Kirill Petrenko conducts Mozart and Tchaikovsky
23 Mar 2017
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 “Haffner” (21 min.)
The Wound-Dresser for baritone and orchestra (21 min.)
Georg Nigl Baritone
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 “Pathétique” (52 min.)
Kirill Petrenko in conversation with Olaf Maninger (31 min.)
“Words cannot express my feelings – everything from euphoria and great joy to awe and disbelief. I am aware of the responsibility and high expectations of me, and I will do everything in my power to be a worthy conductor of this outstanding orchestra.” On 21 June 2015, the Berliner Philharmoniker voted by a large majority to elect Kirill Petrenko their new chief conductor – a head of orchestra who, with his meticulous and nonetheless passionate and thrilling way of making music, had already left a lasting impression at his Philharmonic debut in February 2006: “When you step in front of an orchestra as a conductor, you encounter so many possibilities in sound. If you don’t have your own sound ideal, you founder.” Since his first Philharmonic performance, Kirill Petrenko has until now presented himself with the orchestra as an interpreter of Russian masters, as well as with works by Béla Bartók, Edward Elgar and Rudi Stephan.
Here Kirill Petrenko presents his perspective in matters of the Viennese classics: with Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, a work that originated in a serenade from the same time commissioned by Siegmund Haffner, wealthy citizen of Salzburg: without further ado, Mozart expanded the instrumentation to include flutes and clarinets in the first and last movements of the serenade, and cut out the framing march and one of the two minuets. That its origin as a serenade is clearly noticeable is hardly surprising: framed by two showy brilliant movements, one of which is to be played “really fiery” and the other “as fast as possible” (Mozart), the middle movements, each structured in three parts, develop a lyrical tone that expands in restrained emphasis.
With the Pathétique, Kirill Petrenko has then programmed the most frequently played Tchaikovsky symphony, a symphonic requiem: an opening movement permeated with lamento figures, followed by a typically Russian waltz in 5/4 which spreads a strange melancholy in a never-ending flow of music; Tchaikovsky had already associated the waltz with the theme of death in his Romance op. 57 No. 5, based on a text by the symbolist Dmitry Merezhkovsky, in which reference is made to death, promising “delightful rest”. After a breathless danse macabre, the funereal work ends with an instrumental lament that fades away “as though bleeding to death” (Hans Mayer).
Works by Mozart, Adams and Tchaikovsky
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385 “Haffner”
Vienna, July 1782. More than a year has passed since Mozart suffered an affront from Salzburg court chamberlain Count Arco, who dared to “boot him out of the room with a kick in the arse”. But this spectacular ending of his service to Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo was also the kick-off to Mozart’s freedom: getting him away from the hated treadmill of his position as Konzertmeister and court organist; away from the strict supervision of his father Leopold, who cared only about obedience, morality and money; away from Salzburg – and off to Vienna! Does Mozart really believe he will be able to go his own way without resistance from his father? For months, the correspondence between Salzburg and Vienna revolves almost exclusively around Leopold’s reproach and Wolfgang’s defence, one moment self-confident, the next moment submissively imploring.
Against the biographical background of these tensions, Die Entführung aus dem Serail was composed between August 1781 and May 1782. At the express wish of Emperor Joseph II, its premiere took place at the Burgtheater on 16 July 1782. While Mozart was trying as quickly as possible to capitalize on the opera’s success by preparing a wind arrangement, he received a new commission from Leopold in Salzburg. On 20 July, he wrote back to his father: “... And now you ask me to write a new symphony! How on earth can I do so? … Well, I’ll just have to spend the night over it, for that is the only way.” It may have been haste that prompted Mozart to borrow some material for the symphony from the recently completed Entführung: the main theme of the finale, for example, recalls Osmin’s aria “Ha! Wie will ich triumphieren”.
The new symphony was commissioned by Sigmund Haffner the younger, a Salzburg merchant, to celebrate his forthcoming ennoblement (on 29 July). Leopold and Wolfgang had long enjoyed close relations – virtually a friendship – with the Haffner family. In June 1776, he had composed the large-scale “Haffner” Serenade in D major, K. 250, for the wedding of Sigmund’s sister Elisabeth and Franz Xaver Anton Späth of Salzburg. Once again now, the music was intended to be celebratory: to be scored for large forces (with pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets in addition to timpani and strings) and in the old serenade form with two minuets and an introductory march. But Mozart found composing it anything but easy: “My heart is restless and my head confused – in such a condition how can one think and work to any good purpose?”, he wrote on 27 July 1782. That may account for how quickly he erased the work from his memory; on 15 February 1783, he confessed to his father: “My new Haffner symphony has really surprised me, for I had forgotten every single note of it.”
At least this was a pleasant “surprise”. Four months after completing it, Mozart wrote to Leopold: “I also asked you to send me by the first opportunity which presents itself the new symphony which I composed for Haffner at your request. I should like to have it for certain before Lent, for I should very much like to have it performed at my concert.” For this performance (on 23 March 1783), Mozart revised the work, giving it the now-familiar four-movement layout: the march was dropped along with one of the minuets, which has since disappeared (or, possibly, the original symphony had only a single minuet). The instrumentation was also enlarged with the addition of two flutes and two clarinets. But even in this version for Vienna, the symphony betrays its serenade origins: the splendour of the orchestration and the extreme swiftness of the outer movements are more festive than symphonic in character.
John Adams: The Wound-Dresser
The brilliance of the “Haffner” Symphony is followed by the nocturnally dark confrontation with death that Walt Whitman experienced as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War and reflected in his poem “The Wound-Dresser”: “Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarm, and urge relentless war, / But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself, / To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead.”
Another “restless heart”. What attracted John Adams in this poem was its extraordinarily sombre and pessimistic tone. “I was plunged into an awareness,” the composer recalls, “not only of dying, but also of the person who cares for the dying... The essence of the poem is deeply human and full of love and great tenderness. I tried to bring out that tenderness in the music.” And indeed, the horrors in the text and the restrained beauty of its setting form a remarkable counterpoint that evokes the longing for peace and deliverance, without any pathos.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 “Pathétique”
It is a very different “restless heart” – passionate, often tragic – that the epithet “pathétique” suggests. It was not until after its premiere (on 28 October 1893), however, that Tchaikovsky’s sixth and last symphony received its nickname, as the composer’s brother reports: “He didn’t want to leave it with only a number, or call it Programme Symphony, as he originally intended. ‘How can I call it Programme Symphony when I don’t want to disclose the programme?’ I suggested calling it Tragic, but he didn’t care for that. Then I left the room and left him behind, pondering. Suddenly the word patetichesky came into my head. I went back and – I remember as if it were yesterday – I stood in the doorway and uttered the word. ‘Excellent, Modya, bravo, patetichesky!’ and before my eyes he wrote on the score the title by which it has been known ever since.”
Found among Tchaikovsky’s papers from his last years was the plan for a “Life” symphony, whose movements would deal with “youth”, “love”, “disappointment” and “death”. The finale would “die away at the end”, just as the Sixth fades away on a B minor chord on cellos and basses, pppp and diminuendo. Is then the Pathétique that projected “Life Symphony”? Could the idiosyncratic Allegro con grazia second movement – a waltz in (characteristically Russian) 5/4 time – be the cipher for a “love” of Russia that vacillates between Westernism and Slavophilia? And what “disappointment” is reflected in the furious scherzo marked Allegro molto vivace?
The whole symphony is “pervaded by the mood of a requiem”, Tchaikovsky explained shortly before the premiere. “Its programme is suffused with subjectivity but it will remain an enigma to everyone... I myself consider it the best, and especially the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I never have loved any other of my musical creations.”
The composer’s death only eight days after the work’s premiere under circumstances which are still unclear has given the symphony an added aura of finality. When all those enigmatic words are said and done, what remains has no need of a programme: Tchaikovsky’s restless heart communicates so directly and frankly with the listener that the boundaries between “pathetic” and “empathetic” seem to have been eradicated.
Kirill Petrenko was born in 1972 in Omsk (Siberia) where he studied piano at the College of Music. When he was eighteen, he and his family moved to Vorarlberg in Austria. His training as a conductor with Uros Lajovic at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna was followed by a period as assistant and Kapellmeister at the Volksoper, also in Vienna. After this, he was general music director in Meiningen from 1999 – 2002, where in 2001 he achieved first international acclaim conducting Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen in a production by Christine Mielitz and Alfred Hrdlicka. From 2002 until 2007 he was general music director of the Komische Oper in Berlin, where he gained an excellent reputation particularly as a result of his development work with the orchestra and ensemble. He has been invited to conduct in many major opera houses, including the State Operas in Dresden, Munich and Vienna, the Royal Opera House in London, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Bastille Opera in Paris as well as at the Maggio Musicale in Florence and the Salzburg Festival. In 2009 he celebrated successes with Pfitzner’s Palestrina at the Oper Frankfurt and with Janáček’s Jenůfa at the Bavarian State Opera, where he took over as general music director in September 2013, a position he will retain until the end of the 2019/20 season. In the concert hall, Kirill Petrenko has conducted major orchestras world-wide such as the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Philharmonic Orchestras in London, Los Angeles and Israel. In June 2015, Kirill Petrenko was elected future Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He made his debut with the orchestra in February 2006 with works by Bartók and Rachmaninov; most recently, he performed pieces by Stravinsky, Stephan and Skriabin with the orchestra in December 2012.
Georg Nigl appeared in his childhood as a soprano soloist with the Vienna Boys’ Choir at major venues before training under the Kammersängerin Hilde Zadek as a baritone. Today, engagements take him to renowned opera houses such as the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, Bayerische Staastsoper in Munich, Zurich Opera, the state opera houses in Stuttgart and Hamburg, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam plus major festivals (Salzburg Festival, Festival Aix-en-Provence, Ruhrtriennale, Wiener Festwochen). Georg Nigl has worked together with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Michael Boder, Teodor Currentzis, Daniele Gatti, Daniel Harding, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Thomas Hengelbrock, René Jacobs and Kent Nagano and with directors including Frank Castorf, Hans Neuenfels, Johan Simons, Dmitri Tcherniakov and Robert Wilson. The singer has gained special recognition for his performances in many premieres and has been initiating the creation of compositions by Friedrich Cerha, Pascal Dusapin, Georg Friedrich Haas, Wolfgang Mitterer, Olga Neuwirth and Wolfgang Rihm. Georg Nigl’s chamber music repertoire, which he prepares and performs together with Alexander Melnikov, Andreas Staier and Gérard Wyss, covers a wide spectrum ranging from the Baroque era to the First Viennese School to contemporary music. Since 2014, he has been a professor of voice at the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart. Voted the critics’ “Singer of the Year” in the magazine Opernwelt in 2015, Georg Nigl now makes his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.