Claudia Hessel

  • Claudia Hessel, coordinator of the Offenbach Year 2019. © Axel Schulten
    Claudia Hessel, coordinator of the Offenbach Year 2019. © Axel Schulten

A chat with Claudia Hessel, coordinator of the Offenbach Year 2019.

In the summer of 1819, Jakob Offenbach, or Jacques as he later called himself in Paris, was born in Cologne's old town. 200 years later Cologne is celebrating its "prodigal son"? But does Jakob count as a Kölner, i.e. someone from Cologne?

Well, growing up in the city, the young Jacob gained his first musical experiences in the city’s taverns where he and his siblings used to play to entertain the guests. Some people in Cologne have not forgiven him for pursuing his career in Paris. And while his relationship with Cologne may have been a little ambivalent, he definitely possessed a Cologne gene. This is especially evident in Offenbach's humour. In response to a play on Rossini's quote the "Mozart of the Champs-Élysées", he once said he should be called the "Mozart of the Domplatz".

Our photographer took the picture of you in the foyer of the German public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) not far from the Cathedral Square. What role is WDR playing in the Offenbach Year?

A big one. On its cultural channel WDR 3, Westdeutscher Rundfunk is "European Media Host" during the Offenbach Year and will broadcast a variety of Offenbach-related content, ranging from its own projects and productions to concerts, operas and panel discussions. Outstanding WDR projects include the Offenbach Birthday Concert at the WDR Funkhaus or the Offenbach Operetta Review featuring the WDR Funkhaus Orchestra.

For "Yes, we CanCan" – a programme for the 2019 Offenbach Year – you were awarded the KulturReiseLand NRW innovation prize. What is so innovative about the programme?

The Cologne Offenbach Society was recognised for a concept that helps promote art and culture beyond the confines of the big cities. Offenbach’s music is being made accessible to new target groups through the “Musikpicknick von Jacques Offenbach in Schlössern und Parks im Offenbach-Jahr 2019” series of events. In addition, the jury also praised the approach taken to networking between cities, castles, parks, tourism associations and municipalities. The award is outstanding proof that we have chosen the right – open and participative – approach to our campaign. Concertgoers are guests in the castles or parks of the region. This special setting enables people to enjoy extraordinary concert experiences away from the big concert halls.

The Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne is the largest music academy in Europe. How are your colleagues celebrating the Mozart of Domplatz?

The Musikhochschule is involved in very different ways. Those studying singing are performing pieces scenically. Chamber ensembles from the university are visiting social institutions to play Offenbach. In a joint project between the Cologne music academy and a Paris ensemble, a promenade
concert is being organised that will be performed throughout the entire Chocolate Museum in a single evening. Elsewhere, a scientific symposium – a joint venture between Frankfurt, Cologne and Paris – will set thematic accents. In short, the university is doing what it stands for: historical research and great music!

People say Jacques Offenbach is like Cologne: open-minded, vibrant and always standing up to authorities. Personally, what do you like about Cologne?

Cologne or Kölle, as it’s lovingly called by locals, is, of course, the most beautiful city in the world. Speaking in the Cologne dialect, locals give expression to their cheerfulness, their pragmatism and disdain for authority. I myself am a native of Cologne and know how soaked in ambivalence we are. In addition to our love of a comfy, tranquil and pleasurable life, we possess a strong desire to showcase Cologne as a metropolis, media city, city of art and city of music. It is precisely this combination of the simultaneous pursuit of size and frugality that shapes the city’s special charm for me.