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10 Dec 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker
Christian Thielemann

Gidon Kremer

  • Sofia Gubaidulina
    In tempus praesens, concerto for violin and orchestra (38 min.)

    Gidon Kremer Violin

  • Anton Bruckner
    Mass No. 3 in F minor (69 min.)

    Anne Schwanewilms Soprano, Wiebke Lehmkuhl Contralto, Michael Schade Tenor, Franz-Josef Selig Bass, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Gijs Leenaars Chorus Master

  • free

    Interview
    Gidon Kremer in conversation with Walter Küssner (10 min.)

When Gidon Kremer launched Sofia Gubaidulina’s violin concerto Offertorium on 30 May 1981 during the Vienna Festival, the composer, who was born in 1931 in Chistopol, Tatarstan, was still virtually unknown: the Soviet composer’s association flatly declined her oeuvre, so at first her composing simply “ended up on the shelf”. In the West, the work, which quotes Bach’s MusicalOffering, caused a stir even though no new techniques and systems are applied: “As an ideal, I regard a kind of relationship to both tradition and new compositional means in which the artist masters all the means – both the new and the traditional ones – but as if he were not paying attention to either.”

Almost 25 years after the successful premiere of the Offertorium, Sofia Gubaidulina wrote her second violin concerto entitled In tempus praesens, this time for Anne-Sophie Mutter. For this piece too, Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was the inspiration: from the introductory measures in the solo violin, which feel their way forward gingerly, the chromatic lines remind one of the cipher in sound: B-A-C-H. Thereafter the composer succeeds in wresting the most fantastic effects of colour out of the instruments – including when the sound of the solo violin combines, extremely ingeniously, with that of the flute, clarinet, harp, celesta and the high percussion, or when four solo violas, supported by the most varied of instrument combinations, form a sort of concertino. Gidon Kremer presents Gubaidulina’s concerto In tempus praesens at his Philharmonic guest appearance – with that extraordinary sound where, as the composer commented, all vital energy seems to focus on the strings played.

Following it, Christian Thielemann programmed Anton Bruckner’s Mass No. 3 in F minor. It was composed in the years 1867-68 and is his last and greatest mass composition; according to the composer, it is oriented towards Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and the two late masses by Franz Schubert. Still the cathedral organist in Linz, Bruckner wrote the work for the court orchestra in Vienna, which also provided sacred music at the imperial court. A little later he himself moved to Vienna to take office as the cathedral organist and to discharge his appointment as a teacher at the Conservatory. As the mass posed great difficulties to the court orchestra musicians, the premiere was delayed by four whole years, and took place conducted by the composer in the Church of St Augustine near the Hofburg in June 1872. It was a great success for Bruckner, and the work was soon incorporated into concert hall programmes.

The Lingering of the Soul in the Spiritual Realm

In tempus praesens by Sofia Gubaidulina and Anton Bruckner’s F minor Mass

A Violin Concerto about the Power of Wisdom

The Basler Zeitung summed up the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s second violin concerto at the Lucerne Festival in 2007 as “balsam for the ears”. The composer wrote the solo part for Anne-Sophie Mutter, and the theme of the work was inspired by the similarity between the names Sofia and Anne-Sophie. The solo voice personifies sophia, the Greek word for divine wisdom, which Gubaidulina sees as a creative power for the present, hence the title In tempus praesens.

Gubaidulina focuses on a particular conception of time in many of her works: “In my opinion, the most important aim of a work of art is the transformation of time. Mankind has this other transformed time – the time of the lingering of the soul in the spiritual realm – within himself. But it can be suppressed through our everyday experience of time. ... The other, essential time can be activated in the work of art.” In her second violin concerto Gubaidulina places this “other, essential time” in the present: the music is supposed to allow listeners to experience the here and now first-hand.

She achieves that in an almost breathtaking way in this composition. In his review of the premiere Robert Jungwirth described it as follows: “At the beginning the solo violin spirals upwards with a searching, almost imploring gesture. The orchestra finally enters with shimmering, silvery, sparkling sounds. The searching character is retained during the entire work. Sofia Gubaidulina’s second violin concerto is unquestionably a work of searching, the search for truth and beauty. The solo violin often sounds desperately beautiful in its cantilena-like sequences. ... Gubaidulina excluded the bright strings – the first and second violins – from the work, thus creating a distinctive timbre that emphasizes the contrast to the often dazzling violin.”

A Mass in Praise of the Highest

“It was only eight days ago today that my Mass in F no. 3, the most difficult of all masses, was performed for the first time in the Church of St Augustine. ... It was written in praise of the Highest, and I wanted its first performance to be in a church. The response from both performers and audience was tremendous.” Anton Bruckner proudly recounted the success of the premiere of his F minor Mass in Vienna in June 1872. Although Johann Herbeck had commissioned the work for the royal chapel, he rejected the Mass as “unsingable” after the initial rehearsals in 1869. Bruckner had to finance the premiere with his own funds, and he conducted the work himself at the Church of St Augustine on 16 June 1872. Herbeck then added the Mass to the repertoire of the court orchestra and conducted it on 8 December 1873, the first of many performances which firmly entrenched the work in Vienna’s church repertoire within a few years.

Kyrie and Gloria

Bruckner connected the 60 minutes of his most monumental Mass using the simplest possible means. The work opens with the same descending four-note motif with which it ends. In the opening Kyrie it is heard in the dark key of F minor. The “Christe eleison”, sung by the women’s voices of the chorus, the solo bass and solo soprano, initially seems to linger in the bright A flat major. The entreaty then takes on an increasingly urgent character. The “Herr, erbarme dich” returns softly at first but gradually builds up to a powerful climax in E flat minor, only to collapse, as it were, at the end.

The opening of the Gloria is like dazzlingly bright light: in C major, with brilliant high chorus voices and full orchestra. There are also subdued interpolations here, for example, in the “in terra pax” and the “gratias agimus tibi”. Otherwise, Bruckner invoked the majesty of God the Father almost militantly during the entire movement, which culminates in the final fugue with its octave leaps (“In gloria Dei Patris. Amen”).

Credo as a “Christian Wolf’s Glen”

Bruckner’s vision of the Last Judgement evokes associations with the Wolf’s Glen scene in Carl Maria von Weber’sFreischütz. For the devout Catholic it was not a theatrical effect, however, but the universal and supreme claim of the triune God. Bruckner devised a Credo theme as though carved in stone, which recurs throughout the movement. This “march of the faithful” is interrupted by pianissimo passages that approach the divine mystery with more reserve.

The middle section of the Credo is much more subdued; the “incarnatus” is sung by the solo tenor. The women’s voices of the chorus join him, intoning softly. Not until the “et homo factus est” do the men’s voices enter; from the celestial heights the infant Jesus descends to the depths of human existence. The transition to “crucifixus” is seamless. The brass and the bass soloist join in, alluding to Jesus’s Passion together with the chorus. Bruckner did not actually depict the physical suffering of Christ here but rather emphasized its exemplary significance: “He suffered for us.”

A soft timpani roll and intervals of a fourth in the strings announce the Resurrection, which has rarely been depicted this monumentally, and the Ascension of Christ. The “cuius regni non erit finis” is repeated seemingly ad infinitum. The chorus and orchestra express the expectation of the Resurrection of the Dead in a powerful outburst. In the third article of faith, “et in Spiritum Sanctum”, the composer draws on the theme of the Credo, also in the final fugue, which is repeatedly interrupted by ecstatic cries of “credo, credo”. A soft timpani roll and a soprano-bass duet prepare for the last repetition of the Credo theme with solemn augmentation.

Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei

The Sanctus takes us to heavenly realms: high strings and a flute solo direct our gaze to the highest heights of the firmament. Suddenly the entire multitude of heavenly hosts speaks out: in subito fortissimo they interrupt the F major idyll of the movement with the “Domine Deus Sabaoth”. Bruckner combined the “pleni sunt coeli” and “Hosanna” in a single jubilant Allegro in three-four metre.

Although the Benedictus is marked Allegro moderato, it creates the impression of a slow movement. The soloists and chorus take over the string theme in varying configurations, and the soprano sings a wonderfully luminous melodic line that is later taken up by the flute. Some Bruckner biographers have criticized the fact that Bruckner repeats the “Hosanna” in the traditional way after this opulent A flat major section.

The true redemption of the believers is left to the Agnus Dei. After a prelude for strings, flute and oboes the choral voices begin a funeral hymn. The soloists insistently interject the “miserere nobis” until a conciliatory E flat major suddenly illuminates the chorus. This sequence is repeated during the second “Agnus”, while the third invocation to the Lamb of God is accompanied by the orchestra en masse. The four-note motif from the Kyrie is heard again at the “dona nobis pacem”, still fluctuating between major and minor at first. Then, however, the funeral procession becomes a triumphal march: a brilliant F major envelops all the voices; orchestral scales rise to a tremendous crescendo. Two other themes from earlier movements are evoked: the “Gloria Dei Patris” in a powerful choral entrance and the “credo in unum Deum” in a light, high oboe solo. Thus, the way is paved for the conclusion: the chorus sings softly for the last time, bringing relief to the “dona nobis pacem” before the solo oboe ends the Mass with the descending fourth motif in F major.

Karl Böhmer

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 2016, when he conducted works by Schumann, Chopin, Reimann and Strauss.

Gidon Kremer, born in Riga in 1947 to parents of German origin, began playing the violin at the age of four. He won many prizes at international competitions while still studying at the Moscow Conservatory as a pupil of David Oistrakh. The violinist, who today can look back on a career of more than 35 years, has played with all the major orchestras in Europe and America, and has worked with the greatest conductors of our time. In addition to Classical and Romantic masterpieces, his extensive repertoire includes many 20th century works by composers such as Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Sofia Gubaidulina, Luigi Nono, Giya Kancheli and Aribert Reimann. In 1981, Gidon Kremer founded a chamber music festival in Lockenhaus in Austria which is held every year in the first half of July. In 1997, he also started the Kremerata Balitca, a chamber orchestra consisting of young musicians from Baltic countries. He was also artistic director of the Basel Festival les muséiques from 2002 to 2006. The versatile artist made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 1976 and has continued to appear with the orchestra as a guest artist ever since. His most recent performance in the Philharmonie was as the soloist in Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium in October 2006. A year later he also appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Salzburg Festival playing Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. Gidon Kremer has won many awards, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.

Anne Schwanewilms, born in Gelsenkirchen, studied under Hans Sotin in Cologne, and was a member of the ensemble there between 1991 and 1996. She has worked freelance since then, and has established herself as one of the most sought-after interpreters of the works of Richard Strauss. Her repertoire includes roles such as Ariadne (Ariadne auf Naxos), Chrysothemis (Elektra), Marschallin (Der Rosenkavalier), Empress (Die Frau ohne Schatten) and Danae (Die Liebe der Danae) and extends to roles such as Elsa (Lohengrin), Elisabeth (Tannhäuser), Desdemona (Otello), Marie (Wozzeck) and Madame Lidoine (Dialogues of the Carmelites). The soprano appears regularly as a guest artist at the world’s most renowned opera houses and has worked with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Jurowski, Zubin Mehta, Franz Welser-Möst, Kent Nagano and Sir Simon Rattle. Furthermore, concert engagements have taken Anne Schwanewilms to the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France. Accompanied by such renowned pianists as Malcolm Martineau, Charles Spencer and Roger Vignoles, the soprano has also set standards with her lieder recitals. Anne Schwanewilms, who has received numerous prizes and awards, holds master classes and is a member of the jury of the International Louis Spohr Competition. She made her debut in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts in mid-September 2003 in concert performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Wiebke Lehmkuhl, born in 1983 in Oldenburg, received her vocal training from Ulla Groenewold and from Hanna Schwarz at the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre. After guest engagements at Kiel Opera House and the state operas of Hamburg and Hanover, she joined Zurich Opera as a permanent ensemble member in the 2008/09 season. Here she appeared as Erda (Der Ring des Nibelungen), Magdalene (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Annina (Der Rosenkavalier), Hedwige (Guillaume Tell), and in concert performances of Handel’s Messiah and Schumann’s oratorio Paradise and the Peri. The contralto has also appeared at renowned opera houses such as the Opéra Bastille in Paris and at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. In 2012, she made her debut at the Salzburg Festival as third lady in a new production of Mozart’s Zauberflöte. The following year, she performed there again in a concert performance of Walter Braunfels’ Jeanne d’Arc in the role of Lison. Wiebke Lehmkuhl is also successful as a concert and oratorio singer. In 2011 she made her debut at the Vienna Musikverein and at the Lucerne Festival in performances of Handel’s La Resurrezione, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Among the conductors she has also worked with are Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Reinhard Goebel, Thomas Hengelbrock, Marc Minkowski and Kent Nagano. Wiebke Lehmkuhl made her debut in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2013 in Schumann’s Faust Scenes, conducted by Daniel Harding.

Michael Schade was born in Geneva, grew up in Germany and Canada, and appeared in opera productions while still studying at New York’s Curtis Institute of Music. He has had engagements at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan, the Bastille Opera in Paris, the Metropolitan Opera in New York plus the leading opera houses in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. He has also appeared regularly at the Salzburg Festival where, in 2008 and 2009, he was also creative director of the Young Singers Project. Michael Schade has very close ties with the Vienna State Opera, where he appears in roles of the stage works of Mozart, Strauss, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Wagner. In the 2009/2010 season, he was artist in residence at the Vienna Musikverein. In addition to his operatic activities, the tenor also appears in concerts and lieder recitals in musical capitals all over the world. He has performed with leading international orchestras under the direction of major conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Mariss Jansons, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Sir Simon Rattle, Franz Welser-Möst and Simone Young. His musical activities are heavily influenced by a number of performances with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, under whose direction he first sang in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts in December 2004. In the spring of 2007, Michael Schade received the title of “Österreichischer Kammersänger”. He is artistic director of Hapag Lloyd’s Stella Maris International Vocal Competition, and artistic director of the Melk International Baroque Festival. Michael Schade appeared most recently in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts in May 2011 in Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer; the concert in the Chamber Music Hall was hosted by Thomas Quasthoff.

Franz-Josef Selig graduated in church music from the Cologne University of Music before changing to the vocal classes there by Claudio Nicolai. Early in his career, he was a member of the ensemble at the Essen Aalto Theatre for six years. Today, the freelance singer appears regularly in opera houses all over the world – such as the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan, Opéra National de Paris and the Metropolitan Opera New York – and at the Aix-en-Provence, Bayreuth and Salzburg festivals in the great bass roles of Gurnemanz, King Marke, Sarastro, Rocco, Osmin, Daland and Fasolt. Franz-Josef Selig has worked with conductors such as James Levine, Christian Thielemann, Sir Simon Rattle, Marek Janowski, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Muti and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Despite his numerous concert and opera engagements, Franz-Joseph Selig finds time for recitals, where he is also to be heard as a member of the ensemble “Liedertafel” together with Markus Schaefer, Christian Elsner and Michael Volle with Gerold Huber at the piano. Numerous CD and DVD productions document the artistic versatility of the singer. The bass made his debut in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts in December 2013 in Robert Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, conducted by Daniel Harding. He last appeared with the orchestra in December 2015 in four concert performances of Claude Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

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 April 2016 with Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy conducted by Seiji Ozawa; the choir’s men were also to be heard last June in concerts with Strawinsky’s Oedipus Rex (conductor: John Eliot Gardiner) and Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 13 (conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin).

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