Trio of Talent: Lydia Rilling, Chief Dramaturg, Contemporary Music

Share this story:

Week three of our window into the talent behind the planning at the Philharmonie and we talk to Lydia Rilling, who just joined in June. Lydia has the dual role of shaping contemporary output and is also the Chief Dramaturg (responsible for writing programme notes for concerts and festivals).

Born in the Rhineland, Lydia Rilling “was raised with the three house-guards of Bach, Mozart and Schubert.” Music was ever-present in her life: her father was an amateur musician, her grandmother an opera singer, whilst she has uncles and cousins who are professional musicians. She herself played piano and cello.

Lydia first tasted musicology at a summer camp for high school students, and it was this experience that led her down her future path of study, first in Berlin (“the best place to study 20th- and 21st-century music”) and then on to explore musicology further in France and the USA. What I found interesting was that she didn’t limit herself to the world of academia, where she slotted in effortlessly.

“For the last ten years I combined working in academia as an Assistant Professor in Germany with work as a radio producer, so I always applied my musicology. I had the time to go in depth in research and communicate with teaching, but I always wanted to be close to what’s happening now, to composers and musicians.”

Lydia is effervescent, erudite and contagiously enthusiastic, passionate about the Philharmonie and everything to do with music. She might be relatively new to the job, but I get the feeling that her energy doesn’t dwindle much below high.


Fun at the Phil

She needs that energy with her dual role at the Philharmonie. As Chief Dramaturg, she oversees another team of three female musicologists who, between them, compile all of the programme notes. This includes evening and ‘backstage’ performances, lectures, monthly brochures, festival catalogues and the annual ‘tome’ of all events.

“I’m in the fortunate position to say that every day I am so happy to come to work with my team, and since we share an office it’s really important that we like each other! They are incredibly nice, good at their work and totally committed.”In shaping contemporary output, Lydia could not be better placed; her long-time interest in making music relevant sits well with the Philharmonie’s own focus. “It’s remarkable that there is jazz and world music on this level, being taken exactly as seriously as any other kind of music… a concert hall with this prestige, this wonderful building and the classics, takes contemporary music just as seriously too.”

“Plurality is wonderful”


There is also a great focus on teamwork: each planning department supports the other, in opinions and attendance. Although everyone has clear responsibilities; Lydia is quick to point out that “nobody who works in programming is only interested in his own part”. The dovetailing of interests and the recognition that although everyone has clear responsibilities, programmes should be developed together, leads to a stronger team and the musical output is so much the better.

There’s another perk, of course; the chance to enjoy the whole range of the Philharmonie’s offerings. Lydia avails herself of this opportunity with gusto; she is both behind the scenes and in the audience, through her passion for music. We all benefit from her passion.


Save it for the Rainy Days Festival

Lydia is responsible for planning the Rainy Days Festival (currently on), Musique d’Aujourd’hui and On the Border. Musique d’Aujourd’hui is a concert series of mostly composed contemporary music. On the Border is a catch-all for items which can’t be programmed elsewhere, such as improvised music.

Linda is responsible for the 'Rainy Days Festival: Into the Wild'. Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro
Lydia is responsible for the ‘Rainy Days Festival: Into the Wild’. Photo: ©Alfonso Salgueiro


Contemporary music, like world music, is a little hard to define in style. Some might find that a challenge, but Lydia treats it like a treasure chest of known and unknown jewels.

“One thing I find with contemporary music today is that the range of styles and aesthetics has become enormously wide. Pluralism is wonderful.”

And she can relate this to the past too, suggesting that music has never been a simple continuum of ideas: “For a long time music history has been written as if it were one linear narrative but that’s not how history goes. In the end, there are so many narratives, so many things that happen at the same time.”


Contemporary Understanding

I venture to suggest that sometimes people feel afraid of contemporary music. They don’t know if they will understand it (or like it). For this, Lydia has an analogy:

“If you visit a city and you’ve read something about the city, then you will see the city in a different way compared to if you don’t know anything about it. Nonetheless, if you see a beautiful monument you will still enjoy it, even if you don’t know anything about it. And so it’s the same with contemporary music. Everybody hears a piece differently…Just trust your ears.”

Just trust your ears! This is, in fact, her message as a whole to the Philharmonie audiences. Lydia talks animatedly about the liberation of just letting the sounds flow in and exploring what they do to us. Contemporary music can be quite physical, she explains: it can be loud or have a certain timbre which can physically touch us. But unlike words in a language, music doesn’t have to mean something instantly, or ever.

“The only thing that matters, in the end, is that someone feels that they had some kind of experience that was interesting or that inspired them.”


‘Only Connect’


We finish our chat with a dive into the past. Music history gets written and rewritten. Composers who were forgotten get unearthed and rediscovered. It is partly the music, but also the issue explored through the music.

“For many decades nobody played Baroque opera anywhere. You couldn’t see any Handel opera, and during the last thirty to forty years it has had a huge renaissance. I think it’s because, of course, the music is extremely beautiful and it’s wonderfully made, but it’s also because topics that are in these operas relate to us. Matters of identity, of gender identity, and many other things which are hot topics for today.”

And here we come again to Lydia’s idea of the of ‘classical’ mixing with the contemporary. But that is the role that music plays, connecting across generations, because it is the greatest language of human emotions.



The Rainy Days Festival Into the Wild is on until 11th December: For information on all the music that the Philharmonie has set for the season ahead just visit

You may also like:

Share this story:
Lisa Burke
After a decade working at Sky news, Lisa Burke will be bringing her wealth of reporting experience to City Savvy. Lisa has used her degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and experience as a mother to write children's science books for Dorling Kindersley. Her dulcet Irish tones have filled the concert halls of London, Abu Dhabi and now Luxembourg, where she moved to in 2015.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here