31 Jan 2020

Berliner Philharmoniker
Paavo Järvi

Stefan Dohr

  • Igor Stravinsky
    Scherzo fantastique, op. 3 (13 min.)

  • Hans Abrahamsen
    Concerto for Horn and Orchestra − commissioned jointly by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the NTR Zaterdag Matinee, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Premiere (21 min.)

    Stefan Dohr french horn

  • Hector Berlioz
    Symphonie fantastique, op. 14 (59 min.)

  • free

    Stefan Dohr, Paavo Järvi and Hans Abrahamsen in conversation (18 min.)

Stefan Dohr, principal horn of the Berliner Philharmoniker, loves the classical and romantic repertoire. But his interest also extends to contemporary music, which he – as an interpreter and initiator of new works – intensively supports. Thus, he has premiered French horn concertos dedicated to him by Herbert Willi (2008), Jorge E. López (2009), Johannes Wallmann (2010), Toshio Hosokawa (2011) and Wolfgang Rihm (2014) –the concerto by Hosokawa, “Moment of Blossoming”, together with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Next up he will play another premiere with the orchestra, namely of a horn concerto by Hans Abrahamsen. The Danish composer, considered one of the leading figures on the contemporary music scene in his country, holds a multi-faceted musical dialogue with the past and cultivates an idiom of poetic and romantic intensity – whereby he refers in his works time and again to natural phenomena (as can be seen in titles like October, Snow, Woods, Storm og Stille etc.). The evening’s conductor is Paavo Järvi, who enthrals audiences around the globe with his differentiated interpretations bursting with energy. His love of music was handed down to him: born in Tallinn in 1962, son of the conductor Neeme Järvi, he first studied percussion and conducting, completing his education at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and with Leonard Bernstein at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. He has been the artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen for many years, and is chief conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, a role he has also taken on with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich starting this season.

After the interval, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Paavo Järvi will turn to the Symphonie fantastique byHector Berlioz, which, perhaps more than any other work in music history, deserves the genre description “symphonic poem”. The instrumental drama describes five “Episodes in the Life of an Artist”– not in reality, but rather in confused dreams. Heinrich Heine called the symphony “a bizarre sort of night piece” that is only “now and then illuminated by the sentimental whiteness of a woman’s robe fluttering to and fro or by a sulphur-yellow gleam of irony.” Indeterminate passions are captured in sound here, most radically in the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, the fifth and last movement of the symphony, which (as Berlioz reported) already overwhelmed his colleagues “by its satanic effect”.

A Life’s Work and a Turning Point

New music from three centuries

The orchestra sounds – Igor Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, op. 3

The 6th of February 1909 was to change the life of the 26-year-old Igor Stravinsky overnight. Until then he was virtually unknown in the music world. He had not attracted early attention with youthful inspirations but instead learned his compositional trade alone, in private lessons with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov during his legal studies. Two of Stravinsky’s orchestral scores were premiered on that fateful February day, however, at the highly acclaimed St Petersburg concert series of the conductor and pianist Alexander Siloti: the Scherzo fantastique op. 3 and Fireworks op. 4. Sergei Diaghilev, the celebrated impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, was sitting in the audience. He was so impressed that he immediately asked Stravinsky to orchestrate two pieces by Chopin, which were incorporated into the ballet Les Sylphides. Shortly afterwards Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to compose his first full-length ballet score, for the Firebird. One of the most productive artistic friendships of the 20th century began.

Why was Diaghilev so captivated by these “journeyman’s pieces” of the young Stravinsky, particularly the Scherzo fantastique? If we compare the Scherzo, which was written between June of 1907 and March of 1908, with the three Russian ballets composed only a short time later, it seems even more conventional – its surreally iridescent tonal language, which still exudes the spirit of the fin de siècle, and the brutal radicalism of the Rite of Spring are worlds apart. On the other hand, Stravinsky’s early work already demonstrates the composer’s unique feeling for instrumental colours: the score calls for triple or quadruple winds, divided strings, three harps and celesta, and the various timbres are distinctively brought out. Fifty years after the Scherzo fantastique was completed, Stravinsky conducted it again himself and was pleased: “The orchestra ‘sounds’, the music is light in a way that is rare in compositions of the period.”

The horn sings – Hans Abrahamsen’s Horn Concerto

The goal of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen is also to write light music that sounds pure and clear. And, in fact, anyone who hears his song cycle of Ophelia scenes Let me tell you, which was premiered by Barbara Hannigan and the Berliner Philharmoniker under Andris Nelsons in 2013, is astonished at the ethereal beauty of this sound world.

There is also a connection between his most recent work and Let me tell you. At the time of the world premiere, in December of 2013, Abrahamsen offered to compose a concerto for Stefan Dohr, the principal horn of the Philharmoniker. Although a few years passed before the Danish composer could begin work on it, he completed the concerto in summer of 2018. “Stefan Dohr visited me in Copenhagen for two days,” Abrahamsen recalls. “I explained to him what I had in mind, and he showed me what is possible on his instrument. Stefan has tremendous skill and an incredible imagination, so I made a lot of notes during our meeting. Afterwards I withdrew, however. During the composition process I have to be completely in my own world. We didn’t meet again until September of 2019 in Berlin. I showed Stefan the score, and he played the solo part for me. It was wonderful.”

Magic and nature are the two elements that Abrahamsen associates most strongly with the horn, much more than the hunt or its brassy sound. Naturally, he thinks of German Romanticism; that is also apparent from the many German-language titles of his works, such as Märchenbilder Fairy-tale scenes, Schnee Snow and Winternacht Winter’s night. “I could also have called the concerto Wald Forest,” he says. But he preferred to stay with the neutral generic term. He wanted to emphasize the pastoral quality of the horn, he admits, and also introduce melodies which otherwise rarely play a role in new music. “For the horn I compose very much like I do for the voice, which also passes through different registers. I was able to draw on the experience I gained with my opera The Snow Queen again in the Horn Concerto, which one could also call an opera in three scenes. The horn sings here.”

Abrahamsen describes the first movement as a slowly flowing river with an expansive melody in the solo horn. The character changes in the second movement, however, which is restless and fast: “A storm builds up and reaches its culmination, then everything calms down and becomes quiet again,” he says, outlining the development. “The finale begins very slowly but becomes more dramatic towards the end and soars upwards. At the close I add a couple of short greetings to the two great masters of the horn concerto, Mozart and Richard Strauss. But I don’t want to reveal any more yet.”

The world goes under – Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, op. 14

Hector Berlioz was an incomparable sound magician who caused a revolution in musical history, particularly with his Symphonie fantastique of 1830. First of all, that came about because he employed instrumental effects which had never been used before: from rippling harps (second movement) to an offstage oboe (third movement) to the col legno played with the back of the bow clattering of the strings (fifth movement). In addition, he also extended the boundaries of the entire genre, because he composed an orchestral drama in five movements or acts and gave it a highly subjective extramusical programme: in the Symphonie fantastique Berlioz recounts his own unhappy love story – a musical ego trip lasting nearly an hour.

Berlioz called the work “an episode in the life of an artist” and wrote a plot for it which describes in great detail what happens in each of the five movements. The “hero” is a young musician who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who is unattainable to him. He encounters her again at a ball, where he sees her dancing a waltz. He then retreats into seclusion but even there cannot forget his beloved. In his despair, he takes opium in order to ease his pain. But under its influence he is overcome by terrible delirious fantasies. He dreams that he has murdered his beloved and has been sentenced to death. He is beheaded on the scaffold with a guillotine. Finally, he witnesses a witches’ sabbath at midnight, a hellish orgy during which his beloved joins in the dancing and the world descends into madness.

In order to depict these events, Berlioz devised a new musical technique: he introduced a distinctive main theme which reappears in all five movements. This idée fixe is the portrait of his beloved and is always heard when the artist thinks about her or sees her in front of him. Since Berlioz set his own fate to music in the Symphonie fantastique, the idée fixe also refers to an actual person: the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, whom Berlioz encountered for the first time in 1827. An English theatre company was appearing in Paris at that time and sent France’s intellectual elite into a Shakespeare frenzy with performances of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. After the company moved on, Berlioz was left alone in his delirium of love and got his worries off his chest by composing the Symphonie fantastique. Perhaps it was this emotional euphoria that enabled him to attempt all sorts of experiments with orchestral timbres. In short, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique is a spectacle for the ears – and, quite literally, music for the future.

Susanne Stähr

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Paavo Järvi was born in Tallinn in 1962 and studied percussion and conducting at the conservatory in his home town. In 1980 he emigrated to the USA and completed his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and – with Leonard Bernstein – at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. After positions as principal guest conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi was chief conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2011, where he still has ties as “Music Director Laureate”. In 2004, he took over the artistic direction of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and from 2006 to 2013 he has also been chief conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and from 2010 until 2016 he was music director of the Orchestre de Paris. Since the start of the 2015/2016 season he is chief conductor the NHK Symphony Orchestra, and starting this season he has taken on the same role with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich. The Estonian, who has been honoured with numerous awards, including the prestigious “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French Ministry of Culture and the Order of the White Star by the President of Estonia, is also a welcome guest at renowned orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Vienna and the New York Philharmonic. The artist is particularly interested in the music of Estonian composers such as Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Lepo Sumera and Eduard Tubin. Paavo Järvi’s artistic work is documented in many recordings, several of which have won awards. He gave his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in February 2000 and last conducted the orchestra in October 2019 with works by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Schumann.

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. 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. In addition, he has collaborated as a soloist with leading conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Marc Albrecht, Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Sir Simon Rattle, John Storgårds and Christian Thielemann, and has performed with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo, Shanghai and Osaka Philharmonic Orchestras and the NHK Symphony Orchestra (Tokyo). As well as performing the Classical and Romantic works for horn, he has been the dedicatee and given the world premieres of many horn concertos, for instance by Herbert Willi (2008), Jorge E. López (2009), Johannes Wallmann (2010), Toshio Hosokawa (2011) and Wolfgang Rihm (2014). Stefan Dohr is a member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin as well as the Berlin Philharmonic Octet and has performed alongside artists such as Ian Bostridge, Mark Padmore, Maurizio Pollini, Lars Vogt, Kirill Gerstein, Kolja Blacher and Guy Braunstein. A passionate teacher, Stefan Dohr is a visiting professor at the Royal College of Music, the Sibelius Academy, and at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin.

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