Ilona Schmiel (Foto: Gaëtan Bally)
Anniversary Ilona Schmiel

Our Artistic Director Celebrates – and Answers your Questions

Ilona Schmiel has been working as an Artistic Director for 25 years. And during this time she has collected countless stories, experiences and contacts.

In January 1998, Ilona Schmiel took up her first position as artistic director in Bremen. Much has changed since then. But some things have remained the same – for example, her interest in an intensive exchange with the audience.

To mark her anniversary, she has answered some questions in this video clip.

But you will also learn some things you may not have known in the following review of Ilona Schmiel's three positions in Bremen, Bonn and Zurich.

The Beginning

«A young manager» was the goal of the search. Ilona Schmiel asked whether a female manager was also conceivable – and 25 years ago she took up her first position as Artistic Director at Bremen's concert hall «Die Glocke». How can the concert business be anchored in the city? How do you get contemporary music out of its niche? How do you attract new audiences? These issues were already on her mind at the time. And: In 2000, «Die Glocke» went online with its own website.

The Second Station

Four and a half weeks of festival, up to 28 venues: The Beethovenfest in Bonn, which Ilona Schmiel directed from 2004 to 2013, functioned differently from a seasonal operation. Sponsors were important, and when they were not in the mood for contemporary music, the Artistic Director presented them with a collage of Beethoven works and new compositions. Which is which? The answers were by no means all correct. Many artistic relationships also stem from this period: with Paavo Järvi and Hélène Grimaud, with Lisa Batiashvili and Martin Grubinger. She also started a programme for student managers back then. In addition, there were projects with El Sistema and the Deutsche Welle Orchestra Campus, composition commissions and competitions for short films – and a plan for a large-scale production with Udo Lindenberg that was unfortunately never realised.

The Present

Ilona Schmiel moved to Zurich in 2014. A lot has happened since then: There was a change of principal conductor and the major renovation, the interim period in the Tonhalle Maag and the 150th anniversary of the orchestra, Corona and the glorious reopening of the Tonhalle am See. Digitalisation has picked up speed; the inauguration of a Bremen website seems almost prehistoric from today's perspective. The climate debate has also reached the concert business, with consequences that are still open. But despite all these changes, there are also continuities. Ilona Schmiel mentions the demand for quality on and off stage, «you can't give an inch here»; plus the desire for film projects, the responsibility for contemporary and new formats, the opening to the city. The commitment to young talent projects has also remained. And yes, this too: Women directors are still a small minority.

Translated with

published: 08.03.2023