Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Lena Kettner:
Lena Kettner: Why was the Conference of the Birds - a celebrated literary masterpiece of Persian literature by the poet Farid ud-Din Attar - such a great inspiration for you on the way to the foundation of the SRSO?
Jan Moritz Onken: Reading the ‚Conference of the Birds’ in the brilliant translation of Katja Föllmer I was deeply impressed by the great capacity of Farid ud-Din Attar to recognize sense in a certain understanding of quality in its highest form. I learned about a great poet who understands the idea of quality in a very personal way with great anecdotes and colorful parables full of wisdom. Later we agreed on this key-metaphor because for us as a Foundation and a Symphony Orchestra the Conference of the Birds in our own narrative simply stands for the best qualities in ‚the other’, especially in a listener who became an active Co-Creator of the Silk Road Cultural Belt. We trust that this idea will speak not only to Persian and Arabian audiences along the Silk Road but on a more basic human level as a Conference of the Birds between different world views in classical music around the world. We love the journey to discover more about each other like these 30 Birds in Farid ud-Din Attars poem.
Lena Kettner: The idea for the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra was born at the BMW Global Table in Tanzania in 2015 which was organized by the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. How important has the support of the foundation been for your work during the past years?
Jan Moritz Onken: The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt has given an example of great courage and vision to establish the Global Table as an incubator for change and to give us the chance to introduce our own artistic narrative in a global context. Thanks to their continuous support and a global network we could develop the entire initiative with the trust of exceptional personalities like Frannie Lèautier, Ali Aslan, Nelson Freire, Glenn Denning and many others we would not have met without the trust of the BMW Foundation - a bit like in a big swarm, spread all over the world – also Callias Foundation as the legal background in Berlin is financially and artistically fully independent. Through this process the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt became one of the leading birds in this swarm – with very strong impact, very critical and very strict - with great proof and trust that they can inspire others to do things differently and in their very own way through cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaborations around the world. This helped us in so many ways to maintain the proof of concept and to create the necessary instruments around this idea.
Lena Kettner: The SRSO invites audiences all around the globe to share what each and everyone of them believes to be, how you define it, the „silk“ in classical music. What is this silk for you as a conductor and as the founder of this project?
Jan Moritz Onken: For me as a conductor ‚silk’ is primarily an idea to understand other qualities in music. ‚Other’ in the sense of ‚not like others’ when I’m in the stage of just recognizing something new to me like I had to learn working for years with different orchestras along the Silk Road. Always new repertoire, different sound, other musical influences. To focus on the qualitative part, on music making it self, metaphers helped me a lot because they sometimes can evoke positive associations. In this context ‚other’ is more like a door to something completely new, foreign to me. A white piece of paper. Nothing written yet. A repertoire or a sound I never heared of. So I need to know my self to hear the difference. Secondary it stands for basic human qualities. This can be kind, loud or cold. Any quality. As a professional I believe that it is simply my duty to first purely and respectfully observe which specific quality makes the „Ferrari-red“ the „Ferrari-red“ - and the ‚Bordeaux-red’ the ‚Bordeaux red’ – what quality makes Brahms being Brahms. Only then I can understand the other quality in a specific sound of a specific voice or instrument in another context with another subtext. There is always something unique, something different – ideally a specific form of beauty. And sometimes it’s perplexing, not close to what I know at all. I’m searching for clear knowledge. I want to know the truth about a certain other quality in a source of inspiration I discovered in the Indian Ocean at the Silk Road Cultural Belt. And this logic of observation makes sense to me and my colleagues in the orchestra. This is why we believe we should use the Digital instruments to reach out to ‚the other’ and ask him or her what he or she believes to be a form of quality in his or her musical terms. This is happening at the Silk Road Cultural Belt thanks to more then 2000 visitors per day. I’m a musician and a B-Major accord can be heard literally or metaphorically in so many ways. Silk allows my imagination to reach out to the unknown.
Lena Kettner: Why is classical music the perfect bridge builder across nations and races?
Jan Moritz Onken: Because it is full of life. Full of meaning. Full of questions. Full of love if you think of Chopin or Tchaikovsky. We love the question. And we are already 670.000 listeners strong. Imagine the impact, if 670.000 people seriously and peacefully reflect on an open question like ‚How would you compose a Silk Road?’ and other important questions. And some of them already shared their answer – a piece of silk. I find all these sources of inspiration and especially the personal characterization give a perfect bridge to your question. Across nations and differences. Sometimes it is hard to name a feeling – but sound can carry what is hidden behind the notes.
Lena Kettner: Are there any plans to extend your initiative to other cultural spheres such as visual art or film?
Jan Moritz Onken: We are open to collaborations from visual art and film as long as the narrative or form is inspired by the Conference of the Birds to keep the specific focus. We love Artists like Annina Roescheisen, who is working in the same direction with her project #whatbringspeace. Flavio de Marco painted a series of paintings based on Ligetis ‚6 Bagatelles’, Mozarts Clarinett Quintett and Debussys ‚Syrinx’ , all shared at the Silk Road Cultural Belt. Dasha Fursey dedicated a wonderful painting inspired by the Conference of the Birds and Michael Franke contributed a painting inspired by Beethovens ‚Missa solemnis’. You can find these works on our Blog and hopefully one day in an exhibition.
Lena Kettner: From which continents have you experienced the biggest contribution to your worldwide cultural musical initiative so far?
Jan Moritz Onken: The fascinating thing is that there are contributions from different parts of the world including Miami, Kinshasa, Stellenbosch, New York, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg etc. By today German audiences seem to be a bit more receptive for our idea probably due to the fact that we are based in Berlin and there is no country in the world with so many wonderful orchestras and choirs. Our focus is ‚the other’ and you never know where he or she might be located on this planet. The gesture itself, the fact, that Hannah from New York took a moment to share a personal source of inspiration and thanks to her we could include Arvo Pärts Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten in our program in July 2017 is the impact we are grateful for.
Lena Kettner: What have been the most touching contributions of single people or larger audience to the Silk Road Cultural Belt project so far?
Jan Moritz Onken: Each time a new source of inspiration is flying in it is a very precious moment because an open question always leads to a completely unexpected response. And if the author comes from Kinshasa or Miami we always start to ask our selfs who this person might be in real, sitting today in a kitchen and tomorrow in the audience or on stage. What matters is the personal perception. The level of sincerity. The hidden needs. There we see a great potential to be discovered and transformed. And each source of inspiration is so personal and individual that it takes time to fully realize what this should mean for us as an orchestra. What consequences this implies on stage, for our behavior, our playing and quality of listening to each other and most of all for the sound we are responsible for. So each contribution is like a stone thrown in a lake with multiple positive effects hopefully on both sides. On the performers side and on the listeners side.
Lena Kettner: In what ways do social networks help you to get in contact with your audience?
Jan Moritz Onken: Social networks give us great access to new audiences. The biggest advantage for us is, that we can address ‚the other’ directly without any filter. Our message can spread with extreme speed all over the world within seconds and if you take Instagram, our community out there is very active, very responsive and supportive in many ways. As an Organisation we believe that social media is like a screen – it shows what is inside and you can share it with others if the content makes sense. As in your case Bloggers can freely choose what they want to ask and write about. We are certainly grateful for all these new instruments which allow new ideas to be discovered independently from established media.
Lena Kettner: What would be your greatest wish for the future of the Silk Road Cultural Belt project?
Jan Moritz Onken: My greatest wish is to inspire more and more people who see the necessities and who have the resources to make the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra a successful background for all the sources of inspiration shared at the Silk Road Cultural Belt since February 2016. Our greatest wish is that the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra can become the real, strong and clear support, you, as the Conference of the Birds, deserve.
This interview took place on the 11th of December 2017.