Picnic with Beethoven

Stefan Blunier

Stefan Blunier

Bonn’s Kunst!Rasen is approaching its Seasons end now whilst for others the Season is just beginning.

The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn began it’s new Season with a ‘Classic’ Open Air Picnic on Saturday, free for ‘All residents’.  The aim being, so the Orchestras programme proclaimed, ‘to reach those people that until now hadn’t experienced Classical Music’.

Would they succeed? Did it rain? Did they manage to fit the whole Orchestra in the dressing room?  An evening of questions lay before me…

Despite the threatening grey clouds there is a good sized crowd in front of the Kunst!Rasen stage when I arrive.  It’s certainly not the ‘average’ Kunst!Rasen audience, and I suspect that instead of introducing new people to Classical music, this might also be a case of introducing new people to Kunst!Rasen.  There seem to be less rubbish bins, and the bottle banks to put plastic glasses in as a donation instead of getting a refund on them have disappeared.  The Kunst!Garten has also undergone a subtle change and has seemingly turned its speakers down at the entrance cocktail bar.  Even the ‘souvenir Tent’ has been transformed and is now replaced by immaculately dressed young ladies and gentlemen offering programmes and stickers rather than badges and T shirts.


Despite the small cosmetic ‘makeovers’  I’m sure  a number of people here would have enjoyed Don Airey’s Classical interlude during the Rocknight with Deep Purple a few weeks ago.  For those like myself who are  less seasoned Classical visitors though there should be some familiar territory in tonight’s show/concert: snatches from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’,  Barber of Seville’, ‘Merry Widow’ and something that everyone must know by now even if they don’t know a French Horn from a French fry ‘Maria’ from Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’.


The audience seems to range from about nine (months) to ninety (years) but to his credit conductor Stefan Blunier has a lightness of touch with his between piece banter that appeals to them all.  The evenings theme is a Summer one, he announces with an eye on the weather, and when his mention of holidays in Spain gets a wild applause he admits to being surprised, but the reality is that it’s a sign the audience is on his, and the Orchestra’s side for the evening and come rain (it did) or shine (it didn’t) they were onto a winner.


An enjoyable concert in itself, most important was the reminder that Beethoven and Kunst!Rasen are not two different concepts when talking about Culture and Music in relation to Bonn.  Both are essential:  Without roots you can have no future, and without a future what use are the roots?  Kunst!Rasen needs the City’s powerful musical foundation that Classical  Music has given it, and Classical Music needs Kunst!Rasen to maintain Bonn as a City where Music is still relevant.  The two ensure that Bonn has become, and will hopefully remain, a City associated with top quality Music.


Stefan Blunier picked the following citation in his ‘Forward’ to the Bonn Orchestra’s 2013/14 programme from Victor Hugo:

“Music says those things we are unable to say in words, yet must be said”

That remains true, whether the music itself is from BAP or Beethoven.  Long may Bonn be a City that can embrace both old and new with enthusiasm.


3 thoughts on “Picnic with Beethoven

  1. Yet another astounding report John!

    Stefan Blunier, the conductor and MC for the evening never once dropped his baton on the evening, but I feel obliged to pick up on the one that you dropped John, and run with it a wee way.

    As you know, I was there too, but alluring to some unbeknown Scottish ancestry of mine, and saying that „I knew you would be here John, it’s free!“ was a remark just a little under the Plimsoll line. The Plimsoll line, which was clearly and invariably visible on all the passing Rhine barges, even the up stream ones, as the water level was so low as to prohibit passage to all vessels daring to load any where near their officially permitted maximum.

    Securing the red bicycle, probably unnecessarily, around a tree at the side of a large swathe of bamboo growing on the banks of one of the several picturesque small lakes in the Rheinaue park, alongside a dozen dozing ducks (and as a personal refugee breeding camp for a certain Mallard named „Zeppelina“ I know for a fact that ducks do not rest easy here during „Rhine Aflame“ or during an average rock concert). Sighting a pair of contented crested grebes and a pair of coots confirmed the prevalent tranquility as I followed the music into the „Kunst!Rasen“ compound which is „The field-like lawn which provides a home to a summer rush of culture each summer.“ Normally English provides a shorter translation of German, in terms of the number of words, but I bow to „Kunst!Rasen“ as being like „Feierabend“ not so easily and succinctly translatable.

    As the event was advertised as a „Klassik!Picknick“ and knowing that picnic was originally picque nique in French, it was with somewhat trepidation that I approched the perimeter fence. If the same airport style of scrutiny, that I had previously encountered here, looking for all kinds of glass and fluids over 100ml were applied to my picnic basket, I would soon be headed back to the coots and grebes, even before they found the stilton, port and the water melon and the Swiss Army knife and a larger, sharper knife embedded safely up to its shaft within an apple!

    I wandered in unchallenged and happy and, organisers, and airlines, please take note, no one in the audience or the „band“ suffered from broken bottle or knife fights because of the contents of my picnic hamper, or anybody else’s, as far as I could ascertain.


    Would be how one could best describe how human beings can best show their love of one another and enjoy music and art in peace in a wonderful communal setting, peacefully together.

    As far as I am aware, this is a first for Bonn, but it draws upon a very British tradition, (having very few classical composers in comparison to Germany) of enjoying classical music and enjoying the outdoor and picnics combined with the arts in such a classless way.

    Glynedebourne’s indoor and outdoor operas for example throw their doors inside out, but still with a strict dress sense. The Proms, which one can follow on BBC TV, throw everything to the wind, except exceptionally good live music, and their current season of „the world’s biggest classical musical festival“ ended up not only with the usual sold out audiences in the Albert Hall, but with open stages in the nearby Hyde Park and also al fresco in Belfast in Northern Ireland, Caerphilly in Wales and Glasgow in Scotland. The Proms are a joyous row of classical concerts, and the world’s biggest classical music festival accompanied by a cacophony of klaxons, bells and whistles, as well was silly hats and waving flags, which one would normally find on football terraces.

    There is still a tradition in the British Isles for all the above things, which might be seen as an even derogatory eccentric irrelovance by some lovers of German classical music in Germany.

    I defer here to an American, a Jazz musician who walked out of an orphanage in New Orleans and simply as a unique horn player and as a composer and arranger and a great jazz singer and as a human being, did what I believe they refer to there as „kicking ass“.

    This particular man once wisely said,

    “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”

    That man was old satchel mouth, Louis Armstrong,

    „Satchmo“ as he was affectionally known, also had a strong opinion about the categorisation and pigeon holing of music which he found simply annoying, but which has unfortunately increased since his death, but certainly what has not changed is his profound statement on this subject,

    „There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.“

    What we found out was that Támos Tarjangi with his tenor interpretation of Maria in West Side Story was neither hoarse, nor did he sound like a horse, and that Mikhail Ovrutsky and Artur Chormonov on dueling violins, belonged firmly embedded in the „good“ category.

    In the end Stefan Blunier could hold off the inclement weather no longer and it rained at the end, but the crowd showed itself to be stoic with a colourful field of umbrellas, rather than a rush for shelter and the hills.

    Perhaps the Angles and Saxons and Jutes who left their Germanic homelands to invade the British Isles in the seventh century were simply looking for a different type of culture, or perhaps better umbrellas?

    One thing is still for certain though, music is the most universal and unifying of all the earth’s languages. Good music, especially without elitism, inspires both communities and individual souls to do greater and better things.

    • Many thanks for your thoughts on the evening John.
      Perhaps ‘Satch’ was even over complicating things by saying there were two kinds of music – good and bad being entirely subjective.
      Ultimately a C Major is a C Major, whether it comes out of a trumpet or a Telecaster.

      I had a glass of Riesling at Kunst!Garten and watched them take down the security fence this afternoon. Peace will be restored – but who knows, somewhere out there may even be a Duck or two hankering for the return of Deep Purple? Or not…

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