“The Golden Twenties”: Kirill Petrenko conducts Weill and Stravinsky

13 Feb 2021
Online festival: The Golden Twenties

Berliner Philharmoniker
Kirill Petrenko

Michael Spyres, Ekaterina Semenchuk

  • Kurt Weill
    Symphony in One Movement (1st performance in the critical edition of the Kurt Weill Edition, editor: James Holmes) (24 min.)

  • Igor Stravinsky
    Oedipus rex (56 min.)

    Michael Spyres tenor (Oedipus), Ekaterina Semenchuk mezzo-soprano (Jocasta), Andrea Mastroni bass (Tiresias), Krystian Adam tenor (Shepherd), Derek Welton bass-baritone (Creon), bass (Messenger), Bibiana Beglau speaker, Men of the Rundfunkchor Berlin

  • free

    Kirill Petrenko in conversation with Martin Menking (16 min.)

The name Kurt Weill appears on concert programmes of the Berliner Philharmoniker as early as 1923 and then a few more times until 1933. The young composer’s path to the orchestra was certainly also smoothed by the fact that he was a student of Ferruccio Busoni, who was closely associated with the Philharmoniker, not least as a committed advocate of contemporary music. Weill’s First Symphony, premiered posthumously in 1957, will now be heard for the first time in a Philharmoniker concert under the baton of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko to launch the online festival “The Golden Twenties”. The work was written in 1921 and was inspired by a religious drama by the poet (and later GDR Minister of Culture) Johannes R. Becher. The dissonant chords that open the symphony as a kind of motto already reveal the ambition of the concept. The interwoven chorale passages at the end refer to Becher’s piece, which announces in its subtitle the “awakening of a people to God”.

As the second major work from the 1920s, Kirill Petrenko conducts Igor Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus rex. The composer’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek drama, written with Jean Cocteau, is sung in Latin, while the passages by the narrator are to be performed in the local language of each performance venue. In this way, the tragic plot about King Oedipus, who kills his father and marries his mother, simultaneously distances and draws in the audience. The influences Stravinsky refers to in his composition, which is characterised by underlying tension and formally subdued emotionality, include Baroque composers and Giuseppe Verdi.

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; most recently released was an edition with symphonic works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Franz Schmidt and Rudi Stephan.

The US tenor Michael Spyres is regarded as an outstanding singer in his field and performs at internationally renowned opera houses and festivals such as the Salzburg Festival. Spyres was born in Mansfield (Missouri). He studied first in the USA and later at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. The tenor first attracted international attention in 2008 as Otello at the Rossini Festival in Wildbad and as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at Deutsche Oper Berlin. In addition to numerous roles ranging from the Baroque to Mozart to Britten, he has made a name for himself particularly as a bel canto singer and in the French repertoire, and can be heard in a large number of recordings.

Ekaterina Semenchuk comes from Minsk and studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory. She made her debut at the Mariinsky Theatre while still a student. Her repertoire includes not only major Verdi roles such as Azucena (Il trovatore), Princess Eboli (Don Carlo), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) and Amneris (Aida), but also roles such as Marina (Boris Godunov) and the title role in Carmen. She sings at major international houses such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra de Paris, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden and at the Festivals in Salzburg and Baden-Baden.

Italian bass Andrea Mastroni began his career as a clarinettist before going on to study singing at the Istituto Claudio Monteverdi in Cremona. Guest engagements have taken him to the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Opéra national de Paris, the Teatro Real in Madrid, Zurich Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London. His repertoire includes roles such as Colline (La Bohème), Daland (Der fliegende Holländer), Prince Gremin (Eugen Onegin), Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte) and the title roles in Don Giovanni, Don Pasquale and Le nozze di Figaro.

Krystian Adam trained as a singing and music teacher in Wrocƚaw, Poland, and then continued his studies at the Conservatorio di Musica “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan. His repertoire focuses on operas and works of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which he collaborates with conductors such as Giovanni Antonini, Fabio Biondi, Teodor Currentzis and Václav Luks. Krystian Adam has performed at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the Teatro Real in Madrid, among others. In 2014, he made his debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden as the High Priest (Idomeneo). Under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Krystian Adam performed the title role in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms and on tour in Europe and the USA.

The Australian bass-baritone Derek Welton has made a name for himself primarily as a Wagner singer. In 2016, he made a guest appearance at the Semperoper Dresden under Christian Thielemann as The King’s Herald in Lohengrin and was subsequently engaged for the 2017 Bayreuth Festival as Klingsor (Parsifal). From 2015 to 2020, he was an ensemble member at Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he developed a broad repertoire. In the summer of 2020, he was acclaimed for his portrayal of Orest (Elektra) at the Salzburg Festival. As a concert singer, his repertoire ranges from Bach’s Passions to Tippett’s A Child of Our Time.

Bibiana Beglau trained as an actor at the Hamburg University of Music & Theatre. She has performed at the theatres in Düsseldorf and Zurich, at the Schaubühne in Berlin and at Hamburg’s Thalia Theatre, and has worked with directors such as Christoph Schlingensief, Einar Schleef, Frank Castorf, Luk Perceval and Thomas Ostermeier. From 2011 to 2019, she was part of the ensemble of the Residenztheater in Munich, and since then has been an ensemble member at the Burgtheater in Vienna. In addition to this work, she has also appeared in numerous film and television productions. For her role in Volker Schlöndorff’s film Die Stille nach dem Schuss (The Legend of Rita), she was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival.

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