In Schubert’s life and time, he and his friends used to come together for informal musical meetings, the Schubertiads. And so the name Schubertiade was the obvious choice for a festival dedicated to Schubert. Initiated in 1976 by Hermann Prey, the festival soon attracted the best lied singers and chamber musicians of their time. Having moved around for some time, the festival now disposes of two perfect concert halls in two different locations: the Markus-Sittikus-Saal in Hohenems, and the Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal in Schwarzenberg. The latter is a renovated village hall, built of wood, set in a magnificent panorama of meadows and mountains, overlooking a lush green valley. Its warm and intimate atmosphere makes for the real Schubertiade feeling, friends having come together to celebrate life and music. The hall also disposes of wonderful acoustics, as well as air condition, access for disabled persons, clear and clean wooden furniture, and is ranking among the world’s best venues. Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees open this year’s festival with a recital of ballads by various poets and composers. The composers include Michael Gees himself, whose composition of Goethe’s “Zauberlehrling” has nothing to envy of Lachner, Wolf or Loewe. They begin with Carl Loewe’s “Der Nöck”, and after a few scary high notes, they are off into a world of magic and fairytales, of drama and laughter, and the public with them. Christoph Prégardien, honey-smooth tenor voice, and Michael Gees, subtle piano presence, bring to life each and every character, and their atmospheric settings. A thunderstorm outside adds another bit of drama to the evening, as lighting flashes every once and then through the concert hall. To me, the art of lied singing is furthermost the art of understanding and interpreting poetry. Ballads being originally a form of dancing song, before the name was used for long narrative poems, particularly in German literature from the 18th century on, it is logical that those poems should be set to music again. Every ballad being a real drama in its own right, it takes considerable skill to highlight every detail, every nuance of the text and its musical treatment. Gees and Prégardien have this skill in spades and take us through a Technicolor evening of music. We shiver as Schubert’s “Zwerg” murders his royal mistress, and hold our breath as in Schiller’s “Bürgschaft” the hero has to cope with obstacle after obstacle to hold his vow and save his best friend from the cross. We sigh about the impossible love of Heine’s “Meerfrau”, composed by Franz Lachner, we chuckle about the sorcerer’s apprentice and his insubordinate broom – again, bravo, Michael Gees! In Goethe’s and Wolf’s “Ritter Kurt’s Brautfahrt” we laugh out loud at the ironic account of a knight’s troubles with lovers, fights and money lenders, and we shiver again with Wolf’s “Feuerreiter” or Heine’s “Traumbild”, set to music by Franz Lachner … The public celebrates the artists with thunderous applause, and they have to give an encore before being able to retire. And who but Christoph Prégardien would think of “Erlkönig” as a suitable piece for this? As we leave the concert hall, the storm has passed, a half moon shines on a magic world, and so we wander home, stories and melodies spinning in our heads. A Schubertiade night as it should be.