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 Simon.Morgan@gmx.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: www.orchestrasfan.de )

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: Simon.Morgan@gmx.at 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 www.orchestrasfan.de 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.