s retrospective, certain thematic threads emerge which act as a natural framework for our rich festival program. We invite artists to join with us as we endeavor to fill out these thematic focal points with exciting projects.”

Goldberg variations in a barn

The estate landlord, Enno Baron von Ruffin, welcomes the concertgoers. The air beneath the barn roof is warm; a Steinway grand piano looms imperiously under the spotlights. Martin Stadtfeld takes the stage and starts to play – his notes soar through the open space, powerful and captivating. He, too, engages with this year’s principal composer as he plays Ravel’s “Menuet antique”. Chandeliers hang from the barn’s great beams, birds twitter in the shadows, nobody would be surprised to hear Friesian cows lowing outside the barn. After all, this is Schleswig-Holstein. And this mix is what gives the music festival its very special appeal.

„We put outstanding artists directly in touch with audiences in local venues so that together, we can explore the beauties of northern Germany.“

Dr. Christian Kuhnt, Director of the SHMF

Music means everything

Kian Soltani combines technical perfection with an exceptional degree of musicality in his playing
"Kian Soltani combines technical perfection with an exceptional degree of musicality in his playing.”", Dr. Christian Kuhnt, Director of the SHMF

This has been true since the beginning, when American composer and pianist Leonard Bernstein took part in SHMF as a conductor. In his honor, the annual Leonard Bernstein Award was set up in 2002, including a €10,000 prize sponsored by the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe of which HSH Nordbank is a member. This year’s award will be presented to young cellist Kian Soltani. Director Dr. Christian Kuhnt knows what makes his playing so special: “Kian Soltani is one of the most promising young instrumentalists of our time. The 24-year-old combines technical perfection with an exceptional degree of musicality in his playing.”

Born into a family of Persian musicians, Kian Soltani grew up in Austria. By the time he was 12 years old, he was already receiving cello tuition from Ivan Monighetti at the Basel Music Academy. The outstanding young artist lives for music: “I can’t live, breathe or be myself without music. For me, music means everything!”

Regional concerts with international artists

The high point of the program – every year – singling out a young, aspiring artist with the Leonard Bernstein Award
Every year, by singling out a young, aspiring artist with the Leonard Bernstein Award – the high point of the program – the festival sends a clear message of support and encouragement to young, talented people

Together with the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe, HSH Nordbank has been supporting the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival for many years and set up the Leonard Bernstein Award in 2002: “As HSH Nordbank, we have our roots in northern Germany and are delighted to support a cultural event of international significance that strengthens this region in so many ways,” confirms the bank’s Chief Financial Officer, Oliver Gatzke. He describes how the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival acts as a platform for international artists, symbolizing the region’s openness to the world. Every year, by singling out a young, aspiring artist with the Leonard Bernstein Award – the high point of the program – the festival sends a clear message of support and encouragement to young, talented people. For Kian Soltani, the award and the opportunity to perform at the prizewinner’s concert are very special: “With his charisma and stage presence, Leonard Bernstein was a great role model who managed to make the most complex music accessible to everyone. And being able to play here in this world-famous festival under Maestro Eschenbach, together with this fantastic orchestra – well, that’s a very special honor.”

„I can’t live, breathe or be myself without music. For me, music means everything!“

Kian Soltani, outstanding cellist, awarded with the Leonard Bernstein Award 2017

Local thunderstorm sounds the final chord

The thunderclouds finally reach the Basthorst estate at about half past nine. The clouds open almost precisely in time with the final chord, pouring down local Schleswig-Holstein rain while thunder rolls and lightning flashes across the sky. The visitors hurry to their cars with beautiful music still ringing in their ears, surrounded by a summer landscape that could scarcely be more beautiful – in spite of the rain.