Citing security concerns and environmental issues, US authorities have banned a concert along the US-Mexican border. The musical director of the project says this only fuels his ambition to stand up against nationalism.It was intended as a peaceful cross-boundary creative protest against US President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall on the US-Mexican border. US authorities, however, have now decided to ban the planned performance of the Dresdner Sinfoniker orchestra on the US side of the border, limiting the ensemble to playing its music on the Mexican side in the border town of Tijuana. Musical director Markus Rindt says he won’t let this turn of events get to him and hopes that the concert will nevertheless be noticed throughout the world.
DW: Did you expect the Trump administration to put a spoke in your wheel?
Markus Rindt: To be honest, I was hoping that the US was still liberal enough to allow a peaceful musical event designed to build bridges over walls to happen. But apparently, it isn’t anymore. We feel disappointed about this decision and want to extend an invitation to all musicians, who would have joined us on the US side, to come over to Mexico to start something great there right at the US’ wall.
The official reasons for cancelling your event cite security concerns and bird protection. Do you find this line of reasoning comprehensible?
I’m a great supporter of the environment and of animal protection, but what I don’t understand is that just one week before our planned concert, there’s another big event taking place on the US side of the wall – one which apparently isn’t affected by bird protection. That’s why it’s obvious that this is just an excuse. The same is true for their security concerns: in our initial application to perform at Friendship Park, we had intended to feature a children’s choir from San Diego to sing along across the wall. The authorities already cited security concerns back then – with a children’s choir. Unbelievable, isn’t it? So then we decided to change the location and applied to get permission for a performance on the beach, right where the wall divides the shoreline. Then they said that on the US side, performers would have to remain at least 40 yards away from the security fence. This was presented as a compromise solution, but now the authorities have decided to refuse the performance on the US side of the border altogether. These are all just excuses; they’re simply afraid of the political repercussions.
Do the Mexican authorities have any concerns or are they welcoming you with open arms?
Surprisingly, there’s hardly any bureaucracy to put up with there at all, which can sometimes be an issue in Mexico. We feel that we’ve been received cordially. The city of Tijuana is amazing in the way it supports us. They’re providing us with technical support and security; they’re closing off roads. On June 3, there’s a whole festival happening along the wall, so the contribution of the Dresdner Sinfoniker is just a small part of that, but still we received so many inquiries from artists and performers that we had to extend the time window of our event to five hours, starting at 11am Pacific Time. And we’ll make sure that the wall itself joins in as well: several percussionists from Mexico and the US will join with musicians from the Dresdner Sinfoniker to perform a piece by Harald Thiemann, transforming the metal wall itself into a percussion instrument.
So your approach after all that has happened is a certain attitude of “now more than ever”?
Exactly. We move forward. There is no going into reverse anymore. We want to reach as many people as possible and encourage them to join us on June 3, regardless of wherever they may live along this (3,144- kilometer/1,953-mile) long wall. We implore them to start little flash mobs or come up with other artistic ideas along the border, like singing a song, making music or painting the wall in order to send a signal against this growing sense of nationalism and this immurement of the world. The can film their creative ideas with their smartphones or a camera and share across social media channels using the hashtag #teardownthiswall, so people across the world can see on June 3 what incredible things happened on this day.
You mentioned artistic freedom in the US earlier. It would appear that artistic freedom isn’t as limitless as was thought before. Do you think that there will be a great emphasis on the symbolic importance of the concert now?
Well, I didn’t expect the US authorities to ban it. This is an artistic installation; it is not first and foremost a political demonstration. Of course it deals with politics, but it is a peaceful concert. It’s important to highlight that artists can apparently no longer freely express themselves in the US. And if this is something that is already failing at this stage, what will it lead to later on? I hope that many people will join us especially now that the US authorities have canceled our show on their side, in order to make sure we get noticed and send a signal around the world.
Is “Tear down this Wall” a concert event against all walls that exist in the world?
Absolutely. That’s what we aim to address and what I always repeat: This project is meant to oppose walls around the world, which have been spreading like wildfire. This includes the borders of Europe: just take a look at the daily suffering of refugees in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea or the desperate people in Syria right at the border with Turkey. These people desperately need our help. But it’s also an initiative against walls in people’s heads. We all see how in many countries nationalism is on the rise. We want to set an artistic example against this. This concert could happen in other countries of the world as well. The list of such opportunities is, unfortunately, quite long.
Hornist Markus Rindt is the musical director of the Dresdner Sinfoniker, which he co-founded in 1997 along with composer and director Sven Helbig. Born in Magdeburg in 1967, Rindt studied music in the former communist German Federal Republic. He escaped to West Germany during the Cold War and has been advocating artistic ways to tear down walls ever since. The Dresdener Sinfoniker has become one of the most renowned orchestras to perform contemporary works, always trying to bring nations together through music.
Interview: Suzanne Cords