Sir Simon Rattle
Murray Perahia, Kate Royal, Christian Gerhaher, Rundfunkchor Berlin
“The soul of a poet, the mind of a thinker, the hands of a virtuoso,” was how an American critic succinctly and accurately described the qualities of Murray Perahia. As Pianist in Residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the 2011/2012 season, he is heard regularly in solo and chamber concerts in Berlin. An outstanding event of this partnership is Perahia’s guest appearance at this philharmonic concert in which he performs the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann together with Sir Simon Rattle.
Perahia’s rank as one of the great poets among the pianists of our time is impressively revealed in this work, where melodic playing, gentle story-telling and romantic rhapsodising are in the foreground, rather than the traditional contrast of clearly contoured themes. Schumann’s Nachtlied for choir and orchestra inhabits a similar world of expression – and in contrast to the popular piano concerto, this piece is a real discovery, full of drama and transcendency.
The concert’s more recent works also have a nocturnal hue. E vó und O King by Luciano Berio are subdued laments; in the first piece, a lullaby is sung to a murdered child, and in the latter, Berio mourns the assassination of Martin Luther King. The concert closes with Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. Infused with delicate melancholy, it culminates in a sunny vision of paradise – and the promise that even the darkest night is always followed by the dawn.
Works by Berio, Schumann and Fauré
Sleep and death, the dark eagles, rush about this head all night...
Georg Trakl’s 1914 poem Lament could serve as a motto for this programme: from sleep, the subject of Berio’s lullaby E vó, through the “welling, swelling night” in Schumann’s Nachtlied Op. 108, down into to the dark depths of death – Berio’s O King, composed in memory of the assassinated American civil rights leader Martin Luther King – and finally up into the light-flooded paradise of the Resurrection at the end of Fauré’s Requiem. And for all the works being performed this evening, Schumann’s comment about his Nachtlied is apt: “It is a kind of composition that does not yet exist.”
... as though the icy wave of eternity would engulf the golden image of Man.
The Opus 54 of Robert Schumann is just such a “kind of composition”: although it fits into the existing genre of Romantic piano concerto, it owes its conception to quite different forms and ideas. In November 1840 – shortly before Schumann’s wedding to Clara Wieck – the first entry referring to a piano concerto appears in the couple’s Ehetagebuch (marriage diary), but it was a “Piano Phantasy with Orchestra” that he committed to paper in May 1841. It was never performed in public. Not until four years later, wrote Clara in her diary, did Schumann add the Intermezzo and “a beautiful last movement to his Phantasie in A minor so that it has become a concerto”. She gave the premiere on 4 December 1845 in Dresden.
“The piano is interwoven with orchestra in the most delicate fashion”, Clara reported after a play-through rehearsal of the original version, and, after the first performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung described the concerto as a work that “creates a tone painting in symphonic fashion in which the piano plays the main role”. The key to the work is found in the first four notes of the opening movement, the soggetto cavato (musical cryptogram) C-B-A-A – in German, C-H-A-A – a coded declaration of love to “Ch[i]a[r]a” alias Clara, for whose very soul and fingers this music was fashioned: affectionate and graceful, as emphasized by tempo markings such as affettuoso and grazioso.
The purple body is broken on the dreadful reefs, and the dark voice laments across the sea.
Whereas the Piano Concerto arose from the blissful emotion of fulfilled love, a deep existential and creative crisis is reflected in the Nachtlied Op. 108 for eight-part chorus and orchestra, composed in November 1849. Schumann’s intense preoccupation with the poetry of Friedrich Hebbel, which also supplied the texts for his only opera, Genoveva, and the two melodramas Schön Hedwig Op. 106 and Ballade vom Haideknaben Op. 122 No.1, came at a time of deceptive and only temporary convalescence, during which the composer strove to find new forms for setting literary sources.
The first performance of the Nachtlied on 13 May 1851 in Düsseldorf was only a moderate success. The Romantic image of sleep, which “forms a protective circle round the paltry frame” of life, sinks into the dark night of madness from which there is no awakening. Following this thread, Luciano Berio’s Sicilian lullaby E vó for soprano and 14 instruments seems to extend the image of madness still further. This short setting of his own text, which Berio later integrated into the revised version of his music-theatre piece Opera, deconstructs the folk-based idyll until it is barely recognizable, spinning it into a web of pallid, almost menacing sounds that increasingly envelop the voice. A lullaby? More likely a lament.
O King also exists in two distinct contexts: as an individual piece for mezzo-soprano and five instruments, it was created as a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and premiered on 4 May 1968 – at Bowdoin College in Maine – exactly one month after his assassination. In an extended version for eight voices, it forms the second movement of the Sinfonia. The text, wrote Berio, “simply consists of the enunciation of the black martyr’s name... The voice enunciates the different phonetic elements of the name, which is gradually recomposed towards the end”. It is at once a lament and a remembrance that oscillates between two whole-tone areas repeatedly punctuated by individual accents. Yet it isn’t only pain that resonates in the work, but also a kind of imperturbable tranquillity – perhaps sustained by a hope of Paradise similar to that set to music by Gabriel Fauré in his Requiem Op. 48.
Sister of stormy sadness, see our fearful boat sink under stars, the silent face of night.
“Cher Monsieur and dear friend, my Requiem was not composed for any special occasion... just for pleasure, if I may so!” The backstory of this letter to Maurice Emmanuel (of March 1910) was the latter’s presumption that the work could have something to do with the deaths of Fauré’s parents: his father died on 25 July 1885, his mother on 31 December 1887. The Requiem dates from his tenure as maître de chapelle of the Église de la Madeleine in Paris, although the genesis of the individual movements and various versions over more than ten years can be reconstructed only approximately.
A requiem “for pleasure” and thus without a Dies irae, without the terrors of the Last Judgement. Maintaining a “gentle mood throughout” seems to have been Fauré’s overriding concern – the work is full of indications like “dolce” and “dolce espressivo”. Thus in the Introït et Kyrie the initially gentle choral sound must float as it spreads over the string chords, interrupted by outbursts of energy which have to be led carefully back into a state of rest, to a kind of paradisal minimum. In the Offertoire, too, whose structure recalls cloister chants, the rhythmic and harmonic friction between voices and strings again dissolves into a gentle “Amen”. The gentle wavelike motion of the violas in the Sanctus is at odds with the two-bar phrases of the men’s and women’s voices until the high sopranos effect a transition to the “Hosanna in excelsis”. Finally the Pie Jesu seems like a premonition of celestial perfection: of the concentrated expression of a hope for serenity, purity and eternal rest.
Of the Agnus Dei – the quickest and structurally most complex of the seven movements – Fauré’s conception seems to have been the least clear; the string phrasing alone exists in five different readings. The strong rhythmic pulse of the Libera me again leads to an apparently gentler course, which then turns into great waves for the “dies illa”. At the end, Fauré depicts Paradise with weightless luminosity – the melody, carried by the sopranos alone, suggesting a “chorus angelorum”.
“It is no longer a matter of the dreadful drama with its terrors and horrors”, wrote the critic Hugues Imbert in an article for Le Guide musical, “but rather a work of quasi-ancient spirit pervaded by a Romantic breath of spring. Along with expressions of deep, though appealing, sadness, there unfold hymns of hope and survival.” The Requiem is perhaps the work that most closely approaches the expression of Fauré’s artistic credo. On 31 August 1908 he wrote to his son Philippe: “I consider that art, and especially music, has the duty above all to lift us as far as possible above reality.”
Christina Stahl/Michael Stegemann
Translation: Richard Evidon
Christian Gerhaher studied not only singing but also philosophy and medicine. His lieder teachers include Helmut Deutsch, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. He has appeared both at home and abroad both as a lieder recitalist and as a concert soloist with such leading orchestras as the Vienna, Munich and Berlin Philharmonics, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. In addition to his busy schedule in the world’s recital rooms and concert halls, he has also taken part in a carefully selected number of opera productions that have included the title role in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Wolfram in Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The magazine Opernwelt voted him “Singer of the year” in 2010 for his performance of the title role in Henze’s Prinz von Homburg. Among the conductors with whom he has worked are Pierre Boulez, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Riccardo Muti, Mariss Jansons and Sir Simon Rattle. Christian Gerhaher first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2003, when he took the part of the baritone soloist in performances of Britten’s War Requiem under the direction of Donald Runnicles. Since then he has returned on frequent occasions, most recently in April 2010 for performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Christian Gerhaher holds an honorary professorship in lieder interpretation at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Munich and has also given masterclasses at Yale University, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and elsewhere. His lieder recordings with Gerold Huber as his accompanist have won many prizes, including a Gramophone Award in 2006.
Barbara Kind studied at Berlin University of the Arts with Julie Kaufmann, graduating in the subjects of opera, concert performance and oratorio. She also attended master classes with René Jacobs, Kristina Laki, Sylvia Geszty and Axel Bauni. Then, in two years as a freelance singer, she performed a broad concert repertoire and appeared in several opera productions, including Das Traumfresserchen by Wilfried Hiller at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as Ilia (Idomeneo) at the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and as Zerlina (Don Giovanni) at the opera house in Poznań. She regularly appears at the festivals of early music in Bamberg. Since April 2008, Barbara Kind has been a permanent member of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, in whose concerts she has also appeared as a soloist, including in Angst by Christian Jost at the Komische Oper Berlin, and in performances of Peter Sellars’ ritualized staging of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in April 2010. In addition to her duties with the Rundfunkchor Berlin, Barbara Kind also receives many invitations to perform as a soloist, such as in Caracas in the summer of 2010 when she sang Frasquita (Carmen) in a concert performance with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, also conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Murray Perahia, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s current Pianist in Residence, was born in New York in 1947, and has played the piano since he was three. He studied conducting and composition at the Mannes College of Music in New York and worked with musicians such as Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals. Pianistic inspiration came from study with Mieczysław Horszowski and his friendship with Vladimir Horowitz. In 1972 he won the Leeds International Piano Competition. That launched an international career in which the artist has triumphed not only as a pianist but also as a conductor and festival director. He is principal guest conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Murray Perahia made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1977 and has returned many times since. Of the numerous recordings he has made over the years, one might mention the complete Chopin Etudes for which he won the 2003 Grammy Award. Henle Urtext Edition has entrusted him with the new critical edition of the complete Beethoven sonatas. Among his distinctions are the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award (1997) and honorary membership in the Royal Academy of Music in London; he holds honorary doctorates from Leeds University and Duke University. In 2004 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II., in recognition of his outstanding service to music.
Kate Royal was born in London and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the National Opera Studio. She won the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2004 and the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award in 2007. She has performed on opera stages in London, Glyndebourne, Madrid, Paris and Aix-en-Provence, singing works by Monteverdi, Mozart, Bizet, Britten and Adès. Kate Royal has appeared as a concert soloist at the BBC Proms, the Baden-Baden and Edinburgh Festivals and with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, amongst others. She has collaborated with such conductors as Emmanuelle Haïm, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Simon Rattle, Vasily Petrenko and Helmuth Rilling and has appeared in recitals throughout Europe and North America. Kate Royal made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in mid-December 2007, singing Handel’s Messiah under the baton of William Christie. She appeared with the orchestra most recently in October 2010, in performances of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
The Rundfunkchor Berlin, founded in 1925, produced great musical moments of the 1920s and 30s under the direction of conductors such as George Szell, Hermann Scherchen, Otto Klemperer and Erich Kleiber. After the Second World War, the choir and its principal conductor Helmut Koch made the oratorios of Handel internationally known in their original versions. Dietrich Knothe (1982 – 1993) formed the choir into a precision instrument for the most difficult of works; Robin Gritton (1994 – 2001) both enriched and refined the ensemble’s palette of colours. Since 2001, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has been led by Simon Halsey, who places particular emphasis on stylistic and linguistic perfection, resulting in lively and exciting performances of works from all periods and in all styles. Their work together is documented by a busy recording schedule; recently their CD of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de loin with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester conducted by Kent Nagano won the 2010 Grammy Award for best opera recording. Simon Halsey, who was awarded the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” (Cross of the Order of Merit) in January 2011, has also initiated many of the choir’s education and outreach projects, the interdisciplinary event series Broadening the Scope of Choral Music as well as the annual Sing-along Concert. The choir has been a partner of leading orchestras and conductors all over the world, including long-standing partnerships with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The Rundfunkchor Berlin last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in mid-February 2012 with works by Hugo Wolf and Mahler’s Second Symphony, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Highlights from the concert can be seen in our trailer.
Learn more about Murray Perahia in our documentary “Murray Perahia – Not of this world“