Schloss Augustusburg (Augustusburg Palace), along with its parks and gardens, has been put on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as the first significant architectural manifestation of the rococo style in Germany. Here, the entire complex of an electoral residence has been preserved with a completeness that is seldom encountered. In particular, the staircase by Balthasar Neumann is world-famous. Culminating in the stunning ceiling fresco by Carlo Carlone, it is probably the most magnificent and beautiful rococo achievement in Germany.
In 1958, the Brühl-born conductor, musicologist and theologian Helmut Müller-Brühl initiated a concert series in his town of birth – the “Brühler Schlosskonzerte” at Schloss Augustusburg. His aim was to wake the palace from its impending sleepy existence as a museum, using the concerts to make it accessible to a wider audience: under his leadership, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and the Capella Clementina orchestra formed the artistic backbone of the Brühler Schlosskonzerte for nearly 40 years. In late 1995, Helmut Müller-Brühl handed over the artistic leadership of the Brühler Schlosskonzerte to Andreas Spering, a harpsichordist and conductor who stands as one the leading specialists in Early Music. Since then, the house orchestra of the Brühler Schlosskonzerte has been the Capella Augustina, founded by Spering himself. From 1991 until 2013, the chairman of the Verein Brühler Schlosskonzerte was Hans-Peter Krämer, the former chairman of the board of the Kreissparkasse Köln. His successor since 6 November 2013 is Alexander Wüerst, the current chairman of the board of Kreissparkasse Köln.
Over the past five decades the Brühler Schlosskonzerte has developed an outstanding reputation as a venue for baroque and classical music. Numerous masterpieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, including a great number of unjustly forgotten works, have been presented in exemplary performances at Schloss Augustusburg. Since the 2002 season, Andreas Spering has been placing a major focus on the composer Joseph Haydn in his concert programmes, and has even established the first and only Haydn-Festival in Germany under the aegis of the Brühler Schlosskonzerte. For ten days in August, the best-known Haydn interpreters perform at Augustusburg Palace in Brühl, presenting the abundant oeuvre of this Viennese composer from a wide variety of perspectives. From the outset, the festival has collaborated with the Joseph Haydn Institute in Cologne, which is issuing an edition of the complete work of Haydn. The Balthasar Neumann-designed grand staircase at Schloss Augustusburg, as the ongoing performance site, provides the genuine atmosphere of the Haydn era and together with his music offers the experience of a gesamtkunstwerk. The festival ends traditionally with fireworks with live music in the palace gardens, which attracts thousands of visitors and enjoys a reputation as the cultural highlight of the region.
Outside of the Haydn Festival, from May through July, additional concerts take place in the staircase at Schloss Augustusburg as well as in nearby churches and halls. Of particular importance to the Schlosskonzerte was and is the advancement of outstanding up-and-coming talent: many of today’s world-renowned musicians withstood their first trial-by-fire on the landing of the grand staircase, and always happily return. Starting with Wilhelm Kempff, who was already a guest of the Brühler Schlosskonzerte in its early years, the list of artists who have taken the stage reads as a “who’s who” of musical history over the last 50 years. Among those who have performed are the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin, the Amati Quartett, Maurice André, the Beaux Art Trio, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Franks Brüggen, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Concerto Köln, Dennis Russel Davies, Alfred Deller, Jörg Demus, Christoph Eschenbach, Homero Francesch, Sol Gabetta, Reinhard Goebel, Friedrich Gulda, Ingrid Haebler, Ann Hallenberg, the Hilliard Ensemble, Christopher Hogwood, Heinz Holliger, the Jacques-Loussier-Trio, the King’s Singers, Emma Kirkby, Ton Koopman, Musica Antiqua Köln, Olli Mustonen, Dorothee Oberlinger, Christoph Poppen, Ragna Schirmer, Lauma Skride, Maurice Stger, the Trio di Clarone with Sabine Meyer, Sandor Végh, and Johannes Weisser.
Many albums have been recorded at the Brühler Schlosskonzerte. Of particular note is the recording of the rarely heard oratorio “Il ritorno di Tobia” from Joseph Haydn performed by the Capella Augustina, the VokalEnsemble Köln and a first class ensemble of soloists under the direction of Andreas Spering. It was produced in conjunction with a performance at the Brühler Schlosskonzerte in 2006, and in 2008 received the renowned annual “Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik” (The German Record Critics’ Award). Previously in 2005 a similar orchestration recorded Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “Die Schöpfung,” which was declared a reference recording of the piece by the music industry press.