Under the baton of Kirill Petrenko, the Berliner Philharmoniker will open the 2023/24 season with Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, a work that is particularly closely associated with the orchestra’s history. In addition to the composer himself, all chief conductors since Arthur Nikisch – with the exception of Claudio Abbado – have performed the tone poem with the Philharmoniker.
Ein Heldenleben is Strauss’s musical autobiography, written when he was only 34 years old. However, in the course of his young career, the composer had already tangled with numerous critics, who he humorously caricatures here in music. The third section with its extended violin solo, on the other hand, is a musical love letter to his wife Pauline. Not only is her charm audible, but also her capricious temperament. The tone poem, which according to Strauss depicts the hero’s struggle against his “adversaries”, contains quotations from numerous earlier works by the composer and culminates in “the hero’s retirement from the world and completion”. Fine words from a young man – and an outstanding talent: full of dramatic effects and subtlety at the same time, Strauss fully exploits the possibilities of the large symphony orchestra.
Max Reger dedicated his 1915 Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart to the “memory” of the Meininger Hofkapelle, which had to be dissolved for the duration of the First World War. Like Strauss and the Philharmoniker’s chief conductors Hans von Bülow and Kirill Petrenko, Reger was one of the musical directors of this renowned orchestra. The variations, whose theme comes from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eleventh Piano Sonata, is reminiscent of Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn – here as there, a classical melody is transposed into a wide variety of moods through artful transformations. However, its elegant and transparent orchestration makes Reger’s variations are above all a bow to Mozart himself. With regard to his earlier, sometimes highly dramatic works, Reger commented: “One cannot always drink heavy, dark Bordeaux – a crisp ‘Mosel’ is also very beautiful! We really need a lot, a lot of Mozart!”