In Berlin, Reinventing an Operatic Tradition

(New York Times)  — It is not every day that a stage director becomes artist in residence with an orchestra — particularly not with an institution as steeped in tradition as the Berlin Philharmonic. But Peter Sellars has an unusual stake in the Philharmonic’s recent history. In 2010, he staged the J.S. Bach “St. Matthew Passion,” a sacred work more readily associated with church services. The production, which traveled to New York, London, Lucerne, Switzerland, and Salzburg, Austria, spawned a production of the “St. John Passion” in February 2014. Riding on the success, the orchestra has welcomed Mr. Sellars back for a season-long residency. Alongside works by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho and the late Canadian modernist Claude Vivier, the centerpiece is a production of Debussy’s only opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande,” which returns the mezzo Magdalena Kozena and baritone Christian Gerhaher of the Passions to starring roles.  […]


Die Dreigroschenoper, Theater an der Wien, Vienna — ‘Driven by display, not depth’


(Financial Times)  — Kurt Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) was not conceived for performance in an opera house. So it may seem ironic that the Theater an der Wien has chosen “the play with music”, as the composer and playwright Bertolt Brecht coined the work, to commemorate its 10th anniversary as an opera company. With the exception of Austrian stage and film actor Tobias Moretti, as the gangster Macheath, all cast members have classical training. While their polished voices assure that no melody will be out of tune, Brecht’s streetwise characters here lack the grit and biting irony from which the stage work lives. Polly Peachum (Nina Bernsteiner), who marries Macheath, is so straight-laced that one can hardly believe she is the daughter of a man who steals from beggars, even as she strips down to a boulevard pirate costume in the song “Seeräuberjenny.” […]

Urbild aller Männerchöre

(Berliner Morgenpost)  — Das Archiv der Sing-Akademie war nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg jahrzehntelang verschwunden. 1999 wurde die Kriegsbeute durch ein Forscherteam der Harvard University in Kiew wiederentdeckt. Nach politischen Verhandlungen kehrte das Archiv 2001 nach Berlin zurück. Die Musikforscher staunten: In den 241 Kisten befanden sich Autographe, Abschriften und einige seltene Notendrucke. Es sind überwiegend Erstdrucke mit handschriftlichen Widmungen und Anmerkungen. Das ist der Notenschatz des ersten, 1791 gegründeten gemischten Chores in Deutschlands. Die Sing-Akademie hatte nicht nur das frühbürgerliche Musikleben, sondern auch das Sozialgefüge Preußens mitgeprägt. Eine Neuentdeckung ist bei den Forschungen jetzt ans Licht gekommen: Neben dem ersten gemischten Chor der bürgerlichen Welt entstand unter dem Dach der Sing-Akademie auch das Urbild aller Männerchöre: die von Akademie-Leiter Carl Friedrich Zelter 1809 ins Leben gerufene Liedertafel, die nach neuesten Forschungen sogar zum Kern des bildungsbürgerlichen Pflichtprogramms gehörte. […]


Restoring the Legacy of a Composer


(New York Times)  —  When Giacomo Meyerbeer died during rehearsals of his last opera, “L’Africaine,” in 1863, his style of music drama served as a model across Europe. But a combination of anti-Semitism, nationalist aesthetics and financial considerations caused the Berlin-born composer’s stage works to fall out of fashion by the early 20th century. While such singers as Plácido Domingo and Shirley Verrett rediscovered Meyerbeer after World War II, it became standard to perform his operas with substantial cuts. And until recently, this revival took place outside Germany. The Deutsche Oper Berlin hopes to reverse this development with a cycle spanning several seasons. […]

 „Was nicht digital ist, das verschwindet irgendwann“ 

(Berliner Morgenpost)  — “Platten gibt es nicht mehr”, sagt Till Janczukowicz in seinem Berliner Büro in Mitte. “Sie waren ein physisches Transportmittel, aber heute und in Zukunft passiert alles digital.” Der langjährige Klassikmanager (Columbia Artists, Vermont Classics) ist davon überzeugt, mit der Plattform das richtige Unternehmensmodell in einer sich wandelnden Plattenindustrie gefunden zu haben. Bei ihm sollen die Musiker stärker am Umsatz beteiligt werden als bei bisherigen Streamingportalen. […]


The Two Kurts : Weill as avant-garde composer and populist


(Listen)  — Whether writing for the streets of New York or Berlin, Kurt Weill sought to connect with his audience in the here and now. “If you are a theater composer, the only way to get your work produced is if an audience can understand and appreciate it,” Kim Kowalke, president of the Kurt Weill Foundation, tells Listen. And Weill’s audiences could not have been more different. While The Threepenny Opera is now canonized on both sides of the Atlantic, it wasn’t long ago that Americans remained largely ignorant of Weill’s modernist works before his emigration to the United States, while Europeans snubbed his enormous output in American musical theater.  […]

A Berlin Institution’s Lively Shift

(New York Times)  —  On a recent evening at the Konzerthaus here, audience members chatted with members of the orchestra as they tuned their instruments. The stage of the main hall had been lowered and rows of velvet upholstered seating removed, everyday chairs forming wide concentric circles around a wooden podium. “I have to make sure I can see all the musicians!” the conductor, Ivan Fischer, joked into the microphone. The concert series, “Mittendrin,” or Right in the Middle, is one of several experimental formats the Konzerthaus Berlin has introduced since Mr. Fischer’s arrival as music director in 2012. […]


When Opera takes on the Big Issues


(Financial Times)  —  Big-busted celebrities. The Twin Towers. Nuclear physics. Opera in recent decades hasn’t been afraid to grapple with the most violent, vulgar and unsettling issues of our time, lifting characters from the news and setting them to music. …The English National Opera last month premiered Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds, a “spiritual and poetic drama based on the events of 9/11”, in the composer’s words. It follows Christopher Theofanidis’s 2011 opera Heart of a Soldier, about a security chief who led more than 2,000 people to safety that day. Now, a new opera at Milan’s La Scala takes on a current issue of even greater consequence: climate change. […]

New Shostakovich Recordings Highlight Composer’s Ambiguity

(Wall Street Journal)  — When  Paavo Järvi conducted two rarely performed  Shostakovich cantatas in Tallinn, Estonia, three years ago, an outcry in the media forced him to hire a bodyguard. This episode highlighted both the ambiguity of the music, written in the shadow of Stalin, and the sensitivity that remains in the Baltic country, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  […]

Paavo Jarvi High Res 1 - credit Ixi Chen

Pierre Boulez’s Life in Service to Music


(New York Times)  — Few musicians in history have been as influential within their lifetimes as Pierre Boulez. As a composer and theorist, he shaped the path of modernism in postwar Europe. As a conductor, he redefined concert programming. As an educator and administrator, he oversaw the creation of groundbreaking music facilities.  […]