Interview with Paul McCreesh: “A festival is a crucible for regenerating music tradition”

6 October 2009

Dating back to 1966, the Wratislavia Cantans festival honours the magnificence of vocal and choral music as well as the oratorio tradition in the historical settings of Wroclaw and the Silesian region. The festival has been known for its innovative alliances, notably cross-disciplinary, combining music with other art forms, as the visual arts and films, but also bringing music from different sorts together. Currently, the festival’s artistic director is Paul McCreesh. He is specialised in the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods yet has also been working with modern instrument orchestras throughout the world. European Festivals Association & Cristina Farinha/ (EFA/CF): In which ways the 2009 programme translates the FestLab mission and acts as a nest for fostering new visions and stimulating new works? Paul McCreesh (PM): The current policy is to focus on the very original aims of the festival, as set out by the founder conductor Andzej Markowski. Thus we have invited many of the finest choirs and solo vocalists and we have set the emphasis on the art of the voice, the great oratorio tradition and in general, music that engages the spectrum of human spirituality. We had no festival co-productions, our performances involved the collaboration between artists and Wratislavia’s excellent ensembles. This is, I believe, the pioneering aspect of the festival. An international festival should serve two purposes. 1. To bring outstanding artists into the region. 2. To produce programmes that cannot be heard in the city’s concert season. One of the greater values of the festival is that these events should influence and develop ensembles in the cities and region; in order to broaden and improve performance standards. EFA/CF: Indeed, a festival is in its essence a local happening. Why nevertheless you consider important to be part of such a European-wide initiative such as the FestLab for Creativity and Innovation? PM: One of the most interesting things about working as I do in so many countries, is to realise the huge musical history that concerns the small geographical region that is Europe. The festival offers the opportunities to reassess these traditions; to build upon them, to exchange and sometimes to destroy them. In this way the art of music regenerates. The festival is the ideal crucible for this process. EFA/CF: The programme included several free entrance events. Is there any special concern towards enlarging and diversifying the accessibility and inclusion of the Festival proposals as targeted by the FestLab? PM: We are particularly keen to widen access wherever we can; in an ideal world we would recommend that all concerts would be free. On the other hand, music is a commodity with enormous expenses and even the paid concert tickets are charged at a fraction of the price and do not cover the costs of the programme. EFA/CF: You have conducted the youth festival orchestra in an outdoor concert. Is this for you a mean to promote youngsters interest for vocal and choral music and the oratorio tradition as practitioners but also as audience? PM: This is a new project for us and it filled me with excitement and it has to be said, also a degree of terror! This was a huge event, incorporating 1000 young Polish singers, many of them under the ‘Singer Poland’ programme. I personally believe that opera, oratorio and sacred music have a great value in the cultural landscape. I think young people get a more personal and passionate experience being practitioners as well as listeners. We are also forming a new Wratislavia orchestra, which will incorporate our finest musicians from the city, alongside the finest young musicians in the country. I have created a similar elsewhere; I’m sure it will be exciting. The interview is the result of a collaboration between EFA and Cristina Farinha/; it can also be read on the respective blog at • Related document: FestFlash on Creativity and Innovation 5 / 2009