Putting the Salz in Salzau

In retrospect, the last post wasn’t completely different. In fact, it was rather more of the same. Performing in Acarigua always leaves me on an emotional high, with correspondingly maudlin sentiments and blog postings, and it takes about three weeks to return to my normal (I forbear to use adjectives) state. Hey look, it’s three weeks as of today that I returned home. I have other reasons for emotional highs, being on a park bench in Germany in the early morning dawn as I type, but I will contain my Freude and focus.

Salzau is a wonderful, peaceful corner of the world. It’s at least thirty minutes from the nearest city of any consequence, the port of Kiel, and probably two to three hours from Hamburg. It’s remote, it’s very quiet, and it’s not just possible but easy to focus intensely upon making music here. The musicians of the Academy Orchestra are some of the best in the world, weeks if not days away from embarking on professional careers with distinguished ensembles. The downside is predictable: the food is unfortunately somewhat (extraordinarily) lacking in both flavour and variety. No, that’s not true, there’s plenty of flavour, but mankind has yet to evolve a palate to appreciate salinity exceeding one thousand parts per thousand. This situation, although deplorable, is the hallmark of all great summer workshops, but even in the space of a week I’ve managed to shed a few surplus pounds.

Ubiquitous cafeteria issues aside, there are further troubles in this paradise. The state government of Schleswig Holstein, the owner of the facility, is experiencing the same budget crunch as the remainder of the world, and has decided to put the Schloβ up for sale. The 100+ musicians here are stunned, outraged, planning flash mobs, protests in the streets of Kiel, and broad scope Unterschriftenaktion in order to change the government’s mind.

I love this place and am all for having the festival stay here (such loyalty in less than a week!) but I have to admit, it’s tough to justify. The facility is technically open year-round, but it’s really only used for the ten weeks of the music festival. It’s a centre for the musical elite, with perhaps 150 individuals in residence at peak usage.  Its economic impact on the region is minimal, and judging by the audience for yesterday evening’s performance, its patrons are no different from those in symphony halls anywhere else in the world.

At this moment I’m as far from el Sistema as it gets – philosophically, that is, because I assume I could technically get further geographically by being somewhere in Micronesia. Maybe that’s part of the Music Festival’s problem. If this were the Center for Social Action through Music Germany, (Zentrum für soziale Aktion durch die Musik?), a gathering place for youth of the nation from all walks of life, all socio-economic strata, the unlikely but not impossible hub of Das Netzwerk, would any government official in his or her right mind even suggest putting this place on the auction block? It was a resident for the elite, and remains so to this day.

The performing arts industry needs el Sistema just as much as its beneficiaries do. But if that’s not the future, then given the talents of the kitchen staff, this could be a very profitable fat camp.

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