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Work of the Week – Jörg Widmann: ARCHE

On 13 January 2017, Jörg Widmann’s new oratorio ARCHE will receive its premiere, marking the opening of the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg. Soprano Marlis Petersen and baritone Thomas E. Bauer will perform alongside the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano, with the combined choral forces of the Staatsopernchor, the choir of the AUDI Jugendakademie and the Hamburger Alsterspatzen.

ARCHE centres on mankind’s pleas to an indifferent god, vulnerably revealing all their wishes, fears and hopes for a better world. Widmann selected a variety of texts from different centuries, including from poets Matthias Claudius and Friedrich Schiller, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the Bible. Scored for two soloists, three choirs, organ and orchestra, the music is similarly varied, ranging from intimate tonal passages to complex choral textures that make full use of the work’s impressive forces.

Jörg Widmanns ARCHE – Let There be Sound!

ARCHE begins with the first act “Fiat Lux/ Es werde Licht” (“Let there be Light”), in which two child narrators chronicle, with factual innocence and at times ironic alienation, the act of creation. In the second act “Die Sintflut” (“The Flood”) vast cascading masses of sound evoke the power of the flood, rendering the violence of its destruction almost physically perceptible. This is followed by a gentler third act “Liebe” (“Love”), but even before the praise of love has faded away a double murder of jealously is reported – a reminder that mankind is not even capable of protecting the precious resource of love from evil. An apocalypse ensues in the fourth act, wherein Widmann sets “Dies Irae” alongside with Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, exploring life, death and hope for salvation; appealing for divine intervention. The “Dona eis requiem” changes in the last act to “Dona nobis pacem”, but the children’s choir demands that man assumes the responsibility for his survival himself, and only then will peace be possible with a loving God.

The Elbphilharmonie’s location overlooking the water, and its architecture reminiscent of ships and sails, inspired Widmann:

It is an ‘ark of culture’, where we as humans may find refuge with our happiness but also our suffering, especially in this very turbulent time. It is a refuge in a politically stormy sea, where art takes place, and where music takes place. I think it is fantastic that it was built; it also contains something sacred. – Widmann

During the three-week festival of events for the opening of the hall, another of Widmann’s works, Sonatina facile, will be premiered by Mitsuko Uchida on 18 January.



– Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: Maxim Schulz, 2016.
– Jörg Widmann (right) and Kent Nagano: Hannes Rathjen, 2016.