At his Philharmonic debut in October 2018, Jakub Hrůša proved to be a gifted storyteller: when he performed, among other works, Antonín Dvořák’s symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, he presented a musical version of one of the best-known Czech folk tales. Now the Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony will return to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker for a second time, and he has again programmed a stirring tone poem by the Czech composer: the concert overture Othello, inspired by William Shakespeare’s drama of the same name and dealing with one of the most destructive sides of human existence: jealousy, thirst for revenge, anger, love, desperation, pain, and finally regret – Dvořák leads the titular hero through an extensive emotional spectrum.
Hector Berlioz also knows how to set extreme states of mind to music effectively. His scène lyrique Cléopâtre is about the last moments of the Egyptian queen before her suicide by snakebite. She recalls glory days and mourns the loss of her beauty and power. The mezzosoprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac, who is considered a specialist for the French repertoire, is returning to the Philharmonic after nearly 15 years to lend Cleopatra her voice. Berlioz proved in this work the revolutionary potential he had at the very beginning of his career as a composer. His eccentric style, admittedly, still found little support among his contemporaries.
The Cologne premiere of Béla Bartók’s grotesque ballet pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin provoked a downright scandal in 1926. In this work, the Hungarian composer reflects the apocalyptic attitude towards life prevailing at the time – with an aggressive motoric impulse, an atonal harmonic language and an expressive, unsettling tonal language. The ballet, from which Bartók compiled a concert version in suite form two years after the premiere, focuses on a young girl who is to be bartered away by unscrupulous pimps. Three moving stories, three gripping compositions.
The first piece on the programme creates a contrast: Mysterium času, in which Miloslav Kabeláč traces the phenomenon of time. The composer, born in Prague in 1908, had no prospect of success in his country during the National Socialist era and the Communist regime. That formed his style. “His pieces are studies of what music can do without any extra-musical help”, Hrůša explains. For him, Kabeláč is one of the most important composers of the 20th century.