Ladies and Gentlemen,
“The wonderful thing about music, and about jazz in particular, is that it’s perfect democracy when it all works.”
So said the Italian jazz trumpeter Enrico Rava, incidentally in the same year that he was a guest of the “Elbjazz Festival” (2015).
He was talking about the interplay between the musicians: the juxtaposition of ensemble playing and solos.
The possibilities each musician has to create an individual sound, but which only come together to form a harmonious whole if all the musicians – literally – listen to one another.
Ruthless egoism is as detrimental to music as it is to society. Music is the perfect epitome of democratic polyphony – the many voices that we experience and need in a free and open society.
Free of dictates, open, spontaneous, free, modern, wilful, receptive – these are all terms we can apply to music and music-making but also to democracy.
For this reason we should always prick up our ears really well whenever our liberal democracy’s ethical concordance is called into question. One can quickly find oneself on uneven ground, as your own genre discovered. And yet really things could not be simpler.
The arts are free. Article 5 of our Basic Law guarantees that.
But when artists misuse this freedom to make racist or sexist statements, it’s not just up to music lovers to sanction their behaviour. Associations, promoters, producers, publishers and politicians have a responsibility to the community as well.
Truthfulness only really arises from a vehement defence of its foundations and a refusal to allow them to be attacked under the guise of supposed freedom.
As Theodor W. Adorno once said:
“An emancipated society would not be a unitary state, but the realisation of universality in the reconciliation of differences.”
However, he goes on, this can succeed only if we are all able to be different without fear.
Those who use their freedom to spread fear and humiliation radically jeopardise our democratic consensus.
We have the cancellation of ECHO Jazz to thank in part for the fact that we are here in the Elbphilharmonie today.
Everyone here will be familiar with what happened in April concerning ECHO Pop.
The provisional finale was the announcement by the Federal Music Industry Association BVMI that the ECHO brand and thus ECHO Jazz were being discontinued.
After the BVMI board originally planned to award the jazz prizes “on a small scale and without a big TV production”, it finally decided to cancel the ceremony altogether.
While I can understand the reasons, I still think it’s a pity that the prize-winners chosen by the jury this year are being denied their big moment.
And so I’d rather concentrate on the positive aspects of the current situation. And there are some.
For example: A wider debate has begun about values and quality in music and about overarching issues. The boundaries to artistic freedom are being discussed, as is how we should act towards one another.
I hope this continues and I urge the BVMI to grasp the opportunity here to actively support this socio-politically relevant process.
It’s also positive that we now have the chance to gather here with the specific aim of celebrating the curtain going up on this year’s ELBJAZZ and opening it officially. And there’s plenty to celebrate.
It was exactly ten years ago, in spring 2008, that two women both had two good ideas: Tina Heine and Nina Sauer came up with the idea of combining jazz, then woefully underrepresented in Hamburg, with the dockside atmosphere and attracting people from Hamburg and tourists alike to a jazz festival.
The idea was for jazz to celebrate Hamburg – and Hamburg to celebrate jazz. During their search for advocates, allies and financial backers, the two architects of Elbjazz had the brainwave of approaching established concert professionals and festival impresarios such as Karsten Jahnke and Folkert Koopmans.
And they were lucky: Both took the bait, and the first Elbjazz Festival took place in 2010 – with 10,000 visitors the very first year.
Concerns that the idea was to start some kind of second Port Birthday were ruthlessly allayed by concentrating exclusively on good music from across the whole jazz spectrum.
To take a single example of quality from the outset, let me mention the concert by the New York alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa on the former stage at Blohm + Voss.
Locals and tourists alike explored hitherto unknown corners of the port by launch – with coffee served in the afternoon, visited the bulk carrier MS Bleichen for the first time or found their way to St Katherine’s School to hear the Wolfgang Schlüter-Quartett.
After the Elbjazz premiere, the Hamburger Abendblatt wrote:
“The city has never had a festival like it, and it won’t want to be without it in future.”
That’s true. Festival-goers clearly enjoy listening to fantastic jazz in exciting locations like the Blohm + Voss yard just as much today as they ever did.
Come sun, wind or foul Hamburg “Schietwetter” – unusual perspectives on the port and cityscape are thrown in for free when you go to Elbjazz.
Now the 8th Elbjazz is about to begin.
Following a bit of restructuring, last year’s festival clocked up over 19,000 visitors. It was a record, and I take my hat off to the organisers.
The new Elbphilharmonie location was probably not entirely innocent. And the fact that we are celebrating the opening of Elbjazz 2018 here makes it clear that the Elbphilharmonie and Elbjazz now belong together.
My thanks to all those involved since the inception of Elbjazz for this magnificent festival, and of course especially to all those who have planned, organised and realised this year’s festival.
Thanks, too, to all the wonderful, generous supporters.
Elbjazz is a particularly successful combined Hamburg project involving lots of people all pulling together:
workers, supporters and sponsors. There’s a really good reason for that, too: Elbjazz is simply the finest open-air event that Hamburg has to offer.
In the coming two days you have the opportunity to discover new musical worlds, and I wish you lots of enjoyment as you do so. A big welcome to Elbjazz 2018!