Jeugdkoor Waelrant (Belgium) © Matthias Bein
Johannes Brahms Int. Choir Festival & Competition

"The best year this festival has seen so far"

Spirits were running high on the last day in Wernigerode

It is music. It is not just a line-up of tones. Behind every note there is a secret. It is not just the rhythm. Behind every beat you can find intention. It is not just the combination of both. Behind every phrase lies interpretation.

The 10th International Johannes-Brahms Festival and Competition has now officially ended. This morning, we saw and heard the last sounds of choirs from 14 different countries all over the world. During the past week, I asked a lot of choirs why they chose to participate. Surprisingly, none of them seemed to worry too much about numbers and awards. “We are here to learn, mainly. And to have fun. That has already happened” explained Ingrid Stige and Christina Thingvold (conductors of Bærum Pikekor, Norway).

Only after asking Marleen de Boo (conductor of Joegdkoor Walraent, Belgium) specifically about the competition, she admits: “Of course it would be nice if we won something. That’s not why we’re here, though. We came here for exchange because it is always exciting meeting people who have just as much fun making music as we do. If you ask me what we expect… I can’t tell. And it doesn’t matter because we did a very good job performing today and expressing our associations with the pieces. It felt great and that’s what counts.”

Nevertheless, awarding the ensembles last night caused a medium-sized earth quake on the marketplace of Wernigerode. Stamping, clapping, screaming – what a rousing picture. Congratulations to all participants! You have earned every bit of it.

After awarding the winner of this year’s Johannes Brahms Choir Prize, Stellenberg Girls Choir, however, the mayor probably has to check if all windows of his colorful town hall are still intact. The jubilation of the 108 girls might have broken quite a few. Congratulations as well!

Only seconds after the Grand Prize winners had finished their bonus song, a DJ got ready on stage and an extraordinary party got going on the small plaza. Almost everybody started dancing: audience, participants, team members and jurors alike. People who had never met before grabbed each other’s hand and swung there new partner across the stage, that had already turned into a dance floor. Until midnight, a lot of Brahms people and local inhabitants celebrated the final hours of the festival.

This morning finally, handpicked choirs presented parts of their repertoire at the Stadtfeldhalle one last time. And one last time, the broad diversity of the program gave proof of the participant choirs’ multi-facetted potential. Especially, something André van der Merwe said before the performance of his Stellenberg Girls’ Choir earned a lot of applause. Concerning the political relevance of songs, he states: “Singing does not only bring us together. It’s what makes humanity shine.”

Looking back at the festival as a whole, you can speak of success. People from all over the world have made new friends, exchanged and brought life and energy into the colorful city at the Harz. People from Wernigerode enjoyed the public competitions and concerts. Lord Mayor Peter Gaffert considers: “This is probably the best year this festival has seen so far.” And also the jury’s opinion is a very positive one: “Yes, it was difficult getting into the numbers and judging this huge variety of choirs. But the music – oh, we loved it.”

It is music. The 10th Johannes-Brahms Festival and Competition showed that the INTERKULTUR motto is true: “Singing together brings nations together.” But that’s not all. Considering everything that has happened these past few days, we should extend our horizon and our view on singing. Music is fun. Music makes humanity shine. Music is what makes us whole.

(Lucas Waclawczyk)