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Work of the Week – Hans Werner Henze: Il re Teodoro in Venezia

Composition and interpretation can be two sides of the same coin. During 1990 and 1991 Hans Werner Henze created his own version of Giovanni Paisiello’s opera Il re Teodoro in Venezia (1784) and in doing so filled the roles of both interpreter and composer. The adaptation was an opportunity for Henze to demonstrate his adoration for Paisiello’s music and to offer his own personal perspective on the work. On 24 June 2015, Henze’s version of the opera will be performed in a new production directed by Lenka Horinková at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

Il re Teodoro in Venezia is a ‘heroic-comic drama’ that tells the story of Theodor Neuhoff, a Westphalian baron and adventurer. During a short stint as king of Corsica he loses all his money and is forced to flee from his creditors to Venice where he hides in a tavern and falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter. Chaos follows with a series of comical misunderstandings that prevent the ex-king from admitting to his bankruptcy and the fact that he lost his throne. Theodor is ultimately incarcerated in his debtor’s prison in London where he defiantly proclaims: “The world is like a wheel: eventually those at the bottom will return to the top”.

In his interpretation, Henze wanted to give audiences to the opportunity re-experience the opera. His modifications include new dissonances, added bel canto quotations and rhythmic variations. He also re-orchestrated the work to consist of twelve winds, string sextet, mandolin, guitar, piano and percussion.

Ancient forms seem to me like classical ideals of beauty: unattainable but still visible from a distance. The path to these is the most difficult and the most impossible. For me, it is the only folly worth living for. – Hanz Werner Henze

Following the opening night on 24 June, further performances will take place on 28 June, 24 September, 8 October, 12 November and 17 February 2016.

photo: Slovak National Theatre



Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: Ubu Rex

Penderecki’s first and only comic opera Ubu Rex, based on the 1896 Theatre of the Absurd play ‘Ubu Roi’ by Alfred Jarry, was first performed in 1991 at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. On 20 June Opera Baltycka in Gdañsk presents a production by Janusz Wiśniewski.

Set in two acts, Ubu Rex opens with a “duet of sleeping noises”. The action begins with the cowardly and greedy captain Ubu being persuaded by his wife to murder the king and take the throne for himself. Their plan is successful, and Ubu’s first act as king is to order meat and gold to be handed out to the people to win their loyalty, with the stage direction “Everyone is dancing and gorging. Great funfair.” Ubu quickly descends into tyranny, ordering the death of the aristocrats, judges and financial ministers and implementing policies to satiate his own financial greed. The oppressive leader’s rule is ultimately defeated by the Russian army but Ubu escapes, setting sail with his entourage to a new land.

Penderecki labelled his work ‘Opera buffa’, and in doing so refers to the great masters of the genre including Rossini, whom he held in great esteem. In writing the work, Penderecki found freedom in escaping the pressure of new and radical composition, instead taking a more broad-minded approach to the music.

To write a comic opera one has to not only have experienced a lot, but also be able to look at these experiences with perspective. One must be able to laugh at oneself, something that cannot be done at the age of thirty. – Krzysztov Penderecki

The Gdansk production, premiered in 2013 on the occasion of Penderecki’s 80th birthday, will be toured to the Musikfestspiele Saar in Kaiserslautern on 27 June and in Saarbrücken on 29 June.

Photo: Sebastian Cwikla



Work of the Week – Olli Mustonen: Piano Quintet

On 12 June 2015, SPANNUNGEN: in Heimbach, Germany presents the world premiere of Olli Mustonen’s Piano Quintet, performed by Christian Tetzlaff, Florian Donderer, Harmut Rohde, Gustav Rivinius and Mustonen as pianist. The performance will be broadcast live by Deutschlandfunk.

Mustonen composed and performed his first piano concerto at the age of just twelve, and is now widely known as a talented composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. His musical aesthetic is similarly comprehensive, described by Finnish musicologist Susanna Välimäki as a polystylistic language that ranges “from Baroque to minimalism…from late Romanticism to a new spirituality”.

The Piano Quintet is structured in three movements: a fast-paced first movement, ‘Drammatico e passionate’, is contrasted by a contemplative and chromatic Andantino, followed by a Finale that incorporates themes from both preceding movements. The piece ends with an exultant hymn-like melody. Mustonen describes his experience of great music as akin to “losing oneself in untouched nature”.

In Mustonen’s music the commonplace becomes sacred in the blink of an eye; with a shimmer of light the ordinary is transformed into the mysterious.  Each and every one of Mustonen’s pieces is a journey into oneself. – Susanna Välimäki

The Piano Quintet was jointly commissioned by SPANNUNGEN:, Wigmore Hall and O/Modernt festival in Sweden. Following the performance in Heimbach, the work will be performed on 17 June 2015 in Stockholm and the UK premiere is planned for 2017 at Wigmore Hall.


Work of the Week – Paul Hindemith: Cardillac

On 6 June 2015 Paul Hindemith’s opera Cardillac opens at the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landestheater in Flensburg, Germany in a new production directed by Markus Hertel and conducted by Peter Sommerer.

The opera, written between 1925 and 1926, is set in seventeenth-century Paris and centres on the brilliant (yet mad) goldsmith who gives his name to the work. Cardillac is so proud of his creations that he declares them “too beautiful for man’s eyes” and begins murdering his customers in order to reclaim his work, proclaiming “What I created is mine!” His lack of remorse is reflected in Hindemith’s score which intentionally avoids the emotional pomp of traditional opera. The music creates a sense of detachment and callous, at times disturbingly so, such as during the joyous flute duet that accompanies Cardillac’s first murder.

After the successes of his one-act operas Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (1919), Das Nusch-Nuschi (1920) and Sancta Susanna (1921), Hindemith was excited by the prospect of writing a full-scale opera, on seeking a suitable subject he wrote:

If I had a libretto, I would need only a few weeks to write the greatest opera. I am aware of the problems associated with new opera and am absolutely convinced that, as much as is humanly possible, I can solve these completely. – Paul Hindemith

Hindemith found his subject in E.T.A Hoffmann’s “Das Fräulein von Scuderi” and was immediately drawn to the character of Cardillac. He proceeded to write the music at such speed that his librettist Ferdinand Lion could not keep up with his own adaptation of the text.

Following the performances in Flensburg, Cardillac will be staged at the Staatsoper, Vienna on 22, 25 and 29 June in a revival of Eric Bechtolf’s production.

Photo: Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Pöhn


Werk der Woche – Christopher Cerrone: The Pieces That Fall to Earth

Christopher Cerrone’s The Pieces That Fall To Earth for soprano and chamber orchestra receives its world premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on May 26 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Hila Plitmann joins as soloist, with John Adams leading the orchestra as both conductor and curator of a concert that features three world premiere performances of Los Angeles Philharmonic commissions.

The Pieces That Fall To Earth is inspired by the poetry of Kay Ryan, a Los Angeles native and long time Bay Area resident. Cerrone’s inspiration emerged partially from how he read the poems: “I needed to find a way to create a large-scale architecture, rather than a set of miniatures. My solution was to mirror my own reading process of the poems.” He selected seven poems, each its own song that “form[s] a kind of monodrama wherein the work becomes progressively more and more personal.”

Hila Plitmann’s dexterity and range was also an influence in the direction of the piece, encouraging Cerrone to take risks and try something new in his vocal writing:

“I tried to actively expand my vocabulary to include melismatic lines and well as extremes of range and virtuosity.” – Christopher Cerrone

For more information on Christopher Cerrone and his music, visit



Work of the Week – Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

Premiered in Dresden in 1911, Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier is one of the great operas of the twentieth century and is performed regularly around the world. In the last ten years the “Comedy for music” has had more than five hundred performances in Germany alone, with productions currently showing in the opera houses of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf. A new production of the opera by Claus Guth will be premiered on 24 May in Frankfurt.

Der Rosenkavalier’s librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal was so taken by the subject of the opera that it took just three months for him to deliver the complete text of the first act. Strauss called Hofmannsthal’s libretto “glorious” and declared that no changes were needed in setting it to music. The focus of the opera is on Octavian and Sophie, two young lovers who are brought together when he delivers her an engagement rose from the “fat, old and imperious” Ochs von Lerchenau. They fall in love and hatch a plot against von Lerchenau, emerging successfully at the end as a happy couple.

After the success of the Der Rosenkavalier on the stage, Hofmannsthal convinced Strauss to support a silent film adaptation by the director Robert Wiene. At this time film technology was still in its early stages, so the film was intended to promote, rather than substitute, the opera on the stage – in the words of Hofmannsthal, to “whet one’s appetite for the opera”. However, the emergence of sound films in 1927 hindered Der Rosenkavalier’s success; the film was subsequently lost and was laboriously reconstructed by the musicologist Berndt Heller. Despite its rococo style, Hofmannsthal considered the opera a highly modern piece:

“It might seem at first glance as if a picture is painted of a bygone era, but this is only an illusion.” – Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The silent film of Der Rosenkavalier will be screened in Regensburg on 19 and 30 May with music performed by Philharmonisches Orchester, and in Münster on 21, 23 and 24 June and at the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on 25 June, performed by Sinfonieorchester Münster.

Photo: Wilfried Hösl, Bayerische Staatsoper



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.