Mariss Jansons conducts Sibelius, Weber and Bartók

29 Apr 2017

Berliner Philharmoniker
Mariss Jansons

Andreas Ottensamer

  • Jean Sibelius
    Symphony No. 1 in E minor, op. 39 (44 min.)

  • Carl Maria von Weber
    Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra No. 1 in F minor, op. 73 (26 min.)

    Andreas Ottensamer Clarinet

  • Béla Bartók
    The Miraculous Mandarin, suite, Sz 73 (26 min.)

Mariss Jansons has been a regular guest of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1976, but in fact he already conducted them five years earlier: during the Karajan Conducting Competition, which he won then in his late twenties. In 2015 the Latvian conductor raved in an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost: “I love this orchestra. The musicians are not only absolutely fantastic instrumentalists – they are truly passionate. Their artistic dedication is unbelievable. It is a joy for me every time I make music with the top-class orchestra.”

For his next concerts with the orchestra, Mariss Jansons has selected a programme that encompasses different eras of music history. This musical journey through time starts with the Clarinet Concerto in F minor, which Weber wrote in 1811 for Heinrich Joseph Baermann, clarinetist with the Munich court orchestra. He had a clarinet of the latest design, and it was this that provided the composer with the inspiration for this brilliant concerto. However, even the melancholy yet elegant first movement goes much further than mere virtuoso musical display: the music develops an inner drama that derives its power from the juxtaposition of bravura figures and elegiac tranquility. With its Romantic musical language, the atmospheric Adagio already hints at the Freischütz, while in contrast, the lively Rondo which follows makes for a dashing finale. The soloist is Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinetist with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Jean Sibelius’s E minor symphony, which Mariss Jansons has also programmed, was composed 88 years after Weber’s musical stroke of genius – a first symphony in which the Finnish composer formally oriented himself towards the models of the genre, but in so doing found his way to a highly individual national romantic inflection (not for nothing did Armas Järnefelt, Sibelius’s brother-in-law, summarise: “He transformed everything that reached his ear into ‘Sibelius’”).

The concert concludes with the suite from the expressionist dance pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin, which Béla Bartók, as an ostentatious renunciation of the aestheticism of traditional ballets, intended to reflect “the repulsiveness of the civilized world”. The premiere, which took place at the Cologne Opera on 27 November 1926 conducted by Jenő Szenkár, turned out to be a scandal which even prompted a political intervention: the conductor was summoned to the office of Konrad Adenauer, then the mayor, who banned Bartók’s piece from the schedule …

Speaking in Tones

Works by Jean Sibelius, Carl Maria von Weber and Béla Bartók

The Munich Court Opera’s singers faced a competitor within their own house early in the 19th century. When Heinrich Joseph Baermann began to play a solo passage in the orchestra pit, many listeners held their breath: “Leading connoisseurs are of the opinion that the singers should not fail to notice the clarinettist Baermann’s secrets of tonal attack, shaping, swelling and aspiration,” reads a contemporary report, “and that they should study completely his delivery, breath control, trills and all those qualities which good singers desire in themselves.” Carl Maria von Weber was so taken with Baermann’s artistry that he promptly wrote and dedicated four great clarinet works to him, including the Concerto in F minor being performed today. Baermann’s mastery complied with many composers’ penchant for employing the clarinet as a symbol of the human voice. The First Symphony of Jean Sibelius begins with a lonely clarinet’s mysterious bardic song, and Béla Bartók has given the Girl’s seduction music to the voice of a clarinet in his pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin.

Musical Dialogue: Jean Sibelius’s First Symphony

The unusual opening of his symphonic first-born bears witness to the long journey that must have led Sibelius to that point. At the time he composed it, shortly before the turn of the 20th century, the Finnish composer was already an established artist who, during his studies in Berlin and Vienna, had been deeply impressed by symphonists like Bruckner as well as creators of the contemporary tone poem. His symphonic cantata Kullervo op. 7 and the Lemminkäinen Suite op. 22 straddle both musical spheres and show the composer completely under the spell of the Finnish national epic Kalevala. Bearing in mind those preceding works, his First Symphony – after the literally legendary fabled clarinet solo of the opening bars – seems to be quite aware of its form, and when it gets to the finale, marked Quasi una Fantasia, it pushes against the genre’s boundaries. Yet at first glance, the E minor Symphony doesn’t really seem so unconventional: it has four movements, a sonata-form first movement, a three-part Andante, a Scherzo and Trio, and a Finale with a slow introduction. Even the internal structure of the movements with their contrasting thematic groups seems familiar, although by the time we reach the transition to the second theme of the opening movement, with the high strings preparing the ground for the flutes with shimmering tremolos, its creator’s individual voice has already become clear. The initially lyrical Andante reaches a new plateau in remote E flat major, while the Scherzo in C major seduces us into a more Mediterranean ambience. The Finale takes up the clarinet theme from the opening, but this powerful movement will not achieve an apotheosis: the hymn is withdrawn, and that tragic turn is confirmed by a laconic E minor ending. The symphony does not culminate in another Finlandia, notwithstanding the composer’s allusions to Karelian folk culture: the use of the harp here, atypical of Sibelius, is a symbolically charged allusion to the traditional Finnish kantele.

Instrumental Theatre: Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1

“Weber came into the world to write the Freischütz” – that remark of Hans Pfitzner’s, made in 1926 on the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death, has not become any truer through frequent repetition. But the independent life of this sentence speaks volumes about the history of Weber’s reception. The Berlin Philharmonic’s annals show two complete performances of Der Freischütz, conducted by Joseph Keilberth and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, whereas the First Clarinet Concerto – aside from a recording with soloist Karl Leister and Rafael Kubelik on the podium plus a presentation of the Adagio as part of a potpourri concert – was only performed twice before, in 1887 and 1938.

And yet, anyone who loves Der Freischütz is sure to find this concerto appealing as well. It is scarcely imaginable that this masterpiece was created in such a short time and in parallel with other works. In 1811, the composer had met the virtuoso Baermann, first dedicating a Concertino (in E flat major, op. 26) to him and, after its successful premiere, finding out that the Bavarian king Max Joseph and his orchestra wanted “to have concertos from me”. A few months later, two concertos were already finished (in F minor, op. 73 and in E flat major, op. 74), giving Baermann the opportunity to display his artistry in instrumental cantilena as well as his stupendous virtuosity. The latter is called for only in passing by the F minor Concerto, emerging almost spontaneously from the clarinet’s heartfelt melodies. The first movement is like a plaintive opera aria which, after a mystical orchestral introduction, goes well beyond the scope of a brilliant concerto. The C major Adagio – a Romantic idyll with wistful horn calls – also seems to come from a man of the theatre. The final rondo, in relaxed F major, revolves around a dancelike theme and is one of Weber’s pithiest inventions.

Tales from the Urban Jungle: Béla Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin

Béla Bartók wasn’t particularly successful in the theatre, even though his three one-acters can all be described as major works. He wrote them at a time when the “long 19th century” was being transformed into the “world of yesterday”: the opera Bluebeard’s Castle in 1911, the ballet-pantomime The Wooden Prince between in 1914-17 and the pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin, composed and orchestratedover several years beginning in 1917 and later revised as the concert suite being performed today.

The story takes place “in a shabby room in the slums”, according to a summary of the action printed in the score. “Three tramps, bent on robbery, force a girl to lure in prospective victims from the streets.” An old cavalier and a shy young man are found to have thin wallets and are promptly thrown out. Then the eerie and exotic Mandarin enters, genuinely desiring the Girl and unfazed even when the pimps attempt to suffocate him, run him through with a sword and, finally, hang him: “Only when they cut him down, and the Girl takes him into her arms, do his wounds begin to bleed and he dies.” In this unlikely setting, life-force and love-death converge.

This violent consummation is not found in the Mandarin suite, however, which replaces the last ten minutes of the pantomime with a short concert ending. Bartók made this truncated version mainly for practical reasons. The original, in addition to already lavish orchestral forces, calls for a mixed chorus, whose wordless vocalise in the work’s final section is a commentary on the assaulted Mandarin’s resilience. But the piece is spectacular even without that added attraction. Aggressive motor rhythms, atonal harmonies, wildly layered sonorities, plus striking trombone glissandi – the birth of the apocalypse out of the spirit of jazz: all that makes the Miraculous Mandarin one of the most exciting scores in modern music. When the Girl dances with the Mandarin, Bartók levers out three-quarter time by placing the light upbeat on the heavy first beat: this displaced waltz isn’t for “Tales from the Vienna Woods” but rather “Tales from the Urban Jungle”.

Olaf Wilhelmer

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 in March 2016 directing works by Berlioz, Dutilleux and Shostakovich. 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. For his life achievement Mariss Jansons was honoured in March 2015 with the Latvian Great Music Award which is the country’s most important artistic recognition.

Andreas Ottensamer, who was born in Vienna, began studying the cello at the University of Music and Performing Arts in his home town in 1999. In 2003, he changed to the clarinet under Johann Hindler. In 2006, Andreas Ottensamer played as a substitute in the orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper. He was a member of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and the Verbier Festival Orchestra. In October 2009, he broke off a liberal arts programme at Harvard University to join the Orchestra Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker. From July 2010, Andreas Ottensamer was principal clarinet of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, before taking over the same position with the Berliner Philharmoniker in early March of the following year. A winner of numerous competitions, he has made guest appearances with orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Vienna Philharmonic, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Kammerakademie Potsdam. In 2005, together with with his father Ernst and his brother Daniel (both principal clarinets with the Wiener Philharmoniker), Andreas Ottensamer founded the clarinet trio The Clarinotts, which has already had works dedicated to it by some contemporary composers. Furthermore, he has artistic partnerships with Leonidas Kavakos, Janine Jansen, Murray Perahia, Leif Ove Andsnes, Sol Gabetta and Yo-Yo Ma. Since February 2013, Andreas Ottensamer has been an exclusive artists with Universal Music. For his second album Brahms: The Hungarian Connection, he was awarded the “Echo Klassik” in 2015 and was named instrumentalist of the year. One of this season’s highlights is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s European Concert on 1 May 2017, when the musician is the soloist in Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No.1. Andreas Ottensamer, together with pianist José Gallardo, is artistic director of the Bürgenstock Festival in Switzerland.

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