If Richard Tognetti had suggested Woman as the central theme of the festival in the good old days I would have had a problem with his suggestion. It is true that Lacan, Freud and Jung were once part of my repertoire for coffeehouse debates, but in real life the women in our family quickly disposed of patriarchal-macho models, first in the family and later professionally; if in no other way, with playfulness and humour. In much the same way, we also disposed of feminism, women’s magazines and women’s victimisation. In this context, I was also convinced that any kind of segregation in the field of art, no matter how well intentioned, was of no benefit to either art or the artist. Who would want their work to attract attention purely on the strength of the artist being defined as a woman or as a Slovenian composer, a Maribor artist, a Roma, a Jew, gay, etc.? There should not be any Special Olympics in the world of music. Talent, creativity, ambition, diligence, dedication, etc. are not attributes that are more characteristic of a particular gender, race, nationality, religion, ethnic group, age group or faith. When we speak of music, the only thing that is important is music itself, and the only criterion is excellence.

It is true that we do not have female Beethovens and Mozarts. According to Richard Strauss,  and to many others before as well as after him, musical creativity is a man’s affair: Männersach. With a few rare exceptions, women in the past did not have access to education and opportunities for creativity, nor did they have support in the area of men’s affairs. The dynamic whirlwind of facts and thoughts that have been assembled by Aljaž Zupančič in the present booklet thus also speak about the sometimes forgotten and often silenced images of women through the history of music.

But today we live in different times. The era of equal opportunities for education gives rise to an increasing number of successful women, including artists: composers and performers. Why then would we highlight the creativity of women and create the impression that they represent a disadvantaged subculture?

Before I gain the label of a woman with misogynist views and attract the anger of Satu Vänskä, the flag bearer of this year’s central project entitled Woman, let us look at the other side of the coin.

Today, in the arts as well as in other fields, equal opportunities for everyone and striving for so-called excellence is, of course, merely a slogan-like cliché: bluff and sand in the eyes regarding the essential question of who actually establishes criteria and decides about excellence. Is it the cultural policy of the state, which hides behind complicated procedures, commissions and collective decision-making? Is it the onslaught of centralism? Is it cultural lobbies, those on the gravy train, who protect their own interests and preserve the status quo? Is it the financial crisis, or simply the crisis of values and the terror of populism? Or is it programming policies that, at least in our world of so-called serious music, find it uncomfortable to adopt the stance of critical engagement, and which, in the majority of cases, still successfully resist innovation and foster an image of conservatism, bloody-mindedness and elitism? Is it, on the other hand, programming policies that resist the canonisation of classical music with the introduction of triviality and pretence about useful marketing tools? It is, of course, a case of the simultaneous fermentation of numerous factors that significantly influence the criteria of excellence. Blood, sweat and tears – to use Churchill’s words – are no longer either essential or relevant.

It is therefore also necessary to view women’s creativity from a pragmatic perspective. In the general chaos of the architecture of invisible walls and glass ceilings that often define today’s artistic creativity, women are even more disadvantaged. Even if, in recent years, even the Vienna Philharmonic has given in and employed a few women; even if critics of concerts conducted by women no longer only assess the conductor’s stilettos, as happened to Simone Young; and even if Kaija Saariaho, as the only woman composer, has managed to climb to 96th place on the list of the hundred most-performed opera composers. In this regard, American composer Sarah Hersh concluded: “Just because we elected Obama, it doesn’t mean we have solved the problem of racism in America.” It is therefore right that on this occasion we give the floor to women, albeit in the context of gender segregation in music. And it is even more right in view of the fact that we give women the floor because they are women and not part of male networking or cultural-political leverage.

Woman is therefore the connecting thread that in a certain way links the majority of the concerts of this year’s festival. As in the past, the festival’s theme is not rigidly imposed; it is multilayered, sometimes provocative, at other times experimental. Under the leadership of Richard Tognetti, the theme will be co-created by numerous excellent Slovenian and foreign performers, conductors, soloists, chamber musicians and, of course, members of the orchestra of the Slovene National Theatre and the Maribor Festival.

Given that women’s affairs also have a price, it is worth taking this opportunity to thank the Municipality of Maribor, the Ministry of Culture, and the numerous sponsors, partners and co-producers. This year, the role of the central co-producer of the festival has been taken on by Narodni dom Maribor, while the co-producers of individual concerts are the Slovene National Theatre Maribor and the music cycle Musikabende from neighbouring Graz.

In the name of everyone involved, I wish you abundant musical pleasure.

Brigita Pavlič
Festival Maribor