Composing works which were both modern and understandable – that was the supreme discipline for not just a few composers of the 20th century. Nicola Luisotti, music director of San Francisco Opera, presents works which realise this concept most beautifully with the Berliner Philharmoniker: the Gloria by Francis Poulenc and Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. The concert also includes works for solo flute by Claude Debussy and Luciano Berio.
Francis Poulenc was one of the most important figures of the Les six, a group who committed themselves to rectilinear, light and intellectually stimulating music, in which sounds from everyday life were also to find a place. This ideal is also evident in Poulenc’s Gloria. Meditative prayer here goes hand in hand with an exuberant joy in the glory of God. As a result, this music makes the judgment of a contemporary critic quite plausible, describing Poulenc as “half monk, half thug”.
Sergei Prokofiev considered it a prerequisite of great music that it be “simple and comprehensible, without being repetitive or trivial”. The Fifth Symphony can be seen as a culmination of this idea, and is one of Prokofiev’s most frequently performed works. It is catchy, raw and distinctive – while below the surface, extremely sophisticated.
The two flute pieces in the programme have a complex structure on the one hand and, on the other hand, convey the impression of spontaneous improvisation. The soloist is the Philharmoniker’s principal flute Emmanuel Pahud, described by the BBC as “one of the world’s leading flautists, and an exceptionally charismatic ambassador for his instrument.”