Christian Thielemann conducts a concert “à la française”

09 Jan 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker
Christian Thielemann

Sophie Koch, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Christiane Karg, Adrian Eröd

  • Ernest Chausson
    Poème de lʼamour et de la mer for voice and orchestra, op. 19 (30 min.)

    Sophie Koch Mezzo-Soprano

  • Claude Debussy
    Danse sacrée et danse profane for harp and string orchestra (12 min.)

    Marie-Pierre Langlamet Harp

  • Gabriel Fauré
    Messe de Requiem in D minor, op. 48 (44 min.)

    Rundfunkchor Berlin, Christiane Karg Soprano, Adrian Eröd Baritone, Gijs Leenaars Chorus Master

  • free

    Gijs Leenaars in conversation with Matthew Hunter (17 min.)

“Your Pie Jesu is the only Pie Jesu, just as Mozart’s Ave Verum is the only Ave Verum,” Camille Saint-Saëns wrote to his former student Gabriel Fauré in 1916. This was referring to the soprano solo from Fauré’s Requiem, first performed in 1888 and later revised; in 1924, it would also be played at the composer’s funeral. Fauré – lyricist par excellence – took an individual musical approach to the text of the medieval requiem. As the composer himself once explained: “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience. Perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is usual, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

The temporal counterpart to Fauré’s consolatory Requiem is provided in these Berliner Philharmoniker concerts by Ernest Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer. Chausson, who was instructed in composition by Jules Massenet and César Franck, set poems by his friend Maurice Bouchor to music in this two-part composition, in terms of form somewhere between song cycle and cantata, and connected with an orchestral interlude. Composed between 1882 and 1890, the Poème de l’amour et de la mer was written at a time in which Chausson, after first visits to the Bayreuth Festival, was strongly inspired by Richard Wagner’s music. The subtle Wagnerisms contained in Chausson’s musical language, iridescent in every conceivable orchestral colour, are clearly heard in Christian Thielemann’s interpretation. Claude Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane for harp and strings creates a thematic bridge between Fauré’s Requiem and Chaussons Poème.

For People of the World

French Music by Ernest Chausson, Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré

“People will go to hear French music out of politeness. They will, perhaps, applaud with that German courtesy that is so hard to endure. But I am certain that our art will not have conquered any ground in Germany.” Claude Debussy replied sullenly and irritably to a question of the Paris-Journal, which had asked the composer for a few words on the upcoming festival of French music in Munich. It was a bad time for such attempts at rapprochement, the composer said with annoyance in summer 1910, when the bitter, long-standing “enmity” between the Germans and the French had reached a new historical low.

Musically, Germany was highly regarded by its neighbours, however – in contradiction to the politically overbearing “empire” drunk with late imperial fantasies. The German art song, for example, was naturally also at home in French salons and, as le lied, even entered the vocabulary of the French, who nevertheless cultivated their own art song style in an interplay between contemporary literature and the elitist Parisian scene, in which the avant-garde encountered the aristocracy and the wealthy heir met the under-financed genius. In this inspiring atmosphere Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel composed their songs, or mélodies, as they are called by way of distinction.

Almost German: Ernest Chausson’s Poème

Ernest Chausson, born in Paris, was not only a countryman but also a contemporary of Debussy and Fauré. Unlike them, however, he would not greet the new century. Chausson died during a country outing on 10 June 1899, at the age of only 44, after riding his bicycle down a steep hill and crashing into a wall. A few years before his death, in 1893, he had completed the Poème de l’amour et de la mer (Poem of Love and the Sea) op. 19, a tone poem and psychological drama which arouses the passions, abandons itself to a profusion of colour and revels in extravagant harmony. The listener cannot fail to hear that the composer numbered among the avowed Wagnerians in his homeland. He made a pilgrimage to Bayreuth and devoted himself to an art that was definitely not for reasonable people. An art that dares to look into the abyss and celebrates its own fall: the Poème, which sings the praises of the sea and laments the seasons of love in the words of the contemporary Parisian poet Maurice Bouchor. It accepts misfortune like a prophecy, profound and tragic, gloomy and dark – almost German.

Sacred Promotion: Claude Debussy’s Deux Danses

The origin of art is divine – but also much too human and rather profane at times. Vanity and mundane business interests were the deciding factors when Claude Debussy received a commission from the Pleyel firm in spring 1904. The company’s director, Gustave Lyon, had invented a type of harp from which he expected veritable wonders: the patented harpe chromatique, which was actually not new at all and had for all practical purposes already been a failure generations earlier. He not only wanted to triumph over the double-action harp, the model of his competitor Érard, but even believed he could end the dominance of the piano with his instrument. Lyon aggressively promoted the harp, interested prominent composers in his pet project and in the end was also able to enlist Debussy’s help in the campaign.

Debussy’s Deux Danses (Two Dances) for harp and strings, which was premiered at the Concerts Colonne in Paris on 6 November 1904, would probably have vanished from the scene along with the short-lived invention of the Pleyel firm if the solo part could not also be played on the double-action harp (usually in an arrangement by the harpist Henriette Renié). Nevertheless, Debussy’s dances are rarely heard in the concert hall. The first of the two, the Danse sacrée, quickly makes the listener forget the commercial background of the composition and directs our thoughts back to the true, sacred or cultic origins of art. Debussy’s music evokes a mysterious ritual, a solemnly entranced temple dance. The Danse profanefollows without a break, a dreamy, gently animated waltz, whose earthly charm does not quite seem to be of this world, however. We are quite happy to listen to advertising like this.

“For fun”: Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem

Gabriel Fauré left his home in southern France at the age of nine to study in Paris at a boarding school for future church musicians – unique in France at that time – École Niedermeyer, named after its founder, Louis Niedermeyer. After beginning his career in the provinces, with the active support of his piano teacher and lifelong friend, Camille Saint-Saëns, Fauré was appointed to the position of choirmaster at the renowned Église de la Madeleine (Church of the Madeleine) in Paris in 1877. The prestige that came with this appointment was sadly inconsistent with the meagre salary, however. Not until 1896 did the situation improve for Fauré; the 51-year-old was promoted from choirmaster to organist of the Madeleine and took over Jules Massenet’s composition class at the Paris Conservatory. But the belated recognition by the official music world had not yet reached its zenith. In 1905 a new director was sought for the Paris Conservatory and, to everyone’s surprise, Gabriel Fauré was chosen.

Fauré served as a church musician for 40 years, a duty he disliked but could not give up until he began his tenure as head of the Conservatory. Naturally, he composed sacred vocal music, such as the Requiem op. 48, during this period but, surprisingly, not a single solo work for the organ. At every phase of his life, however, Fauré devoted himself to piano music – in his view, the greatest challenge for a composer. What Arthur Honegger once said about the music of his older colleague applies particularly to these works: “I know of no other music which is more purely and uniquely music.”

Even the Requiem – surely the most humane and comforting Mass for the Dead ever written – which is bound to church doctrine and the liturgy, supports this truth. He did not compose it for a particular occasion, Fauré declared, but “for fun, if I may be permitted to say so”. The fun lasted for many years, however. The origins of this “work in progress” date back to summer 1877, but the final version of the Requiem was not premiered until 12 July 1900, with the combined orchestras of the Opéra and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, a 66-register Cavaillé-Coll organ, a four-part polyphonic chorus, and soprano Amélie Torrès and bass Jean Vallier as soloists.

After a subsequent performance in Brussels one critic wrote: “For a work of mourning, the Requiemby Mr E. ! Fauré is not an overly sombre work. It is full of feeling, plaintive and tender. It captivates. A Requiem for people of the world – well-educated and a bit sceptical – who know how to live their lives just as they know how to die.” In other words, a French Requiem which also “conquers ground” in Germany, although in a very gentle way.

Wolfgang Stähr

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Christian Thielemann has been principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden since autumn 2012 and artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival since 2013. He previously was general music director of the Munich Philharmonic from 2004 to 2011. Thielemann studied at the Hochschule der Künste (Academy of Arts) in his native Berlin before gaining a thorough grounding in conducting at smaller theatres in Germany. His first major appointment was as principal conductor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, where he spent three seasons prior to his appointment as general music director of Nuremberg Opera. He held a similar post with the Deutsche Oper in Berlin from 1997 to 2004. Thielemann has built up an international reputation for himself, appearing with many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and with opera companies throughout Europe, North America and Japan. As a guest conductor he is particularly closely associated with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Bayreuth Festival where he has been a regular conductor since his debut in the summer of 2000 (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). He was named musical adviser of the festival in 2010 and its music director in 2015. The principal pillars of Christian Thielemann’s repertoire are the works of the Classical and Romantic periods as well as the music of Hans Werner Henze. Made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2011, he has also been awarded honorary doctorates by the Franz Liszt College of Music in Weimar and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). In May 2015 he was awarded the Richard Wagner prize by the Richard Wagner Society of the city of Leipzig. Thielemann first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1996 and has returned many times since then, most recently in January 2015, when he conducted the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

Sophie Koch studied at the Paris Conservatory under Jane Berbié and won first prize at the International Vocal Competition ʼs-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in 1994. She first enchanted international opera audiences at Londonʼs Royal Opera House Covent Garden as Rosina in Rossiniʼs Il barbiere di Siviglia in 1998, and as the Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos) at the Semperoper in Dresden under the direction of Sir Colin Davis. Since then, she has had success on major European stages such as in Brussels, Madrid, Paris, the Vienna and Bavarian state opera houses, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at the Salzburg Festival, especially in Mozart, Rossini and Strauss operas and also expanded her repertoire in lyric soprano roles. In 2014, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera New York in a new production of Werther. As a concert singer, Sophie Kochʼs guest appearances include with the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. She made her debut in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker as the soloist in Ravelʼs Shéhérazade under the direction of Semyon Bychkov in March 2002; most recently, she sang in Ravelʼs Enfant et les Sortilèges under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle in late September 2008.

Marie-Pierre Langlamet was born in Grenoble (France). She received her first musical training at the Nice Conservatoire with Elisabeth Fontan-Binoche, later participating in master classes given by Jacqueline Borot and Lily Laskine. At the age of only 15, she attracted international attention when she won top prize at the Maria Korchinska International Harp Competition and first prize at the International Harp Competition of the Cité des Arts of Paris one year later.She was only 17 when she was engaged as principal harp in the Nice Opera Orchestra, but a year later she gave up this position to continue her studies in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute. From 1988 she was deputy principal harpist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York. In 1992 Langlamet won first prize at the International Harp Competition in Israel, a competition that is widely regarded as the most important for the instrument. She joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1993. Marie-Pierre Langlamet appears all over the world as a soloist with leading orchestras (e. g. Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande) and chamber ensembles, and she also gives numerous solo recitals. Since 1995 she has taught at the Orchestra Academy. In June 2009, Marie-Pierre Langlamet was made Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

Christiane Karg, born in Feuchtwangen (Bavaria), received her vocal training at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. In the summer of 2006, she made her debut at the Salzburg Festival, and since the autumn of 2008, she has been a member of Oper Frankfurt where her roles have included Susanna, Pamina, Musetta and Zdenka. She has also appeared as a guest artist at the Bavarian and the Hamburg state opera houses, the Komische Oper Berlin, the Theater an der Wien, Opéra de Lille and the Glyndebourne Festival. In February 2015 she made her successful debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in the role of Pamina. As a concert singer, the soprano has performed with orchestras such as the Concentus Musicus Wien, Les Arts Florissants, the NDR Sinfonieorchester, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Christoph Eschenbach, Thomas Hengelbrock, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons and Yannick Nézet-Séguin are among the conductors she has worked with. One of Christiane Karg’s particular passions is lieder singing. Recitals have taken her to the Musikverein in Vienna and the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Philharmonie Essen, London’s Wigmore Hall and the Rheingau Music Festival, among others. Christiane Karg made her debut in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts in March 2014 as soloist in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin); her last appearance was in October 2014 in Handel’s La resurrezione, conducted by Emmanuelle Haїm.

The Austrian Adrian Eröd studied at Viennaʼs University of Music and Performing Arts under Walter Berry, among others. Success in several competitions led to engagements at the Landestheater Linz (1997 – 2000), the Vienna Volksoper (2000 – 2003), and ultimately to the Vienna State Opera which, in addition to his international guest performances, remains his home base. Adrian Eröd has developed a broad repertoire that ranges from Mozartʼs Count Almaviva and Rossiniʼs Figaro to Valentin in Gounodʼs Faust, Lescaut in Massenetʼs Manon and Brittenʼs Billy Budd. Under the direction of Christian Thielemann, he sang the role of Sixtus Beckmesser in Wagnerʼs Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Vienna with such resounding success that he was invited to appear at the 2009 Bayreuth Festival. In 2014, he made his debut at the Salzburg Festival as Faninal in Harry Kupferʼs production of Richard Straussʼ Rosenkavalier. In addition to his work in opera, the baritone has also had great success on the concert stage, such as with the Vienna Philharmonic under under Riccardo Muti, in Bachʼs St Matthew Passion conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and in Brahmsʼ German Requiem under Helmuth Rilling; as a guest of the Berliner Philharmoniker, he first appeared in Stravinskyʼs Renard under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in June 2005.

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-December 2015 in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

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