It takes a lot of courage to swop a secure job as a teacher to become an arts festival organizer, and Julien Kurtz never regretted he did it. Kurtz is producing the Les Amateurs Virtuoses! Festival in Cape Town from 10 November 2018, culminating in the festival finale in which no less than six pianists perform with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra on 18 November 2018.
A music graduate from the Marseille and Cachan conservatories, and a Humanities graduate from the École Normale Supérieure de Cachan, he had been teaching Economics and Social sciences for two years at a high school in Marseille.
“Although I very much enjoyed learning and researching in the field of social sciences as a student, I didn’t yet quite the same excitement teaching it. I just couldn’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life!” he says.
Prominent amateur pianists
Julien Kurtz had already been a laureate in competitions and had participated in the Boston International Piano Competition in 2007, where he had met another participating pianist, Dominique Xardel, who was to later become his associate. Losing contact with friends they had made at the competition saddened them.
They began at explore ways of getting together by providing performance opportunities without the stress that comes with competitions – in other words options for those passionate pianists who wanted to remain amateurs.
“So the festival was born and our first edition was to be launched just a year later at Radio France with 15 of the most prominent amateur pianists from all over the world,” says Kurtz.
The first festival took place in July 2008 and since then there have been 21 events from Paris to Saint Petersburg, Rio de Janeiro to Bayreuth, Buenos Aires to Tangiers, and more recently Shanghai this month (October) and Cape Town in November.
He notes that one of the most important achievements of the festivals is that there have been performance opportunities in venues in which most pianists wouldn’t even have dreamed of – places like the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Capella in Saint Petersburg, the Usina del Arte in Buenos Aires.
“The Cape Town festival expands the performance opportunities,” he continues. “For this will be the first time that the festival collaborates with a professional symphony orchestra. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra embraced our offer. We have had nothing but warmth from people here in Cape Town, and have felt very welcome by the universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town where we are presenting master classes with several amateurs and South African professional pianists Francois du Toit, Albie van Schalkwyk and Jan Hugo. Recitals by the pianists take place daily, mainly at the Baxter Concert Hall.
“The CPO concert on 18 November 2018 is clearly one of the most thrilling ones we have ever had in over 10 years,” he adds.
Kurtz could have been a professional pianist
“As a teenager starting to take piano seriously, I had to make a choice. We were living in the South of France, in a remote village where there wasn’t much to do, especially in winter, and learning to play the piano was a way to keep me busy after school – so I began lessons at the age of five. Becoming a concert pianist was really attractive … the fame, the attention, the travelling was tempting. But it became clear quite quickly how competitive the world of professional musicians can be. But I was doing well academically and chose that route. But relinquishing the world of teaching 15 years ago and embracing the arts world was definitely the right decision.”
“I love the freedom I have from being an amateur. I play what I like, when I like, with who I like, learn new works at my own pace and am far more relaxed because I don’t have to rely on performances to pay my bills! I am probably a better pianist for all that!”
Wy did he choose Cape Town for his festival?
“It’s obvious,” Julien Kurtz says. “The city has a magnificent environment, amazing music infrastructure and wonderful musicians. It also has a cosmopolitan population which I am hoping with embrace the concerts and relate to our project. Although we have performed with an orchestra before, this festival finale will be the first with a professional orchestra of the calibre and fame of the CPO. It will be a life experience for most of our six pianists, one of whom will be Stellenbosch doctor Bernard Linde, who will be performing that night.”
What: Les Amateurs Virtuoses! Piano Festival
Where: Endler Concert Hall, Baxter Concert Hall, Cape Town City Hall – South Africa
When: 10 – 18, November 2018; Festival Finale Concert with pianist Julien Kurtz, June Wu, Xavier Aymonod, Thierry Goldwaser, Bernard Linde, Thomas Yu, the CPO Daniel Boico (conductor)
Info: https://www.pianestival.org/amateurs/piano/finfos22.php?l=1, firstname.lastname@example.org/
Les Amateurs Virtuoses tickets:
Endler concert: 11 November, 2018, https://www.computicket.mobi/mobile/
Baxter concerts: 10, 13 – 17 November, 2018, http://www.webtickets.co.za/event.aspx?itemid=1479450972#
CPO concert: 18 November, 2018, http://bit.ly/LesAmVirt /, 021 421 7695