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2021/11/08

Work of the Week – Chaya Czernowin: Atara

The Corona pandemic has presented great challenges to humankind and created a sense of powerlessness. Chaya Czernowin expressed her impressions of this in her new work Atara, a lament for orchestra and two amplified voices. The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere on 9 November 2021 at the Wien Modern Festival with Christian Karlsen and soloists Sofia Jernebrg, soprano and Holger Falk, baritone. 

Poet Zohar Eitan as inspiration for Atara by Chaya Czernowin

When Czernowin began working on Atara in early 2020, she had no idea that the world would come to a standstill shortly after. The work was originally intended to be a lament about the human compulsion to control the environment and nature. However, due to the Corona crisis, it has turned into a play that reflects the atmosphere of the lockdown and the loss of control during a pandemic. The Israeli composer was inspired by a poem that was written by her friend Zohar Eitan, which provides the text for Atara (Hebrew for: Crown).

In Atara, the orchestra moves slowly and forcefully in huge independent blocks. Opposing this, the singers and their chamber instrumental formation are fragile, lost in the huge spaces suddenly opened up by the orchestra. Chaya Czernowin

The German premiere of Atara will take place at the “viva musica” event series with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich during the 2022/23 season.

photo: Christopher McIntosh

2021/11/01

Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Cziffra Psodia

5 November 2021 marks the 100th birthday of Georges Cziffra. After Liszt, no other composer represented the Hungarian style better than him and no existing composition was difficult enough for the legendary virtuoso. 

On Cziffra’s birthday, Peter Eötvös’ new piano concerto Cziffra Psodia will receive its world premiere to celebrate the centenary. Soloist Janós Balász and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will perform the piece under the baton of Mikko Franck at Budapest’s MüPa concert hall. 

I wrote the piano concerto on the occasion of Georges Cziffra’s 100th birthday. My family had personal connections to him and I had the opportunity to get to know him when I was still a child. Cziffra’s whole life was one of success and tragedy. It was rhapsodic and dramatic. This is precisely the atmosphere I have tried to create in my piano concerto. The characteristic, metallic rhythm heard in the first movement is reminiscent of the work in the quarry during his imprisonment. The later, meditative state of the moments of his withdrawal from the public has been composed in three quiet cadenzas. Each movement ends with a short violin solo, a personal tribute. Peter Eötvös

On 7 November, the French premiere of Cziffra Psodia will be presented in Paris at the Maison de la Radio et de la Musique. Swiss and Norwegian premieres with Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra are scheduled for 2022/2023. 

photo: Tibor Bozi

2021/10/26

Work of the Week – Paul Dessau: Die Verurteilung des Lukullus

On Monday 1st November 2021, the opera Die Verurteilung des Lukullus (“The condemnation of Lucullus”) by Paul Dessau will be performed at Staatsoper Stuttgart. It is the first time that the work has been staged in the state capital of Baden-Württemberg. Julia Lwowski and Franziska Kronfoth, the founders of musical theatre collective “Hauen und Strechen” are directing the production alongside conductor Bernhard Kontarsky, who has been working with the Staatsoper Stuttgart since the 1960s.

The opera from 1949 is based on a radio play by Bertolt Brecht called The interrogation of Lucullus, which the poet had written in 1939. During the Nazi-regime, both Brecht and Dessau were exiled from Germany, and later decided to settle down in the Soviet occupation zone. In the founding year of the German Democratic Republic, they worked together on the libretto of “Lucullus” which was intended to criticize the Second World War and any military expansion. Due to Dessau’s modernist musical language and because the criticism on the exploitive ruling was considered too weak by the socialistic leaders, conflicts with the production team emerged. The world premiere, held at the provisionary Admiralspalast of the German State Opera in East-Berlin on 17 March 1951 was a closed event which then led to a huge dispute. The authors were required to make modifications and changes, among other aspects, to the title of the opera from The interrogation of Lucullus to The condemnation of Lucullus. Subsequently, further performances were allowed, and the piece was publicly performed in the repertoire of the state opera.

Bertolt Brecht and Paul Dessau’ Lucullus as a General and Braggart

From the plot: After the ostentatious act of state for his funeral, the roman military leader Lucullus, the dead man is called to court at the realm of shadows. Among his jurors, there are also his victims so that his triumphal victories are judged differently than what he is used to. Not only are his victories being considered but also the victims on his enemies’ side and among his own troops. The final judgement is clear: “Into nothingness with him!”

The choice of instruments in the score is striking. Dessau completely abandons violins and violas and instead includes a percussion section with nine players. The alternation of wind and percussion sounds and the use of low strings results in a contrasting and effective sound pattern.

The fact that I introduce Lucullus with kettledrums and trumpets has nothing in common with the classical cliché of the hero’s introduction. For me, it is meant paradisiacally. I introduce him with kettledrums and trumpets to say, now comes a great braggart. (Paul Dessau)

Further performances at the Staatsoper Stuttgart take place on the 6, 13, 15, and 20 November 2021.

2021/10/11

Work of the Week – Joseph Schwantner: Violin Concerto

On Friday, October 15, Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra will be first performed at Orchestra Hall Detroit, MI, with violinist Yevgeny Kutik and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin.

It is the first work which the 78-year old composer names ‘violin concerto, after former works for solo violin and orchestra carry the titles Angelfire and The Poet’s Hour… The latter  being the starting point for the new 30-minute concerto:

The genesis of the violin concerto originally began as a short soliloquy for violin and strings commissioned by the Seattle Symphony to commemorate my friend, Gerard Schwarz’s retirement as the orchestra’s musical director. I had always planned to later expand and re-imagine the music as part of a larger scale work for violin and orchestra. When Gerard also performed the music with his All-Star Orchestra and violinist, Yevgeny Kutik, I was enthralled with Yevgeny’s masterful and nuanced performance. He brings a dramatic and an emotional arc to his impressive technique and captivating musical personality and that vision remained in my mind’s ear all during the writing of the concerto. (Joseph Schwantner)

One day after the premiere, there will be one further concert at the same venue. Both concerts will also be available as live streams.

2021/09/02

Mikis Theodorakis 1925–2021

Ode to freedom: on the death of the composer Mikis Theodorakis

The Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis has died in Athens on 02.09.2021 at the age of 96.

Born in Greece in 1925, Mikis Theodorakis resolutely devoted his life to fighting for freedom and justice, searching for valid and comprehensible forms of musical expression and pursuing the significance of art. This long journey ended in Athens on Thursday morning of 2 September in Athens.

Theodorakis tells of his beginnings as follows: “My career as a composer began in the early 1940s when no suitable environment actually existed for my career choice: no orchestra, no symphonic concerts, no music conservatoires, not even a grand piano. When I saw a film showing a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I told my teachers at school the next day that I would now concern myself exclusively with music from this point onwards – and that is just what I did.” This astonishing early certainty was to develop into a compositional output that encompassed over a hundred larger-scale works including symphonies, ballet music, chamber music, theatre music and opera. While Theodorakis conducted a large proportion of his works’ premieres himself, prominent conductors such as Thomas Beecham, Charles Dutoit und Zubin Mehta were also great champions of his compositions. Yet the true core of his oeuvre is an amazing series of more than a thousand songs of enduring popularity. In the years to come an entire nation, perhaps the whole world, shall continue to sing his melodies.

Before Theodorakis became established in genre of the contemporary song, he studied the techniques and artistry of classical music with Olivier Messiaen in Paris. Supporters and admirers of the young composer included Dmitri Shostakovich, Hanns Eisler, Benjamin Britten and Darius Milhaud, who predicted a brilliant career for the tall and lively man constantly overflowing with musical ideas. Theodorakis’ impressive output of symphonic and chamber music ceased however upon his return to Athens in 1960, where he would not compose another purely instrumental work for more than 20 years. He instead turned his attention to song cycles, oratorios and film music, through which his political and social beliefs could be voiced. The works Theodorakis produced in this period were not only of uninhibited and innovative artistic merit, but also intended to be rooted in the identity of the people, with a message to communicate. Soon artists such as Agnes Baltsa, the Beatles, Dalida, Maria Farantouri, Mary Hopkin, Maria del Mar Bonet, Marino Marini, Milva, Georges Moustaki, Nana Mouskouri, Edith Piaf, Herman van Veen and many more adopted his songs into their own repertoires, and spread his messages across the world.

Theodorakis first turned to the field of opera later in his career as he approached the age of sixty, yet subsequently produced new works in an established rhythm of every four years. All five of his operas offer new interpretations of classical Greek mythology in which Theodorakis combines European musical tradition with his intrinsic melody-writing and the characteristic Greek idiom.

Theodorakis occupies a unique position in the musical and intellectual history of our time. His worldwide popularity, the great variety of his artistic creativity, and his political career have established him as one of the most significant figures in contemporary history. Throughout his life he selflessly stood up for international human rights, despite being interned in prison camps while Greece was under military dictatorship, and later exiled. He was a humanist out of profound conviction who never retreated into his art, but repeatedly involved himself in politics and always took a stand, above all in the most problematic of times. In 2018, Theodorakis was honoured for his timeless music and dedication to human rights with the award of an honorary doctorate in philosophy from the University of Salzburg.

The lasting legacy of Mikis Theodorakis in Greece and beyond is found not only his struggle for freedom, even in the face of personal torture and exile, it is in his flawless coupling of art with the voice of the people. What could be a more pertinent example than his perhaps most famous composition: the dance melody for Michael Cacoyannis’ legendary film Zorba the Greek, which has become an unofficial Greek national anthem. The significance of this melody for the people of Greece echoes the power of Verdi’s Va pensiero, and the melody that first inspired Theodorakis to become a composer, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

 

2021/08/11

Work of the Week – Luigi Nono: Intolleranza

A full year after the originally scheduled date, Salzburg Festival is presenting a new production of Intolleranza by Luigi Nono on 15 August. Directed by Jan Lauwers,  Sean Panikkar and Sarah Maria Sun will take the leading roles as ‘the emigrante’ and his fellow. In the pit, Vienna Philharmonic will be conducted by Ingo Metzmacher.

Intolleranza, composed in 1960/1961 is Luigi Nono’s first work for the stage. Its Italian description as Azione scenica underlines its renunciation of a narrative form of music theatre – the libretto has no coherent plot. Nono instead employs poems and documentary texts such as political interrogations and news headlines which are interwoven into the action as periodical highlights. Influences from Brechtian theatre are clearly recognisable, for example the audience becomes actively involved in what is happening on stage and is confronted by a question: under what conditions and against what political opposition is it possible to be consciously humane?

In eleven scenes, Nono describes the journey of the protagonist ‘emigrante’ on the way to his new homeland, making reference to contemporary and past historical events. The emigrante experiences a demonstration for peace, political interrogation and torture. Intolleranza is a politicalethical plea against violence, intolerance, discrimination and racism and has lost none of its relevance 50 years after its composition.

‘You, who shall resurface following the flood / in which we have perished, / remember / also the dark time / that you have escaped.’ (from the libretto)

After the opera was called Intolleranza 1960 at its world premiere, it has become common to add the current year to the work title. Wuppertal Opera is currently presenting a series of streamings, entitled Intolleranza 2021. The upcoming season will also see a number of stage performences with audience at Wuppertal.

 

 

2021/07/30

Work of the Week – Carl Orff: Die Bernauerin

In celebration of Carl Orff’s 125th anniversary on 10 July 2020), Die Bernauerin was scheduled to be performed for the first time at the Orff Festival in a reduced version  by Paul Leonard Schäffer. This premiere has been postponed to 4 August 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic. What performance location could have been better suited to this ‘Bavarian piece’ than the Florian-Stadl in the Andechs monastery where Orff was buried in the
pilgrimage church?

‘I am an old Bavarian, born in Munich, and this city, this region and this landscape have given me a great deal and exerted a significant influence on my personality and works.’ (Carl Orff )

Carl Orff created a memorial for his homeland with his work Die Bernauerin which was influenced in equal parts by Friedrich Hebbel’s drama of the same name and by traditional songs. The composition presents the moving story of Agnes Bernauer who was married well above her status to Albrecht III of Bavaria in the 15th century. Orff undertook intensive studies to enable him to write his libretto in the authentic Bavarian language of that period. Text and music play an equally signifi cant role and the vernacular colouring highlights the onomatopoetic and rhythmic material of the dramatic form.

Illustration: Die Bernauerin, Staatsoper Stuttgart 1965 · Figurines by Liselotte Erler

 

2021/05/18

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: Online Premire of Toshio Hosokawa’s new Violin Concerto

Genesis – creation is the title of Toshio Hosokawa’s new Violin Concerto which he wrote for violinist Veronika Eberle. As part of the International Music Festival Hamburg, the world premiere will take place on 19 May 2021, 8 pm local time (6 pm UTC), after the date had to be postponed multiple times. It will be live streamed on the YouTube channel of the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg, Kent Nagano is conducting.

“Veronika Eberle gave birth to a baby last November. I composed the piece as a present for
her and her baby. In the concerto, the soloist represents a human being, while the orchestra is imagined as nature and the universe surrounding him. At the beginning, the orchestra repeats wave motions suggestive of amniotic fluid, then the melodic line of the violin solo (= life) is generated from the inside of ‘cradle’, and is developing while imitating melodies inside the orchestra, then becomes independent of it, conflicts with it, however, finally finds a harmony inside the orchestra and dissolves into it.” Toshio Hosokawa

Toshio Hosokawa
Violin Concerto
Genesis · 18’
19 May 2021 | Hamburg (D)
Elbphilharmonie
Veronika Eberle, violin
Philharmonic State Orchestera Hamburg
Kent Nagano, conductor

Commissioned by Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (SOČR) and Grafenegg Festival

 

2021/04/26

Eötvös: Frontiers of Knowledge Award of the BBVA Foundation

The Frontiers of Knowledge Award of the Spanish BBVA Foundation in the Music and Opera category in its thirteenth edition is going to  the Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös,  “undoubtedly one of the most important musical voices of our time,” in the words of the citation. “His artistic significance, originality and contribution to the advancement of music since the second half of the 20th century can be recognized in his writing for voice, solo instrument and orchestra in operas such as Three Sisters, Love and Other Demons and Senza Sangue. His instrumental compositions have been played by the most important ensembles and orchestras around the world,” committee chair, Joana Carneiro, Principal Conductor of the Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa, states.

The annual Frontiers of Knowledge Award comprises seven further categories, such as Information Technologies, Ecology and Basic Sciences. With 400.000 €, it is one of the most significant cultural awards of the world. Former awardees include composers such as Pierre Boulez, Sofia Gubaidulina and Arvo Pärt.

photo: © Szilvia Csibi

2021/04/14

Pēteris Vasks: 75th Birthday on 16 April 2021

Pēteris Vasks, like no other composer, is an ambassador for the music of his native country
Latvia and the rich culture of the North. Prior to 1991, he was subject to repression for his beliefs and artistic convictions, but today he has long achieved international acclaim.

Vasks will receive a lifetime achievement award at the 49th Istanbul Music Festival in June, less than two months after his 75th birthday. The award is given annually by the festival: previous laureates include Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass, Gidon Kremer, Mischa Maisky, Zubin Mehta, Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki and Murray Perahia. Following the award ceremony, the Modigliani Quartet will give the Turkish premiere of his String Quartet No. 6 for which Vasks received the Latvian Grand Music Award in March.

His instrumental works are performed across the world by renowned musicians and also utilised for ballets, most recently in ‘Solitude’, choreographed by Mario Schröder for Leipzig Ballet. Vasks incorporates archaic and folkloristic elements from his homeland in his compositions, bringing them into an exciting relationship with contemporary musical language. Topics as contrasting as the beauty of nature and the ecological and moral destruction of the world find their way into his music.

On the occasion of his birthday, Schott Music has issued a brochure featuring selected choral works which is available free of charge in printed form or as a download under the order number KAT 3485-99.

You can also discover our Vasks playlist at https://en.schott-music.com/shop/vasks-playlist/