Simon Rattle conducts Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

16 Oct 2015

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Annette Dasch, Eva Vogel, Christian Elsner, Dimitry Ivashchenko, Rundfunkchor Berlin

  • Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125 “Choral” (76 min.)

    Annette Dasch Soprano, Eva Vogel Mezzo-Soprano, Christian Elsner Tenor, Dimitry Ivashchenko Bass, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey Chorus Master

  • free

    Interview
    Simon Rattle talks about Beethoven’s symphonies (54 min.)

“The symphony can hold its head high in the presence of its eight sisters; it is certainly overshadowed by none,” wrote the reviewer of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung on 12 May 1824 after the premiere of the work with which Sir Simon Rattle wraps up his Beethoven cycle. This symphony, composed in the context of such revolutionary compositions as the HammerklavierSonata op. 106, the Missa solemnis op. 123 and the Diabelli Variations op. 120, was Beethoven’s last great challenge in the field of orchestral music. In it the composer found his way to a monumental musical language that, in the words of Carl Dahlhaus, “stands up to being stated emphatically without collapsing into empty rhetoric”.

Starting from an indeterminate empty fifth, the music steers purposefully towards an apotheistic finale which gives a clear answer to the conflicts previously exposed. For what was at first just hinted on a purely instrumental level pushes through to linguistic clarity in the chorus part: the catchy theme is first introduced in the celli and basses, “as obscurely secretive and trusting as long buried and drowned out memories of youth” (Adolph Bernhard Marx). It then passes through an unprecedented increase in a dynamic display of splendour in sound which, after an alla marcia section, gradually slows down, leading the work to its triumphal conclusion. The Rundfunkchor Berlin will sing, together with an ensemble of soloists of international reputation: besides the Berliner Annette Dasch, who, as one of the leading contemporary sopranos, can be experienced around the world at the most important concert and opera houses, mezzosoprano Eva Vogel is expected; she successfully debuted in the Philharmonic’s Berlin concerts in 2009. Other soloists are the tenor Christian Elsner as well as Dimitry Ivashchenko, who already sang the bass role in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Philharmonic concert in the Waldbühne in 2013.

 

Beethovenʼs Symphony No. 9 in D minor

Everything has been said about Beethoven’s Ninth. But have we heard everything, remembered everything? Fortunately not. The work is as complex as its reception history. Not even Goethe’s Faust has inspired so many and such contradictory interpretations, although Faust has 12,000 lines of text and the Ninth only 49 – but it also has 2,203 weighty bars of music. And music of this scale has the drawback that not only experts – musicians and musicologists – but writers, journalists, politicians and ideologues also appropriate it in order to explain to the world what to make of this exceptional work, what Beethoven intended, what it means for us today, tomorrow and in the future.

Germans and Austrians have had a great many ideas about Beethoven’s Ninth during the past 190 years; it became an affair of state for the Hohenzollerns (who unintentionally supplied its dedicatee, Friedrich Wilhelm III) and Habsburgs (who did not even subscribe to the printing), progressive Wagnerians and conservative Brahmsians saw Beethoven as their god. Other nations went to war for it, however. French cosmopolitans fought against German nationalists in its name in 1914, Catholics and Communists invoked its ideas, the Ninth was heard on Hitler’s birthday and in the concentration camps, the European Union made the melody of the choral finale its anthem, as did the racist regime in Rhodesia. The unsettling thing about it is that nearly all of them acted in good faith, out of sheer enthusiasm for this incomparable work, whose mysteries no one has managed to unravel yet. It appears to withstand every ideological and commercial exploitation and even idiotic performances unscathed. As soon as the faint open fifths are heard, with the demonically falling motif of the strings above them, every ideological skirmish loses its relevance; the most astute and most foolish things that have ever been said about the Ninth are always negated by the Ninth itself, made to look ridiculous. It tolerates neither metaphysics nor banality. Ironically, the most thoroughly abused work of art of modern times shows us the autonomy of art. The Ninth is the Ninth – and all the rest is literature ...

If Beethoven had not been able to squeeze his message – whatever it may be – into such a compelling form, there would not be much more to say about the “Ode to Joy”. Basically, Schiller’s text has only endured because of the music. As is the case with the Third and the Fifth, Beethoven also succeeds in forming an enormous symphonic arc in his last symphony, which was premiered in 1824. The large-scale form enables the listener to experience the work as a rationally structured whole, whether the relationships of the individual motifs and connections between the four movements are recognized or not. Perhaps it is even better not to recognize them and, rather than analyzing an elaborate construct, to spontaneously abandon oneself to the unfolding of a universe suddenly emerging out of nothing. History has shown that familiarity with the music and the text is not necessarily conducive to understanding the work – when Beethoven’s Choral Symphony became the subject of an especially absurd interpretation, it generally happened in Germany. In other countries, where no or little German is understood, people did not concoct such a jumble of metaphysical will and political theology. Nevertheless, the Ninth Symphony is also loved there – and no less than in Germany and Austria.

Volker Tarnow

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Annette Dasch was born in Berlin and studied at various colleges, including the Academy for Music and Theatre in Munich. Having won singing competitions in Barcelona and Geneva, she was launched on her international career in 2000 and since then has appeared at the Munich, Berlin and Dresden State Operas and at leading houses in Paris, Brussels, Tokyo, New York, London and elsewhere. In summer 2010 she gave her debut at the Bayreuth Festival interpreting Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin. She has also performed at the Salzburg, Innsbruck and Vienna Festivals, the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch, the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt and the Graz Styriarte. She has worked with conductors of the eminence of Daniel Barenboim, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Marek Janowski, Andris Nelsons, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Christian Thielemann in a repertory embracing works by Haydn, Mozart, Offenbach, Johann Strauß, Wagner, Puccini, Humperdinck and Schönberg. Annette Dasch has given lieder recitals at the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg and in Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, London and Naples. Since her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in performances of Wagner’s Das Rheingold under Sir Simon Rattle at the 2007 Salzburg Easter Festival Annette Dasch has repeatedly been reinvited for symphonic and chamber-music concerts of the orchestra. She made her most recent appearance at the Berlin Philharmonie in May 2012 in a concert with the 12 Cellists singing works by Debussy, de Falla and Ravel. In 2014, Annette Dasch was awarded Germany's Cross of Merit.

Eva Vogel studied at the Mannes College of Music in New York and at Yale University, further teachers included Christa Ludwig and Brigitte Fassbaender. Even while she was still a student, she was already singing roles in operas by Monteverdi, Mozart, Bizet and Verdi. From 2003 to 2005 she was a member of the Cologne Opera Studio, followed by engagements in Düsseldorf and Innsbruck. Since then she has explored a wide-ranging repertory extending to works by Vivaldi, Handel, Gluck, Rossini, Donizetti, Mascagni, Johann Strauß, Wagner, Humperdinck, Richard Strauss and Prokofiev. Eva Vogel has appeared at the Staatstheater in Wiesbaden and Nuremberg, Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Royal Opera Covent Garden among others. As a song recitalist Eva Vogel has enjoyed great success at the Ruhr Piano Festival, in Brussels, Berlin, Munich, New York, Seoul and elsewhere. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Edo de Waart and Ingo Metzmacher are among the conductors with whom she has worked. Within the Ring tetralogy of the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals (2008 to 2012), Eva Vogel sang the roles of Grimgerde and Wellgunde in performances of Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle. She last appeared in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts in June 2015 in Jonathan Dove’s Monster in the Maze community opera as part of the Education programme.

Christian Elsner, born in Freiburg, studied with Martin Gründler in Frankfurt. Further studies took him to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Neil Semer. A winner of many international competitions, Christian Elsner appears in concert, recital and opera in the world's major venues in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London, New York and Tokyo as well as at renowned festivals such as Salzburg. As a soloist with many leading orchestras all over the world, he has worked with conductors like Herbert Blomstedt, Manfred Honeck, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Sir Simon Rattle. His debut as Siegmund in Wagner’s Walküre at the Semperoper in Dresden in 2010 has now established him as a Wagnerian tenor. He sang Parsifal at the Vienna State Opera and Florestan at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Christian Elsner is also highly regarded as an interpeter of lieder and has given lieder recitals with his regular accompanist Burkhard Kehring in many European cities. Christian Elsner sang with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time in April 2004 in Schubert's Mass in E flat major, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. In November 2014 he appeared with the orchestra in Berlin and on tour and performed Hans Zender's version of Schubert's Winterreise in a late night concert, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Christian Elsner teaches at the University of Music in Würzburg.

Dimitry Ivashchenko received his vocal training at the Glinka Conservatory in Novosibirsk and at the University of Music in Karlsruhe. From 2000 to 2004, he was an ensemble member of the Stadttheater Augsburg. Guest engagements have taken him to, among others, the Deutsche Oper and the Komische Oper in Berlin, the Bavarian State Opera, the Opéra national de Paris, to Vienna, Glasgow and Toulouse, as well as the festivals in Salzburg and Baden-Baden. His repertoire includes roles such as Gremin (Eugene Onegin), Gurnemanz (Parsifal), Mephistopheles (Gounod’s Faust), Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Pogner (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Vodnik (Rusalka), Sparafucile (Rigoletto) and the title role in Boris Godunov. In addition to his opera engagements, the Russian bass is also active as a concert singer. He has performed Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust at La Scala in Milan, and at the Musikverein in Vienna; he sang in Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass as a guest of the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Pierre Boulez, and Mussorgsky’s Songs andDances of Death in Basle and Amsterdam. Dimitry Ivashchenko made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in April 2013 as Sarastro in Mozart’s Zauberflöte, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. In the same year he also appeared at the Waldbühne concert and on tour with the bass part in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

The Rundfunkchor Berlin (Berlin Radio Choir) is a regular guest at major festivals and the chosen partner of international orchestras and conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Christian Thielemann and Daniel Barenboim. In Berlin the choir has long-standing partnerships with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Berliner Philharmoniker. The exceptional breadth of its repertoire, its stylistic versatility, delight in experimentation, stunning responsiveness and richly nuanced sound all contribute to making it one of the world’s outstanding choral ensembles. Its work is documented by many recordings and awards, including three Grammy Awards. With its experimental project series, in collaboration with artists from diverse disciplines, the Rundfunkchor Berlin is breaking down the classical concert format and adopting new modes of choral music for a new audience: e.g. the interactive scenic version of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem staged by Jochen Sandig / Sasha Waltz & Guests attracted great attention. With annual activities such as the Sing-along Concert and the “Liederbörse” (Song Exchange) for children and young people or the education programme SING! the choir invites people of various walks of life to the world of singing. Academy and Schola support the next generation of professionals. Founded in 1925 the ensemble was shaped by conductors including Helmut Koch, Dietrich Knothe, Robin Gritton and Simon Halsey (2001-2015). As of the 2015/16 season Gijs Leenars took over as new principal conductor and artistic director. The Rundfunkchor last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in mid-September 2015 in Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

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