Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bayreuth's next 5 years

Could Katharina Wagner finally be getting her act together?

No sooner is it certain that half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier is on her way out at the end of the current season, leaving Katharina in sole charge of Bayreuth from 2015, it appears that someone has at last been doing their homework and hiring directors who know their craft, as well as some top-calibre singers and conductors.

If the sources of Manuel Brug of Die Welt are correct, the long era of mediocre singers and execrable productions could be finally coming to an end on Bayreuth's Green Hill.

OK, we've still got to sit through a few more years of Castorf's Ring.

And we still have the -- on paper at least -- unenticing prospect of Katharina's own new Tristan next year and Jonathan Meese's Parsifal after that.

But at least the musical side of things seems to be looking up. 
Eva-Maria Westbroek and Steven Gould are to sing the title roles in Tristan und Isolde, with Christian Thielemann in the pit.

Andris Nelsons will be conducting Meese's Parsifal and Brug says that Meese has pledged not to resort to his usual "shock" tactics of Hitler salutes. 

But the real excitement begins in 2017 when Barrie Kosky will stage Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Philippe Jordan conducting. Michael Volle will sing Hans Sachs a role he already made his own in Stefan Herheim's recent Salzburg production.  Johannes Martin Kränzle will sing Beckmesser and Klaus Florian Vogt Stolzing. Making her debut in the Festspielhaus will be Krassimira Stoyanova as Eva. 

2018 will see a new production of Lohengrin. Thielemann will conduct, Alvis Hermanis will direct and the sets will be by Neo Rauch. And Anna Netrebko will sing Elsa. 

In 2019, there will be a new Tannhäuser, directed this time by young German director Tobias Kratzer. 

And then a new Ring follows in 2020, most likely with Thielemann in the pit. Katharina Wagner, Brug reports, will definitely NOT be directing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interview with Christian Gerhaher from July 7, 2014

Here a translation of Eleonore Büning's interview with Christian Gerhaher which appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on July 7, 2014.
Christian Gerhaher, why do we never see you smile?

I can see we're off to a good start!

Do Lied singers always have to look so gloomy? Do they have to have this serious, German Liedsänger gaze, one which looks to the very edge of humanity, one which Fischer-Dieskau cultivated and perfected? People think you're a complicated person....

I probably am. My wife doesn't think I have much of a sense of humour. (laughs)

You've just sung Don Giovanni in Frankfurt. Magnificent! But I've never seen such a depressive Don before. You creep around in the dark like some poisonous old codger. What on earth do Elvira and the other women find in him?

Yes, Don Giovanni is a role you don't automatically associate with me. In fact, it wasn't a role I thought about at all when I was thinking about which operas to do. I'd said from the very beginning that I could only do it with a very special director and if I could come onstage in a wheelchair. That director was Christof Loy...

...and he had you enter on foot and you had to do a lot of boxing and fencing. What sort of man is he, your Don?

Don Giovanni is one of those strong archetypal theatrical figures from modern Europe. Like  Faust or Hamlet or Homburg. He scratches at the ceiling of human existence, that's one of things he has in common with Faust. But he has much less content to offer than Faust. Don Giovanni is simply a piece of meat. He's an evil person. He's a murderer, a rapist, a liar and a deceiver. But he nevertheless has something which many people see as something worth striving for. He can live for the moment. And it was this living-for-the-moment which fascintated me. I feel that that is what makes the Don the most Mozartian of Mozart's opera characters.

What do you mean by that?

What was new in Mozart's operas – compared to the number operas of the preceding Baroque era -- was that the action was not quite so retrospective or prospective. The reflective nature of the arias, the way they looked at the situation in this way or that way, the way they looked back or forward -- all this had increasingly disappeared. Giovanni's two arias, "Fin ch‘ han dal vino" and "Metà di voi", are a good example. They're why people always say Giovanni has so little to sing. Mozart here created a very special Mozartian figure, one who captures maximum strength from the moment. It's fantastic what emotional intelligence this character has. It's an intelligence that is not concerned with content and ideas but with the Here and Now.

There aren't many roles in opera for a lyrical baritone. You've already done "Orfeo", which you'll be singing next in Munich, a few times. But also Almaviva in "Figaro" and Posa. Is there anything else on your list of roles you'd like to do?

Yes. Alban Berg's "Wozzeck" which I'll be doing for the first time next year in Zürich. Also planned – albeit not for a couple of years -- is Amfortas in "Parsifal". That's not a particularly brutal role. For a start, it's not particularly long. Also, it's wrong to sing it purely as a Heldenbariton role. Another dream for me would be "Simon Boccanegra". It's not overly heroic either. And I'd like "Guillaume Tell", too. And Hans Sachs... But I don't know if I can do that.

Why no heroes?

Because that's not me. Because I can't do them. I don't want to overtax myself.

You'll have to explain that a bit more. Everyone who has ever heard you sing knows that, from a technical point of view, you can sing absolutely anything. So what do you mean by overtax yourself? Dynamically? In terms of the tessitura or volume? Are you saying a dramatic baritone has to bellow?

Yes, exactly. But truly dramatic voices tend to be louder anyway and can sing louder for longer without causing any damage.

You're a lyrical baritone. You're a Lied singer. Does that mean you can't bellow?

That's not what I said. Of course I can sing loudly. But it's taxing. Let's put it this way: I can't sing dramatic roles without endangering my Lied singing. And that's another thing: singing a baddie is also very hard work for a lyrical voice. Baddies aren't often required to sing lyrically.

I doubt that bellowing is good for anyone, for any type of voice. Not for Heldentenöre either, as we know from experience. I believe the classification of voices into specific categories can be dangerous, for singers themselves, too, because their voices are too rigidly fixed too early. Isn't it more a question of how an individual singer approaches and shapes a role?

I disagree. This classification into different "Fach" is of enormous importance for us. Each "Fach" -- lyrical, youthful, heroic, or youthful and dramatic -- is associated with a different character. And they go to make up a wide spectrum of different vocal categories. Of course, you needn't stick to a particular Fach. But neither should you overstretch the basic temper of a particular dramatic role. It's the same with acting. There are a few exceptions, actors who can play anything. But normally, actors, like singers, have only a certain repertoire of possibilities at their disposal.

With actors I often think they're best when they simply play themselves ...

That's also a danger for singers: that they incorporate something of themselves to a role, instead of incorporating the role into themselves. I believe Diderot was right when he described the paradox of the actor. He said there is no place on the stage for an actor's own feelings. Exaggerated tears are the wrong way. A role must be played out of a certain standpoint of detachment, not as some sort of emotional exercise. It simply will not do just to go out on stage and spill out all your emotions.

There are wonderful opera singers who are hopeless at singing Lieder. But it seems to function better the other way round and a good Lied singer can switch to the opera stage. You're a good example of this. How do you explain this?

I'm not sure whether that is right. There's a lot of resentment on both sides. When I just used to sing Lieder, the opera house bosses would say: "What do we want him for? He can't sing opera." A lot of the time, it's the language which is the problem. In opera, language isn't always quite so important. But with German Lied, it's different. In German, the differentiation of vowels  is extremely important. There are so many different ways of forming vowels in German. There is not just one way of singing an A or an Ä. If you do, it renders the text unintelligible. Another major misunderstanding is when Lied is performed in a way which is too entertaining, too narratively and too dramatically. Lied is not a miniature opera.

But doesn't every Lied tell a story? Isn't it a self-contained little excerpt of the outside world?

A Lied is neither narrative nor dramatic. There are of course exceptions, there are narrative Lied cycles such as "Schöne Müllerin", or dramatic ballads. But these are secondary or sub-categories. The Lied in its main form is lyrical. And as such, it can never be totally understood, or explained or self-explanatory, out of principle.

If that were the case, we can write off all poetry analysis completely.

Hm. No. Of course, a fundamental statement can be made about every poem, with lots of objective information. But I believe that the content of a Lied cannot be made understandable via words. And that's why I think this widely held notion that Lieder are miniature dramas is a load of rubbish. Lieder are lyrical structures, they bring to life different aspects....

Several aspects, simultaneously or in succession? But where is that different to telling stories?

A story has a contingency, a meaning, something self-contained, it has a beginning and an end. The Lied has none of these. That's the difference. Take "Ganymed", for example. Franz Schubert didn't understand at all at first that this was a dialogue between Zeus and Ganymed. But he didn't have to. It's still a Lied which is unbelievably moving. It's just that no-one can say why. It's not a story at all. Goethe himself said it was about "Entselbstigung" as he put it. And Schubert set it to music. And now no-one is able to say exactly what is happening here. Nevertheless, it is one of the most beautiful and important Lieder. I find it fabulous, this ambiguity.

Another example:  Waldesgespräch“, Eichendorff Lieder by Schumann. Also one of the most beautiful and important Lieder. Someone is riding through the forest, meets a girl, who turns out to be a witch. She says: "You'll never get out of this forest." That's a story, isn't it? It has a beginning and an end.

Yes, but it's a pretty silly story. (laughs)

True. But if you look at t that way, the stories are always silly. Most Lieder, pop songs too, are about falling in love and something going wrong. Sorrow, anger, hope. It's all about that...

That's not a story. Just a scene at best, even if it's a very banal one and always the same. In cinema, there would be a cut and it would all be over. That's not what it's all about, surely?

What's it about then?

It's not about being about something. That's the way Lieder are. You get a Lied and gaze into it like a crystal and you think: wow, that's amazing, it's really, really beautiful. But you don't know where the crystal starts and where it ends and how to get out of it again. You don't need to understand a crystal like that. But if a Lied is hanging like a crystal in the air in the concert hall, then everyone sees and hears something different or something similar. And everyone feels their feelings and has the impression that they have felt something true. And they're right. And I, too, am part of the audience when I sing that. I'm feel it like everyone else.

And generations of singers before you have sung this Schubert Lied. And generations of musicologists have bent over it and analysed and interpreted every note and every syllable...

And still they're all just contributing to the discussion. There is nothing definitive. Not even the composer themselves ultimately knows what they meant. This ambiguity, this lack of definition in reception, as Wittgenstein formulated it, is indispensable in art. It is not possible to understand what it's all about. And that's exactly what I experience when I go to a concert. I can remember going to lots of concerts of contemporary music and being thrilled without understanding it a bit. Recently for example, I heard a piano concerto by Pascal Dusapin. I didn't understand a thing, but I still loved it. .

Christian Gerhaher, you sing contemporary music, you sing standard repertoire, you sing Lieder, opera -- ever since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau there has never been a singer with such versatility and charisma. You're winning prize after prize, too. You're hot property.

Oh come on, stop this. That's all totally exaggerated. I'm currently in fashion. If there is a singer who is brilliant for me, then it was Fischer-Dieskau. But his way of interpreting Lieder was also a fashion. A fashion he himself created, even better. But like any other fashion, they pass. You forget them and are perhaps reminded of them again one day. I don't know if anything ultimately remains of a singer when all is said and done. I think with Dieskau, it does. That's clear. But it's definitely not certain with me.

Christian Gerhaher, if you won't like all the praise, then don't sing so well in future. I recently noticed you do something even better than Dieskau: You really enjoy a performance. You clearly love the stage, for all your doubts and non-positivistic principles. Do you feel an adrenalin kick, a desire to be on stage?

Yes, of course. Sometimes it has to do it itself. And it really does. It must be a sort of killer instinct, an auto-erotic feeling where you suddenly know and say to yourself: “I’m brilliant!“ There is an element of that, too. Self-doubting alone won’t get you anywhere.

Do you suffer from stage fright?

Yes. Devastatingly. I’ve had some ghastly experiences. Lots of people say that a Lied recital is more difficult, because you’re alone on the stage. But I feel much more exposed on the opera stage.

Have you ever taken acting lessons?

Yes, very early in fact. The mother of my pianist had an acting group which I took part in. As a schoolboy and young student. The first play I was allowed to take part in was Edward Bond’s “The Pope’s Wedding.“ I had just one line. And I think about it frequently even now. It went: „Get up in seven hours.“ I learned an awful lot for my productions in Frankfurt and elsewhere from my friend, the actor Michael Autenrieth. What I really love is working with the language in dialogues and recitatives. In the “Fledermaus“, where I sang Eisenstein, it was divine. We had a lot of fun with it in the rehearsals. And if you can engineer it so that you can get it the rhythm down to a tee, then it’s like music. Then it can be a real joy. Part of being stage-struck, though, is that it’s not all vanity. There can be an element of self-perception, but that’s more part of the rehearsal process. Later, during the performance, it’s definitely more than just your own ego. That’s why it is important not to identify with the role, to come back to Diderot. And for me, it’s important to be aware that, as a peformer, you’re also part of the audience. You should avoid going on stage with your own feelings, but you shouldn’t avoid coming back down from the stage with your own feelings.

On your new album offers a cross-section of Schubert Lieder, familiar, unfamiliar, rare, early, late, ballads, hymns. Is there an overall concept behind it?

That’s difficult to say. Every one of the Lieder is an individual ”Nachtviolen“ – nobody knows what that is supposed to be, but everyone has an idea about it. I simply wanted to sing every song that I particularly love. I asked myself: What is essential for me to sing? It was a very long list to start with. And it took me a while to cut it down to a overall dramatic structure.

So there is a very definite order and sequence, an interlinking?

Yes, of course. There is. But the most important thing about this album is that I’m not telling a story.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maazel quits Munich a year early

Lorin Maazel has announced he is quitting as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic a year earlier than planned due to health reasons.

Maazel took over in 2012 and was due to step down at the end of next season and hand over the baton to Valery Gergiev.

Maazel has said that, should his health allow, he might be able to conduct some of the 2014/2015 concerts.

Here's the statement (in German) from Munich's culture authorities:

Rücktritt von Maestro Lorin Maazel als Chefdirigent der Münchner Philharmoniker

Maestro Lorin Maazel wird aus gesundheitlichen Gründen sein Amt als Chefdirigent der
Münchner Philharmoniker niederlegen. Wie er mitteilte, verläuft sein Genesungsprozess
langsamer als erhofft, sodass er in seiner Verantwortung für die Münchner Philharmoniker
seinen Verpflichtungen nicht nachkommen kann. Sollte es seine Gesundheit erlauben, sei er
jedoch gerne bereit, einzelne Konzerte mit den Münchner Philharmonikern zu dirigieren.

Dass die erfolgreiche Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Maestro und dem städtischen
Orchester in der kommenden Spielzeit 2014/2015 nun nicht wie geplant zu seinen Ehren
vertieft werden kann, bedauern alle Beteiligten außerordentlich.

„In Konzerten mit Lorin Maazel hat unser Publikum Sternstunden der Klassik erleben dürfen.
Das Orchester war höchst motiviert, in der kommenden Saison weitere herausragende
Konzerterlebnisse mit ihm zu gestalten. Wir bedauern es sehr, dass es ihm nicht möglich
sein wird, die fordernde Aufgabe als Chefdirigent weiter auszuüben. Und wir danken ihm
gleichzeitig für sein bisheriges Wirken. Wir wünschen ihm eine baldige Genesung, damit er
rasch wieder die Energie hat, die ihn als Künstler und Persönlichkeit besonders auszeichnet",
so Dr. Hans-Georg Küppers, Kulturreferent der Landeshauptstadt München.

„Die Nachricht, dass Lorin Maazel in der nächsten Spielzeit nicht wie geplant mit uns
weiterarbeiten kann, hat uns sehr getroffen. Wir haben jedoch großes Verständnis für diese
Entscheidung und wünschen ihm das Beste. Es stellt uns vor große Herausforderungen, die
Saison 2014/2015 zu disponieren. Das Orchester hat aber in den letzten Wochen gezeigt,
dass es mit solchen Ausnahmesituationen professionell umzugehen weiß – hervorragende
Konzertkritiken haben das bestätigt. Ich bin zuversichtlich, dass wir weiterhin ein attraktives
Programm für unser Publikum anbieten können und danke bereits jetzt für das Verständnis
und entgegengebrachte Vertrauen", so Intendant Paul Müller.

„Für die Münchner Philharmoniker war und ist Lorin Maazel ein Glücksfall. Von seinem
musikalischen Verständnis, seiner schlagtechnischen Präzision und seinem Umgang mit dem
Orchester werden wir noch lange profitieren. Wir wünschen uns sehr, dass er wieder
vollständig gesund wird und freuen uns jederzeit auf ein Wiedersehen", so Orchestervorstand
Stephan Haack.

Die Münchner Philharmoniker werden zunächst versuchen, für die bis Jahresende von
Maestro Maazel abgesagten Konzerte angemessene Lösungen zu finden. Über personelle
und programmatische Änderungen werden die Presse und das Publikum laufend informiert.

Derzeit arbeitet die Intendanz bereits daran, die betroffenen Konzerte in München und
anstehende Tourneen neu zu planen. Die angebotenen Abonnements bleiben grundsätzlich
bestehen. Wie das „Chef-Abonnement" (h5), das ab Oktober beginnt, aussehen wird, soll
Ende Juli feststehen. Alle Abonnentinnen und Abonnenten werden umgehend über
Neuigkeiten in Kenntnis gesetzt.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Don Giovanni, Staatstheater Mainz

Staatstheater Mainz
June 7th, 2014

Don Giovanni  - Heikki Kilpeläinen
Leporello - Hans-Otto Weiss
Donna Anna - Tatjana Charalgina
Donna Elvira - Patricia Roach
Don Ottavio - Thorsten Büttner
Zerlina - Alexandra Samouilidou
Masetto  - Dmitriy Ryabchikov
Commendatore - José Gallisa

Conductor - Hermann Bäumer
Director - Tilman Knabe
Stage - Wilfried Buchholz
Costumes - Eva-Mareika Uhlig

Tilman Knabe's action-packed production of Don Giovanni couldn't possibly be more different to Christof Loy's masterly new staging running concurrently just 40 kilometres away in Frankfurt.

While Loy's offers us an extremely personal, deeply melancholic but  psychologically probing portrait of the aging Giovanni, Knabe's reading is extrovertly, unapologetically political and has the look and feel of a computer war game.

His overriding interest seems to be in the westernized idea of "freedom", his staging an examination of the "clash of cultures" -- between our hedonistic, self-obsessed West and the Middle East with its Jihadist wars and corrupt ruling classes.  

Wilfried Buchholz's revolving set portrays a run-down hotel in a dusty town in an unnamed Middle East state. 

Giovanni resembles Julian Assange and his Parka-wearing sidekick Leporello films the Don's sexual exploits with a tablet computer and stores them all on a USB stick. 

The Commendatore is a (Christian) religious leader assassinated by snipers, bombs explode, sirens go off, there are air raids during which town dwellers are repeatedly chased through the streets by soldiers or cower in bombed-out shells of buildings.

We see Pussy Riot and Femen protestors.

Donna Anna wears military khaki and Don Ottavio is also some high-ranking military official. 
Donna Elvira, heavily pregnant, smokes and drinks and then in Act 2 appears in Rambo attire, complete with bazooka, to give birth.

She then reappears again at the end to present the newborn baby, wrapped in bloodied rags, to Giovanni as "the last proof of her love".

Masetto seems to be a human trafficker who has seized Zerlina's passport and regularly beats her.
But he is sexually ambivalent, too, and allows himself to be seduced by Giovanni (disguised as Leporello).

Zerlina is a nymphomaniac who needs no persuasion at all to rip her clothes and mount the prostrate Giovanni. 
But she throws fake blood all over herself to accuse him at the end of Act 1.

It looks as if Giovanni will meet a fiery death at the end, too, when he is overpowered and doused in petrol, with Donna Anna standing above, threatening to drop a match.

But Don Giovanni escapes when she, in turn, is overpowered and in a defiant final pose, he rips off his shirt to reveal the word "Liberta" scrawled across  his chest.

Even if in the Frankfurt production, Loy's title character is anything but likeable, Knabe's worldview is so joyless, so unredeemably misanthropic that you're left neither liking nor caring about any of the characters.
  There's no denying that Knabe has plenty of ideas.  But he fails to follow through with any of them with any coherence or cogency.

Unlike Loy in Frankfurt, he never really engages with the text and all too frequently resorts to gimmickry. 

And with a bewildering amount of superfluous action going on onstage, and earfuls of extraneous sound effects, it's over-directed, too, and easy to get lost or distracted.

Teams of cameramen and journalists constantly appear on stage for no apparent reason, Donna Anna noisily shreds documents while Ottavio sings an aria. 

I wish the evening had been musically more interesting.  

Knabe's idea of Personenregie is to stand the singers all at the front of the stage.
But everything seemed to be at a relentless forte, with little attempt made to alter shade or colour or really work with the words.

Patricia Roach as Donna Elvira came closest to bringing her character to life. 
Tatjana Charalgina was a relentlessly shrill Donna Anna, Thorsten Büttner a vocally wooden and one-dimensional Ottavio. 

Neither Heikki Kilpeläinen as Giovanni nor Hans-Otto Weiss as Leporello left any lasting vocal impression. 

But that may not be entirely the fault of the singers.  
Knabe is so preoccupied with shoving our noses in his concept and political message that he forgets to inject any life into the characters who remain cyphers.

Nevertheless, no-one stood out as a real vocal actor. And it all sounded as if they were singing from a teleprompter with no attempt to inject any meaning into the words.

Much the same could be said of the orchestral playing under conductor Hermann Bäumer, too, which was marred by rushed, scrappy tempi and some duff intonation throughout.

Of course, it's not really fair to compare the two productions side by side:  a small house like Mainz will simply not have the same resources as the opera in Frankfurt. 

But for all its visual overload, Knabe's treatment didn't leave me wanting to see it again, while Loy's continues to reap rewards even after repeated viewings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gergiev's letter to Munich Philharmonic's subscribers

"Music is the best bridge-builder!"

Valery Gergiev, under fire for his support of Vladimir Putin, has written a letter to the subscribers of the Munich Philharmonic, the orchestra which he will head from 2015/16.

The city authorities and the orchestra are concerned that Gergiev may no longer be tenable as the Munich Philharmonic's new chief conductor following comments in which he appeared to link homosexuality to child abuse and in which he supported Putin's annexation of Ukraine.

Gay groups have demonstrated and protested outside his concerts in cities such as New York and London.
And, given Munich's large and visible gay population, there has been speculation that he may not actually take up his new position next year.

Now, in a letter to subscribers, he lays out his position in greater detail than ever before.

Here is the full text. It is dated: Munich, May 2014.

Dear subscribers and friends of the Munich Philharmonic,

The events in and around the Ukraine have been dominating the headlines over the last

few weeks, causing new rifts between East and West that are distressing to all of us. I,
personally, have also become the subject of accusations and controversial disputes. I
would like to take this opportunity to make a personal statement.
I am immensely proud of the fact that I have been appointed by the city of Munich to
head the Munich Philharmonic as Music Director in the 2015/16 season. Yet this
appointment means much more to me. In my opinion it is based on trust and on the
belief that, together, we can and must succeed in upholding this city’s unique musical
culture and to guide it into the future. I am fully aware of the magnitude of this task and
the responsibility associated with it and my future orchestra. Therefore, I shall do my
very best to ensure that our concerts are filled with unforgettable moments.

I am a musician and conductor. However, I am also a Russian citizen with close
connections to my native country. For nearly a quarter century I have been in charge of
the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, one of the world’s most prestigious theatres,
home to the the Mariinsky Opera, Ballet and Orchestra. My range of musical activities
is not limited to this one post. I have been conducting music in the most important cities
around the world for many years and work together with many orchestras and musical
colleagues. Music is both my profession and my passion and I have devoted myself to it,
heart and soul, from a very early age. I also assumed responsibilities to ensure that the
cultural and musical tradition of St. Petersburg continues to blossom.

Future political developments could give rise to problems along the lines of what we
are currently experience since some people might interpret my involvement given my
nationality. In some countries I am seen as a representative of a “different” society,
which does not stand for the values and principles of Western life, or does not advocate
for them strongly enough. But is this accurate? After all, our Russian musical culture
was Europeanised by Mikhail Glinka and is influenced and shaped, in particular, by the
German musical culture. Many people in my native Russia are very well aware of this.

Yet, on the other hand, I cannot ignore the fact that parts of Russian society live
according to fundamental principles that are different from those of Western societies.
For example, many elements of Russian culture are based on the Russian Orthodox
religion and the traditions associated with it which still plays a fundamental role in
people’s lifestyles. It is important to recognize that this tradition has helped the Russian
population to survive such difficult eras in the twentieth century.

I respect my people and their traditions. I also respect the principles of life that are
extremely important to the people of Russia. These include upholding taboos that have
not applied in Western countries for many years, but where many attempts and much
time was needed to abolish them. With respect to my personal stance, there is no one in
my ensemble and team who could accuse me of anything. One of my most important
principles is respect for others and their personal lives.

Of course, I am aware that my work, my initiative and my commitment - to the extent
that music has an influence on everyday life - demand a high degree of responsibility
towards my fellow citizens and at times these functions can be construed in a political
nature. Nevertheless, I aim a continuous believer in music’s power to reinforce societies
and their great traditions. That is why it is very important to me to help promote and
invigorate educational music programmes.

I know that many colleagues throughout the world support me in my efforts. Yet this
can and must not hide the fact that circumstances of Realpolitik can suddenly infiltrate
the common ground of our cultural work and cause harsh and jarring discord. In my
opinion, it is particularly crucial at times like these to still have the courage to listen to
the other side and to exchange opinions. Moreover, we should not lose respect for each
other and never allow for communication to breakdown. We should always be able to
exchange thoughts and ideas.

It might sound banal, which does not make it wrong, in fact, quite the opposite is true in
my experience: Music is the best bridge-builder!

I look forward to welcoming you to many concerts, perhaps as early as July as the
Munich Philharmonic and Marinsky Orchestra complete their Strawinsky Cycle

Yours sincerely,

Valery Gergiev


Monday, May 19, 2014

Opera Novices wanted! Oder: Nehmen Sie Platz auf der Opern Couch!

Have you ever fancied going to an opera, but felt put off because you think it's only for the old and rich?

Would you like to give it a try, but feel intimidated by the stuffy, snobby atmosphere and the high ticket prices?
Do you think opera is just a bunch of fat women in horned helmets screaming their heads off?

Do you feel the plots are ludicrous, the stories irrelevant and the music old-fashioned, dragging on for hours and hours?

Well, I'm planning a new column, Opera Couch, where I invite you to challenge those pre-conceptions, come along with me to a performance and blog about the experience afterwards.

If you're interested in taking a seat on the Opera Couch, just get in touch at or via Twitter (@SP_Morgan).

I'll ask you to fill out a short questionnaire (musical interests, etc.) beforehand (for publication here) and then you write a warts-and-all report of the entire experience afterwards. 

(PS: The idea for Opera Couch came from blogger Ulrike Schmid, whose very readable and highly entertaining blog -- and corresponding Konzert Couch -- you can find here: )

Haben Sie je davon geträumt, in die Oper zu gehen, aber dachten, es sei etwas nur für Alte und Reiche?

Hätten Sie schon Interesse, aber finden die Atmosphäre zu steif und zu versnobt, die Kartenpreise zu hoch?

Wenn Sie an Oper denken, denken Sie automatisch an übergewichtige Schreihälse mit Speer und Helm?

Finden Sie die Handlung lächerlich, die Geschichten irrelevant und die Musik altmodisch und langatmig?

Ich plane eine neue Kolumne, Opern Couch, wo ich Sie dazu einlade, solche Vorurteile zu überdenken und mich in eine Vorstellung zu begleiten, um nachher darüber gemeinsam zu bloggen.

Wenn Sie Interesse haben, auf der Opern Couch Platz zu nehmen, melden Sie sich unter: oder per Twitter (@SP_Morgan)

Alles was Sie tun müssen, ist vorab einen kurzen Fragebogen zu Ihren musikalischen Interessen auszufüllen (die Antworten erscheinen dann hier), und nachher über die Erfahrung zu bloggen.

(Die Idee zu der Opern Couch stammt von Ulrike Schmid. Und über die Erfahrungen, die sie mit einer entsprechenden Konzert Couch gemacht hat, können Sie auf ihrem wunderbar lesbaren und unterhaltsamen Blog nachlesen)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Don Giovanni, Oper Frankfurt

Oper Frankfurt
May 15th, 2014

Don Giovanni  - Christian Gerhaher
Leporello - Simon Bailey
Donna Anna - Brenda Rae
Donna Elvira - Juanita Lascarro
Don Ottavio - Martin Mitterrutzner
Zerlina - Grazia Doronzio
Masetto Björn Bürger
Commendatore -  Robert Lloyd

Conductor -  Sebastian Weigle

Director - Christof Loy
Stage - Johannes Leiacker 
Costumes - Ursula Renzenbrink

Christian Gerhaher freely admits he's not everyone's idea of Don Giovanni, either physically or vocally.

"No-one can seriously take me for a lady's man," he told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau in a recent interview, pointing out that his baritone is probably too light and lyrical, too, and "not necessarily suited for Don Giovanni."

Gerhaher's usual self-deprecation aside, the idea of casting one of today's greatest Lied singers in the role did indeed raise a few eyebrows in the opera world.

If a sexy Hollywood heartthrob with a macho swagger and an unquenchable libido is your idea of a perfect Don, then Gerhaher and Christof Loy's new reading for the Oper Frankfurt won't be for you.

There will be those who, like the critic of the Bayerischer Rundfunk in his first-night review, are looking for a hero who is a "sensual anarchist" and a staging that sizzles with the "gloriously ambiguous irony" of Mozart's score.

They'll miss the seductively saucy banter that normally leaves everyone -- not just Donnas Anna and Elvira-- drooling over our Casanova and his sidekick Leporello in more traditional productions.

But rarely does a review like the BR's so entirely miss the point as it does in this case.

For Loy, the interest does not lie in the dramma giocoso of this "opera of all operas".

It is instead a deeply melancholy -- even depressive -- portrait of an ageing egomaniac staring death in the face and trapped in a hell of his own making.

Like the idea of casting of Gerhaher in the title role, Loy's reading is unsettling because it goes against any ingrained expectations for Don Giovanni. And it can really get under your skin, if you let it.

And shouldn't that be what opera is all about?

The beautifully stark sets by Johannes Leiacker and swish period costumes by Ursula Renzenbrink exude a run-down elegance.

We're in dilapidated baroque theatre with grubby white walls. And the curtain comes crashing down on the overture's opening D-minor chord to reveal Giovanni standing over a lookalike (his alter ego?) whom he has defeated in a fencing duel.

The scene anticipates the duel and murder of the Commendatore -- who also seems to be Giovanni's double -- a few minutes later and returns again, this time much multiplied, at the end as the hell into which the Stone Guest drags Giovanni. 

The ageing Don -- confronted with his own mortality by the Commendatore's death -- is reviewing his life in flashback, weary of the role that both society and he has cast himself in and plagued by existential ennui.

And the action that unfolds is his final dance of death.

Gerhaher, ever the intellectual among today's singers, portrays him as an arrogant, unlikeable man, a manipulator, icy on the surface, brutal underneath.

In the few arias Giovanni actually gets to sing, his baritone gleams with characteristic beauty, no more so than in his delicately sung, finely nuanced serenade in Act 2.

But he can be fiery and dramatic, too, as in the Champagne aria (for which he is dressed up as the singer Francisco d'Andrade in Max Slevogt's painting). And his diction is always exemplary.

The rest of the cast is made up of some of Oper Frankfurt'
s very best singers.

Brenda Rae is wiltingly beautiful as Donna Anna, Martin Mitterrutzner a sweet, light-toned Ottavio and Juanita Lascarro an excitable Donna Elvira.

Simon Bailey's Leporello is fresh and sure-footed, Björn Bürger a powerful, but amiable Masetto and Grazia Doronzio a touching, girlish Zerlina.

Robert Lloyd was an imposing, if sometimes rather ragged-sounding Commendatore.

Frankfurt's GMD Sebastian Weigle drew sensitive and alert playing from the house orchestra, even if they sometimes lacked real Mozartian fizz and sparkle.

Loy must be one of the busiest opera directors around today and his critics like to accuse him of being lazy and formulaic.

But at his best, his stagings can be intelligent and psychologically probing, requiring multiple viewings to catch all the subtleties.

This Don Giovanni, tailor-made as it is for Gerhaher, must be one of the most engaging and compelling of Loy's productions I've seen.

Hugely recommended.

Photos copyright of Monika Rittershaus, made available by Oper Frankfurt.

Friday, February 7, 2014

hr-Sinfonieorchester, Andrés Orozco-Estrada

Grosser Saal, Alte Oper, February 7th, 2014

Andrés Orozco-Estrada doesn't officially take over as chief conductor of the hr-Sinfonieorchester -- or the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra as it is known in English -- until next season.

But if this concert is anything to go by, the new era under the 36-year-old Colombian is going to be very exciting.

Billed as a "musical visiting card" by Frankfurt Radio, the programme for the orchestra's regular subscription series concert in the city's Alte Oper was impressively eclectic, as if Orozco-Estrada was keen to show off his versatility and wide repertoire: Haydn's 59th Symphony, Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist, a world premiere of a brand new work entitled Tagebuch by Friedrich Cerha and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

Aside from the Rachmaninov suite, neither of other two established works are exactly standard concert hall fare.
Haydn's Fire Symphony is not one of his better known and Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto is less familiar and much less frequently performed than his Second.

It was clear from the first bar of the Haydn that we were in for an exciting evening.

Orozco-Estrada is no period instrument specialist, but with valveless horns and minimal use of vibrato by the strings, this was a modern orchestra with modern turning fully embracing historically informed performance practices with sharp dynamics, pert articulation and bright and brisk tempi.

The Prokofiev with its much larger orchestra was equally flawless and Arabella Steinbacher impressed with her lithe, athletic tone and assured technical command.
As an encore, she played the first movement of Eugène Ysaÿe's Second Solo Sonata.

Cerha's Tagebuch for orchestra was commissioned by Frankfurt Radio and was composed in 2012.
It comprises eight miniature sketches of contrasting character and lasts just 16 minutes in total.
The orchestration is luminous, the musical argument lucid and the pieces shimmer with spontaneity.

Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances showed just what a fine ensemble the hr-Sinfonieorchester has turned into in its years under Paavo Järvi.
The string sound in particular has taken on a deeper bloom and richer sheen than before and the woodwind are immaculate and the brass top-notch, too.

This was a taut and muscular reading of Rachmaninov's late masterpiece that really packed a punch, the massive orchestral forces coiled like a spring.

While Paavo Järvi cut a very cool figure on the podium, using only the very minimum of gestures, Orozco-Estrada is much more expressive, almost dancing as he coaxes the sound out he wants out of the orchestra.

Järvi's departure from Frankurt after just seven years was a major loss to the city's classical music scene -- even if he will return regularly as Conductor Laureate.
But the hr-Sinfonieorchester appears to have found a more than worthy successor in Orozco-Estrada --  as long as he doesn't overstretch himself with his commitments as chief conductor of the Houston Symphony and principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Kurt Weill Festival's Tweetfonie

The classical music world has fallen in love with Twitter.
Singers, musicians, opera houses, concert halls, not to mention fans, critics, journalists, musicologists are all embracing social networks with a passion and enthusiasm that really does give the lie to those who say classical music and opera is dead or dying or that it's elitist or snobbish or out of touch with the modern world.

Well, the annual Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, which runs this year from February 22 until March 9, has come up with yet another idea to woo musically-inclined Tweeps.

They're calling it a "Tweetfonie" and are inviting anyone who fancies themselves as a composer to come up with a good tune (or should it be called a"twune"?) and then tweet it to be arranged for a symphony orchestra in the blink of an eye.

The score and parts are then emailed and printed out for the Anhaltische Philharmonic Dessau and its chief conductor Antony Hermus who will be assembled in Dessau's Bauhaus and will perform the pieces live on March 3 within just 10 minutes of receiving them.

How can you tweet a melody?

Well, the organisers are putting up a special website -- -- on which the budding Mozarts can compose their tune using an on-screen keyboard.
The melody is then automatically converted into a tweet of 140 characters and sent to a special "Tweetfonie Call Centre" in the Bauhaus.

The best and most original "twunes" are filtered out and sent to professional composers and arrangers in Berlin, Paris and New York, who have an hour to compose a short piece of up to one minute around them.

The arrangement is then mailed in PDF form back to the Tweetfonie Call Centre where the score and parts are printed out and handed out to the waiting orchestra and conductor.

The performances are then recorded in both audio and video, posted on and sent via link to the Tweeps who composed them.

If all that sounds complicated, the budding composers have a few days to practice on the system. goes live on February 28, but the composers can only tweet their twunes for real from March 2.

The live concert of the best of them then takes place in the Bauhaus on March 3.

The scoring of the final pieces is as follows:

2(+picc).2(+cor. angl).2(+sax).2. –– tmp+2perc(no mallets), hp, pf 
– strings 8--‐6--‐4--‐3--‐2.
Here's the link to the full programme of this year's Kurt Weill Festival: