MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

End of the Runnicles Era

The conductor Donald Runnicles concluded his tenure with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on the last day of the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival with a performance of Schoenberg’s epic Gurre-Lieder at Usher Hall.

The gargantuan forces needed bring to mind the festival atmosphere Mahler’s Eighth Symphony also evokes. Here’s a sampling of the reviews:

And so this concert summed up the kind of playing that he and this orchestra have developed together – a rich glow at the heart of the strings and a capacity to turn on a dime and power up almighty sounds.

–Kate Molleson in The Guardian

Runnicles is particularly well known for his interpretations of the core Austro-German Romantic repertoire, so Gurrelieder plays to his strengths. Under his baton Schoenberg’s ripe score yields up its influences. There is Wagner in the love music, of course, but also Bruckner in the solemnity of the Wood-Dove, Beethoven in the nature-painting and, of course, Mahler in the scale and structure. That scale could be pretty overpowering at times, and not just in the final, overwhelming greeting to the sun that ends the work. The sweep and surge of the love music was intoxicating, as was the wall of brass and percussion that accompanied the chorus’ romping as the hellish riders. What was most striking, however, was the way Runnicles repeatedly brought out the delicacy of the orchestration.

–Simon Thompson for Seen and Heard International

[Schoenberg’s] mega-cantata Gurrelieder, was the vehicle chosen to whisk us off on such a glorious journey, driven by the massively-inflated forces of the BBC Scottish Synphony Orchestra, a male-dominated Edinburgh Festival Chorus, five soloists and speaker, all under the towering leadership of maestro Donald Runnicles, and formulated by a musical language gathering up the scraps of Wagner, colouring them with whole-tone harmonic treats from Debussy, sweeping up Mahler in its tracks before opening the gates to teasers of the world-changing Schoenberg-to-come.

–Ken Walton in The Scotsman

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Friday 16 September at 7.30pm.

Filed under: conductors, Runnicles, Schoenberg

Common Ground at Maxim Gorki

Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater launched its season last night with a reprise of the acclaimed Yael Ronen production Common Ground

Exploring with the aftermath of the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, it’s the kind of ensemble piece that Gorki has made a signature.

Reviewing n earlier version of the work-in-progress two years ago, critic Anne Peter noted:

Ronens Theater weiß es nie besser und hält sich nicht heraus. Sein Trumpf ist Selbstironie. Immer befragt es auch die eigene Perspektive, stößt sich und uns auf unsere eigenen Widersprüche, ohne dabei mit irgendeiner “richtigen” Haltung vor unserer Nase umherzuwedeln. Kaum der Rede wert, dass bei dieser vom Publikum ausgiebig bejubelten Premiere noch nicht alles wie am Schnürchen lief, mancher Satz verhaspelt wurde. In einer Zeit, in der Europa auseinanderdriftet und sich entsolidarisiert, populistischer Nationalismus vielerorts erschreckend hoch im Kurs steht und die Ukraine ganz konkret vor einer möglichen Teilung steht, beschert uns Yael Ronen einen brennend wichtigen Abend.

If anything, Common Ground is proving even more relevant for the Europe of 2016.

 

Filed under: Maxim Gorki Theater, theater

Mendelssohn’s Study

IMG_4348From the Mendelssohn House on Goldschmidstrasse in Leipzig.

From his final summer, when he made his last trip to Switzerland, Mendelssohn’s watercolor of Luzern:

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Filed under: Mendelssohn, musical travels, photography

Remembering Lenny

In honor of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday — just two years away from the centenary now! — I’m reposting a link here to some thoughts from a few years ago.

Filed under: American music, anniversary, Bernstein

Side View of Wittenberg

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Filed under: photography

Unterwegs im Kiez

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Filed under: Berlin, photography

Wagner’s Swiss Grandson

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The Richard Wagner Museum is located just outside Lucerne in the Tribschen villa where the composer lived in the years just before settling in Bayreuth.

This summer’s special exhibition focuses on the little-known figure Franz Wilhelm Beidler (1901-1981). From the museum’s description:

Franz Wilhelm Beidler was the son of Isolde, the first daughter of Richard Wagner and Cosima, who was still married to Hans von Bülow at the time.
For 16 years Franz Wilhelm Beidler grew up in the knowledge that he was Richard Wagner’s first and only grandchild. The paternity suit filed by Isolde in 1914 in order to be recognised as Richard Wagner’s daughter culminated in a public fiasco and an insurmountable family dispute. Franz Wilhem Beidler dissociated himself from the Wagner family, moved to Berlin and married the Jewish woman Ellen Gottschalk in 1923.

Beidler supported the Socialist movements of the Weimar Republic and unequivocally rejected National Socialism. Subsequent to Hitler’s assumption of power, the Beidlers emigrated to Paris before being able to take up residence in Switzerland. In 1943 Beidler was elected general secretary of the Swiss Writers’ Association (SSV) and held the position for 29 years.

The Beidler family was ousted and suppressed by the Wagner dynasty for many years. Featured in the exhibition are the reasons, background information and course of events in the “Beidler Affair,” which included Richard Wagner’s personal involvement and is also closely connected with the history of the Bayreuth Festival. The exhibition also aims to rehabilitate and pay befitting tribute at long last to the Beidler family, whose descendants live in Switzerland.

Filed under: Wagner

Martha Argerich

I finally had my first chance to see the fabled Martha Argerich live at last night’s Lucerne Festival concert — the second of two concerts at the Summer Festival by Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

Even in such a decided non-masterpiece as Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, she’s the real thing, one of the most magnetic musical personalities I’ve encountered.

As a generous encore, she and Barenboim sat together at the keyboard to play a Schubert’s piano duo: the Rondo in A major, D 951.

Filed under: Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, pianists

Chailly in Lucerne

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Swiss Radio and Television has now posted the  opening concert of Riccardo Chailly’s debut with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

Chailly opened the 2016 Summer Festival on 12 August with a rousing performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony: the one work missing from the late Claudio Abbado’s otherwise complete  Mahler cycle with his beloved LFO.

The broadcast also includes a 10-minute portrait of the conductor with interviews by way of a prelude.

Christian Wildhagen, an expert on the Eighth (he wrote a dissertation about the work), covered Chailly’s interpretation for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

Chailly, der aus früheren Aufführungen so umfassende praktische Erfahrungen mit dem Stück hat wie kaum ein anderer Dirigent, erkennt das Problem und versucht zu dämpfen, wo immer es geht. Doch prompt verheddert er sich in dem Paradox, das er selbst so trefflich mit den Worten umschrieben hat, man müsse mit dieser Musik fliegen und doch mit beiden Beinen kontrolliert auf dem Podium stehen. Die Kontrolle des gewaltigen Apparats gelingt bereits mehr als achtbar, das Fliegen hingegen nicht.

[…]

Chailly deutet diese Vertonung der Schlussszene aus Goethes «Faust» völlig zu Recht als sakrale Oper – angesiedelt auf einer rein imaginären Theaterbühne, aber mit halbszenischen Momenten wie der Erscheinung der Mater Gloriosa (Anna Lucia Richter mit etwas zu irdischem Tonansatz in der Höhe) auf der Orgelempore, wo am Schluss beider Teile auch jeweils das Fernorchester seinen «Auftritt» hat.

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Mahler

More Dutilleux

Prom 32 this week featured Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra in Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Mahler 1, and Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time (one of his last works). The concert is still accessible to hear online for a few more days here.

Meanwhile, Daniel Stephen Johnson reports on the Seattle Symphony’s latest addition to its acclaimed Dutilleux series under conductor Ludovic Morlot:

While the orchestral playing is as ravishing as listeners have come to expect from Morlot and Seattle, the soloists brought in from outside the band are among the very hottest players on their respective instruments. The playing of violinist Augustin Hadelich, fresh from his Grammy win for last year’s entry in this Dutilleux cycle, is as intensely expressive in Sur le même accord as it is precise, while harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani executes Les citations with his characteristic wit and panache, and the cimbalom playing of percussionist Chester Englander lends an unexpected delight to Mystère de l’instant.

And my own recent profile of Hadelich for Strings Magazine is available here. September’s Gramophone will have my story on the Seattle Symphony and Dutilleux.

Filed under: Henri Dutilleux, Ludovic Morlot, Salonen, Seattle Symphony

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