05 Mar 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker
Mariss Jansons

Truls Mørk

  • Hector Berlioz
    Le Carnaval romain, Ouverture caractéristique, op. 9 (11 min.)

  • Henri Dutilleux
    Tout un monde lointain..., concerto for cello and orchestra (33 min.)

    Truls Mørk Cello

  • Johann Sebastian Bach
    Suite for solo cello No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008: Sarabande (5 min.)

    Truls Mørk Cello

  • free

    Dmitri Shostakovich
    Symphony No. 10 in E minor, op. 93 (61 min.)

  • free

    Truls Mørk in conversation with Ludwig Quandt (14 min.)

“The Tenth Symphony made an incredibly great impression on me, even when I was just a small boy in Riga. I always loved Shostakovich. ... My inner world is closely linked with his,” Mariss Jansons admitted in an interview. From childhood on, the music of the Russian composer has been familiar to him – not least due to the collaboration of his father, conductor Arvīds Jansons, with Yevgeny Mravinsky, principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic and later Mariss Jansons’s teacher, who premiered many of Shostakovich’s works.

From the beginning of his career, the native Latvian has espoused the Russian composer; he was considered the leading Shostakovich interpreter. Also as guest conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker he frequently devoted himself to his works, though he has not conducted his Tenth Symphony here before. It is the first symphony with which Shostakovich went public after his ideological ostracism in the year 1948, ending only after Stalin’s death in 1953. The work generated heated contention after the premiere: the sombre mood of the first three movements and the seemingly artificial cheerfulness of the Finale were vexing.

The first part of this concert programme opens with Hector Berlioz’s brilliant overture Le Carnaval romain, which leads us into completely different musical worlds. Based on themes from his failed opera Benvenuto Cellini, the overture quickly became one of the French composer’s most successful pieces. The second work on the programme was inspired by verses from the cycle Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire: Henri Dutilleux composed his expressive cello concerto entitled Tout un monde lointain for the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovitch. The soloist in this concert is the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk.

Ways of World-making

Instrumental music by Hector Berlioz, Henri Dutilleux and Dmitri Shostakovich

Recycling “con fuoco” – Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture

“Many are too conservative in their approach to the difficult question of how far instrumental music may go in the representation of thoughts and events,” noted Robert Schumann in 1835. “An idea sometimes develops simultaneously with the musical image; the eye is awake as well as the ear; and this ever-busy organ sometimes follows certain outlines amid all the sounds and tones, which, keeping pace with the music, may form and crystallize.”

The impetus for Schumann’s deliberations on music’s poetic, evocative power and material content came, unsurprisingly, from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The musical exploration of the literary world and (his own) life was a mainspring of Berlioz’s creative activity. In the concert overture Le Carnaval romain (Roman Carnival), which had its premiere in 1844, he drew upon one of his own stage works. Inspired by reading the memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini, the Florentine sculptor and goldsmith, Berlioz composed his opera of the same name between 1834 and 1838. But the Paris premiere he had yearned for turned into a fiasco and after just four performances the work disappeared for almost 15 years. Against this background the gifted recycler in late summer 1843 came up with the idea of an overture-length orchestral condensation of the opera for concert performance, giving it the title Roman Carnival. At the heart of this musical “Reader’s Digest” are two key elements from Benvenuto Cellini: the famous Roman Carnival itself, which frames the story, and the love between Cellini and Teresa Baducci, whose duet “O mon bonheur” is heard in instrumental transcription.

In Baudelaire’s world – Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain…

The world of literature was also an important source of inspiration for Henri Dutilleux. At the beginning of the 1960s the composer (born in 1916) was asked if he would collaborate with the choreographer Roland Petit on a ballet based on Baudelaire’s poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). Dutilleux took this request as the opportunity to concentrate on the pioneer of literary Modernism, but soon dismissed the idea of composing a Baudelaire ballet. His reading of the Fleurs du mal, however, would not remain without consequences. In 1967 the composer began a work for cello and orchestra. In July 1970, the piece, which plays for roughly half an hour, was premiered by its dedicatee, the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

The music’s literary connections are already manifested in the title Tout un monde lointain... (A whole, distant world) – a formulation taken from Baudelaire’s poem La Chevelure (The Head of Hair). And the five movements, which follow on without a break or are separated by only a brief caesura, are poetically charged as well. For each, Dutilleux has devised an associative title and attached a fragment of Baudelaire’s verse as a kind of epigraph, but without intending the poetry to serve as a programme. “I had no particular verses of Baudelaire in mind when I began the composition. Yet it would still be right to say that I was deeply immersed in Baudelaire’s world. I said to myself: ‘I am filled with this atmosphere. So be it!’ Only later, when I was nearly finished, did I find these correspondences. I may have thought about them now and then while I was composing, but in any event I was determined to avoid all forms of illustration.” He followed those words with a maxim of Schumann, who in the Berlioz review quoted above declared: “The main thing is whether the music without text or explanation still has intrinsic substance, and, above all, still has its inherent spirit.”

Relation to the world as a political issue – Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony

While the aesthetic discussion concerning music’s relationship with literature and the world largely proceeded peacefully in western Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, in Stalin’s Soviet Union the dispute over the content of musical works and their creators’ aesthetic convictions became a political issue that could threaten not only composers’ careers but their lives as well. The existential crises and creative dilemmas into which artists were thrust by Stalinist cultural politics are impressively demonstrated by the case of Dmitri Shostakovich (born in 1906). In the wake of the first great Stalinist purges, the composer experienced grave personal and creative disruption. A 1936 article headed “Muddle Instead of Music” in the Communist Party mouthpiece Pravda sharply castigated him for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and more or less openly threatened him with death if he failed to mend his ways. The article was followed by a wave of public reprisals, which not only plunged the 29-year-old composer into a deep existential crisis but also led him to an artistic re-orientation: Shostakovich turned his back on music theatre mainly to concentrate on instrumental music.

It was the indeterminate “content” of most genres devoid of text or programme, such as the symphony or string quartet, that the Soviet Communist Party was targeting in 1948 when they pilloried Shostakovich a second time: they demanded him and his composer colleagues to write works with “socialist ideology” manifested in a concrete text. Bowing to massive pressure, Shostakovich produced mainly text-related compositions in the following years.

With Stalin’s death in 1953, this situation changed. After an eight-year pause in symphonic creation, Shostakovich composed his Tenth Symphony in the summer and autumn of that year. Among this work’s most fascinating attributes, along with its intensity and the expressive power of its musical language, is a kind of musical and emotional brokenness. It begins with a Moderato, predominantly tragic in mood, which is one of Shostakovich’s most complex symphonic creations. A blatant contrast is formed by the second movement, a wild and ear-splittingly loud Allegro. Full of implacable driving rhythms and figures, sharp accents and chains of semiquavers (16th notes) that virtually tumble over one another at the breathless tempo, it generates a nightmarish atmosphere of panic and terror.

In the third movement, distinctly different worlds of sound and expression collide. The motivic protagonists of this Allegretto are two ciphers devised by Shostakovich in which names are represented as musical cryptograms. Dominating the first section is the composer’s own musical signature D-S-C-H, formed from the German notes D, Es (E flat), C and H (B), which represent the German spelling of his name: Schostakowitsch (D. Sch). The central melodic idea of the contrasting expressive middle section – E-L(a)-MI-R(e)-A – is an encrypted version of the first name of Elmira Nazirova, the young pianist who served as Shostakovich’s muse during the composition process.

The brokenness of Shostakovich’s musical language and the resulting openness to varying interpretations are most evident in the finale. Manifold musical regions and materials follow in rapid alternation without ever delivering a statement. Whether or not the Tenth Symphony is an “optimistic tragedy”, however, a record of the Stalinist period or a symphonic work without concrete relation to the world, must be left for each listener to decide – then as now.

Tobias Bleek

Translation: Richard Evidon

Mariss Jansonshas been chief conductor of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks since 2003. From 2004 until March 2015, he held the same role with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, where he remains conductor laureate. Born in Riga in 1943, he initially studied violin, piano and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, then in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky, and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. In 1971, he won the Herbert von Karajan International Conducting Competition in Berlin. In the same year, Yevgeny Mravinsky took him as his assistant to the Leningrad Philharmonic where he maintained ties, continuing to appear with them frequently as a guest conductor until 1999. From 1979 to 2000, he was chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra which he transformed into a top international orchestra. After a period as principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1992 and 1997, he then took over the direction of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (until 2004). In addition, Mariss Jansons has worked with all major orchestras worldwide and has regularly conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1976; he last appeared with the orchestra this May 2015 directing works by Bartók, Shostakovich and Ravel. For nearly 30 years, from 1971 until 2000, Jansons was also professor of conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The artist’s numerous awards include the Hans von Bülow Medal of the Berliner Philharmoniker (2003), and “Conductor of the Year” (Royal Philharmonic Society London, 2004), as well as honorary memberships of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and of the Royal Academy of Music. In 2006, Mariss Jansons was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia’s highest state honour, and in 2010 the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art. In 2013, he received the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize as well as Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First Class.

Truls Mørk was born the son of a pianist and a cellist in Bergen, Norway. He received his first cello lessons from his father. Later, he studied under Frans Helmerson, Heinrich Schiff and Natalia Shakhovskaya. He has won, among others, the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1982) and the Naumburg International Competition in New York (1986). Today, Truls Mørk appears as a guest with the world’s most prestigious orchestras (the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, Los Angeles Philharmonic) and has worked together with conductors such as Myung-Whun Chung, Gustavo Dudamel, Mariss Jansons, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Sir Simon Rattle. The artist is also in demand worldwide as a chamber musician; over two evenings, he presented the complete cello sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven at the Bergen International Festival in 2011. Truls Mørk is a great advocate of contemporary music and has played in over 30 world premieres, including Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Towards the Horizon, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto grosso for three cellos and orchestra, Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus and cello concertos by Pavel Haas and Haflidi Hallgrímsson. Truls Mørk made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in October 1992 as the soloist in Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto (conductor: Neeme Järvi); his most recent appearance as a guest of the orchestra was at the beginning of May 2007 as one of the soloists in the Double Concerto in A minor, op 102 by Johannes Brahms. The conductor was Sir Simon Rattle.

ErstoTruls Mørk appears by courtesy of Erato.

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