Great hosts - for everyone

– Since 2014, Ilona Schmiel has been shaping the modernisation of the renowned orchestra as artistic director of the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zurich. She sees great opportunities in the conversion and renovation of the Zurich Convention Center and the Tonhalle Zurich.

Ms Schmiel, what is on your mind right now?

What concerns me today is what will happen in March and in 2021 in general, especially with Corona. When will we be able to play live again? Do we play in front of an audience and if so, how many people? This also includes considerations regarding the international mobility of the musicians for tours. At the moment we are very much thrown back on ourselves, and it is important to keep the motivation of the more than 150 employees high. The anticipation of moving to the Tonhalle is a big part in this.

«We want to revive the historic buildings in a contemporary way and make them more accessible.»

Ilona Schmiel, artistic director of the Tonhalle Zurich

Exactly, in summer the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich will once again move into the historic premises by the lake. What does this anticipation entail?

It gives us a perspective for the future. The bond with the current Maag location is there, of course, but we are looking forward to our parent building, a fantastic historical building, and want to revive it in a contemporary and relevant way, make it more accessible - regardless of age, education and wallet. We have succeeded in doing this in the Tonhalle Maag and we want to take this spirit with us.


What can the public expect from the renovated Tonhalle Zurich?

The "old" Tonhalle Zurich did indeed have a somewhat dusty patina. A lot of things looked dated, including the foyers and the entrance. Now everything has a much fresher look. The friendly colours and then the new organ, which fits in perfectly - that creates a whole new picture. Details and paintings come into their own again much better and appear very vivid. All this will also change the way you feel, how you take everything in - and also how the audience hears, I think.


How important is a venue for the musicians?

It is important for the musicians to have a kind of home, to know the ways backstage, to be able to identify themselves - not all ensembles have that. The acoustics in the Tonhalle Zurich will again be different from those in the Tonhalle Maag, but the musicians will remember and be able to adjust quickly. You have to do that anyway if you travel a lot as an ensemble. It is important to feel safe and comfortable on stage so that top performance is possible and you can take the risk of giving everything.


What makes the ensemble special - what is typical of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich?

The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich has always been a very good orchestra in Europe. The entire orchestra is highly motivated, together with our music director Paavo Järvi, to get on the top ten map worldwide as well. We have a characteristic, very warm sound, with a sound ideal strongly influenced by Romanticism. We continue to refine this and respond to changing listening habits. Digitalisation, now accelerated by Corona, plays an important role in this: it offers great development potential for the orchestra.


Will this development also have an influence on the 2021/22 season and artistic programme?

We will definitely keep this digital level and also expand it - with or without Corona. Streaming, for example, is no substitute for live concerts, but it's hard to imagine life without it as a supplement. And they are a chance for many people to participate in culture. I can only reveal so much about the artistic programme: The official opening concert will take place on 15 September 2021.


The renovation and construction of the Tonhalle Maag, including the relocation, is probably not exactly everyday life for an artistic director - do you enjoy it?

Yes, I really enjoy it and I was itching to be involved in this phase. It is simply fascinating to see how something is designed when luxury is missing in the concert hall of the Tonhalle Maag and it is really about necessities. You then realise how little you need and understand how important art was back then that people allowed themselves such opulent halls as the Tonhalle, which opened in 1895 - symbols of valued intellectual life.


What does the house mean for Zurich today?

It is a very big opportunity for Zurich as a location. We are a world metropolis, but people almost forget all the institutions they have in Zurich. If you look at it in this density, beauty and quality - it really is unique. I hope that people will experience and enjoy the new building with all their senses, but that it will also be an important argument for international location considerations.


The two "sisters", the Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich AG and the Zurich Convention Center Ltd.?, will reopen the house together. What do you want from the collaboration with Zurich Convention Center Ltd.?

I hope for great openness and curiosity; we are together on a journey and many things still have to grow together. I hope that we can create a place to stay with a relaxed, stimulating atmosphere, especially after the concerts. To the point: I wish to be great hosts together - for everyone.

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