© Hans Werner Henze-Stiftung

Radio interview on WDR 3 and SWR 2

On 2 September 2019, journalist Nina Amin conducted a conversation with Michael Kerstan on La Leprara about the future of Henze's estate. It was broadcast on 19 September 2019 in the TonArt series on WDR 3 and on 24 September 2019 in the Treffpunkt Klassik series on SWR 2.

Behind the high iron gate of a narrow street in Marino, another world begins: "La Leprara", the hare pasture, is the name of the spacious estate where the composer Hans Werner Henze stayed and worked for many decades of his life. In the 1960s, Henze had his refuge built there, where members of the Roman noble family Colonna used to go hare hunting, a villa with around 500 square metres of living space surrounded by beautiful gardens. One of Henze's favourite places: the terrace behind the house overlooking the olive trees.

There are exactly 83 of them, and Henze was quite proud that when he built the house, he didn't have to have a single olive tree cut down for it, ...

... Michael Kerstan tells us. He accompanied the composer, who died seven years ago, since the 1980s, initially as his assistant. Kerstan was also at Henze's side in the Villa La Leprara during the last years of his life. Today he heads the Hans Werner Henze Foundation based in Munich, founded by Henze in 2007 and appointed as principal heir and executor of his estate. The composer's aim was to promote young talent and to disseminate and safeguard his life's work. His self-chosen artists' exile, the country estate near Rome, was to become a place of music and encounters, but the villa has to be sold by the end of the year, Kerstan tells us.

Yes, the Hans Werner Henze Foundation cannot maintain the house. It is also not provided for in the foundation's statutes, which Henze himself helped to write; the upkeep is far too expensive to do it the way it should be done, and in the meantime we also need the capital to keep the foundation going.

It takes the foundation 150,000 euros a year to maintain the property. He has just cut costs a little, says Kerstan, but still: two permanent employees and a few assistants take care of the villa and the surrounding gardens. The lush green lawn under the olive trees is in no way inferior to an English lawn. With the vegetable and fruit garden on the other side of the villa, residents and guests can be fully catered for.

Tomatoes we have here - here there are leeks, beans, peas, melanzane, i.e. aubergines, courgettes, peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce and fruit.

The panoramic view of the city of Rome, the mountains and the coast from the country house is unique. A heated pool, a badminton court and plenty of space for a walk make the estate an idyll - an ideal place for young musicians to compose, Kerstan finds. For years he has been looking for a sponsor to continue Villa Leprara in Henze's spirit.

In the statutes of his foundation, which he himself has formulated, it says that he wants to support young artists, primarily composers, of course. So, if it were up to me, a German institution would own and run the house in Henze's sense, that is, take in artists who can work here, organise concerts, exhibitions, also organise symposia, perhaps master classes ...

So far, the director of the foundation has not found anyone. He has also contacted the Federal Government, says Kerstan, only in vain. When the ARD studio in Rome asked Monika Grütters, State Secretary for Culture, the following answer came from the press office:
"The State Minister for Culture and the Media supports, among other things, study visits of German artists in Italy to the German Academy Rome Villa Massimo and the German Study Centre Venice. Beyond that, no further institutional funding is planned."

This attitude disappoints him, Kerstan tells us, especially because the German government bought the Californian villa of the writer Thomas Mann three years ago to prevent its imminent demolition. Today it is a place of encounter. Wouldn't that also be appropriate for the work of one of the most important composers of post-war Germany, the director of the Henze Foundation wonders.

Maybe it's because music has no value. They bought the Thomas Mann Villa in California for 13 million euros, which has nothing at all of Thomas Mann, not even a piece of pencil is left there or a sheet of paper, and he wrote two books there, and here half of the life's work was written, and the whole interior is preserved as he left it. This would be a cultural monument of the first order.

When you enter the villa, as a visitor you immediately find yourself in Henze's world. Every piece of free wall is covered with works of art by various painters.

You can already see here, in the corridor, that the visual arts were an important theme in the house. You also get a small preview of Henze's own pictorial works, small watercolours that he painted, often fantasies about operas that he had just composed: This one, if I'm not mistaken, is about Venus and Adonis, the opera.

The desk where Henze composed many of his operas is on the first floor. There are papers, sharpened pencils, erasers and a magnifying glass placed on it, as if the composer had only left the room for a moment. The central room of the villa, however, is the spacious, opulently furnished sitting room on the ground floor, which connects both wings of the house. House concerts were held here - two large grand pianos are still ready for this purpose.
On the secretary in the middle of the room is a photograph of the deceased writer Ingeborg Bachmann. She was a very close friend of Henze.

That is Ingeborg Bachmann, at the beginning of the 70s, you can see that she doesn't look very healthy anymore ...

Kerstan looks around thoughtfully. If he doesn't find someone to take over the villa in exactly the same way by the end of the year, thousands of objects, books and pictures will have to be put into storage. That would break his heart, says Kerstan, but the property is also being offered as pure real estate, for 1,250,000 euros. Henze will have a place in Marino forever anyway: The composer is buried there, in his adopted country of Italy.

Interview between Nina Amin and Michael Kerstan
conducted on 2.9.19 on La Leprara, Marino
broadcast on WDR 3 on 19.09.19 6:17 (TonArt)
SWR 2 on 24.09.19 10:05 (Treffpunkt Klassik)




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