How it all began
Listening to and making music is now quite possible with modern cochlear implants. There is enough evidence of this in CIA circles: the Finnish-Austrian singer Laura Korhonen, for example, or Heinz Kirchschlager, an enthusiastic and active harmonica and alphorn player. But how can one convey to the whole world, especially to hearing implant candidates, that one can also make music at a high level with CI, VIBRANT SOUNDBRIDGE or BONEBRIDGE? How to convince the doubters among implant experts? How to motivate users to dare to play music again? These were the questions a small group of MED-EL employees asked themselves.
The answer was quickly found: a music festival was needed. And a very special one at that. Really big. There had to be something for all users and experts, for all cultures, for all tastes. Online. Because of Covid. And so that the whole world can join in. Although...a live concert is a live concert. So both. And so a project developed, in which more and more people joined in, which finally resulted in a sensational festival.
"Playing music with members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is something I would never have dreamed of," enthuses CI user Russell Tyler. ©Paul Pibernig
One year later
Countless hours of work, meetings and e-mails went into the preparations for MED-EL's 1st SOUND SENSATION FESTIVAL, which went online on October 6, 2022. A detailed interview with CI founder Dr. Ingeborg Hochmair kicked off three days full of music, technical background information and musical and dance performances by hearing implant users from all over the world.
In an entertaining TV show, Henryk Skarzynski told the story of the making of the film Sonata about the cochlear-implanted young pianist Grzegorz from Poland; Dasha Herrmannova presented the Smiling Crocodile project for multi-impaired children with CI; and professional and amateur musicians with hearing implants gave insights into their musical work.
Parents of hearing-implanted children were able to ask experts questions about music development with cochlear implants at the online workshop Music for Your Child; users interested in technology were able to exchange ideas with CI developers and learn from them what requirements a CI must fulfill in order to be able to transmit music with its many fine nuances as faithfully as possible.
The information formats were broken up by short concerts, the Daily Dose of Music. Children and adults from China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Italy, Spain, Latin America and Austria, all fitted with hearing implants, demonstrated their talent on a wide variety of instruments often unknown in this country. Wonderful how varied and diverse our users are!
U.S. CI user Roy and his wife entertained the audience with upbeat country sounds. ©Paul Pibernig
The Grand Finale: the best comes at the end
The highlight of the SOUND SENSATION FESTIVAL was the Grand Finale, a live concert held in Vienna's time-honored Lorelysaal in front of an enthusiastic audience. ORF star Andi Knoll led through the extraordinary program, in which the artists with hearing implants were the real stars. They were accompanied by musicians who are stars on all other days.
British-Portuguese oboist Russell Tyler, who has been deaf on one side since a serious illness and wears a CI, performed with the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble, four musicians from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. "It's a dream come true for me. To play a Mozart piece in Vienna was something I had always wanted. However, I would never have dared to dream of making music with members of the Vienna Philharmonic. Before the first rehearsal together, I was incredibly nervous, but the four Philharmonic musicians took away my nervousness with their uncomplicated manner."
Virtual Voices & Band will also be there:
More than 50 hearing-implanted people from around the world virtually perform Beethoven's Ode to Joy together. You have to see it!
The young tenor and VIBRANT SOUNDBRIDGE user Jonas Pietersteiner performed two love songs by Lehar and Schubert, accompanied by the well-known Austrian pianist Christoph Traxler. Conclusion: a young voice to remember!
It became especially touching when Sonata protagonist Grzegorz Plonka and star violinist Yury Revich took the stage. Bach/Gounod's Ave Maria always gives you goose bumps, but when the young Pole began to play, as if fused with the grand piano, and Yury Revich's Stradivarius sounded along with it, some in the audience furtively wiped tears from their eyes.
Moving: star violinist Yury Revich with CI user Grzegorz Plonka. ©Paul Pibernig
They rocked the stage
After the intermission, joyful country sounds rang out as Roy, a bilateral CI carrier from the U.S., sang about a murder case with his wife. The audience enthusiastically clapped along to the rhythm and demanded encores.
Laura Korhonen rocked the stage first with her band Satuo and later with Czech pop star Milan Peroutka. "What an experience this concert was! It meant a lot to me to be able to be there with other CI users," said the jazz musician happily, who lives in the Waldviertel region.
The youngest participant of the concert, Dschingis Agibaev, had chosen a special singing partner. The 12-year-old, who had already sung the song Rise Like A Phoenix at a festival in Russia two years ago, was on stage in Vienna with his idol Conchita Wurst. Not only the audience in the hall was enthusiastic about the young Kazakh's singing, but also Conchita herself. The 2014 Songcontest winner congratulated the bilateral CI user for his incredible energy on stage and the powerful performance of Rise Like A Phoenix.
SOUND SENSATION & Meludia:
As part of the music festival, Meludia is making a great offer to all myMED-EL users for 12 months, providing free access to this fun hearing education program. More info at https://www.meludia.com/de/med-el/
Now the time had come for the grand finale. Yury Revich wrote his own arrangement of Ode to Joy, with all of the evening's hearing implant users on stage together.
When the last note faded away, one briefly heard - nothing, before a moment later the audience thanked the stars of the evening with a standing ovation.
After the SOUND SENSATION FESTIVAL, a British journalist wrote in the trade magazine ENT News: "My prejudices about music with CI have been swept away since SOUND SENSATION. Anyone who still has doubts that CI users can make or enjoy music should check out the festival online."
The goal of SOUND SENSATION has been achieved: the message that great music is also possible with implants has been received!
Laura Korhonen with her band Satuo: "What an experience this concert was! It meant a lot to me to be able to be there with other CI users." ©Paul Pibernig