Simon Rattle conducts Stravinsky and Berio

12 Sep 2010

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Rundfunkchor Berlin

  • Luciano Berio
    Coro for 40 voices and instruments (60 min.)

    Rundfunkchor Berlin, James Wood Chorus Master

  • Igor Stravinsky
    Pulcinella, ballet (45 min.)

    Stella Doufexis Mezzo-Soprano, Burkhard Ulrich Tenor, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo Bass

  • free

    Interview
    Winrich Hopp in conversation with Helge Grünewald (14 min.)

It is a widely-held belief that the music of the 20th century lacks sensuousness. This concert overturns that opinion when Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker perform Luciano Berio’s Coro and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella – works which in different ways mix modernity with Italian verve. In the case of Coro, there is also a premiere, as the work has never been performed before by the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Coro reflects Berio’s creative world more than any other of his compositions. As the Guardian wrote, this is “the one work that brings together all that is best in Berio’s music: his acute sensitivity to the possibilities of voices and instruments, and how text and music can be combined in original and unexpected ways. … The music of Coro is passionate, involving and humane.” This humanity is shown not least in the text, which is based on a selection of folk poetry from all over the world, including Native Americans, Polynesia, Croatia and Iran. 

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella is also based on older styles. It is obvious to the listener that the composer makes free use of the music of the Baroque, and of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in particular, best known for his Stabat Mater. Stravinsky reformulates Pergolesi’s musical language, adding modern dissonant harmonies – but without losing the dance-like grace of the original.

Successful Encounters with Tradition

Works by Luciano Berio and Igor Stravinsky

Every attempt at human communication reflects the desire for productive encounters and fruitful dialogues. In everyday life, but also when one of the dialogue partners is a work of art – a text or musical composition – with which another artist, a composer, for instance, enters into a creative relationship, with the goal of producing something new as a result of this encounter. As Luciano Berio and Igor Stravinsky did, for example – each with a different intent and approach to composition, but with similar success.

Luciano Berio chose distance for his creative encounters: “I think it is sometimes important to suggest a certain indifference towards a particular text, in order to be able to maintain a certain degree of musical distance from it.” Berio’s pivotal childhood dream of crossing the oceans of the world as a captain and calling at many ports without being tied down to one place may have inspired this belief in productive “indifference”. Beyond every experience, every discovery from distant lands, always keeping the open horizon in view, where everything that is ostensibly adapted retains the character of irreconcilable foreignness.

Berio’s penchant for deliberately chosen, wide-ranging text material may well be rooted in this childlike fantasy. In Coro for 40 Voices and 44 Instruments he uses translated song texts from the Sioux, Zuni – a Pueblo Indian tribe – and Navajo. Others texts are from Polynesia, Peru, Chile, Persia, Africa, Croatia, Venice, Sicily and Piedmont; a Hebraic text fragment is taken from the Old Testament book, the Song of Solomon. This compilation is by no means an example of nonchalant, even naïve exoticism, however, since the collage is dramaturgically linked by poetry of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

By selecting a montage of lines drawn from Neruda’s poetry collection Residence on Earth as the framework for Coro, Berio combines the bright colours of his childhood dream of becoming a captain with the dark undertone of disillusionment – for example, when individual lines of poetry (“Come and see the blood in the streets”) stand out from the finely woven texture of his composition like unexpected, sharp edges.

Berio conceived Coro as a large musical organism – an impression which is already conveyed by the direct interaction of voices and instruments. In Coro the customary physical separation between the chorus and orchestra is eliminated in favour of a close integration of singers and instrumentalists. With the exception of the piano, organ and percussion section, each orchestral instrument forms a sound pair with one of the 40 singers.

In 31 episodes of widely differing lengths, Berio presents the texts with varying degrees of intelligibility, continually reiterating the connections between the poetic and acoustic dimension of the words. Neruda’s poetry is sung by the chorus alone, while the traditional song texts are treated at times soloistically, at times chorally, with numerous intermediate stages. Direct, quotation-like references to the musical forms of the traditional songs from which the texts are derived are barely discernible, however; only during the fifth episode is a brief melodic fragment from a Macedonian folk song heard.

In Coro Berio constantly emphasises the fact that single individuals, with their hopes and experiences, are always behind the manifestations of every culture. The composition begins like an art song, with a soprano solo accompanied by the piano, later expanded to a duet with a solo contralto voice. The subject of an established Western European cultural tradition seems to express itself here, in sharp contrast to the at times almost sacred sound field passages which follow.

Art song versus sacred composition. In this juxtaposition, the different compositional preferences of Berio’s father Ernesto and grandfather Adolfo – both organists – are reflected from afar. Luciano Berio appears to have incorporated his own familial roots into the broad spectrum of his dialogic composition, with impressive results.

How different, on the other hand, was the encounter that led to the composition of Pulcinella, Igor Stravinsky’s first neoclassical work! Serge Diaghilev, with whom Stravinsky had already been collaborating for several years by then, surprised him with a collection of scores in the spring of 1919. “Diaghilev showed it to me in order to entice me,” Stravinsky later observed in his memoirs.

Stravinsky gladly allowed himself to be enticed into arranging the ballet music for the amorous adventures of Pulcinella. An episode from the seventeenth century was chosen: two jealous lovers want to kill the womaniser Pulcinella and disguise themselves in his costume in order to seduce their sweethearts. Pulcinella escapes, however, with the aid of his friend Furbo and arranges the marriages of the couples, wedding his own girlfriend Pimpinella to complete the happy ending.

Fifteen musical numbers were to be composed for the eight scenes of the ballet, with three vocal soloists singing the individual roles from the orchestra pit. Pablo Picasso was commissioned to design the sets and costumes. The prospect of this collaboration was also tempting to Stravinsky, since he had attended a commedia dell’arte performance with Picasso in Naples two years earlier. “The Pulcinella was a great drunken lout whose every gesture, and probably every word if I had understood, was obscene.”

Stravinsky presumably did not have obscenities in mind during his work on Pulcinella, although Diaghilev was initially shocked at the results. “I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own,” Stravinsky later wrote, describing his approach. Composition meant montage, condensation, intensification, overpainting to him at that time; it meant literally recomposing the originals in instrumental colour, rhythm and tonality – and not simply delivering a “strict, mannered orchestration of something very sweet.” That was apparently what Diaghilev had expected, however. If one believes Stravinsky’s caustic comment, Diaghilev “went about with a look that suggested The Offended Eighteenth Century.”

Stravinsky defended his attitude as “the only one that can usefully be taken up with regard to the music of bygone times” and exonerated himself “from the absurd accusations of sacrilege levelled against me. I am only too familiar with the mentality of those curators and archivists of music who jealously guard the intangibility of relics at which they never so much as look, while resenting any attempt on the part of others to resuscitate these treasures which they themselves regard as dead and sacrosanct.” Stravinsky emphatically objected to a detached attitude which in the end only turns out to be digging the grave of musical tradition: “Respect alone remains barren, and can never serve as a productive or creative factor.”

Stravinsky’s experiences while orchestrating the music of Pergolesi (and other composers, some of whom are still unknown) for Pulcinella influenced his composition for decades. He came to know the eighteenth-century master, who died young, as a “brother in spirit”. “Evoking his musical spirit” made Stravinsky “productive and prolific”, and he laconically concluded, “This phenomenon is called love.”

Christine Mast

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo was born in Pescara (Italy) where he studied with Maria Vittoria Romano and with Paride Venturi in Bologna. In 1989 and 1991 he was an award winner at the “Toti Dal Monte” International Competition for Singers. He began his operatic career singing Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte) and Masetto (Don Giovanni) at the Teatro Comunale in Treviso; he has since sung in many of the world’s most famous theatres, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, la Scala Milan, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Opéra National in Paris, the Staatsoper in Vienna and Munich, in Toulouse and at the Salzburg Festival. The repertoire of Ildebrando D’Arcangelo not only includes the great Mozart roles of Leporello, Don Giovanni, Figaro, Conte Almaviva, Guglielmo and Don Alfonso, but also roles in works by Rossini and the operas of Puccini (Colline in La Bohème) and Bizet (Escamillo in Carmen). This October he will make his debut at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in the role of Don Giovanni. The bass has worked with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Haitink, Christopher Hogwood, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Myung-Whun Chung, Riccardo Chailly, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and René Jacobs. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo also performs regularly on the concert stage all over Europe. He has already performed with the Berliner Phlharmoniker; in 1995 under Bernard Haitink, and in 2001 under Riccardo Chailly in concert performances of Pulcinella.


Stella Doufexis received her vocal training from such prestigious teachers as Ingrid Figur, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Aribert Reimann at the Berlin University of the Arts, and from Anna Reynolds in Great Britain. The mezzo-soprano made her Berlin debut in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 1992; from 1995 to 1997 she was a member of the ensemble at the Theater der Stadt Heidelberg where she performed the major mezzo roles. With a wide-ranging repertoire which includes works from the baroque as well as contemporary compositions, she is held in equally high regard by the music world as an opera, concert, and lieder singer. Following her debut as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in 2005, she has had a close association with the Komische Oper in Berlin, where she also performs the roles of Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Nicklausse (The Tales of Hoffmann) and Dorabella (Così fan tutte) as well as the title role in Christian Jost’s opera Hamlet which was given its premiere in 2009. She was also to be heard as Aloès in the new production of Chabrier’s opera L’Étoile at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin in May 2010, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Stella Doufexis’s close artistic connection to the Berliner Philharmoniker reaches back to 1997, during which time she has performed in many of their concerts and recordings. She most recently sang the role of Octavian in excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier in two concerts at the end of 2006, conducted by Sir Simon.


The Berlin Radio Chorus was formed in 1925 and quickly built up an enviable reputation for itself under conductors of the eminence of George Szell, Hermann Scherchen, Otto Klemperer and Erich Kleiber. Following the end of the Second World War it earned a name for itself on the international circuit by performing Handel’s oratorios in their original form under its principal conductor Helmut Koch. Dietrich Knothe, who was in charge from 1982 to 1993, turned the Berlin Radio Chorus into a precision instrument for some of the most difficult works in the repertory, while his successor, Robin Gritton (1994 – 2001), enriched and refined its range of colours. Since 2001 its music director has been Simon Halsey, who sets particular store by stylistically and linguistically perfect performances of works of all periods and styles, while ensuring that those performances are exciting and filled with life. Their work together is documented by a busy recording schedule, and their recent CD of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle won the 2009 Grammy Award for the best choral recording. Simon Halsey has also initiated many education projects with the Berlin Radio Chorus including the interdisciplinary concert series Broadening the Scope of Choral Music and a sing along concert, which is held by the chorus once a year. In October the chorus will for the first time invite young professional choral conductors for the 2010 Berlin International Masterclass. The Berlin Radio Chorus works with leading orchestras and conductors all over the world and has long had particularly close links with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the German Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The Berlin Radio Chorus last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker only a few days ago, when they staged Luciano Berio’s Coro under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle.


Burkhard Ulrich was born in Aachen. He studied piano, organ, singing and music and education at Cologne University of Music and the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. An award winner in many competitions, and following engagements in Koblenz and Kiel, he has been an ensemble member of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin since 2001. His repertoire includes Mime (Rheingold and Siegfried), Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro) and Monostatos (Die Zauberflöte), Schuysky (Boris Godunov), Valzacchi (Der Rosenkavalier) and Goro (Madama Butterfly). The tenor has worked with conductors such as Christian Thielemann, Lothar Zagrosek, Riccardo Muti and Marc Minkowski. His guest appearances have taken him to the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Oper Leipzig, the Opéra National de Paris, the Theater Basel, to the Salzburg and Bregenz Festivals, the Ruhrtriennale, the Festival d’Art Lyrique in Aix-en-Provence and to the Arts Center in Seoul. Since 2005, he has made many guest appearances with the Berliner Philharmoniker, most recently in June 2008 when, under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, he sang the role of Mime in a concert performance of the first act of Wagner’s Siegfried, before the opera was given a full stage production at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in the summer of the same year.

musikfest berlinIn co-operation with the musikfest berlin 10

 

EMISir Simon Rattle appears by kind permission of EMI Classics.

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