Simon Rattle and Christian Gerhaher
08 Sep 2013
Sir Simon Rattle
Luba Orgonášová, Mihoko Fujimura, Stuart Skelton, Christian Gerhaher, Christian Schmitt, Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Symphony No. 2 (28 min.)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (19 min.)
Christian Gerhaher Baritone
Glagolitic Mass (49 min.)
Luba Orgonášová Soprano, Mihoko Fujimura Mezzo-Soprano, Stuart Skelton Tenor, Christian Gerhaher Baritone, Christian Schmitt Organ, Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, Petr Fiala Chorus Master
Christian Gerhaher in conversation with Albrecht Mayer (13 min.)
Sir Simon Rattle talks about Witold Lutosławski (10 min.)
When the Berliner Philharmoniker first performed Witold Lutosławski’s Second Symphony in March 1970, they provoked contrary audience reactions: booing and bravos clashed loudly. At the time, the work’s seemingly disparate musical language met with little understanding. Lutosławski’s Second Symphony is an extremely tension-fraught piece with two very contradictory parts: a hesitant, episodic first movement and a forward-pressing, purposeful second movement.
Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, in which the composer came to terms with his unrequited love for the soprano Johanna Richter, left listeners unimpressed at first. The orchestral version premiered in March 1896 with the “Berlin Philharmonisches Orchester”. Mahler had hired the orchestra at his own expense to present several of his works to the public. Besides a lack of interest in the event, reviewers were not very complimentary. “Nonetheless, I would not like to deny Mr Mahler any talent. If only he were not searching so frantically for originality.” (Zeitschrift für Musik)
This is in stark contrast to Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, which was already enthusiastically received at its premiere in 1927. Though Janáček set a Slavonic mass text to music, the work is anything but archaic, dogmatic or reactionary. Instead, the Czech composer created a composition full of drama and vitality – testimony to his humanist, pan-Slavic worldview.
Listen to the Chords of Nature
Lutosławski, Mahler and Janáček invent new worlds of sound
Witold Lutosławski’s Second Symphony
It was a turning point for Witold Lutosławski – born 100 years ago in Warsaw – when, in 1960 on Polish Radio, he heard an excerpt from John Cage’s Piano Concerto, a composition employing chance operations: “Those few minutes were to change my life decisively... As I listened, I suddenly realised that I could compose music that was completely different from what I had previously written.”
Composed between 1965 and 1967, the Second Symphony is the first large orchestral work in which Lutosławski made use of his own principle of ad libitum playing. He had previously tried out so-called limited aleatorism with success in Jeux vénitiens (1961) and the String Quartet (1964). Unlike Cage, Lutosławski the trained mathematician, with a view to the overall sound, creates many little elaborate motivic building blocks for the musicians to toss about: each instrumentalist “plays” them without a prescribed beat, at times in exact rhythms, at others temporally free. The combined result is a fluctuating twelve-tone field that continues until another orchestral sub-group takes up new material in similar fashion. The conductor cues only the beginning and the end. What is so fascinating about these textures is their vibrant changing colours, which suggest natural phenomena such as schools of fish, bubbling magma or the bustling activity – also organised according to definite rules – of an anthill.
Lutosławski contains the explosive yet precisely performed eruptions within a two-movement symphonic formal outline exhibiting a clear dramatic progression. The introductory first movement (Hésitant) awakens a sense of expectancy for the main movement (Direct), which builds in intensity over five stages before reaching its climax and concluding with a brief epilogue.
A flurry of brass fanfares opens the symphony with signal-like 4th and 5th motives. Taking part in the constantly new and delicate mixtures of colours that follow are, most prominently, a large body of percussion, piano, harp, celesta and wind. The strings demarcate the sound fields with just a few sharply accentuated chordal columns. They take part in the free juggling of notes only in the following movement, where eventually the conductor is allowed to pursue his own activity and – if only briefly – beat time. The effect is phenomenal: as though a stopped clock now begins ticking again, the pulse of a normally accentuated bar (3/4-time with an emphasis on the first beat) once more becomes perceptible. The dispersed groups form a collective, and all the instruments are gradually drawn into a maelstrom of agitated ascending and descending figures, finally joining in a last outburst of violent fortissimo chords. After this discharge of bundled energy, the cosmos of sound collapses and ebbs away on low strings.
Gustav Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
When Gustav Mahler, born in Bohemia and reared in the Moravian town of Jihlava, directed the Berlin Philharmonic in the premiere of his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) on 16 March 1896 as part of a concert devoted to his works, the composer-conductor had already passed through an odyssey of Kapellmeister posts – as well as love affairs with singers, most of them ending unhappily – in Laibach (Ljubljana), Olmütz (Olomouc), Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest and finally (since 1891) Hamburg. His unrequited love for the Kassel singer Johanna Richter inspired the four autobiographically tinged Wayfarer Songs, based on his own poems, which he had probably begun composing by the end of 1884, initially for baritone and piano.
Similar to Schubert’s Winterreise, the poetic narrator is roaming as he describes his tragic love story, one that finally drives the hopeless young man to take his own life. But Mahler repeatedly interrupts the singer’s despair with a musical depiction of nature in springtime and the chirping of songbirds. The first song opens with a series of tempo changes representing the shifting perspective. In the faster passages, the object of his adoration celebrates her “merry wedding” – as viewed by the abandoned lover – while Mahler renders the lonely man’s disillusioned frame of mind in a slower tempo and dark string tone. In the second song, we encounter the birds’ singing and a would-be promise of happiness in sunbathed nature, beginning high on sparkling woodwind; but ultimately the idyll is exposed as delusion by strings and horns, both muted. This music and the funeral march suggested in the last song were incorporated by Mahler in his First Symphony. At the point where the wanderer lays himself down to die under a linden and is blanketed by the tree’s falling blossoms, the tragedy is transcended by a string melody with harp accompaniment – profoundly moving music of great emotion in visionary F major, which finally fades to pale minor on the flutes.
Leoš Janáček: Glagolitic Mass
Among the late works of the Moravian composer Leoš Janáček, two stand out that were written in close succession. Only a matter of months after the Sinfonietta dating from the spring of 1926,he wrote his Glagolitic Mass, one of the last offshoots of Czech nationalist musical culture. Whereas a few Czech composers before him had set the Old Church Slavonic text – written in the early Cyrillic alphabet known as Glagolitic – for use in the service, Janáček produced a large orchestral concert mass.
The short motivic splinters in the music of the Kyrie (Gospodi pomiluj)correspond in their archaic quality to the Glagolitic text, whose intonation Janáček adopts. In the “Lord, have mercy” cries of the chorus, the pleas of a communal prayer are given dramatic expression, with the unchanging mantra of a descending 2nd-4th melody heard in the choral sopranos following its introduction by the woodwind. At the beginning of the Gloria (Slava), Janáček illustrates the words “God in the highest” with a melodic ascent by the solo soprano to a high B flat. The joyous frenzy of the solo and choral voices are further brightened by a variety of ritual metallic sounds. Not only these chimes that recall Mussorgsky and Stravinsky but also the 2nds and 4ths in the melodic writing are typically Eastern European. The panegyric inflection of the mass thus represents an affirmation of the Slavic tradition and homeland rather than of religious conviction.
The Credo forms the climax of the work with its still restrained choral exclamations of “Věruju” (“I believe”) in floating whole-tone harmonies. The opera composer so well versed in portraying human suffering here interpolated an extended interlude that depicts Christ’s birth, Stations of the Crossand Crucifixion as a purely instrumental piece of imaginary theatre. Death and Resurrection are also symbolised in the Agnus Dei (Agneče Božij)by powerful contrasts of light and dark in the orchestration. To conclude Janáček appends two instrumental sections – an organ solo and a recapitulation of the fanfare-like brass “Intrada” that opens the Glagolitic Mass.
Mihoko Fujimura was born in Japan and studied at the National University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo and at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich. After several successes at international singing competitions, she was an ensemble member of the opera Graz from 1995 to 2000. In 2002, she received international attention at the Munich Opera Festival and the Bayreuth Festival. Since then, Mihoko Fujimura has been a regular guest at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Teatro alla Scala, Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin and at the Festival in Aix-en-Provence. At the Bayreuth Festival, the mezzo-soprano appeared for nine seasons in a row as Kundry, Brangaene, Fricka, Waltraute or Erda. Her repertoire also includes roles such as Idamante (Idomeneo), Carmen, Eboli (Don Carlos) and Amneris (Aida). As a concert singer, Mihoko Fujimura has appeared as a soloist with leading orchestras and regularly works with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Myung-Whun Chung, Christian Thielemann and Fabio Luisi. Her concert repertoire includes, among others, Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem and Mahler’s vocal symphonies and song cycles. In addition, the singer regularly gives recitals with conductor and pianist Christoph Ulrich Meier. Mihoko Fujimura first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in October 2012 performing Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, conducted by Bernard Haitink.
Christian Gerhaher is this season’s artitist in residence with the Berliner Philharmoniker and will take part in several orchestral concerts as well as present a number of chamber music projects. The baritone 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, the Boston Symphony 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, 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 2012 as soloist in the Fauré Requiem. 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.
Luba Orgonášová, born in Bratislava (Slovakia), is one of the leading interpreters of lyrical roles in German and Italian opera and the concert repertoire. She studied piano and singing in her hometown and after gaining solo experience, became a member of the Hagen Opera House in 1984. In 1988, Luba Orgonášová was offered a three-year contract as a guest artist with the Wiener Volksoper, where her roles included Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Shortly afterwards, she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera as Pamina (Die Zauberflöte). In 1990, the soprano had great success with her debut at the Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals as Marcellina in a new production of Fidelio, which was conducted by Kurt Masur. Another milestone in her career – also in 1990 – was her role debut in Paris as Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Since then, Luba Orgonášová has performed regularly on the stages of the most prestigious opera houses and concert halls around the world, working not only with top international orchestras, but also with major ensembles and specialists in the field of historical performance practice. Luba Orgonášová first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in September 1995, singing the role of Agathe in concert performances of Weber’s Der Freischütz, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Most recently, in November 2012, the artist was heard as a soloist with the orchestra in three concerts conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with Sergei Rachmaninov’s The Bells.
Stuart Skelton, a native Australian, was trained at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where he graduated in 1995. Since then, an international career has led him well beyond his native country to the major opera houses and concert halls throughout Asia, Europe and North America. With a repertoire that ranges from Beethoven, Weber, Bizet, Wagner, Saint-Saëns, Mahler, Janáček and Strauss to Berg, Zemlinsky and Britten, Stuart Skelton has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, English National Opera, the Opéra National de Paris, Zurich Opera, the Semperoper in Dresden, Deutsche Oper Berlin and at the state opera houses in Vienna, Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. He sang the role of Erik in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and the title role in Lohengrin under the baton of Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. Moreover, the tenor is invited to appear as a soloist with the most prestigious symphony orchestras. In addition to Daniel Barenboim, Stuart Skelton works together with conductors such as Christoph von Dohnányi, Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Simone Young, Michael Tilson Thomas and Franz Welser-Möst. He gave his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2011 as soloist in Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
Christian Schmitt was born in 1976 and is a much sought after concert organist all over the world. As a soloist with leading radio orchestras and other ensembles, he has worked with artists such as Juliane Banse, Sibylla Rubens, Martin Grubinger, Michael Gielen, Reinhard Goebel, Sir Roger Norrington and Marek Janowski. In 2012, he made his debut at the Salzburg Festival (in a duo with Magdalena Kožená). Christian Schmitt studied church music, musicology and Catholic theology in Saarbrücken, and organ with James David Christie (Boston) and Daniel Roth (Paris). The artist was a scholarship student of the German National Academic Foundation and the German Foundation for Musical Life, and has won numerous prizes in national and international organ and music competitions. As a teacher and guest lecturer, he teaches at music colleges worldwide. Christian Schmitt made his debut in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts with an organ matinee in February 2010. He now makes his first appearance as a soloist together with the orchestra.
The Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno – founded in 1990 by its artistic director Petr Fiala – is one of Europe’s renowned professional ensembles. It is characterised by an equally diverse and extensive repertoire which focuses mainly on oratorios and cantatas, but which lately has expanded to include operas from all eras. Every year, the choir performs in 90 concerts at home and abroad. It has worked with all the Czech and many foreign orchestras and conductors (including Jiří Bělohlávek, Charles Dutoit, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Neeme Järvi, Zubin Mehta and Ingo Metzmacher). The choir is a regular guest at major European music festivals, such as those in Vienna, Lucerne, Berlin and London. The ensemble’s CD recordings have received many awards; the recording of of B. A. Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen jungen Dichter for example won the German Record Critics’ Award in 2009. This will be the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno’s first appearance in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts.