Kirill Petrenko and Frank Peter Zimmermann

19 Sep 2020

Berliner Philharmoniker
Kirill Petrenko

Frank Peter Zimmermann

  • Alban Berg
    Concerto for Violin and Orchestra “To the Memory of an Angel” (30 min.)

    Frank Peter Zimmermann violin

  • Johann Sebastian Bach
    Violin Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005: Largo (5 min.)

    Frank Peter Zimmermann violin

  • Antonín Dvořák
    Symphony No. 5 in F major, op. 76 (46 min.)

  • free

    Interview
    Frank Peter Zimmermann on Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel” (4 min.)

  • free

    Interview
    Kirill Petrenko in conversation with Albrecht Mayer (11 min.)

“Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto is a piece that gets under your skin,” says violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann. Devastated by the death of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius, the composer created a musical memorial to the young girl with this work, and at the same time created one of the most poignant concertos of the 20th century. Antonín Dvořák strikes a completely different mood in his Fifth Symphony – one that is cheerful, relaxed and pastoral. The work is dedicated to Hans von Bülow, the first chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Catastrophe and Idyll

Alban Berg dedicated his Violin Concerto “to the memory of an angel”. The angel’s name was Manon Gropius. She was the daughter of Gustav Mahler’s widow Alma from her marriage to the architect Walter Gropius. Manon contracted polio at the age of 17 and died a year later. To create a memorial for this lovely young woman, adored by all who knew her, Berg broke off work on his second opera Lulu. He was never to complete it because he himself died shortly after finishing the concerto. The homage to Manon became the composer’s legacy.

In this piece Berg was one of the first to apply his teacher Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-note serialism to a solo concerto, but in a way that also makes this compositional method accessible to musical laymen. Whereas Schoenberg carefully avoided fortuitously generated classic triads in order to minimize familiar musical associations, Berg consciously sought an overlap between major-minor harmony and dodecaphony. More than just a compositional device, it also deepens the work’s lyrical content by having traditional harmony and its dissolution suggest the dualism of life and death.

The first of the two movements, each divided into two parts, is a portrait of Manon’s complex nature. The music is at times dreamy, at others rustic, and it even makes room for a Carinthian ländler. In the second movement, the catastrophic outbreak of illness (a nine-tone fortissimo chord) and the young woman’s death are thematicized with a varied quotation from the Bach chorale “Es ist genug”. Finally, the violin loses itself in the highest heights above a reminiscence of the opening bars. Of this ending the German musicologist-philosopher Theodor W. Adorno wrote: “The leave-taking expressed in the music seems to be from the world, dreams and childhood itself.”

Antonín Dvořák, revered as a “Bohemian” composer, is one of the most underrated symphonists of the 19th century. The immense popularity he garnered with his Slavonic Dances led audiences to hear in his works what they were now expecting from him: folk music – and if not Czech then another variety, even presumed American. In fact, Dvořák very seldom quoted original folk music, and the cliché of an unspoiled nature boy and country musician could not be farther from the truth. His art is based on hard work and that in itself makes it often seem so effortless.

Dvořák composed the Fifth Symphony in five weeks during the summer of 1875. This was a period when – thanks not least to his champion Johannes Brahms – he was able to free himself from the drudgery of orchestral obligations (he played the viola), as well as from his teaching and organist duties, and devote himself increasingly to composition. His Fifth reflects mastery and self-assurance. A mood often described as “pastoral” is already evident in the opening bar, but soon further depths are revealed. For example, in the Andante, the cellos introduce a plaintive theme based on the dumka, a Slavonic folksong form, which is taken up by the violins and then the woodwind. The middle section brightens but the melancholic theme eventually re-enters, producing a simultaneity of opposites. The dancelike scherzo follows without a break, a manifestation of Dvořák’s attempts to link symphonic movements. The finale first calls everything into question. For 54 bars, A minor contends with the home key of F major as the main theme mutates and fires with both barrels: Dvořák was also a great dramatist. Only at the end does the turmoil yield to resolution: the trombones distinctly recall the pastoral theme from the first movement, reaffirming faith in the idyll.

Malte Krasting

Translation: Richard Evidon

Since the 2019/20 season, Kirill Petrenko has been chief conductor and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He received his training first in Russia, then in Austria. The international music world first became aware of him when he premiered Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung at the Meiningen Theater in 2001, directed by Christine Mielitz and designed by Alfred Hrdlicka, performed on four consecutive days. He conducted the cycle for the second time twelve years later at the Bayreuth Festival. At the same time, Kirill Petrenko took up his post as general music director of Bayerische Staatsoper, his third leading position at an opera house after Meiningen and the Komische Oper Berlin. He also made guest appearances at the world’s top opera houses (from the Wiener Staatsoper, Covent Garden in London and the Opéra National in Paris to the Metropolitan Opera in New York) as well as with the great international symphony orchestras – in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome, Chicago, Cleveland and Israel. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2006. Kirill Petrenko also appears with the Berliner Philharmoniker outside of Berlin – on tour and of course in the Digital Concert Hall. Selected performances are also available as recordings; after an already released CD/SACD with Tchaikovsky᾽s Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”, an edition now follows with symphonic works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Franz Schmidt and Rudi Stephan.

“I’m going to be a world famous violinist,” wrote Frank Peter Zimmermann when he just started school. The son of a family of musicians, he knew his vocation at an early age. His parents, both string players, gave him an appreciation of artistic excellence from childhood on through their own music-making and through recordings of great violinists such as Leonid Kogan and David Oistrach. This awareness, as well as technical brilliance, nuanced tone and great creative powers, formed the basis for Frank Peter Zimmermann’s path to the forefront of the violin world. Born in Duisburg in 1965, he began an impressive international career in 1983 following studies under Valery Gradow, a pupil of Leonid Kogan, and under Saschko Gawriloff and Herman Krebbers. At the age of 19 he made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker and showed himself to be – according to the Berliner Morgenpost – “self-confident, with a strong sound and lots of heart-melting string playing”. Frank Peter Zimmermann has since performed the great concertos of the 19th and 20th centuries with the orchestra plus the premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s en sourdine (2003). He is also a keen chamber musician. Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto occupies a special place in the repertoire of the violinist: alongside Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, it is – as the artist says – his “musical calling card”.

Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation in co-operation with Berliner Festspiele/Musikfest Berlin

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