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Work of the Week – Jörg Widmann: Babylon

On 16 February 2019, Jörg Widmann’s Babylon-Suite will be performed by Orchestre National de France under the direction of Nicholas Collon in the Radio France Auditorium in Paris as part of the Festival Présence. The performance will be accompanied by video-installations created by students of the École Estienne.

Widmann’s Babylon-Suite concentrates his monumental opera Babylon into 30 minutes of music. The composer has captured the original vocal parts and embedded them into the fabric of the orchestration so the voices emerge from the orchestra itself.

Jörg Widmann – Babylon-Suite: Sibling to the opera

Babylon, with its libretto by cultural theorist and philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, is a story of different cultures living together and the organisation of their shared society, reaching beyond the Biblical Babylon and the Tower of Babel. The monotheistic, monogamous culture of the Jewish people and the multicultural Babylonian people who recognise many deities and practice non-monogamy are set apart in particular in the fifth scene of the opera. The Jewish people sing a lamentation psalm (“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion”), while the Babylonians praise their gods with an exuberant ceremony. By setting this scene in 17-part counterpoint with the orchestra split into 70 parts, an intricate representation of Sloterdijk and Widmann’s Babylon is created.

“It was my task as composer to express the opposing energies as drastically as possible in their differences and nevertheless find a way that the scenes result in an entirety. The construction of the opera is similar to the Tower of Babel, starting with a huge fundament and reducing to the top.”
Jörg Widmann



Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper München / Wilfried Hösl