In Memoriam Emil Gilels

When Emil Gilels died suddenly in 1985, aged 69, the world lost one of the greatest pianists on the 20th century. Today he still lives in the memories of all those who had the remarkable fortune of attending his concerts. His performances are widely regarded as the pinnacle of musical interpretation. Awe-inspiring breadth of repertoire, absolute selflessness in his art and pianistic perfection make Gilels a model for new generations of musicians. In his central work, Great Pianists of Our Time (1972), Joachim Kaiser wrote with admiration: ‘Added to Gilels’ charm, his vitality, healthiness and his feist, is an intellectual ascendancy, a dynamic and dramatic modernism that probably does in fact make him the foremost pianist of Russia’. Dedicating himself wholly to art, Gilels shunned the superficial brilliance of fame: For this reason so little was known about his private life. The aim of our charitable foundation, established in 2009 by Professor Felix Gottlieb, is to shed light on all facets of the personality and stature of this great pianist, and to reconstruct all the details of his artistic biography.

The vast part of Gilels’ personal archive consists of hundreds of documents, photographs, letters and sketches. These are becoming available to the public in a digital format for the first time. The databases, encompassing decades of his concert and recording output, give the visitor the chance to indulge in interesting discoveries.

Exactly ten years ago – in October 2009 – the Emil Gilels Foundation was established in Freiburg. Ever since, we have been considering ourselves as a vital part of the town’s cultural life, even more so as we had the honour to receive an enormously strong support in the region.

At this point, it is my deep wish to thank all those who made these events possible: the world-renowned musicians and musicologists in concerts, master courses and lectures as well as all the people who – in the background – added to the festival’s success in many ways. They organized the concerts, courses and exhibitions and managed logistic challenges such as the accommodation of the master class participants or the transport and the tuning of the instruments.

And of course we want to express our gratitude to the audience whose interest and enthusiasm in many sold-out concerts created a special atmosphere. Personally, I‘ve gained a lot by the encounters with everybody involved.

For all these reasons we had taken for granted that the 5th Emil Gilels Festival would be part of the celebration programme on the occasion of the town’s 900th anniversary in 2020, also the year of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary – a thought that inspired and thrilled us. Unfortunately we were told that our festival had not been taken into account.

To our great regret the quality of our internationally sought after events doesn’t seem to fulfill the expectations of the municipal project team. Due to this decision, the festival lacks the organizational, logistic and financial basis. The refusal to grant us the financial support we had hoped for leaves us without a chance of continuation.

Very special thanks go to the members of the Förderkreis Emil Gilels e.V. and to our private and public sponsors who have supported us with sometimes sizeable amounts over the years.

Prof. Felix Gottlieb Emil Gilels Foundation gGmbH