Monteverdi Set Human Emotion to Music

(New York Times) —  More than any other composer of his time, Claudio Monteverdi liberated the human voice to express the most intense personal emotions. His “L’Orfeo,” which had its premiere in 1607, is widely regarded as the first great opera. But in the madrigals — short poetry settings that were sometimes woven into dramatic sequences — Monteverdi had already created an unprecedented synthesis between words and music. And his progressive style spilled over into church music.

This season in Europe, to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, early music ensembles are exploring the composer’s oeuvre in all its breadth. Performances include I Fagiolini presenting Monteverdi’s lesser-known vespers (the 1641 “Selva morale e spirtuale”) at the Edinburgh International Festival on Aug. 19, and Les Arts Florissants in a selection from the third and fourth books of madrigals at the Festival in the Gardens of William Christie on Aug. 21 and 23.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir are on tour with a semi-staged trilogy of Monteverdi’s three surviving operas — “L’Orfeo,” “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” and “L’incoronazione di Poppea” — which arrives in Salzburg on July 26 and Lucerne on Aug. 22. […]

Mondparsifal Alpha 1-8, Theater an der Wien, Vienna — Wagner deconstructed

(Financial Times) — The flower maidens give Hitler salutes. The magician Klingsor fornicates with a giant teddy bear. Parsifal prances in knee-length leather boots and a red bikini holster as the main melody from the chorus “Komm, komm, holder Knabe!” emerges to jazzy percussion and warped, glassy harmonies enhanced by accordion and electric synthesisers.

Wagner conceived his Parsifal exclusively for performance in Bayreuth. Thanks to a falling-out between the current festival administration and performance artist Jonathan Meese over a staging that was to take place last year, the opera is now enjoying a different fate at the Wiener Festwochen: Mondparsifal Alpha 1-8, a collaboration between Meese and Austrian composer Bernhard Lang, rewrites and rescores the original as a journey in which Parsifal is “redeemed from the redeemers”.

The Kingdom of the Grail is relocated to the moon, where the knights resemble deranged, Star Trek-like explorers. Kundry emerges first as a Wagner lookalike in a floppy beret, later as the science fiction film character Barbarella. Rather than dying for her sins, she survives in the final scene to dance with Parsifal. […]

For the Vienna Philharmonic, Summer Means Schönbrunn

(New York Times) —  When the Vienna Philharmonic first performed on the park grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace in 2004, the event was intended as a one-time celebration of the European Union’s expansion in Eastern Europe. The “Concert for Europe” was such a success, however, that it became an annual fixture, attracting local audiences, tourists and television viewers around the world.

Like the famed New Year’s Concert at the Musikverein, the Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn, as it is now called, has become an important part of the Philharmonic’s brand. The open-air event, which is on Thursday this year, attracts an audience of up to 100,000 and is broadcast to over 80 countries, not far behind the 90 countries reached by the New Year’s Concert.

As of last year, through a partnership with Vienna Tourism, the program is also streamed to plazas in four selected cities, this year’s being Barcelona, Warsaw, Seoul and Beijing. But perhaps most important, performing free of charge in a relaxed setting has opened the storied orchestra to a broader audience at home.

“The event attracts listeners who don’t necessarily go to classical concerts,” said Andreas Grossbauer, the Philharmonic chairman and first violinist. “The New Year’s Concert is of course more exclusive. Tickets are very expensive. Here we try to do exactly the opposite.” […]

Medea, Komische Oper Berlin — dramatic weight

(Financial Times) —  Well before Medea takes matters into her own hands, fury spills out from the orchestra. The haughty coloratura of Kreusa, girlfriend of the protagonist’s husband, Jason, provokes dark premonitions from the growling strings. “No other mother needs be,” declares Medea.

As per the 19th-century play by Franz Grillparzer on which composer Aribert Reimann bases his libretto, it is not the gods’ will but sheer human force that wreaks havoc on Corinth. Armed with the sacred Golden Fleece and the power to give and take life, Medea will murder her two children and flee to Delphi.

Conceived as a female counterpart to Lear, Reimann’s most widely performed opera, Medea was first heard in 2010 at the Vienna State Opera and received its German premiere in Frankfurt that year. It has now arrived at the Komische Oper Berlin in a new staging, although the evening’s musical standards more easily justify the occasion. While the director Benedict Andrews fleshes out the characters’ turbulent emotional lives, the stage aesthetic threatens to undermine the opera’s dramatic weight. […]

Concerts Celebrate Isang Yun, a Musical Bridge Between Asia and Europe

(New York Times) — Today’s classical music world is not foreign to composers who fuse their Asian roots with Western avant-garde techniques, from Toshio Hosokawa to Unsuk Chin. But in 1966, when the Korean composer Isang Yun made his international breakthrough with the orchestral work “Réak,” at Germany’s Donaueschingen Festival, harmonies imitating an East Asian mouth organ were radical.

Born in what is now South Korea, Mr. Yun was an activist for the reunification of the North and South after the division of his home country in 1945. He moved to West Berlin in 1957 to study at the Hochschule für Musik. A decade later, he was abducted and held as an enemy of the state by the South Korean military regime of Park Chung-hee until protests from the West German Foreign Ministry and leading musical figures, including the composer Igor Stravinsky and the conductor Herbert von Karajan, led to his release. Mr. Yun became a West German citizen after returning to West Berlin in 1969.

If both North and South Korea claim him as a national composer, it was the North that offered him a platform during his lifetime — by 1990, the capital, Pyongyang, had established a festival, institute and ensemble in Mr. Yun’s name. He tried to move back to South Korea on the occasion of a festival in his honor in 1994, but the trip fell through because of complications with the authorities. […]


Building the Future

(Symphony Magazine) — From Lucerne to Los Angeles to Shanghai, the 21st century has seen a boom in new concert hall architecture. This season alone in Germany brought the opening of the €789 million Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Boulez Hall at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, and the Musikforum Ruhr in Bochum. In Paris, La Seine Musicale—a €170 building designed by Shigeru Ban in the suburbs of western Paris—opens its doors on April 22, just two years after the opening of the Philharmonie de Paris and three years after the inauguration of the Grand Auditorium at Maison de la Radio France.

… As the architecture historian Victoria Newhouse concludes in her 2012 book Site and Sound, “costly, high-profile” classical music venues “are replacing museums as linchpins of urban expansion and tools of global politics and cultural economics” in the twenty-first century.  But Newhouse also notes a “puzzling paradox”: the trend occurs “at a time of what appears to be declining attendance and aging audiences, together with the preference of many young people for less formal environments.” But is it a paradox? Halls from the New World Center in Miami to La Seine Musicale in Paris are intentionally deploying their new facilities to introduce innovative programming and attract new audiences. […]

Visual Magic Hits, Misses in Ravel-Stravinsky Bill

(Classical Voice North America) — A talking tea-pot, a wounded tree, dancing math equations–there is hardly a stage work that would lend itself better to animated film than Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges. Enter the British company 1927 (animator Paul Barritt, writer Suzanne Andrade, and performer Esme Appleton), which specializes in juxtaposing sets of tailor-made cartoons with live action. In its first foray into opera with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Komische Oper Berlin in 2012, the wilder effects included Pamina’s ascent in butterfly wings after her suicide attempt and flying pink elephants that led Papageno to Papagena. The production was a blockbuster at home and later traveled as far as London and Los Angeles.

As seen on Jan. 28 at the Komische Oper in a double bill with Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka, 1927’s palette of imagery is even better suited to Ravel’s fantasy world in which the damaged objects of a boy’s bedroom come to life and haunt him until he understands the meaning of virtue.  The Boy (Nadja Mchantaf) first appears in pure animation until he is punished by his mother and enters the world of spirits. Perched on a platform in front of the projection, he appears to soar through the cosmos. Nevertheless, 1927’s imagination did not reach its full potential until subsequent tableaux.  […]



Verdi’s Requiem, Philharmonie, Berlin – ‘Serenity and Commotion’


(Financial Times) — Marek Janowski had big shoes to fill when he stepped up to the podium of the Philharmonie. This Verdi Requiem, which brought together the Berlin Philharmonic and Rundfunkchor Berlin with top soloists from Italy, was originally planned as a guest appearance for Riccardo Chailly, but the conductor cancelled for health reasons. And so Janowski, best known in Berlin for his recently concluded tenure with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, returned to the Philharmonic for the first time since 1994.

The Requiem thrives on a combination of operatic intensity and spiritual introspection. Verdi’s instrumentation was never more economic: The music plunges into the circles of hell and rises back above the clouds within a few pages, never providing easy answers about life or death. While the evening vacillated between the serenity and commotion that are the score’s extremes, Janowski did not galvanize the performance into a convincing dramatic whole. […]

Recognition for a Composer Who Captured a Century’s Horrors

(New York Times) — If the music of Dmitri Shostakovich chronicles political repression in Stalinist Russia, that of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, his contemporary and close friend, is a testimony to the horror that swept through Europe in the 20th century. Since the first full staging of his opera “The Passenger” at the Bregenz Festival in Austria six years ago, the composer has begun to overcome his reputation as a second-rate Shostakovich. But Weinberg’s first stage work, which he never lived to see performed, is only one of many compositions that deserve to be posthumously enshrined in the 20th-century canon. Now, the International Mieczyslaw Weinberg Society, founded by the conductor Thomas Sanderling and the violinist Linus Roth in the summer of 2015, hopes to create a place for the composer in the standard repertoire. In addition to gathering musicians and scholars under the aegis of the honorary president, Irina Shostakovich (widow of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich), their activities include premiere performances and recordings. […]


In Hamburg, a New Musical Landmark for a City With Plans


(New York Times) — After a delay of six years and about a tenfold increase in costs, a new classical music performance space here is preparing to open its doors. The Elbphilharmonie, a glass-paneled building mounted atop a former warehouse, includes not just two concert halls but a four-star hotel, a restaurant and residential apartments. On Nov. 4, a foyer carved out between the old and new buildings — called the Plaza — will open to the public, offering views from 121 feet above the Norderelbe River. The Elbphilharmonie, by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, rises 360 feet above the city like waves of quicksilver and overtakes the Radisson Blu Hotel as its tallest building. The musical program begins on Jan. 11, when the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (recently renamed to reflect its new residence) and the international soloist Jonas Kaufmann inaugurate the main hall with a world premiere by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm. The Elbphilharmonie is “a light tower for this city-in-progress,” Jacques Herzog, one of the architects, said in a phone interview from Basel, Switzerland. The hall is part of HafenCity, a development project that is increasing the size of the city center by 40 percent. Mr. Herzog said that along with a revitalized music scene, he hoped the Plaza would create “a new meeting place for everyone in the city.” […]