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Seven questions: The Culture King and I

Seven questions: The Culture King and I

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The ARTplus Foundation will be presenting exhibitions and concerts all dedicated to Prince Frederick the Great who ruled the German state of Prussia from 1712-1786. The “Celebration of Frederick the Great” will take place under the title “King, Court, Muse” from July 30 to August 4 at the Meta House in Phnom Penh, the German Cambodian Cultural Centre. Programme Director Anton Isselhard tells us why he chose to organise an event about the Prussian King, his fascination for him and how this relates to Cambodia.

Here in Phnom Penh You are 9100km from Germany. How did you come up with an event in celebration of Frederick the Great here?
I am a fierce flute player, performing artist and music teacher. Frederick was a flute player himself so he is a must-know to me. Apart from that, this year would have been his 300th birthday. At the beginning it was obviously just an idea but when we discussed it within the ARTplus network, the historical figure Frederick became more and more fascinating to us.

What is it that fascinates you so much about Frederick?
He clearly was an icon – not only for flute players. He composed over 100 flute sonatas, wrote poems and philosophy and was a king at the same time. He represents the “Enlightened Absolutism” that can be viewed as the first step towards a civil society in Europe. He had the possibility and the means to promote the fine arts. He founded the Prussian Court Band that exists until today in an unbroken line. Today this is the German State Opera in Berlin, one of the most renowned operas in the world.

All that against the background that Fredrick’s father Fredrick William I tyrannised his young son to the extent that he did not allow him to read poetry or play the flute but humiliated him in front of the court by spitting in his soup and forcing him to eat it up – just to name a few absurdities that Frederick William I subjected his son to.

Frederick clearly was a patron of music and the fine arts, but he was also a despot. Does this give your project a political dimension?

Once you uncouple Frederick from music and arts my opinion on him is alternating. He fought many wars and sent soldiers to battle who died…but we cannot get into this here. He was a statesman and a muse and changed the cultural map of Europe with his promotions. Of course, that has a political dimension.

How does all of this relate to Cambodia?
Asia and the Orient have always fascinated and influenced European artists. Take Mozart’s Turkish Rondo for instance. Cambodia was present at World Expo in Paris in 1900 performing traditional dance and music. I think cultural exchange promotes peace. Music is a platform for people of different nations to come together and play. That does not mean that we want to act in a colonial fashion and just import our music, what I want to see is reciprocal action.

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming events?
I am especially looking forward to the music program. It is a heartfelt affair to me that my Cambodian students will play flute sonatas that were composed by Frederick. I will also be playing the flute and want to please the audience with my music. I would also appreciate dialogue and critical questions about Frederick, who is controversial figure after all.

Of what significance is the cultural exchange to cultural identity?
All dialogue and exchange is there to make the world better. By building bridges you reach different people and dive into their cultures if you really get involved with it. Once you do that you begin to reflect on your own culture as well becoming more aware of one’s own identity. Living here in Cambodia made me feel more German than ever before.

What do you consider important for fruitful cultural exchange in and outside Cambodia in the future?
It is vital to not just import culture. The effects rather have to work from the in-to the outside. I really wish there will be the power of continuity in cultural projects like the one we are doing right now. You need to look after projects like that not just activate. My vision is that cultures add up to each other naturally. That takes time.

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