François-Xavier Roth and Tabea Zimmermann
10 Oct 2020
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Symphony in D major, Wq 183 No. 1 (13 min.)
Der Schwanendreher, Concerto on old folk songs for viola and small orchestra (28 min.)
Tabea Zimmermann viola
Johann Sebastian Bach
Sonata for Viola da Gamba in D Major, BWV 1028: Andante (6 min.)
Tabea Zimmermann viola, Marie-Pierre Langlamet harp
Divertimento for String Orchestra, Sz 113 (30 min.)
Tabea Zimmermann in conversation with Julia Gartemann (15 min.)
Roads to Freedom
When people referred to the “Great Bach” in the 18th century, they did not mean Johann Sebastian, but rather his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The composer and harpsichord virtuoso, who first served at the court of Frederick the Great and was then appointed music director in Hamburg, won fame throughout Europe particularly because of his improvisations, in which he boldly put his artistic credo into practice: “One must play from the soul, not like a trained bird.” Bach stands out like a bird of paradise in the grey area of the transition from the Baroque to Viennese Classicism. His compositional originality is revealed in sharp contrasts, abrupt changes of mood, harmonic audacity and unexpected melodic progressions. That is also true of his last four symphonies, composed in 1775/1776, in which he expanded the string orchestra with luminous wind colours, in keeping with the expressivity of the Sturm und Drangstyle. Bach himself considered this series, the first work of which we hear at this concert, the pinnacle of his symphonic oeuvre.
“It seems to me just as impossible to struggle against the apparatus mobilized to defame me as it is unworthy to put myself on the same level to defend my work. I rely on the power that is the essence of my life: music,” Paul Hindemith wrote on 9 December 1934. Three days earlier, Joseph Goebbels had publicly denounced him as an “atonal noisemaker”; the violist and composer was threatened with being barred from practicing his profession in Germany. Outwardly, he faced the hostility with the support of prominent advocates such as Wilhelm Furtwängler. Privately, he planned his inevitable departure, presaged by his Viola Concerto, composed in 1935, with the enigmatic title Der Schwanendreher (The Swan Turner). During the work, the solo viola interprets expressive lines from medieval German folk tunes, on which Hindemith, as a “minstrel”, “improvises and fantasizes”, as he explains in the introduction: “Happiness is everywhere” (first movement) – “I cannot bear it any longer” – “I have such a sad day” (second movement). Hindemith finally emigrated to Switzerland in the summer of 1938.
He felt “like a musician of olden times, the invited guest of a patron of the arts,” Béla Bartók wrote when he visited the conductor and entrepreneur Paul Sacher in August of 1939 in the idyllic Swiss Alps, where he composed a Divertimento for string orchestra commissioned by Sacher. An old, bygone world also emerges in the outer movements of the three-part work. Dancelike, at times audibly inspired by Bartók’s folk music studies, on the one hand they evoke the style of Mozart’s entertaining divertimentos, and on the other, the Baroque concerto grosso principle, with its interplay between solo groups and orchestral tutti. The middle movement provides a striking contrast – an oppressively sombre Molto adagio in which the Second World War, which broke out a few days later, seems to cast its threatening shadow. The Divertimento was the last work that Bartók composed in Europe; after his native Hungary joined the Nazi regime, he fled to the US in 1940.
“A concert programme is always something special: you can experience the familiar in a different way and discover something new,” is the motto of François-Xavier Roth, and the French conductor is famous for his unconventional programming. For example, for his Philharmoniker debut in 2015, he presented a programme of French music spanning three centuries with works by Lully, Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel and Varèse. His aim is to change the way both orchestral musicians and audiences listen to the unusual mixture of known and unknown compositions. This should – according to the conductor – influence the perspective on the current repertoire. Born in Paris in 1971, François-Xavier Roth grew up at a time when, thanks to Pierre Boulez, the French metropolis was a centre for the musical avant-garde. Through his father, organist at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica among others, he also became acquainted with Early music, and so from childhood on, he lived in the inspiring interplay between musical history and the present. In 2003, Roth founded the orchestra Les Siècles which performs on both new and old instruments, depending on the work. Since 2015, Roth has been general music director of the City of Cologne, conducting the Gürzenich Orchestra and Oper Köln. He is also principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and associate artist of the Philharmonie de Paris.
Tabea Zimmermann, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s artist in residence this season and winner of the 2020 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, describes herself not as a violist but as a “musician with a viola”. She sees herself first and foremost as a translator of the musical notation: “For this I need a broad repertoire of expressive possibilities, which I constantly grind and polish.” This attitude, as well as her irrepressible joy of playing and technical virtuosity, form the basis for her global career as a soloist and chamber musician. Tabea Zimmermann grew up in the Black Forest and started playing the viola at the age of three because the violin, cello and piano were already accounted for by her siblings. At the age of 21, she became Germany’s youngest university professor in Saarbrücken, and today she teaches at the Hanns Eisler School of Music Berlin. She has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker as a soloist and chamber musician since 1992. The conductor François-Xavier Roth is also one of her long-standing artistic partners. Both are also united by a passion for contemporary music. As artist in residence, she recently premiered Wolfgang Rihm᾽s Stabat Mater with baritone Christian Gerhaher. Her residency also focuses on the work of Paul Hindemith. Her goal is to “create a pleasurable listening experience” through her reading of his music.