Bonn · Clemens Knothe himself was a frequent host for participants of the “International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn”. Today he coordinates the accommodation of the young pianists with private families. A playable piano is a prerequisite.
Rhinelanders are generally said to like a certain cordiality and uncomplicated hospitality. It therefore makes sense to accommodate the participants of the International Telekom Beethoven Competition in private households. How does this work? Before the start of the Telekom Beethoven Competition, 23 pianists have had to find accommodation with a corresponding number of host families. This has been the case since 2009, due to the initiative of the artistic director and president of the jury, Professor Pavel Gililov. The reasons for this is to provide the company and support for the participants during a period in which they would otherwise hardly have the opportunity to practice outside the competition.
"Of course, every household must have an instrument for practising in order to be considered as a guest household," explains Clemens Knothe, who has been involved in accommodating the participants since 2013 – first as host, then as coordinator or mentor for host families, as his voluntary work is actually called. “It is not enough to buy a 20,000 euro electric piano or a 150 year old instrument that was last played 25 years ago. It must be an instrument on which someone can practise appropriately.”
It goes without saying that every guest household receives free piano tuning. After all, the “free” time of the participants in their guest accommodations consists mainly of hours of practice. "Going out occasionally, even if it is only to the Rhine one kilometre away will not happen with most participants. Practice takes up every available minute; there is no time for sightseeing, as Knothe knows from own experience as a host. In 2015 he hosted the final winner of the competition, Filippo Gorini from Italy.
Knothe now coordinates the entire communication with the hosts, selects them and prepares them for the role. A hard core of people has been a regular host for years. He or she is first approached before each competition and already knows the procedures and fulfils the conditions. In addition to a piano or grand piano in the household, these include a particular a room of their own for the guest and good transport connections, as well as an obligatory breakfast every morning for them and optimally, the opportunity to also practise during rest periods. Foreign language skills are individually taken into account in the distribution of participants, and younger pianists who are less rooted in business are assigned to experienced host families.
The planning and thus the contact with the host houses already began in the summer. A lot of organisational effort is required for the host families, as well as accommodating a guest for days or weeks. Is the whole thing worth it for the families? "Of course there are a few perks, including free piano tuning and obtaining tickets to all performances, which are not free," Knothe lists. “But in the end it's not about that. Our host families are on average in their mid-60s, so many of them are pensioners, most of them are or have been musically active themselves. They are happy when something happens in the pre-Christmas period, they share the thrills of 'their' pianist.”
Problems almost never occur during the host period. The “most problematic” situation, that Knothe can think of after some thought, was the sudden change of heart of a host family regarding the observance of rest periods. But in practically all cases the hosting runs smoothly, with good and increasingly intensive and trusting relationships between families and pianists during the event. After the competition, some host families have still remained in contact for years with the participants assigned to them. Knothe picks up his smartphone during the conversation and shows his lively WhatsApp exchange with Gorini: "He has now visited us at least ten times, we have been to Italy with him and his family. This has become a really good and long-term friendship!
The author is a participant in a practical seminar on music criticism offered by Cologne University in cooperation with Telekom, the General-Anzeiger of Deutsche Welle and WDR Cologne.
(Original text; Jannis Roloff, translation John Chandler)