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Work of the Week – Christian Jost: ROTKAMMERTRAUM

On 15 May 2015, the stage premiere of Christian Jost’s ballet Rotkammertraum (Dream of the Red Chamber) will be given in Essen by Folkwang Tanzstudio, with choreography by Fang Yu Shen. Stage design is by Günther Hellweg, and costumes are designed by Min Lin. The work is an adaptation of Cao Xuequin’s Chinese novel of the same name, and is one of many events commissioned by the Beijing Cao Xuequin Society around the world to mark the author’s 300th anniversary this year.

Xueqin’s only known work, the novel is one of the best-selling in the world and is considered among the most important works in Chinese literature. The complex storyline deals with the social decline of an aristocratic family and is told using more than 400 characters. Jost responds to the intricacy of the text by designing several electronic sound modules: separate sections that can be combined in new ways for each performance. This creates a multitude of possibilities that reflects the variety of dimensions offered in the text.

Jost’s interest in Chinese culture dates back to the 1990s and he has worked closely with Chinese orchestras including Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. The soundworld of the ballet is characterised by bells, gongs and drums, all of which contribute to the very sensual, atmospheric quality of the ballet.

“In all of my pieces I am looking for the surreal, that tiny line where truth meets fantasy.” – Christian Jost

Following the premiere there will be further performances on 16, 22 and 23 May with plans to tour the production in China.


Work of the Week – Kurt Weill: The Road of Promise

The Collegiate Chorale presents the U.S. premiere of The Road of Promise, a new concert adaptation of Kurt Weill and Franz Werfel’s 1937 epic musical spectacle, The Eternal Road, at New York’s Carnegie Hall on May 6-7. Conductor/director Ted Sperling leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a 200-voice chorus, and a cast that features Anthony Dean Griffey, Mark Delavan, Philip Cutlip, Ron Rifkin, AJ Glueckert, Eli Tokash and Lotte Lenya Competition Winners Lauren Michelle, Megan Marino, and Justin Hopkins. Video projections are by Broadway designer Wendall Harrington.

Adapted by Ed Harsh from the original stage work, The Road of Promise combines a story about a synagogue under threat of persecution with defining stories from the Old Testament. As the congregation awaits their fate, a 13-year old boy appears who knows nothing of his Jewish heritage or faith. The Rabbi enlightens the boy and gives the community strength by recounting the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Miriam, Moses, Ruth, Isaiah, and more, all of which come alive through Weill’s score. The young boy listens to the stories unfold and emerges as the new hope for his people.

While he composed The Eternal Road, Weill worked extensively to utilize the traditional and authentic Hebrew melodies that he had learned from his own father. Through his compositional process, Weill began to reflect on the parallels between his rediscovery of traditional melodies with the spiritual discoveries of the boy in the story. In a letter to Max Reinhardt (producer) Weill explains euphorically:

“I believe that this will be the most beautiful music that I ever wrote.” – Kurt Weill

In a special pre-concert talk on May 7 at 6 pm, presented in partnership with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Collegiate Chorale Artistic Director Ted Sperling talks with Ed Harsh about the background, historical context, and score of The Road of Promise.

The performances of The Road of Promise will be recorded live at Carnegie Hall for release on the Navona Records label, distributed by Naxos Records.




Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Senza sangue

On 1 May 2015 the New York Philharmonic will stage the world premiere of Peter Eötvös’ opera Senza sangue. The opera, conceived in one act and written for only two singers, is based on Alessandro Baricco’s eponymous novella that tells the story of two people whose lives are connected through their divergent roles in a murder.

These two protagonists, Tito and Nina, first came into contact during a civil war more than 50 years before the story begins. Tito, then a twenty-year-old man, murdered Nina’s family with the help of two accomplices but spared the life of the little girl. The opera opens with the adult Nina setting out to meet Tito again for the first time. Her intentions are unclear; though she contracted the killing of Tito’s two partners in crime, it is not for reasons of revenge that Nina is now seeking him out.

Instead she wants an explanation: to find out the truth behind what happened on that day 50 years ago and what Tito’s motives were for the crime. Through their conversation it is revealed that the memory of the event has affected both characters deeply and savagely. For Tito it has become almost an illness and Nina, in the only monologue of the opera, describes her compulsion to revisit and rethink her past over and over – in an attempt to understand that pivotal moment of her life:

As much as life may seem mysterious, we go through it for the sole purpose of returning to the fire that created us. – Nina.

The New York Philharmonic will first perform Senza sangue in concert as part of ACHT BRÜCKEN festival in Cologne, with soloists Anne Sofie von Otter and Russel Braun playing Nina and Tito respectively. The American premiere will be given in New York one week later.



Work of the Week – Chaya Czernowin: Slow Summer Stay

On 24 April 2015 Chaya Czernowin’s cycle Slow Summer Stay will be performed in its entirety for the first time at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik festival in Germany. The three parts of the cycle, Streams, Lakes and Upstream, can also be performed as individual works.

Slow Summer Stay is inspired by two basic principles applicable to all music: motion and stillness. The combination of both of these elements leads to a new and complex unity. Though Czernowin marks her scores very precisely, she still leaves room for indeterminacy in performance, for example indicating at several points that passages should be played in ‘drunken rhythm’, meaning that the instrumentalists are to play unevenly with the ensemble.

Streams and Lakes are both scored for different ensembles comprised of the same forces: two clarinets, bassoon, percussion, guitar, piano, viola and cello. These two ensembles then come together for the third piece, Upstream, creating a work for sixteen players. In Upstream, the listener begins hearing Lakes supposedly performed again, until after twenty bars Streams simultaneously sets in. The two pieces continue running on top of each other until the work’s end. This technique is intended to create an effect like that of listening to one recording and then turning on another at the same time.

My compositions behave like they have a beginning as well as an end, but maybe they have neither. – Chaya Czernowin

The performance in Witten will bring together two ensembles and conductors: Johannes Kalitzke will conduct œnm. österreichisches ensemble für neue musik for the first piece, and Manuel Nawri with Ensemble KNM Berlin the second. The third piece will see the two ensembles join forces to create a collaborative performance.



Work of the Week – Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron

On 19 April 2015 Schoenberg’s largest and most complex work Moses und Aron will be staged at the Komische Oper Berlin, in a production by Barrie Kosky with music conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. The opera, written between 1928 and 1932, was never finished: though Schoenberg planned to compose three acts, the final of these never reached completion.
At the centre of Moses und Aron is the conflict between the two protagonists. Moses, from the outset communicating through spoken word rather than as a singer, doubts his ability to successfully communicate God’s word to the people. On the other hand Aron, performed by a Dramatic tenor, is a very skilled communicator who understands the peoples’ need for clear and comprehensible images. However, Aron’s lack of understanding of the word of God culminates in his creation of the Golden Calf, incurring Moses’ anger, wrath and finally resignation, as depicted in his final line “O word, o word, that I lack.”

The inherent contradiction between abstract thought and its distortion through representation is a philosophical problem that underlies much of Schoenberg’s oeuvre. As a result, some interpreters have recognised aspects of the composer in his portrayal of Moses. Though Schoenberg was mostly misunderstood during his lifetime, he recognised himself to be a musical revolutionary. He said of his extraordinary role in avant-garde music:

Someone had to be it, nobody wanted to be it, so I decided to be it myself. – Arnold Schoenberg.

The original reception of Moses und Aron has always been connected with the rise of anti-Seminitism in the 1930s. Schoenberg himself only narrowly managed to escape arrest during this turbulent time, emigrating to the USA when dismissed from his positions in Germany. This new production at Komische Oper is part of a series of events marking the 70th Jubilee year of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.

Foto: Komische Oper Berlin:



Work of the Week – Fazıl Say: Chamber Symphony

On 11 April 2015 the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will perform the world premiere of Fazıl Say’s Chamber Symphony at Carnegie Hall, New York. The orchestra, made up of professional musicians from around the world and known for performing without a conductor, has commissioned Say to write a work about national identity – an issue close to the composer’s heart.

The result is a twenty-minute piece for string orchestra. Chamber Symphony is a work of contrasts, sometimes calm and contemplative, sometimes fast and dance-like. Say intends his music to emphasise the connections and divisions between East and West, traditional and contemporary. He employs extended techniques to create percussive effects from the conventionally classical orchestra, at times instructing the performers to strike their instruments with the wood of their bows and even their hands.

The work comprises three movements: Introduction, Nocturne and Finale. Referencing the composer’s Turkish heritage, the introduction is in 7/8 metre and the energetic final movement features an imitation of typical Roman-Turkish dances. Asked what home means to him, Say states:

Increasingly, home to me is music. I have always thought that a city is part of a country, a country is part of the world, the world is a planet and part of our solar system, and the solar system is part of the Milky Way. Everything is interconnected. – Fazıl Say

Following the premiere, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will tour Chamber Symphony throughout Europe to cities including Bologna, Cologne, Heidelberg, Berlin, Innsbruck and Budapest. Fazıl Say will accompany them on the tour as the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major.



Work of the Week – Michael Tippett: The Ice Break

On 3 April 2015 Michael Tippett’s fourth opera The Ice Break will be staged in a new production by Graham Vick and the Birmingham Opera Company. Andrew Gourlay will conduct the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, who appear alongside a chorus of 150 amateur singers from the Birmingham area.

Premiered in 1977 at the Royal Opera House in London, The Ice Break portrays four ethnically and socially diverse protagonists caught in the midst of an increasingly violent conflict between two rival gangs. The work is a study of human relationships and personal identity, and explores our duties to one another in society. Though the libretto – also written by Tippett – is often turbulent, fraught and bloody, the composer’s message is ultimately humanitarian:

Splintered and rich in reference as Tippett’s operas are, in their music and in their text, they carry at their heart a glowing confidence in the power of human beings to find a centre, and from that centre to sing. – Paul Griffiths

The Ice Break runs until 9 April at the B12 Warehouse in a promenade-style performance. On 9 April, Birmingham Opera Company Chorus are hosting a symposium ‘Breaking the Ice’ to discuss the role of social responsibility in the arts.

Photo: SIMBA /



Work of the Week – Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne

Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne (Ecclesiastical Action) is the composer’s final work, completed just five days before his death. Premiered in the concert hall in 1972, it will receive its first scenic performance on 27 March 2015 at the Oper am Dom, Cologne, with narrators Jörg Rätjen and Stephan Rehm, bass soloist Bo Skovhus and the Gürzenich Orchestra directed by Gabriel Feltz.

The work features material from two very different literary sources melded to create an auditory collage: verses from the Old Testament and excerpts from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”. Zimmermann’s pluralistic style is clearly displayed by the combination and confrontation of musical and narrative elements, an effect that is accentuated by his detailed performance instructions in the score:

Both speakers shout at random: Riches, self-destruction, extinguish each other. While shouting, they mime and express themselves with acrobatic motions. The percussion section beats wildly and chaotically on its instruments.

Unusually for Zimmermann the work contains only one musical quote, which appears at the end in the form of the Bach chorale “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort”. The line “It is enough: Lord, if it pleases You, then release me” connects this last work with his early Violin Concerto from 1950, which ends with the same passage. Here the text is particularly poignant given the imminence of the composer’s death.

Ecclesiastical Action will be performed four more times until 6 April, followed by performances with the same orchestra of the Violin Concerto from 17 to 19 May 2015 in the Cologne Philharmonie. Zimmermann’s centenary will be celebrated in 2018, with several major anniversary events already in production.


Work of the Week – Peter Eötvös: Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)

While working on his opera Die Tragödie des Teufels (2009), Peter Eötvös became increasingly interested in the character of Lilith, Adam’s alleged first wife. It is from this work that the idea of Lilith as protagonist originated, which grew to become the opera Paradise Reloaded (Lilith). Completed in 2013, the work will receive its German premiere on 21 March 2015 at Theater Chemnitz in a production by Helen Malkowsky and directed by Frank Beermann.

As well as providing the idea for Paradise Reloaded (Lilith), Die Tragödie des Teufels also formed the basis of the libretto, with additional text by Eötvös, his wife Mari Mazei and the librettist Albert Ostermaier. After being banished from paradise, Lilith makes a pact with the devil to win back Adam and destroy Eve. The two women are dichotomous: Eve as Adam’s caring and subordinate wife, Lilith striving for independence and equality with him. Although the idea of emancipation is closely associated with the Lilith myth, Eötvös takes a more philosophical approach to the narrative:

My opera is not about equal rights of men and women, but the development of society and civilization with Lilith, instead of Eve, as its starting point. – Peter Eötvös

Paradise Reloaded (Lilith) will run at Theater Chemnitz until the end of April. Following immediately on from this, Eötvös’ new one-act opera Senza sangue will receive its world premiere on 1 May 2015 at Cologne Philharmonie, performed by the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert.

Photo: Neue Oper Wien / Armin Bardel



Werk der Woche – Julian Anderson: In lieblicher Bläue

“She easily combines passion with subtlety, takes the liberty of playing with utmost restraint as well as plunging head-on into the material,” commented the judging panel as the exceptional violinist Carolin Widmann received the Schneider-Schott-Music-Award in 2014. Widmann’s frequent performances of contemporary music benefit from these virtues, as with Julian Anderson’s In lieblicher Bläue. The London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski will join Carolin Widmann for the world premiere on 14 March 2015 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

In lieblicher Bläue is based on a poem of the same name by Friedrich Hölderlin that Anderson came across by accident while at school in 1980. Anderson describes his work as a poem for violin and orchestra, rather than a concerto, due to the contemplative nature of the music and its ethereal form. It is a work structured by mood rather than any formal template, allowing the personality of both violin and violinist to be expressed without constraint.

Anderson questions the traditional soloist-orchestra relationship through dramatic staging of the violinist, who begins her performance off-stage, then moving to the periphery of the orchestra before taking her place in the soloist’s position. For the final movement she stands with her back to the audience, as a physical representation of Hölderlin’s isolation in his later life. Beyond the role of the soloist, though, Anderson is keen to avoid direct and literal parallels being drawn between the music and text, being more concerned with the emotional state of the narrator:

Without being too programmatic about things, the violin represents the poet with all his various thoughts, feelings and impulses. The orchestra can provide a context for those thoughts – a context which may be radiantly luminous and supportive, or else indifferent, puzzled, quizzical or even hostile. – Julian Anderson

In lieblicher Bläue was jointly commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The work will be performed again in a concert series running from 11 to 14 June 2015 by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Ludovic Morlot, and the German premiere in Berlin is scheduled for 2016.