Each summer, annual festivals at Salzburg and Bayreuth capture the musical world's attention. The performances, of course, are absolutely top rank. Many are sold out well in advance even though the best tickets can cost as much as $150. Hotels jack up rates and reservations at fine restaurants are difficult to obtain.
One inexpensive, off-the-beaten path alternative to these mega-star, mega-bucks events is in Altenburg, in the former East Germany, about 40 kilometers south of Leipzig.
The inner city of this medieval town, which escaped Allied bombing in World War II, is under historic preservation and offers the visitor a chance to experience a prime example of pre-war Germany.
This year, the 10th annual Altenburg Music Festival features five concerts by the East-West Symphony Orchestra which is composed of more than 80 of the top students and graduates of the world's leading music conservatories including Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, the Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw and other leading European conservatories. In addition there will be eight chamber music concerts and three vocal concerts.
Symphony performances are given in the Festival Hall of the castle of the Dukes of Sachsen-Altenburg and attendance is limited to 250. The chamber and vocal music is presented in the castle's Bachsaal.
Festival dates are June 23 through July 23 and ticket prices are in the $10 to $15 range.
The founder and still guiding force behind the Altenburg Festival is Arturo Sergi, for many years a leading tenor at such opera venues as La Scala, Covent Garden, and the New York Metropolitan.
As one might expect, Professor Sergi is enthusiastic about Altenburg and says the city is a hidden gem with an interesting history. Martin Luther, for example, spent a great deal of time in Altenburg and numbered the Duke and his subjects among his staunchest supporters.
The professor suggests walks through the old town and, of course, a tour of the castle, which houses one of the great organs, the Trost, built under the supervision of Johann Sebastian Bach during his tenure as Kantor of Leipzig.
Another recommended outing is to one or more of the region's many historic Porcelain factories along the "Thuringen Porzellan Strasse."
Accommodations and cuisine in Altenburg have vastly improved in the last 10 years, according to Sergi.
He terms his headquarters, the centrally-located Altenburger Hof (Schmllnsche Landstr. 8, D-04600 Altenburger, tel. +49/03447/5840, fax 584499, rooms rates from about $58 to $95), "first-class and a bargain."
His two favorite restaurants are Die Villa (Friedrich-Ebert-Str. 14, tel. +49/03447/56510, fax 311281) which is part of Germany's "slow food" movement and emphasizes fresh, natural ingredients; and the Wettiner Hof whose Essen wie bei Luther speciality is the exact menu enjoyed by Martin Luther. Servers wear costumes of that era and musicians play the music he loved.
Professor Sergi has kindly agreed to assist Gemütlichkeit subscribers with their arrangements in Altenburg. You can reach him as follows:
- Germany: Sekretariat: Rosemarie Nau, Matthausstrasse 3, D-42277 Wuppertal telephone: +49/0202/50 65 21, fax: 50 09.
- U.S.: Arturo Sergi, 1213 Girard Avenue, San Marcos, TX 78666, telephone: 512-396-8988, fax: 512-396-710.
- (U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:
- Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...
- The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)