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Work of the Week – Jörg Widmann: Messe

On 6 July, Jörg Widmann’s Messe for orchestra will be performed by the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich with whom Widmann has held the title of ‘Creative Chair’ for the 2015/16 season.

First awarded in the 2014/15 season, the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich’s ‘Creative Chair’ creates a position for eminent composers, conductors and soloists to work with the orchestra, as well as to share their knowledge through workshops, lectures and discussion sessions. On 6 July, Widmann will also perform as the soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major.

Messe is one of a trilogy of orchestral works by Widmann, alongside Lied (2003) and Chor (2004), exploring the idea of vocal music for orchestral forces where the orchestra is used both as the soloist and choir. Messe also touches on the composer’s academic interest in spiritual music. This work marked a turning point in Widmann’s compositional style along with his fifth string quartet with soprano Versuch über die Fuge, which challenged him to use strict musical forms. Techniques that he had previously avoided set the tone for each movement in Messe.

The instrumental singing is the topic of my earlier orchestral works ‘Lied’ and ‘Chor’. There is no singer or choir performing; the orchestra is singing, reciting and declaiming. That’s how it is with Messe: The musicians are the protagonists: Solos, choir and orchestra rolled into one. For example, there is an antiphony between choir and organ in the ‘Monodia’ of the ‘Kyrie’, but no choir or organ is really involved. In central liturgical passages, for example at the beginning of the ‘Kyrie’ or the ‘Gloria’, the notes appear like a gigantic choral score. Every musician ‘sings’ the particular mass text on his instrument. – Jörg Widmann

In performances between 6-8 July, Widmann will conduct Messe at the Tonhalle Zürich. Other upcoming performances of Widmann’s works include Versuch über die Fuge for soprano, oboe and chamber orchestra performed by the Saarländisches Staatsorchester on 10 July and in August the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim will perform Con brio in their 2016 summer tour, including concerts at the Salzburg Festival, Lucerne Festival and BBC Proms.