Music wafts through sultry German vineyards

By Jean-Baptiste Piggin, IANS

Berlin : As the sightseeing boats slide along the Rhine, snatches of music may come down to them through the green vineyards on hot, sultry evenings this summer.

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The annual Rheingau Music Festival has begun, taking place in one of Germany's prettiest landscapes, centred on ancient Eberbach Abbey, where classical music will echo through cloisters, crypt and basilica on two Mozart concert nights.

Picture-perfect Riesling vineyards and chateaux like the Johannisberg, one of the 40 venues, surround the abbey that is now the centre of a state wine estate west of Frankfurt.

The hilltop palace was the home of Princess Tatiana von Metternich-Winneburg, the late festival chairman who died last year.

The Rheingau, thanks to its southwards slope and valley heat, has always been one of Germany's best places to grow grapes and enjoy the good life. The view of the river, the wine, fine food and the music make it irresistible when summer comes.

Many of the 149 events scheduled till September 1 will take place outdoors, including the conversion of the 3 kilometre long wall of the Steinberg Vineyard into a picnic table where the audience quaffs wine while listening to strolling jazz musicians.

The 54-euro ($72) entrance charge includes half a litre of wine and canapes.

The major orchestral concerts take place in the nearby city of Wiesbaden.

Summer music festivals in Germany bridge a gap in entertainment when state-salaried orchestras and opera companies close down for two months or more. Top events draw visitors from distant parts of Europe and sell out well in advance.

People who began applying back in 1998 may finally obtain seats at this year's Bayreuth Festival devoted exclusively to operas by Richard Wagner (July 25 to Aug 28).

In evening dress, they will reverently take their seats for the first time in the 19th-century festival theatre and after such a wait, who would dare complain at the lack of air-conditioning?

At the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, with 146 events between July 14 and Sep 2, all the tickets for major concerts had sold out in March, but others are still available.

Prime venues in Schleswig-Holstein, a rural state next to the Danish border, include the Baur family's Stocksee estate, where guests can feast under spreading oaks on farm-grown raspberries before concerts in a 2,000-seat former warehouse.

Stocksee will host the July 21-22 Musika Paprika weekend. The title is a reference to the theme nation for this year's festival, Hungary, which has not only given the world paprika but also great composers such as Bela Bartok.

A week later the venue will be privately owned Wotersen Palace, where guests can picnic in style on the lawn before four piano concerts in a converted equestrian hall.

Run until 1995 by its founder Justus Frantz, the festival this year will also feature performances in nearby cities Aug 3-5 of Bartok's difficult Second Piano Concerto by Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Tourists who are too late for the top events can always try the Klassik Open Air Concerts in a park July 22 and Aug 4 in Nuremberg. Entry is free, though concertgoers are requested to buy a badge in advance as a form of booking.

Germany also offers dozens of single-weekend rock and techno festivals during the summer.

The Rudolstadt folk festival TFF (originally the letters stood for Tanz und Folk Fest) has widened its scope since communist days to include rock and jazz incorporating traditional instruments like banjos and bagpipes.

With one TTF ticket visitors can enter quaint and remote Rudolstadt, population 25,000, and amble at will between concerts by international acts on more than 20 open-air stages during the July 6-8 event.