Matthias Pintscher and Renaud Capuçon
13 Sep 2015
Pelléas et Mélisande, orchestra suite, op. 80 (20 min.)
mar’eh for violin and orchestra (27 min.)
Renaud Capuçon Violin
Chamber Symphony No. 2 in E flat minor, op. 38 (23 min.)
La Mer, trois esquisses symphoniques for orchestra (30 min.)
Matthias Pintscher in conversation with Raphael Haeger (19 min.)
“I believed I had found ways to form and use themes and melodies which were understandable, characteristic, original and expressive despite the expanded harmonic system we had inherited from Wagner,” Arnold Schoenberg recalled in 1937 about the origins of his First Chamber Symphony from the year 1906. He admitted, however: “It was at once a beautiful dream and a disappointing mistake.” But the composer soon abandoned the decision at the time to tackle a second chamber symphony and do it better in favour of other works. The project remained in the drawer for 30 years until Schoenberg, on the suggestion of conductor Fritz Stiedry, who had followed the composer in fleeing the National Socialists into American exile in 1937, began to work on the Second Chamber Symphony again. Not an easy task, as it transpired: “I spend most of the time trying to discover ‘What did the author mean here?’” Schoenberg wrote to Stiedry while studying his own composition sketches in the fall of 1939: “My style has now become very consolidated ...”
Matthias Pintscher will no doubt still know quite precisely what he “meant” with his violin concerto Mar’eh when he conducts performances of the work composed in 2011; it is played in this concert by the French star violinist Renaud Capuçon. The composer had already given us a tip: “‘Mar’eh’ means face, sign. The Hebrew word can also mean the aura of a face, a beautiful vision, something wonderful which suddenly appears before you.” The beautiful appearance of a young woman leads to a drama of relationships with a fatal outcome in Maurice Maeterlinck’s drama Pelléas et Mélisande, first performed in Paris in 1893. Four years after Gabriel Fauré composed incidental music for Pelléas et Mélisande in 1898 which brilliantly captured the soft (under-)tones of Maeterlinck’s language, a composer dared to set the drama to music: Claude Debussy, is represented in this concert programme with La Mer, an orchestral hymn to the Atlantic.
The Mysterious Play of the Elements
Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande – Music and the ineffable
Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, premiered in 1893 in Paris, touched the nerve of its time. In enigmatic allusions and unspoken secrets – more encrypted than verbalized – the drama suggests the Tristan story: a triangle involving a powerful king, his inscrutable young wife Mélisande and the king’s younger half-brother Pelléas. Mélisande, mysteriously connected to another world, feels attracted to Pelléas by a barely perceptible love. The monarch, on the other hand, recognizes a sense of duty to his royal legacy as clearly as he does the amorous relationship of Pelléas and Mélisande. He challenges his half-brother to a duel in which Pelléas is defeated. In the sombre last act, Mélisande’s life also ebbs away, though it remains unclear whether the cause is childbirth, a broken heart or the callousness of the king’s world.
After a long search, Debussy found in Maeterlinck’s text the ideal material for an opera. Already occupied with its composition, he turned down a request to provide incidental music for a staging of the play in London. That commission then went to Gabriel Fauré, who set 19 numbers. Not all of them functioned as independent movements: Fauré sought to connect the musical elements, some quite small, closely with the drama, thereby realizing the poet’s intentions as well as appreciating the function of his pieces as an integral part of the spoken drama. The score rarely interrupts the action, instead weaving a layer of music through it.
Shortly after the London production, Fauré assembled three movements into a suite: Prélude (Quasi adagio), La Fileuse (Andantino quasi allegretto) and La Mort de Mélisande (Molto adagio). In this form, the suite was first heard in 1901. Later Fauré added to it the Sicilienne (Allegretto molto moderato).
Matthias Pintscher’s Mar’eh – A “wonderful appearance” in sound
Following En sourdine (2002), Mar’eh, premiered in 2011, is Matthias Pintscher’s second work for violin and orchestra. The idea for this composition came after an encounter with the violinist Julia Fischer. Says Pintscher: “I came across this word when I thought of the fine lines which she can spin with her instrument, this very intensive, but light play.”
The Hebrew word mar’eh can be translated as “appearance”, in the sense of something – such as a face – becoming suddenly visible. The composer elaborates: “‘Mar’eh’ means face, sign. The Hebrew word can also mean the aura of a face, a beautiful vision, something wonderful which suddenly appears before you.” The idea of translating this idea of an abrupt appearance into sound permeates the entire violin concerto. Right at the start, the solo violin seems to appear out of thin air, lent only a slight contour by the borderline inaudible percussion sounds and by an almost insubstantial flute motif with which that instrument is established as a sort of mystical dialogue partner for the violin. A beginning from silence, barely audible – but it is precisely that delicate thread which represents the sound of the suddenly-becoming-visible.
From this idea, the composer abstracts the continuous linearity that marks the entire violin concerto. “I have tried to shape the whole in a very songlike fashion, so that the violin starts at the beginning and draws a line – or its vision – through to the end, in the most varied registers, often quite high, where it can only be continued in harmonics. I wanted this continual pacing out of a line. In the attempt to create horizontal arcs of sound, I was concerned with always giving the sound a direction in perspective.”
Besides linearity, Pintscher has striven in Mar’eh for the greatest possible transparency: “My wish was to allow these many small particles to come together in the illusion of a large, light, transparent mass which permeates from the beginning to the end. It is about the fact that the sound has a direction, not in the melodic sense, but in that the sound always continues, is never interrupted. It is about the direction of sound in space and time.” For the composer, it is important that transparency and delicate lines are not achieved at the expense of virtuosity. But he is interested less in the showy, extrovert side of instrumental mastery than in “introspection, which can perhaps be called ‘concentric virtuosity’.”
Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2: A new beginning – but not without retrospection
There is magic in each new beginning, wrote Hermann Hesse in Stages, concluding the poem with an optimistic call for a new start: “Now, my heart, take your leave and recover!” For Arnold Schoenberg, making a new beginning became an almost insuperable hurdle in the long, multi-stage genesis of his Second Chamber Symphony. It had started out almost as a matter of course: immediately upon completing the Chamber Symphony No. 1, which represented such a prominent landmark in his aesthetic, Schoenberg began the companion work. Before long, he had set the Chamber Symphony aside, taking it up again in 1911, then again in 1916. In the midst of World War I, Schoenberg drafted a programme for the composition, deriving it from the basic concept of Hesse’s Stages (Stufen) and giving it the title Turning Point (Wendepunkt). But progress on the work again faltered, and it took a commission from the New Friends of Music to encourage Schoenberg to complete the Chamber Symphony in 1939-40.
This open-endedness and even the phenomenon of starting over and over again left their mark musically on the Chamber Symphony – in Schoenberg’s intensive confrontation with his stylistic past as well as in his dispensing with the third movement, originally conceived as a heroic Maestoso but surviving in the final version only as an epilogue. In this engagement with his earlier aesthetic self, the moment of recollection shines through. And the omission of the Maestoso left behind the void of the ineffable. Hesse’s confidence in the power of new beginnings produced a bitter musical aftertaste for Schoenberg, living in exile.
Claude Debussy’s La Mer – Nearing the Natural Elements
Painting en plein air was a trademark of artists who turned away from academic tradition after the middle of the 19th century and ventured out into the open air in order to capture on canvas snapshots of light and nature. Claude Debussy came to grips with the question of how music could represent nature, of how a plein air composition might look. But after the premiere of La Mer in Paris in October 1905, some reviewers criticized a perceived impression of artificiality: “It seemed to me that Debussy had willed himself to feel, rather than feeling truly, deeply, naturally. For the first time when listening to a picturesque work by Debussy, I had the impression of being, not before nature, but before a reproduction of nature; a marvellously refined, ingenious, and efficiently fabricated reproduction, but a reproduction nonetheless.” Debussy was dismayed: “I love the sea; I have listened to it with the impassioned respect that is its due. If I have transcribed badly what it dictated to me, that is no concern either of yours or of mine. And it is not true that all ears perceive things in the same way; you must at least accept that.”
Renaud Capuçon was fourteen when he began studying the violin at the Paris Conservatoire. His later teachers were Thomas Brandis and Isaac Stern in Berlin. Within a short period he had received numerous prizes and awards and in 1997 was appointed leader of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra by Claudio Abbado. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in November 2002 performing Korngold’s Violin Concerto under the direction of Bernard Haitink. Since then he has appeared with leading orchestras all over the world, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the London Symphony, Mahler Chamber, Boston and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestras as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Among the conductors with whom he works regularly are Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Robin Ticciati, Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach and Daniel Harding. He is particularly fond of chamber music and has worked with the pianists Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim and Hélène Grimaud, the violist Yuri Bashmet and the cellist Truls Mørk. He also appears on a regular basis with his brother, the cellist Gautier Capuçon. He is a frequent and welcome visitor to major international festivals and is co-founder and artistic director of the Aix-en-Provence Easter festival in France. Renaud Capuçon last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in May 2010 with György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, conducted by David Robertson. He plays the “Panette” Guarneri del Gesù of 1737 that formerly belonged to Isaac Stern. In 2011 he was named »Chevalier dans lʼOrdre National du Merite« by the French government.
Matthias Pintscher is not only one of the most successful German composers of his generation, but he is also in great demand in Europe and the US as a conductor. Since the autumn of 2013, he has been music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris; He also continues his partnership with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as Artist-in-Association. Born in 1971 in Marl in Westphalia, Pintscher studied composition under Giselher Klebe in Detmold and Manfred Trojahn in Dusseldorf. Hans Werner Henze and Peter Eötvös, who also taught him conducting, have also been major influences for him. From when he was young, he has received many awards and scholarships for his compositions. Today, Pintscherʼs works are performed by leading artists, conductors and orchestras, such as his Violin Concerto en sourdine, which was commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker and premiered in late February 2003 with the soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann, conducted by Peter Eötvös. As a conductor, Pintscher focuses on the repertoire of the late 19th and 20th centuries as well as contemporary music. He has now conducted orchestras such as the Staatskapelle Berlin, the radio symphony orchestras in Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Vienna, Turin and Paris, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zurich, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and has regularly worked with the Ensemble Modern. In Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts, Matthias Pintscher has performed his own works on several occasions with the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin since 2002, most recently at the concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Chamber Music Hall in October 2012, with a programme which included Wolfgang Rihmʼs Mnemosyne and his own work Sonic eclipse. Since September 2014, Matthias Pintscher has also taught composition at the Juilliard School in New York.