Sir Simon Rattle conducts Schumann and Lachenmann

23 Mar 2019

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

  • Helmut Lachenmann
    My Melodies, Music for 8 Horns and Orchestra (41 min.)

    Stefan Dohr french horn, Stefan de Leval Jezierski french horn, Georg Schreckenberger french horn, Sarah Willis french horn, Andrej Žust french horn, Klaus Wallendorf french horn, Thomas Jordans french horn, Marie-Luise Neunecker french horn

  • Robert Schumann
    Symphony No. 2 in C major, op. 61 (44 min.)

  • free

    Helmut Lachenmann in conversation with Sarah Willis (17 min.)

“ ʻTry to like it!ʼ I said to Prince Charles at our strange encounter in London when he said, ʻModern music is so difficult to understand!ʼ And I allowed myself to paraphrase Ophelia’s father Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is method in our madness”. We shouldn’t have fun, but be serious. Serious in the positive sense of mindful discovery and developing contexts, the way we each encounter them in different ways. And it’s always fun to say, ʻBe seriousʼ – that can have unexpected consequences… ” Helmut Lachenmann has always had the sporting ambition to “go into the lion’s den, where people feel safe and secure in their understanding of music, and to create an experience within that security which is even also a kind of existential confusion, to use listening as the start of an adventure.” And for this reason, he wants to “give a new face to this orchestra that we know. That’s composing: making these instruments their own instrument.”

He says his concerto for eight horns and orchestra was a special challenge, because he was forced “to find something like a harmony within the instrumental line-up of eight horns. Now there are four note chords, two note chords, eight note chords. ... It’s about constantly developing new and different sensitivities. And if that’s the case, then even a C major triad is possible.” After Sir Simon Rattle premiered Tableau, an orchestral work by Helmut Lachenmannin in 2011, he and the Philharmoniker now perform Lachenmann’s large-scale concerto with a spectacular constellation of solo instruments.

A composer who was not deterred by the multiplication of the horn as a solo instrument with his Concert Piece for four horns was Robert Schumann, whose Second Symphony continues the programme after the interval. In this work, consistently oriented towards the finale, the great Romantic followed the model of Beethoven’s final symphonies. This is another reason why Ernst Gottschald drew a comparison to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the 1850 Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, whereby Schumann had made the “greatest progress” in instrumental music “far beyond Beethoven”: “Ludwig could not yet do it with mere instruments, he had to borrow the word from the art of poetry, Robert does it with instruments alone for the first time.”

Melodies and Songs

Orchestral Works by Helmut Lachenmann and Robert Schumann

“Now everyone’s waiting for a melody …” – My Melodies by Helmut Lachenmann

My Melodies is an unusual title for an orchestral work by Helmut Lachenmann. He could probably not have imagined such a title when he began his compositional career more than 60 years ago as a pupil of Luigi Nono in Venice. His objective then was something he himself called “musique concrète instrumentale”. This meant thematicizing the generation of sound itself: how does it actually occur and what exertions does it require? What are the peripheral phenomena of the orchestra’s sonorities and how can they be used compositionally? Those were Lachenmann’s central concerns at that time and throughout his creative life. My Melodies – subtitled “Music for Eight Horns and Orchestra”, composed between 2016 and 2018, and premiered last June in Munich – is no exception. Anyone led by the title to expect sumptuous lyricism or rich Romantic horn writing will be disappointed. These are melodies in Lachenmann’s sense of the term, at times extremely noisy, at others right at the threshold of audibility.

The composer has described the genesis of My Melodies as follows: “I always have to do what I can’t do. The eight horns’ story was simple: during the rehearsals of my opera Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (The Little Match Girl), which calls for eight horns, there was a sectional rehearsal for the horns only. It sounded so beautiful – more beautiful than the whole opera. I thought, this is a new apparatus! There are no soloists in the classical sense, where each individual plays a virtuosic character or something similar. This has to do not with new sounds but with new listening ... But in order to adjust the antennae to this energy of listening, I first had to suspend the viewpoint of melody. That was one reason for eschewing “melodiousness”, or at least keeping it totally in check. Now everybody’s waiting for a melody and naturally I will disappoint them all.”

Lachenmann begins My Melodies with an explosive orchestral tutti, out of which there soon emerges a microtonally fanned-out horn sonority. The raucous writing is marked by lingering chords and whirling sounds, but individual melodic fragments are also continually taking shape. An ingenious dramaturgy is in operation at the sounds’ periphery, occasionally thinning out the texture to a point where only individual notes and noises are left. It is all but self-evident that with an instrument like the horn a central role is played by the breath. Indeed, this music opens up an enormous repertoire of auditory possibilities for the wind section: acoustical beats, clattering flutter-tonguing, airy noises. Along with these unusual sounds, Lachenmann’s scoring has offered him some other distinctive compositional possibilities: “There were dyads, tetrads and octads, and of course they wanted to be intonated and shaped. I began keeping track of the notes that weren’t being used in order to avoid obtrusive octave doublings and to explore new chordal relationships. Chord: that’s when the same musical sources collectively yield an interval complex whose notes begin and end more or less simultaneously. And so, for the first time in my life as a composer, I sat down at the piano and played the sounds that resulted.”

“Take them then, these songs” – Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony

“For some time now there has been much drumming and trumpeting inside of me (trumpet in C); I don’t know what will come of it.” With these words, Robert Schumann announced his Second Symphony to Felix Mendelssohn in September 1845. What these lines don’t indicate is that in the process of completing this work, Schumann would undergo a long and severe creative crisis. 1844 had been marked by a perilous existential crisis: during a concert tour of Russia and the Baltic region with Clara, he was both physically and mentally ill and was unable to compose. In the summer he sold the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the journal he had edited for ten years. Two months later, he suffered a complete breakdown, from which he managed only a very slow recovery.

In the autumn, during his convalescence, the couple travelled from Leipzig to Dresden. Their stay lengthened into months until the Schumanns finally decided to leave Leipzig permanently and settle in Dresden. The move was accompanied by a change in Robert’s compositional process. “From the year 1845, when I started inventing and working out everything in my head, a whole new manner of composing began to develop,” Schumann later wrote in his diary. He was planning to set portions of Goethe’s Faust but at first sketched only a few scenes of this work, which would not be completed until many years later. He studied Bach fugues and discovered the pedal-piano, a popular instrument at the time. But he was able to overcome his severe crisis, which lasted nearly two years, only by composing the Second Symphony.

There is no other work in Schumann’s output that approaches Beethoven’s formal thinking as closely as the Second Symphony. Its creator’s ambitious goal was to develop a process that culminated in the finale as well as to construct an arch that spanned this large-scale composition from beginning to end. To establish relationships between the movements, Schumann made use of more or less latent motivic connections. The motto exposed in the long introduction to the opening movement – a fanfare-like upward leap of a 5th on the brass – returns in the coda as well as in the Scherzo and the development section of the finale. The sections of the first movement in which the material is reworked – development and coda – are granted noticeably more weight than the exposition or recapitulation. The thematic working out, however, is based less on the themes of the exposition than on the material contained in the Sostenuto assai introduction. Exposition, development, recapitulation and coda become successive stages in the transformation of thematic figures. Thus the sonata form approaches the principle of variation of small thematic segments.

The restless, mercurial Scherzo, which comes second, has the features of a perpetuum mobile. It is also marked by generating its thematic idea out of an arpeggio, by a “clattering” rhythm and by a construction with two contrasting Trio sections. The following Adagio espressivo is in three-part song form, but the middle section is only eleven bars long and thus plays the role of an intermezzo. The broadly lyrical main idea is characterized by wide intervals.

The real focal point, where everything converges, is the last movement. Not only does the 5th-leap opening motto reappear but the preceding Adagio is also worked into the thematic unfolding. The exposition is followed by a strongly developmental section which ends with three C minor chords separated by general pauses. Then, instead of the expected recapitulation, a new motif is heard: Schumann eschews the movement’s principal theme in favour of an allusion, at first indirect, to Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte: “Nimm sie hin denn, dieser Lieder” – “Take them then, these songs”. Later the quote appears in its original shape and determines the thematic content of the rest of the movement. It dominates the coda of more than 300 bars before being combined in stretto with the brass motto, now lyrically extended.

Martin Demmler

Translation: Richard Evidon

Sir Simon Rattle was chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonie from September 2002 until June 2018. Even before taking up his post as principal conductor, Simon Rattle had already collaborated regularly with the Berliner Philharmoniker for fifteen years: he conducted the orchestra for the first time in November 1987 in Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Most recently, he conducted three staged performances of Bach’s St John Passion at the Philharmonie a week ago. In September 2017, Simon Rattle took up the position of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra. Rattle is also principal artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and works with leading orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Liverpool in 1955, Simon Rattle studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music. In 1980 he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, stepping up to music director from September 1990 until August 1998. In the concert hall and opera house, Simon Rattle’s extensive repertoire covers compositions ranging from the Baroque era to contemporary music. He has conducted operas by Rameau, Mozart, Puccini, Wagner, Debussy and Poulenc in Aix-en-Provence, London, Salzburg, New York, Baden-Baden and Berlin. Music education is an important part of Sir Simon’s work; the Education Programme of the Berliner Philharmoniker was established on his initiative. For this commitment, as well as for his artistic work, Simon Rattle has won many awards: In 1994 Simon Rattle was knighted by the Queen of England. He also received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, a knighthood in the French Legion of Honour and the British Order of Merit.

Stefan Dohr studied in Essen and Cologne, starting his professional career at the age of 19 as principal horn of the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra, during which time he also frequently appeared as a guest artist with Ensemble Modern. Further positions took him to the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin. In 1993, he joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in the same position. As a soloist and chamber musician, his interests extend to both familiar and lesser-known works from all periods. He has already been the dedicatee and given the world premieres of many horn concertos. Stefan Dohr is a member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin as well as the Berlin Philharmonic Octet. A passionate teacher, Stefan Dohr is a visiting professor at the Royal College of Music, the Sibelius Academy, and a permanent faculty member at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin.

Stefan de Leval Jezierski received his first horn lessons at the age of 15. Born in Boston, he studied at the North Carolina School of Arts and at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was taught by Myron Bloom. While still studying, the musician participated in concerts and tours with the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1976 he became principal horn in the orchestra of the Staatstheater Kassel. Two years later, he joined the Berliner Philharmoniker. As a soloist and chamber musician, Stefan de Leval Jezierski performs at major international music festivals in Europe, Asia and America. He is one of the founding members of the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin; in addition, he has been teaching at the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker for many years and is an honorary professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Thomas Jordans, who has been playing horn since he was ten years old, was born in Düsseldorf in 1972. He won several prizes at the “Jugend musiziert” competition. From 1991, he studied under Carlos Crespo, Walter Lexutt and Joachim Poeltl at the Robert Schumann School of Music and Media in Düsseldorf. In addition, he attended numerous master classes held by Erich Penzel and Frøydis Ree Wekre, among others. In 1997, he received a scholarship to the orchestra academy of the Berlin Staatskapelle, and has been a member of the orchestra since 1998. In addition to his orchestral work, Thomas Jordans is often a guest with other renowned orchestras such as the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Düsseldorf Symphoniker, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and the Berliner Philharmoniker, in whose ranks he played in, among others, Wagner’s Götterdämmerung which was performed in Aix-en-Provence and at the Salzburg Easter Festival. Jordans also devotes himself extensively to chamber music. He plays, for example, in the Preußens Hofmusik ensemble at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, and in LindenBrass, the brass ensemble of the Berlin Staatskapelle.

Marie-Luise Neunecker first studied musicology and German, then horn at Cologne University of Music. A prizewinner at several competitions – including the Deutscher Musikwettbewerb in Bonn (1982) and the International ARD International Competition in Munich (1983) – she was principal horn with the Bamberger Symphoniker and Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1989. In addition to her performances as a soloist with various radio orchestras (NDR, SWR, MDR, HR), the Bamberger Symphoniker, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, she devotes herself to chamber music. She regularly appears with partners such as Frank Peter Zimmermann, Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt, Antje Weithaas and Pierre-Laurent Aimard as well as the Zehetmair Quartet. György Ligeti wrote his Hamburg Concerto for Marie-Luise Neunecker, which she premiered in January 2001 and has since presented in several countries. From 1988 to 2004, Marie-Luise Neunecker was professor for horn in at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, and since then, she has been professor for horn at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin.

Georg Schreckenberger began playing horn at the age of 13. He initially received lessons at the music school in his home town of Mannheim. From 1987 onwards, he studied at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts under Marie-Luise Neunecker. In 1988, his first engagement took George Schreckenberger to the symphony orchestra of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne; in 1993 he became a member of the horn section of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Since 1992, the musician has participated several times in the Bayreuth Festival orchestra. From 2007 to 2017, Georg Schreckenberger taught at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin.

Klaus Wallendorf played horn with the Berliner Philharmoniker from 1980 until his retirement in 2016. Previously, he played in the orchestra of Deutsche Oper, as principal horn of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and in the same position with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. In addition, Klaus Wallendorf played in the Consortium Classicum for several decades. An ensemble member of German Brass since 1985, he participates in their concerts as horn player and compère. He is also “poet laureate and semi-official entertainer” to the Berliner Philharmoniker and several of their chamber music ensembles. In this capacity, he also appears as a cabaret artist in the ensemble “Lachmusik”. He is the author of the book Immer Ärger mit dem Cello (2012).

Sarah Willis, who was born in the US but grew up in Tokyo, Boston, Moscow and England, played piano for many years before she began playing the horn at the age of 14. She received her training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and in Berlin under the tutelage of her current Philharmoniker colleague Fergus McWilliam. From 1991 to 2001, Sarah Willis was second horn with the Staatskapelle Berlin. She has also played in other leading orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony and the London Symphony Orchestra. Sarah Willis has been a member of the horn section of the Berliner Philharmoniker since September 2001. She appears as a chamber musician in both this formation and in the Brass Ensemble of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In addition, she is involved in the orchestra’s education programme and regularly presents its events. Last but not least, Sarah Willis is passionate about music education, and makes full use of television, digital communication channels and social media to reach audiences world-wide.

Andrej Žust was born in Slovenia in 1984. He studied under Boštjan Lipovšek at the Ljubljana Music and Ballet Conservatory. The young horn player initially gained artistic inspiration from older colleagues such as Frøydis Ree Wekre, Hermann Baumann and Radovan Vlatković. While still studying, he won first prizes as a soloist and chamber musician at numerous national and international competitions, including at Povoletto (Italy) in 2001, and in 2002 at the Young Musicians Competition in Slovenia. In 2004, he became principal horn with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Ljubljana. In addition, Andrej Žust was a member of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra. His current chamber music activities are demonstrated by his concerts with the Ariart Wind Quintet, the soloists of the Chamber Orchestra Ljubljana and the Triumvirat ensemble. From February 2009 until January 2011, Andrej Žust received a scholarship with the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and was accepted into the horn section of the orchestra at the beginning of the 2011/2012 season.

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