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Fascination with the foreign and unknown can be as powerful a source of inspiration in the creative process as engaging with native traditions. For a long time, Paris was considered the musical capital of so-called “exoticism”, where there had been a strong interest in the world of the Middle East since Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign and the legendary World’s Fairs brought music from distant countries to the public. The gain in expressive possibilities often proved to be more decisive than the question of whether the information provided was actually first-hand. For example, Debussy and Ravel’s interest in the “Orient” was strongly informed by Russian music and Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1001 Nights fantasy Scheherazade.

The “Chinese” pieces by Fritz Kreisler and Giacomo Puccini also tell us more about the fantasies of the two composers than about real music-making in the Far East. In both cases, the cultural transfer took place in a roundabout way: While Kreisler’s knowledge was limited to a visit to a Chinese theatre in America, Puccini’s Turandot was based on a play by an Italian who had taken the material from a Persian tradition.

The two works on this playlist, performed by the Philharmoniker’s chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, are mirror images of each other as a dialogue between Europe and South America: in his early ballet music Alagoana, Bernd Alois Zimmermann was inspired by rhythms from the Amazon region. Heitor Villa-Lobos, in turn, combined the musical traditions of his homeland with compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach in his Bachianas brasileiras.

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