Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

I’m in the habit of referring to the pop singer Judith Holofernes as a Heldin (heroine). I don’t mean it literally–most of the time–but it’s actually a pretty accurate description. As the lead singer and songwriter of the chart-topping group Wir sind Helden (We are Heroes), she served in exactly that capacity for tens of thousands of Germans for well over a decade. Even after the group went on hiatus, in 2012, Judith continued to share her frank opinions about music, politics, “culture jamming,” and much more on her Facebook page and her blog. (And more recently on Twitter: follow @jholofernes.)

Judith is a Buddhist. She would never proselytize, but she does believe that a tenet of Buddhism applies directly to the current refugee crisis. She wrote about it in a brief post on her blog the other day. Although I’ve translated some of her material as a paid contractor, I wanted to share this strictly as a volunteer. (I guess you can call me an honorary #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge–once you’ve figured out how to pronounce that!)

(REFUGEES WELCOME, the Buddha says)

The Vow of the Bodhisattva is a text of Buddhist protection–a text that is meant to provide a shelter and foothold in difficult times. Its poetry has deep meaning for me–it has put me and my writing in touch, time and time again, with what is really important to me. I believe that it can be a source of strength completely outside the practice of Buddhism–so I’ve wanted to share it with you for a long time, even though I would otherwise try to be very restrained with “Buddhist propaganda.”

Always, when something happening somewhere in the world shocks me, this text comes to mind, and helps me not to lose hope in the world. So, too, as I saw the pictures of the refugee boats, the despair, the weariness–and the fear and denial of those in safe harbors who tried, in panic, to pull up the rope ladders and blow up the piers.

How lucky you feel, when you can be a harbor, a boat, a raft, a bridge, a protector for all who need protection! A blessing that the petty, the envious, the angry–and the fearful–deny themselves. And how precisely this text puts into words what can be our challenge and our gift to ourselves. And now, to the extent that I’m permitted to be a #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge (blogger for refugees), I think there’s nothing better and more heartfelt that I could say on the matter.

The Vow of the Boddhisattva

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road;
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed,
For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
May I be the trees of miracles,
And for every being, the abundant cow.

Like the great earth and the other elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For the boundless multitude of living beings,
May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering


A song in a foreign language always feels an arm’s length away, somehow. If you plan to sing it yourself, you first have to study the technical things like pronunciation and phrasing. And at some point, hopefully, you look at the literal translation. Perhaps you even commit it all to memory, and congratulate yourself for doing so: it is now part of you, as close as your most intimate thought. You want to share it, so you invite your friends and relatives to come hundreds of miles to your performance, where someone hands them a piece of paper and says, “Take this translation, so you’ll know what the song is about.” And there it is again–at arm’s length.

Although many German singers are skilled interpreters of texts in foreign languages (especially English), I’m not sure if that’s true for Berlin-based artist Dota Kehr. When I first heard the song “Grenzen”–whose text she shared with her fans back in January–I got the sense that, for her, there are no arm’s-length experiences.


Who is inside, who is outside?
I’m drawing a line. You’re not allowed past.
It’s where air meets air,
it’s where land meets land,
it’s where skin meets lead.

Where’s the top, where the bottom?
Who could, who would change that?
What happens in nations
at their margins?

There are Frontex and push-backs,
fences, weapons, refugee management conferences.
The Mediterranean becomes a mass grave.
There are boundaries.

They lead to nationalism with its
crazy consequences,
People are disenfranchised just because of where they came from.
There are boundaries.

Could you please give an answer
that’s reasonably correct:
What could possibly be the heart of the problem?
There are boundaries.

I’m checking out, give me a passport
that says “Earth-dweller” inside.
Simply “Earth-dweller.”
Tell me, please, how you get there.
I’m checking out, I’m signing up,
it just can’t be that difficult.
Just write Earth-dweller inside.

We draw a boundary in Heaven,
one god is here and one is there.
Then they shake their fists at each other
In eternity and so forth.

Because there must be something better,
no godly messenger brings peace.
We’ve tried it for a few thousand years with boundaries,
it left a great many dead.

Call me naive, it’s all the same to me,
but I find it’s enough.
I’m looking for the country, in which everyone
is equal in non-citizenship.

I’m checking out, give me a passport
that says “Earth-dweller” inside.
Simply “Earth-dweller.”
Tell me, please, how you get there.
I’m checking out, I’m signing up,
it just can’t be that difficult.
Just write Earth-dweller inside.

I close the door and enjoy the silence,
I mark myself off, it has to be.
We all have our boundaries, which encircle us,
they surround us protectively.

Every encroachment, every strike
violates a human right.
Why are the nations’ boundaries defended so well,
and the people’s boundaries so poorly?

They need to run not between countries,
but rather between people.
They should be made not of barbed wire,
but rather of respect.

-Dota Kehr 2015

Felix Janosa‘s German fans can sum him up in one word: Kabarettist. That translates as “cabaret artist.”  But he’s so much more than that! As the musical half of the team behind the RITTER ROST children’s book/CD series, Janosa has written the music and lyrics for dozens of songs–which are thoughtfully printed right alongside the text and drawings.  (Jörg Hilbert creates the drawings and storylines.)  When Felix Janosa isn’t writing music for children, he’s often listening to music for adults.  He recently described a rather disappointing concert experience on his Facebook page:

(posted 7/5/14)

Yesterday evening something was out of whack.  Namely, Keith Jarrett at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where my dear wife and I were in the audience of a sold-out house.  After the customary admonitions about coughing that we’ve come to expect from Jarrett, and a total of six complete improvisations as well as two interrupted ones in the first half, the second half began in  markedly elevated fashion:  a Shostakovich-ian toccata, followed by a convincing Jarrett gospel number, and then a very beautiful ballade.  But during the fourth piece (a standard Jarrett-ostinato), when Jarrett again felt he had been distracted by a VERY small cough, he left the hall in a snit after some back and forth with fans and “disruptors.”  Even ten minutes of sustained clapping could not convince the shrinking violet to bring the concert to a fitting conclusion.  The master then came out again, but only to say to the disappointed fans, “I have no more music in me.”  Jarrett departed to the accompaniment of catcalls and real disappointment from many hardcore Jarrett-fans, my humble self included.


My Twitter pal @orchestrasfan has been profiled in the Frankfurter Neue Presse:

Frankfurt’s Ulrike Schmid has tweeted her way into classical music.  Along the way, she has become such an enthusiastic orchestra fan that she has even set up her couch in the concert hall.


Ulrike at the Old Opera House

Ulrike Schmid saves a seat for her next guest in the Old Opera House. She herself is a sort of regular guest in the beautiful hall. Photo: Christes

West End.  She didn’t get it from her parents.  Ulrike Schmid, adoptive Frankfurter and freelance PR-consultant, discovered classical music for the first time in adulthood.  She’s fallen in love all the more intensely, especially with the sound of symphony orchestras.  Her enthusiasm is so great that she wants to share it with the whole world.  So Ulrike Schmid even takes strangers with her into the concert hall.

In a program called “Concert Couch”, she tries to introduce people who have almost no impression of classical music to the works of Bach, Brahms, or Berlioz.  As part of the process, she relies on her second great passion:  the Internet.  Because she doesn’t take just any stranger to the concert.  The prerequisite:  her companion must maintain a blog, just like she does.  It can be a blog about almost anything other than classical music.

“But my companions must write about their concert experiences afterward,” Schmid asserts.  That’s how it came to pass, that the discussion on Björn Habegger’s totally automotive-focused webpage or Frank Baade’s football blog unexpectedly turned to classical music and the pros and cons of going to a concert.  “So, together, we reach people who otherwise would not come in contact with music,” Schmid explains her motivation.

Ulrike Schmid invests multiple hours per week in her not-totally-private passion.  Along the way, she’s made a name for herself on the Internet as “Orchestrasfan” (

In this way, Ulrike Schmid is no ordinary music enthusiast.  Her favorite is the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.  She follows its activities with extra intensity, announcing them on her blog (which she operates as “Orchestrasfan”), and distributes news from the ensemble via Twitter.  She also occasionally interviews members of the orchestra, and answers the ever-newsworthy question of proper concert attire.  “To make it easier for other women, I post photos of myself in the concert outfit on the site.”

As “Orchestrasfan”, Schmid has even made it onto the radio.  In each “Frankfurt Radio Symphony Rendezvous” broadcast, she asks the orchestra rather basic questions.

More than 350 people follow the music enthusiast on Twitter, and she interacts with almost three dozen real or virtual acquaintances about music, musicians, or repertoire on a daily basis.  And it doesn’t bother the fan base that Schmid’s commentary isn’t always completely neutral:  with a wink, she lets it slip that the local Symphony Orchestra has been described as the best in the world.

Since the beginning of the month, the 45-year-old has been operating with restraint, because she’s now also doing professional PR for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony.  She has gone back to the Concert Couch, though.  This time, she was joined by the Frankfurt blogger Antje Blume-Grabow; the two women listened in on the Frankfurt Opera House and Museum’s Orchestra.

Schmid’s challenge is to seek out the appropriate guests and then find the concerts, take care of the tickets at the venues, and promote the guests on her blog.  You can practically hear how much she enjoys music.  Now and then even orchestras and concert halls contact her and offer tickets for her and her guest on the couch.


Matze Hielscher came across a brilliant remix of an infectious pop hit that seemed to jump right from obscurity to overexposure.  He noted it briefly on his blog, and I just had to pass it along:

Five minutes ago I really had heard “Happy” by Pharrell one too many times, and had banned it from my playlist.  But then around the corner comes Mister Woodkid, with a few strings in his pants pocket, making “Happy” into the most beautiful song of the day.  Sad, but true.  Sniff.

Here’s some great news about Krzysztof Urbanski, the Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra:

Krzysztof Urbanski, one of the outstanding representatives of the emerging generation of conductors, will become the Principal Guest Conductor of the North German Radio (NDR) Symphony Orchestra as of the 2015-2016 season.

With this appointment the orchestra also makes a conscious move related to its future role as the resident orchestra of the Elbe Philharmonic Hall:  with his dynamic guest appearances, Urbanski impressed  musicians and audiences as well, and understood in particular how to excite younger concertgoers about classical music.

Regular Guest Conductor for the Past Five Years

Krzysztof Urbanski is happy about the new assignment:  “I first conducted the North German Radio Symphony in 2009 in a concert of works by Kilar, Martinu, and Dvorak.  Since our first meeting I’ve had the good fortune to work regularly with the ensemble–each time with totally different repertoire, whether it be Polish, Czech, German, or Russian composers.  I’ve always been captivated by the sound quality of the orchestra and the commitment of the musicians.  No matter how challenging the assignment, they all approach it with a musical intelligence and sensibility that one doesn’t often find as a conductor.  That makes this orchestra unique, and I can hardly wait for the chance to be able to work and make music with this wonderful ensemble.”

Urbanski made an impression in an all-Brahms program at the beginning of the 2013/2014 season, as he stepped in for Thomas Hengelbrock.

After his brilliant success with Stravinsky’s “Sacre” last year, he will now dedicate himself to strengthening the Eastern-European repertoire, further shaping the programs of the North German Radio Symphony.

Alan Gilbert to make further appearances with the NDR Symphony as well

As Principal Guest Conductor, Urbanski will work with the NDR Symphony on concerts, tours, recordings,

and educational projects for up to four weeks annually, beginning in 2015. He thus succeeds Alan Gilbert, who has held that position with the NDR Symphony for ten years and will remain connected with the ensemble in future collaborations.

Great Charisma and Strong Programmatic Accents

Andrea Zietzschmann, director of the NDR Orchestra, Choir and Concerts division, says: “The NDR Symphony Orchestra has worked successfully for many years with Krzysztof Urbanski and has supported his career through regular guest appearances. We are convinced of his talent and his creative power, and are happy to be able to connect him more closely with the orchestra as Principal Guest Conductor. Urbanski will bring strong programmatic accents to the North, and with his charismatic presence will certainly develop a multi-generational following.”

North German Radio and the city of Hamburg have been good friends to all of the Bachs, but they’re especially cozy with C. P. E. this year as his milestone birthday anniversary approaches.

Hamburg celebrates Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Hamburg commemorates one of its most important composers:  Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.  In the 18th Century he was more popular than his father, Johann Sebastian.  Bach worked for 20 years as Municipal Music Director and Cantor at the Johanneum–his tomb is located in the crypt of St. Michael’s.

Hamburg is celebrating the anniversary with 30 concerts, as well as lectures, exhibitions, church cantata services and a Senate reception.  On March 8th, the Bach-Birthday, Cultural Senator Barbara Kisseler hosts a grand birthday concert, organized by the Senate, at St. Michael’s.  The Symphony in B Minor, along with other works, will be performed there beginning at 6:00 P.M.  Admission is free.  Birthday festivities begin at 8:15 P.M. in St. James’ Church.

Symbol for the Musical City of Hamburg

Hamburg, together with other German cities, has put together a large homepage about the composer.  Later, the Carl Toepfer Institute wants to open a Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Museum on Peterstraße.  Barbara Kisseler is certain:  “At the end of the year, we’ll have a rather large C. P. E. Bach Fan Club.”  For the Cultural Senator, the Hamburg Bach is a good symbol for the musical city of Hamburg.