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15 Questions to Frank Dodge

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, I am just fine. Have just opened a bottle of white Rioja and will now begin answering your questions. I am sitting in my livingroom at the work bench on which my computer sits.

You’ve just finished the second concert of this season – how did things go?

I’ve been doing this since 1969 and my repertoire for dealing with unexpected surprises is increasing of course every day. Just a week before this terrible difficult and long program, one of the musicians was unable to come. We were confronted with finding someone good and who knew this repertoire and free for these dates. We did, thank goodness! The concert was beautiful in spite of being about three hours long. Nobody complained about that because the players were 100% the entire time as was the audience. A few commented and I referred to how people go to the opera every night and sit there for at least three hours. So we can do that with chamber music too – why not?

If one takes a look at the success of Spectrum Concerts right from the first season, it seems as though these concerts filled a need in music lovers. What do you think you provided audiences with that they had been missing?
Berlin’s classic sceene consists primarily of orchestras and opera houses. Chamber music was not represented here before 1988 in the way we have introduced it. The repertoire we have sought and found each season provides our audiences with the old masters and those lesser known and many simply unknown. In our last concert for example, we presented von Zemlinsky’s Quintet for strings (two violas). These pieces are seldom heard in spite of their beauty. We have been able to find many such works, dust them off and give them sparkeling performances. We have also introduced many works by contemporary American writers and bringing this world of chamber music into Berlin was totally new. It also provided us with a wonderful opportunity to expand the musical bridge between Europe and America using the intimacy of chamber music as transporter.

A lot of public attention has focussed on the financing of the concerts. Even though the music should come first, the success of Spectrum does raise the question whether a privately organised Concert series might generally be able to provide a more exciting program than one subsidised by individual cities or governmental grants. What’s your opinion on this?
Individuals decide programming so I don’t really know if the sources of funding necessarily have much of an effect on such decisions. What does go through my mind quite often is that one does conceive of these programs differently knowing that the money is not there yet. There has to be a particularly believable concept in programming and with the selections of artists in order to hold on to the tenacity one needs to see the projects through to a successful end. Maybe one is more awake due to this fact and maybe one has to be particularly convincing. Otherwise there is no money and therefore no show. One does work differently when there are so many ifs involved.

Despite its market-based financing, the repertoire has over the years found a remarkable balance between traditional classic repertoire and modern pieces. Would you agree that this goes to show that the public does not need to be “educated” about the “avant-garde”, but is actually hungry for new compositions, if presented in the right context and by the right artists?
That is absolutely correct! Audiences simply need to be reminded that they are made up of intellegent, feeling and capable human beings.

One of the Interview questions artists seem to like most is the one asking them how they would program a festival. Is that also your favourite part of the planning process – thinking about what and with whom to play? And: How do you go about that?
I actually feel my job, my mission as being all-encompassing. The entire job is exciting, challenging. I do not have a favourite part. 

How would you describe your audience? How has interest and response been (and developed) from young listeners?
There are always new faces but also the familiar ones are always there. We have a lot of friends and this has taken 18 years. The process goes on and on / as it needs to. There is no button to push or to find that makes it all right. This entire aspect of our culture is an ongoing responsibility. Really important information is transferred by wanting and needing to do so on a very personal basis. This I believe is true of building an audience too. It starts with one and over the course of time things develop.  

In a total of 18 seasons, there must have been hard times as well. Has there ever been a point when you’ve wanted to call it quits?
Not terribly often. Maybe twice a week or so. 

On the other hand, as Spectrum became a brand itself, some aspects of organisation must be easier now. Are you able to approach the current season more relaxed than the first one?
No! Thank God no!! One becomes familiar perhaps but never routine. That would be beginning of things not getting better. If you feel you have it, you better find a way and quickly to make yourself nervous again.    

You have kept certain continuity with regards to the artists performing at Spectrum. Would it be ok to talk about a “Spectrum Family”? And: What makes these artists stand out?
Absolutely! One of the most important aspects is the family one. This was written up in the last "Tagesspiegel" review actually. The artists stand out because they have the opportunity to do so. Here they are free and this they see and feel as a great chance to shine.

Certainly, one of the points that made Spectrum so exciting was its freshness and its ability to attract young talents. How do you balance the need for the latter with the continuity aspect of working together with certain artists over a longer period?
I assume you mean that people do not stay young. Well, as Rolf Liebermann said repeatedly, nothing lasts forever. Let us enjoy this while it lasts. Period.

A question that we’d be interested in as well: As you are one of the performers as well, do you feel it to be important to not only share a common musical understanding but also to get along on a personal level?
I am a cellist and I perform in these concerts as well. This is a necessity for me. It keeps me in touch with the musicians and with the stage. To loose this feeling would be a great shame indeed. My personal love of performing and of music needs to remain fresh so that my work as a manager makes sense too.

From your experience from all these years: What, in your opinion, constitutes a good live performance?
Live is good. Even when it goes badly at times. I take a bit of distance to this question although I can understand why one would ask.

While CD sales in Classical music are still experiencing a slump, the live scene seems to be vibrant and well. Do you think that the fact that the concert has taken over from the album as “the space where classical music takes place” could actually be a good thing?
The gage for determining what that is all about is with each of us attending the concerts. I remember a few years ago when the doomsday of classical music was being printed in all papers around the world. I performed a concert that summer in a small church in Jonesport, Maine in the USA. The church was full and that audience simply did not want to let us go. Here was a craving for what we do that I will never forget. This craving will always be there. We just have to keep looking for it and watering it.

Are you more nervous when up there on the stage or as a member of Spectrum’s audience?
I am almost always nervous.

Frank Dodge / Spectrum Concerts

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