Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012

This year-end round-up of highlights is selected with no particular criteria in mind; I just settled on my favourite events and people and made the categories fit. All that remains to be said in 2012 is einen guten Rutsch to one and all, and I’m sure no reminder is needed for a certain concert happening tomorrow. There will be at least one woman displayed more prominently than the flower arrangements, so I hear.

Best concert (contemporary)

Matteo Cesari at the Alte Schmiede, hands down. Wien Modern 2013, I am imploring you.

Best concert (international visitor)
An all-Russian programme from Valery Gergiev and the LSO at the Konzerthaus.

Best concert (cooperative Philharmoniker)

The Wiener Philharmoniker can never fail to sound like the Wiener Philharmoniker regardless of who conducts them, but for most conductors half the battle is staving off the Schlamperei that comes as part and parcel of that tradition; all too rarely is the orchestra challenged to rethink the way they play a piece. For too long Boulez has been leaned on as someone they trust to do this, and his continuing absence has been sorely felt. In 2012 the ‘Kinder, schafft Neues’ mantle fell to Daniel Barenboim, and indeed something new in the field of Mozart interpretation was shown to the Viennese.

Best concert (Der Kraft und Schönheit unserer Jugend)
Two Salzburg highlights: Leonidas Kavakos and Radu Lupu.

Best piano recital (tie)
This goes jointly to Grigory Sokolov and Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Best Liederabend
If only for the heady and oddly warming mood willed by a house full of doting Wienerinnen and Wiener, Edita Gruberova.

Best Liederabend (cerebrally speaking)
Mark Padmore, singing Thomas Larcher and the late Hans Werner Henze.

Best curtailed concert
The Arditti Quartet at Wien Modern.

Best rarity
Wallenstein, Jaromír Weinberger’s utterly obscure and utterly fascinating (if more so historically than musically) Dollfuss-themed opera.

Conductor (and orchestra) of the year
Cornelius Meister and the RSO Wien have repeatedly impressed this year, whether it be at Wien Modern (sadly unblogged as there was just too much Wien Modern) or in the Martinů cycle that is now drawing to a close; reviews here and here.

Composer of the year
Friedrich Cerha, presently caught up in an extraordinarily pensive Indian summer, was awarded the Ernst von Siemens music prize earlier this year.

Best opera production
Peter Konwitschny has the last word on Madama Butterfly for possibly quite some time.

Best sloppy revival
The Wiener Staatsoper’s Die Meistersinger, with Simone Young, Johan Botha, James Rutherford, Adrian Eröd and Christina Carvin (seen in November, unblogged). A mere three rehearsals – one for each act – inevitably showed, all the more so since it is too many seasons gone for newer members of the Staatsopernorchester to have ever played this opera before. Many things could be said about the shortcomings of singing and playing, but in the pit the sound of more experienced hands guiding but not always winning over those with fresher sight made for an accidental dialectic that, surely uniquely (the true Einzigartigkeit of the Wiener Staatsoper!), enacted the discourse that takes place in the opera.

Worst opera production of 2012 (and Dominique Meyer’s Intendanz so far)
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, directed by Jérôme Deschamps. No thirst for whisky after this, just the urgent need to punch someone’s face.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Wiener Philharmoniker’s New Year programme

Pictured are Franz Welser-Möst, ORF director of TV Kathrin Zechner and VP chairman Clemens Hellsberg in the Festsaal of the Hotel Imperial yesterday, announcing the programme of the New Year’s Day concert. The Festsaal seats a healthy number but you had to stand in a gaggle at the back unless you were Austrian print media or Chinese state TV, making it comically obvious what Hellsberg must resort to now to get an easy ride.

The programme, with nods this year to Wagner and Verdi, will be as follows:

Josef Strauß: Die Soubrette, Polka schnell, op. 109
Johann Strauß Sohn: Kuß-Walzer, op. 400
Josef Strauß: Theater-Quadrille, op. 213
Johann Strauß Sohn: Aus den Bergen, Walzer, op. 292
Franz von Suppé: Ouvertüre zu der Operette „Leichte Kavallerie"
Josef Strauß: Sphären-Klänge, Walzer, op. 235
Josef Strauß: Die Spinnerin, Polka française, op. 192
Richard Wagner: Vorspiel zum 3. Akt der romantischen Oper „Lohengrin", WWV 75
Joseph Hellmesberger d.J.: Unter vier Augen, Polka mazur, op. 15
Josef Strauß: Hesperusbahnen, Walzer, op. 279
Josef Strauß: Galoppin, Polka schnell, op. 237
Joseph Lanner: Steyrische Tänze, op. 165
Johann Strauß Sohn: Melodien-Quadrille, op.112
Giuseppe Verdi: Prestissimo aus der Ballettmusik im dritten Akt der Oper „Don Carlo"
Johann Strauß Sohn: Wo die Citronen blüh'n, Walzer, op. 364
Johann Strauß Vater: Erinnerung an Ernst oder: Der Carneval in Venedig, Fantasie, op. 12

Image credit: Terry Linke

Tut alles langsam

Between going to these events and Christmas I was busy in the UK and Tirol, but for those interested in reading about what happened at the Konzerthaus and Kammeroper earlier this month here are some links:

Sokolov in recital – the annual Konzerthaus visitation

Kafka’s Ghosts – at the Kammeroper, a new chamber piece from Hans-Jürgen von Bose

Aimard/Debussy – Préludes, both books, in the Mozart Saal

RSO Wien – more Martinů from Meister

Monday, 24 December 2012

Scho Weihnochten

I taste as good as I look
Christmas in Austria is celebrated in the evening of the 24th so shortly I will be off for Weihnachtskarpfen, followed by Schnapps to take away the taste of the Buttermilch that was used to take away the taste of the festive bottom feeder. Should your festivities fall tomorrow then happy holidays and herzlichen Dank for reading my scribblings during 2012.

As for Wien, Intendanten across the board don’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice and so there are a number of alternatives to the endless  Nutcrackers. I’m adding some theatre to the list as this scene is amusingly oblivious to seasonal programming and there is some seriously good Regie to be seen. Highlights for the coming week include:

25th: On the first day of Christmas the Burgtheater gave to me a difficult choice between Hofmannsthal’s Elektra and Ibsen’s Ghosts (though I’ve heard better things about the Ibsen, a David Bösch production).

26th: The Wiener Staatsoper’s new Ariadne with FWM and a möstly philharmonisch Staatsopernorchester.
26th: Matthias Hartmann’s productions are so prone to horsing around that his work can seem empty when he eases off the shtick, but Viennese theatre legend Gert Voss is worth seeing in anything and so it’s returns only for this Uncle Vanya at the Akademietheater.

27th: At the Burgtheater, David Bösch’s departure point for Romeo and Juliet is merciless cynicism grounded in a tightly argued reading of the text, or auteur’s Shakespeare at its most fascinatingly dialectical; probably no coincidence that this is immeasurably more thought-provoking than any English-language production I’ve seen and at the same time too heretical for the UK. The two young leads are superb as well.

28th: Final performances of Mathis der Maler at the Theater an der Wien and Marco Arturo Marelli’s new Figaro at the Volksoper.

29th: As the Philharmoniker and FWM decamp to the Musikverein, Ariadne with Jeffrey Tate and the dregs of the Staatsopernorchester.

30th: For his Staatsoper debut, Cornelius Meister gets put to the Kapellmeister test with an unrehearsed Christmas Zauberflöte.

30th: Neujahrskonzert dry run at the Musikverein (also in the evening on the 31st), tickets should be obtainable at the Philharmoniker’s office even though the website says sold out.

31st: Fledermaus überall but at the Burgtheater, first night for a new production of Bernhard’s Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige (surely no coincidence...). At the Theater an der Wien, a screening of Stroheim
’s The Merry Widow with the Wiener KammerOrchester and an abridged score by Maud Nelissen, and over at Meidling’s Palais Kabelwerk the premiere of MarieLuise, a chamber opera by Gernot Schedlberger (produced by sirene Operntheater).

Thursday, 13 December 2012

O, du lieber Franzi, alles ist hin

When ‘overly hasty’ are the kindest words one’s slimiest sycophant can find to say, most conductors might take the hint and shut up. Not Franz Welser-Möst, who has given yet another interview, this time to Der Standard, about festival quality, 11:00, Pereira, 11:00, those who are truly worthy to appreciate art, and 11:00.

Pereira’s response was Gert Korentschnig’s scoop and so Onkel Willi, predictable to a fault, gets supercilious about the Kurier in his closing paragraphs (without mentioning names, since nothing at Die Presse has changed since the days of Moriz Benedikt and Karl Kraus). In doing so he appears to cast himself as the only music critic who understands the Salzburg Festival, who gets what’s at stake there (whatever that might be taken to mean), which is quite amusing.

One news item that neither journalist is reporting is an Orwellian bit of revisionism from the Wiener Staatsoper, that next Monday’s Generalprobe of Ariadne auf Naxos will take place at 12:00 instead of the usual time of 11:00, because Franzi has never conducted opera at 11:00.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Wiener Symphoniker releases Celibidache’s Brahms 1

To mark 60 years since Celibidache’s debut with the orchestra, the Wiener Symphoniker has released this remastered live recording (taken from a Konzerthaus performance on 30th October 1952) on their new label. By turns stormy and flowing, it is a very different experience from Celibidache’s later Brahms recordings with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony and the Munich Philharmonic (in themselves worlds apart), but will nonetheless be a must-have release for Celi completists.

The other works on that 1952 programme (Liszt’s Les Préludes and the Ravel left hand concerto with Casadesus) have been knocking around for some time, and the Brahms has been previously available too, distributed a little more dubiously.

If not entirely distortion-free, the Symphoniker’s new transfer is a lot cleaner with more vivid details in the upper mid-range and a refreshing absence of blasting dynamic contrasts. The horns still sound congested from time to time but these minor flaws pale in comparison to what Tonmeister Holger Siedler has achieved with the strings and winds. Going legit will cost the Austrian standard RRP of €19.90, though the release is available for €16.99 on and for the immense improvement in sound quality is worth a spot on any Christmas wish list.

‘Gnädige Frau, the singing is more dangerous than the smoking’

From a 1963 English-language interview with the late Lisa Della Casa:

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

RIP Lisa Della Casa

This building appears to be missing a black flag (photo taken just over an hour ago). Ioan Holender usually made sure that these things were taken care of promptly.

Lisa Della Casa sang 411 performances in 27 roles at this house, most famously in Mozart and Strauss, though she also made regular appearances as Mimì, Gilda and Cio-Cio-San, among others. Earlier today Dominique Meyer announced that the Staatsoper will devote an exhibition to her next season.

Della Casa's final performance at the Staatsoper, on 25th October 1973, was of course Arabella; the term of endearment 'Arabellissima' never seemed to be much of a thing here, but rather – and quite touchingly – 'die Richtige'.

In that spirit, from the 1953 Musikverein recording of Strauss highlights, with Hilda Gueden, Rudolf Moralt and the Wiener Philharmoniker:

Eschenbach to replace FWM

Vienna would have gone with a safe pair of hands like Adam Fischer. This weekend was also a busy one for the agents of younger conductors. Instead Alexander Pereira has opted for the somewhat bolder choice of Christoph Eschenbach, a figure one usually thinks more of as an orchestral conductor but who is a great deal more interesting than Welser-Möst and, just as crucially, who knows how say open sesame to the Vienna Philharmonic. Pereira adds in his press release that Eschenbach and Bechtolf have been good friends for many years, also commenting that 'having heard outstandingly sensitive Mozart interpretations from Christoph Eschenbach throughout recent years, I am convinced that the cycle is in excellent hands.'

The news, released a few hours ago, has buried an APA interview FWM gave yesterday, in which he revealed he had no written contract for the Mozart cycle.

When there is a story about Thielemann and Salzburg, the Austrian press usually run the famous photo of him as a ruddy-faced youth playing the piano to Karajan. Esch can do one better than that:

Monday, 10 December 2012

Salzburg soap opera

That Alexander Pereira has chosen to speak about Franz Welser-Renegade to Gert Korentschnig, a journalist who isn’t afraid to ask a delicate question or two, is one of the reasons why for the time being this blog remains on Team Pereira. That is relatively speaking in the context of the Wien-Salzburg axis, and taking into account the ton of Vienna shit Pereira could hurl, Holender-style, in Franzi’s direction. While that doesn’t generally seem to be the pereirisch m.o., there is deflection, melodrama and everything else we’ve come to expect, as well as the strangely timed announcement of a new Kupfer Rosenkavalier.

There’s not much else in the Austrian press worth reading on this, though Tošic closes his piece with the sweet irony that FWM conducted yesterday in Vienna. At 11:00.

My translated highlights of the Korentschnig:

What is your reaction to Franz Welser-Möst’s withdrawal from the Mozart-Da Ponte cycle?
I'm very disappointed. I had hoped to convince him yet. But unfortunately that has not been possible.

What will happen now?
The cycle will go ahead regardless and I'm already in talks with other conductors. We will have an announcement to make in the next few days.

Welser-Möst complains that three performances of Così in only five days – the last of them at 11:00 – would not be viable for the singers. What made you choose these dates?
This concerns the performance on August 31st, which would not be possible in the evening for logistical reasons. Normally, the Vienna Philharmonic give their final performance on the 30th and travel back to Vienna on the 31st. They had however kindly agreed to perform on the 31st next summer, with the request that the musicians might still be able to return to Vienna at least in the evening, as they resume their duties at the Staatsoper on September 1st. It was agreed that the performance would take place in the afternoon.

So why did you settle on 11:00?
It would have been a test run to see how the public would take to the idea of a performance at this time. Unfortunately it came to pass at the last minute that we didn’t ask for Welser-Möst’s consent, but moving the performance back to 14:00 was already decided back in the middle of last week. For singers this kind of run – five performances in ten days – is not uncommon. [Pereira adds in a statement that when FWM conducted four performances of Così in Cleveland two years ago, he did so on March 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th.] I would happily have scheduled the rehearsals earlier, but Welser-Möst was insistent that he wouldn’t be cutting short his summer vacation.

Why are you and Welser-Möst prone to fighting like this?
Franz and I have known each other for a long time. I know all his strengths and weaknesses, and believe me: his strengths are much greater. Two people who worked together intensively over many years have drifted apart, which I find quite regrettable. But now it’s all about different things. Some wonder: must we be crazy to pack so many events in the festival? Or question whether this strategy is good for Salzburg. To that I can only say that without all these new productions we wouldn’t be able to bring in the money we need. An analysis has shown that because of the costs which increase year on year, we’d have a budget hole of 4.7 million euros if we were to repeat the programme that Hinterhäuser presented in 2011. A subsidy increase is not an option. Nor do we want to increase the ticket prices. And sponsors don’t donate money to cover fixed costs, but to fund exciting artistic projects. And so we have to put on more events to maximize our ticket revenue.

In his Musikverein speech Welser-Möst was critical of reducing art to a spectacle, a commodity – without mentioning you by name. Were you offended?
It was not fair and it upset me. Look at the events we have programmed and you will see that we place great emphasis on quality; we are not churning out a standardized product here. In 2013 we are even staging a smaller number of operas than previously, and in 2014 there will only be as many productions as there were in 2009, 2010, 2011. Around then we will also be doing a new Rosenkavalier with Zubin Mehta and Harry Kupfer.

Eindeutige Worte nach Ariadne

1912 for Salzburg, 1916 for Vienna: that was the deal when Sven-Eric Bechtolf's Ariadne auf Naxos was announced as a co-production with the Wiener Staatsoper. Now Franz Welser-Möst has announced that since Vienna has both versions on tap, the two will be scheduled side by side in later runs. In practice that means once the novelty of what Bechtolf essentially reworked into a third version has worn off, so once or twice.

Elsewhere in this interview Franzi also reveals that the fast-approaching Neujahrskonzert will spotlight Wagner and Verdi amid the usual bonbons, and in one of his odd analogies likens the honour of conducting the concert for the second time to a 'Nobel prize for music'.

Nono Nono Nono don’t tell me no lies

Round anniversaries are a cue for Viennese musical institutions to go into nostalgia overdrive; reason enough, Harnoncourt not excluded, to stay away from the Musikverein’s recent celebrations. But listen long enough to an Intendant boasting of longevity and you might also hear the credibility-stretching bromide that their institution endures in a forward-looking spirit.

Thomas Angyan has this down to a fine art, as showed while explaining the benefits of the Musikverein’s subsidy-free operational independence to ATV: ‘we certainly have the freedom to decide our programming, to determine whether Nono, Schoenberg, Stockhausen should be performed or Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner. It’s best of course to balance the two.’ The dishonesty would perhaps not be so interesting in itself (though it may be noted that the Musikverein does in fact accept public funds) had the house not added archived events to its website a few months ago. Checking out the tallness of such tales is quite fun, that is until you hit ‘suche’ and learn some tragically unfunny truths. These are the results of a search for Nono going back the last twenty-five years of Angyan’s long Intendanz:

Actually these three events – the last one fifteen years ago! – are all Wien Modern, an autonomous organization over whose programming the Musikverein has no influence. Balance, it would seem, amounts to total exclusion.

The most bizarre thing about Angyan’s silly boast is however how painlessly it could be realized for all parties concerned. Discounting the Brahms Saal – which Brahms himself found a wretched hall – and the various acoustic abominations underneath Karlsplatz, the golden hall upon which the house’s fame rests is only suitable for a limited number of Nono’s works (blue-haired patrons and the Bussi-Bussi crowd need seldom bolt for the exits), of which three of four would sound particularly gem-like (earning the gratitude of the Lothar Knessl demographic). The Konzerthaus – where Nono got 38 performances over the last twenty-five years – is all very well but remains more of a Janáček Sinfonietta kind of space; the Musikverein is where the subtleties of Il canto sospeso and the late ‘no hay caminos, hay que caminar’ masterpieces may be more lovingly tended to. This is before we even begin discussing value judgements, though I’m talking about works as important as Il canto sospeso getting aired maybe once a decade and can’t imagine that Angyan believes this would provoke protests, 
Skandalkonzert-style or otherwise. Tactical programming deals with the reactionaries and as far I am aware the Taruskinian objection – i.e. the 1950s are calling and want their straw men back – does not exist in Vienna.

As for Brahms, well, the heart sinks. I used to joke about Musikverein patrons growing restless if forced to endure a week without Brahms but it turns out I’ve been underestimating:

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Welser-Möst cancels Salzburg

The ORF doesn’t normally send a camera crew to capture FWM bitching about Regietheater with Peter Stein, so one of his indignantly-expressed revelations was inevitable at a Positionslichter talk held earlier today at the Wiener Staatsoper. Having looked at the finalized programme for Salzburg 2013, as the man who the other day complained about tabloidization and headline-grabbing explained to ZIB 1’s 1.5 million viewers, Franzi has decided that three performances of Così in five days is unacceptable for the singers and he won’t be conducting a 2013-5 Da Ponte cycle after all. This new-found concern for Mozart singers comes about a week or so after he signed off a December Probeplan for the Staatsoper that will see ensemble members cover a Christmas Zauberflöte – three performances over a week – unrehearsed. Different opera, different circumstances, but still: unrehearsed.

Franzi not only got a spot on the 19:30 news, but cleverly timed the bombshell so that Salzburg would not be able to respond. Helga Rabl-Stadler and Alexander Pereira are in Milan until Tuesday, officially to present the Salzburg 2013 programme to the Italian press, unofficially for Pereira to lobby for Scala GM.

APA report picked up by Der Standard available (de) here. Comments include ‘what the hell, he’s not an especially good Mozart conductor anyway’ and ‘shame he doesn’t cancel more engagements in Vienna’.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Heiße Luft von anderen Planeten

Franz Welser-Möst appears to be living in an alternative universe where the Vienna Philharmonic offers equality of opportunity to Asian musicians, the Staatsoper combats big bad modernism with lots of Glanert, big-name orchestras don’t compromise artistic quality with unrehearsed performances, and the Viennese never talk chauvinistically of their musical heritage. Give irony nine lives and you might make it to the parting shot – ‘creativity only arises in places where self-satisfaction is not predominant – in his recent Festrede to the Musikverein on the occasion of its 200th anniversary.

Some seem to be taking this speech in the lofty spirit it was intended, as a serious reflection on the state of the arts. I've attended too many of Franzi’s pseudo-intellectual Positionslichter talks at the Staatsoper to be that generous; he enjoys getting philosophical so long as there is a crowd to play to, and this text seems little different. The only disappointment is that the full extent of his comically fatuous Adorno critique has not been preserved for posterity.

Gert Korentschnig is right to question its smallness, writing that the ‘tabloidization of classical music is an unsubtle dig at Alexander Pereira, whose face is rarely out of the Austrian glossies. The bizarre remarks about the ‘high priests of modernism are presumably intended to show the Klangforum their place too, after their Intendant had the temerity to call the Staatsoper artistically stagnant.

Full text of this junk, auf Englisch und Deutsch, after the jump.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Hans Gabor competition to leave Vienna

In what is the final chapter in the sorry saga of the Kammeroper, competition organizers Isabella Gabor and Holger Bleck say that after 31 years the City of Vienna is abandoning them, a claim Roland Geyer described over the weekend as a smear against Kulturstadtrat Andreas Mailath-Pokorny (while admitting that the Theater an der Wien had intended to take over the competition from 2014). It seems that Frau Gabor was initially receptive to the TadW’s plan before looking at other ways to keep hold of her competition, eventually landing up in Amsterdam, which will host the finals in 2013 as well as form a foundation to fund subsequent competitions in Germany, England and the USA. The competition administration will remain in Vienna and it’s not clear why the Dutch are financing something that will have nothing to do with them after next summer, but the competition’s continuing independence is welcome news for Frau Gabor. Geyer has indicated that the TadW will press ahead with plans for its own singing competition in 2014.

Iphigénie en Aulide: Inert Locker

Institutional violence has been a running theme in Torsten Fischer’s series of Gluck operas at the Theater an der Wien, albeit with a lid kept firmly on the idea of actual conflict. An indication to the contrary, given minutes into this staging of Iphigénie en Aulide with the Berlin Wall-style point-blank shooting of a wretched escapee from Herbert Schäfer’s concrete bunker of a set, is laden with little meaning beyond blunt signposting of the stakes which face Agamemnon (whose daughter’s sacrifice is demanded by the goddess Diana in exchange for the safe passage of Greek forces across the Aegean), while military uniforms, which veer wildly in style from in-your-face Nazi chic to a sleek Special Forces number for Patroclus, are assembled with a fetishist’s love of leather and jackboots and serve more to illuminate combat dress through the ages than Gluck’s opera.

For more, see Bachtrack. Premiering ten years too late to be as gravely topical as Torsten Fischer makes it look, this new Theater an der Wien production got stuck in a Bush-hating time warp. While Fischer’s stagings always have the makings of the best kind of hot mess  here Iraq rounded off a Regie trifecta of half-baked political critique, combat uniform obsession and arthouse pretensions ranging from the expendably benign (video art designed by Haneke’s son David) to vacuous posturing  his ideas and pacing remain too plodding to provoke. Still, this Iphigénie wasn’t quite as inexcusably dull as last year Telemaco

Members of this cast, incidentally, are to record the Wagner version of this opera next year. More production images follow the jump.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sound of Schleimen

The Wiener Staatsoper has just unveiled David Hockney’s new safety curtain, created using an iPad. Traditionally these annual commissions give members of the public much to grumble about and this piece will likely prove no exception despite the textual sop to collective cultural narcissism (the smile and raised eyebrow is certainly Dominique Meyer’s conspiratorial face). Die Presse, which sponsors the curtain, bemoans a perceived lack of effort and suggests that a piss-take doodle would have shown more creativity.

Ioan Holender’s choices irritated the Viennese just as much but his Intendanz ended on the strong note of a Twombly classic:

Last year’s curtain, a pretentious statement on drama’s transportive power which read as intelligibly as Derrida run repeatedly forwards and backwards through Google Translate, was widely derided:

Meyer with artist Cerith Wyn Evans

The Hockney again, without Dominique:

Grafenegg 2013: largesse with strings attached

Grafenegg has rebranded with a new logo and website but the Salzburg-lite concept remains the same, even if the roster of visiting orchestras doesn’t quite measure up to this summer’s blockbuster edition. Highlights include Davis/LSO, Gergiev/Mariinsky, and Gatti/Concertgebouw, all with mainstream programming. Elsewhere there’s a lot of Buchbinder, Dutoit and Maazel, and contemporary music’s spot at the closing concert has been bumped for a Verdi Requiem. When the Metternich family and the Lower Austrian state lavished millions upon millions on this venture, the stated aim was to offer something more adventurous, starting with a high-profile composer-in-residence (this year Brett Dean, in a scaled back role). But the backing of Erwin Pröll, governor of Lower Austria and modern-day Metternich, has always come with the understanding that Grafenegg must make an international name for itself and by association, a Bundesland left in the cultural shade by Vienna and Salzburg. And so caution and Auslastung will take the upper hand next summer; for what it’s worth, Pröll made no effort to conceal his Mitterandian motives at yesterday’s press conference.

The full programme can be seen here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tough Love Actually

In its seasonal TV programming, the BBC traditionally runs helplines at the bottom of the screen for those feeling low over the Christmas period. In Austria we have something similar, called the Burgtheater. From the December Spielplan, feelgood fare guaranteed to raise consciousness if not your spirits:

Es muss ein Wunderbares sein

Austrian pianist Ingolf Wunder follows in the tradition of Chopin competition non-winners signed by DG, though that is where the 1980 comparisons end. His Chopin was more or less as expected, and this Konzerthaus recital as a whole under par, but branching out into Liszt could be an exciting development. And as Mozart showed once again, a note-perfect Ondine and Chopin op. 10 no. 2 are not necessarily the last word on the state of one’s fourth and fifth fingers; ‘twas ever thus. For more, see here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flat Earth

Konzerthaus, 5/11/2012

RSO Wien, Susanna Mälkki

Ligeti: Lontano
Neuwirth: Remants of songs ... An Amphigory (viola: Antoine Tamestit)
Gander: dirty angel for flugelhorn, accordion and orchestra (Anders Nyqvist, Krassimir Sterev)
Ligeti: Atmosphères

Mindful that one doesn’t stay music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain for six years by fooling IRCAM, not to mention Boulez, even some of the time, I am inclined to put my second underwhelming experience (out of two) with Susanna Mälkki down to the variability of live performance. Under Cornelius Meister, any vestiges of provincialism which once tinged the RSO Wien’s playing have long been shaken off, but Mälkki warrants some due for countenancing no slippage; precision and fleetness of response were fully there to the varying degrees required for the otherworldly grandeur of Atmosphères, the more mercurial landscape of Lontano, and the fluid yet altogether less weightless writing of the two quasi-concertos by Olga Neuwirth and Bernhard Gander. But the sure-footedness didn’t extend to ensemble: quite how well Antoine Tamestit played Neuwirth’s Remnants of songs ... an Amphigory I am at a loss to say, as Mälkki cued shrill woodwind and brass entries that drowned him out time after time; less recognizable still was Gander’s dirty angel, a work I remember fondly as luridly boisterous and yet not without its own internal logic, so glaringly absent here. Neuwirth conducted poorly reduces her idiom to a patchwork of oddities but in this performance even that was flattened out and rendered faceless. The best parts of Atmosphères and Lontano were merely static, which is to say that something went right, though the inertia remained earthbound – only the one tremolo entry in Atmosphères sounded briefly like the beating of wings – and there was little temporal suspension to speak of. Lontano’s famous bass outburst was as eruptive as Ligeti asks for but no Durchbruch in any wider sense. With her gaze directed most of the time to her score, Mälkki conducted the musicians like traffic, as if extraneous movement might jeopardize the transparency fought so hard for in rehearsal. But transparency was only really there in the two Ligeti works and no more sophisticated in character than your garden-variety HIP texture; a reminder that when Boulez fusses over the balancing of a single chord there is far more in mind than diaphanous clarity.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bregenz announces 2013 festival

Operatic productions at Bregenz get two-year runs so this in effect David Pountney’s final programme before Elisabeth Sobotka takes over in 2015. Pountney has proven effective at putting his stamp on the festival and next summer’s edition is once again something to go for should you share his tastes. The new lake production, which he is directing, will be Die Zauberflöte, and the Festspielhaus opera the world premiere of The Merchant of Venice by one André Tchaikowsky. Pountney is currently just about Tchaikowsky’s only champion and presumably hopes to change that with a composer portrait that also includes concerts and a symposium. (Some months ago he blogged about Tchaikowsky here.)

Causing a bit of a stir in the Austrian press at the moment is the cutting of the festival’s drama division; I’ve also noticed that the concert programming, carried mainly by the Wiener Symphoniker, looks a bit bare compared to recent festivals, with no visiting ensembles. The drama cut Pountney explains as a conscious decision to free up funds for more music theatre projects, which include a new work based on Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, with music by Ben Frost and text adapted by Pountney, and the Austrian premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s American Lulu in the John Fulljames production that will later tour the UK. American Lulu is also rumoured to be making a 2014 appearance at the Theater an der Wien in yet another new staging, which would make three productions in as many years.

Because a British-born Intendant has to be good for something, full Bregenz details can be seen on one of the most comprehensive English-language arts websites in Austria.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Domingo awarded Staatsoper Ehrenring

The Ring of Honour is the highest decoration the house bestows and last went to Waltraud Meier in 2011* veteran Philharmoniker cellist Franz Bartolomey in June (now I remember). The ritual for this is to act surprised when ambushed with the award at the end of a performance, in Domingo’s case last night’s Simon Boccanegra, though he knows Austrian politics well enough to be genuinely astonished at the rare sighting of culture minister Claudia Schmied in an actual place of culture. Quite what prestige the Ehrenring retains is debatable, after Ioan Holender awarded it to himself in 2004.

*Meier was actually awarded the Lotte Lehmann memorial ring, a somewhat rarer honour, previously held only by Leonie Rysanek and Hildegard Behrens. On death, this ring passes to a female singer of the holder’s choice; Meier was named by Behrens. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Salzburg Biennale 2013 announced

Two festivals into its existence, the Biennale has become another compelling reason to visit Salzburg out of season. More Wien Modern than Steirischer Herbst – well, this is still Salzburg – the third edition features composer portraits of Rebecca Saunders and Vinko Globokar, a row of piano recitals (with the GrauSchumacher piano duo, Nicolas Hodges, Fredrik Ullén, Marino Formenti and Stephen Drury), and an assortment of intriguing music theatre and dance collaborations grouped under the tag Szenenwechsel. It was announced some months ago that Georg Friedrich Haas had won the 2013 Salzburg music prize – for something like the fourth time, if I recall correctly – so he gets a Preisträgerkonzert along with Aureliano Cattaneo, winner of the Förderpreis. New works have been commissioned from Saunders, Klaus Ager, Beat Furrer, Elena Mendoza, Wolfgang Mitterer and Gerhard E. Winkler; in total the festival boasts 30 concerts and 46 composers from 18 countries. The 2013 Biennale takes place from the 1st to the 17th March and, knocking a nought off the Salzburg norm, tickets for all events are a flat €20 with further discounts for students and a festival pass. The full programme can be found here (German only).

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ardittis, aborted

Bernd Richard Deutsch
Konzerthaus, 2/11/2012
Arditti Quartet

György Kurtág: Hommage à Mihály András – 12 Microludes, op. 13 (1978)
Georg Friedrich Haas: String Quartet No. 2 (1998)
Bernd Richard Deutsch: String Quartet No. 2 (2012, world premiere)

The abiding public memory of this concert is likely to be its premature conclusion, and a typically indignant reaction to Matthias Lošek’s announcement – cries of ‘Frechheit!’ and suchlike – moved Irvine Arditti to plead ‘ladies and gentlemen, please do try to enjoy the first half’. Enjoyment enough to hear the Viennese spoken to like wayward children, but also, speaking for myself, gratitude that despite the organizational ineptitude the concert had been brought forward thirty minutes to ensure at least a full and undisturbed first half.

I wrote about Georg Friedrich Haas’ second string quartet once before, here, and would like to see a score before adding anything about the piece, except to note that Arditti cellist Lucas Fels opened the work by lunging at his C string with extreme force, a conscious destablization which went some way beyond localized pitch distortion or the ever-present Arditti determination never to hold back. Aggression and undermining of the work’s persistent root works as well as gentle anchoring, and is consistent with those moments when Haas will simply let an idea disintegrate – the first interruption of the harmonica-like microtonal texture and subsequent baleful glissandi cohered well as a sequence and had more drama than I recall from LUX’s more placid performance – but the antagonistic take on Haas’ writing expended all its insights by the seven or eight minute mark and decimated the work’s spectral qualities. A more satisfying approach, or at least one with Schweben, remains the Kairos Quartet recording I came across shortly after hearing the LUX performance, available in full on Youtube.

European contemporary music is populated by more modernists who don’t take themselves too seriously than some would care to admit, an identity Bernd Richard Deutsch comes closer to typifying the more I hear of his music. His second string quartet, premiered in this concert, opens with squealing syncopated fragments possessed of a rollicking, beer-swilling temperament and accompanied on their return by some inevitable foot-stomping and brief yelping. A calmer central section is marked by classical refinement and animalistic asides, less Deutsch’s Mad Dog than Carnival of the Animals, nattering away over a sensitive cello solo which has further space carved out for it – a good thing too, as Deutsch has a real gift for melody – when the hyperactive fragments resume. From the work’s Bavarian sensibilities to the unshowy sophistication and economy of the writing, there is something refreshingly unpretentious and sharp-witted about the way Deutsch nudges disparate elements into dialogue, an aspect of style the Ardittis did justice to without redundant overstatement.

Breadth of expression is even greater yet in Kurtág’s 12 Microludes, and continuity of line was striking amid the fundamentally non-linear web of aphoristic statements and their foregrounding and afterechoes, set in motion minutes into the work. It was however in the realm of effect that this performance made its most lasting impression, particularly in the vocal quality ascribed to the pristine harmonics, semitonal clashes and aria-like solos. What a bridge – bearing in mind the influence of Kurtág’s Omaggio a Luigi Nono – this would have made to the cancelled Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima.

Image credit: Tony Gigov

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sie schaffen nur, und der Intendant sagt, wann sie geschafft sind

Elfriede Jelinek has weighed in on Alexander Pereira’s recent decision to pass over Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast in favour of Birtwistle’s Gawain at next year’s Salzburg Festival with one of her famous online literary polemics. Titled ‘Erklärung Pereiras’, the essay colours Pereira’s response to Neuwirth’s criticism as the manifestation of a God complex, a (mock?) diagnosis Jelinek puts through the wringer of her convoluted, breathless, and yet somehow always very precisely paced prose style. If I were Pereira I
’d have it framed.

On the subject of Jelinek and her online essays, another post well worth checking out is her 1998 piece on Schubert, which in part should be read in the context of this silliness (though she does not address the issue explicitly or take a side). In German is better, but there is also an English translation. ‘Requiem auf einer Oper’, available only in German, deals with the other Neuwirth collaboration for Salzburg (discussed here) that fell through. Her take on Die Fledermaus, penned soon after the far right entered Austria’s governing coalition in 2000, centres on transgression and amnesia, and by rights ought to be reprinted every Christmas in the programme for the Staatsoper’s Schenk production.

A final Jelinek plug: performances of An Ideal Man, ‘übermalt’ by Jelinek, continue at the Burgtheater through December, though the play and Barbara Frey’s largely vacuous production may be lost on those without an interest in Karl-Heinz Grasser and the more sordid aspects of Austrian politics; director Stefan Bachmann is no Nicolas Stemann but has turned in a perceptive and at times profound production of Winterreise, essential viewing for the text alone, at the Akademietheater (two performances remain).

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Steirischer Herbst

The Klangforum’s focus was on Austria, or rather Graz, at their most recent europa, global concert. Klaus Lang has long been a favourite of mine though Peter Jakober’s music interests me more; if only he were programmed more often in Vienna. I mount my young composers soapbox in the full review as in this and many other cases the very Austrian understanding of waiting one’s turn – for those working today this means turning 40 – has never seemed so stupid. There are many historical examples, one of my favourites being the argument, aired just after the war, that it would be unthinkable to award Schoenberg honorary citizenship of the City of Vienna as he had not yet turned 75.

Salzburg 2013

Full details are now released and you can gucken to your heart’s content on the website. Intermezzo already picked up the promising news that Kurtág's Endgame-inspired opera might only be postponed until 2014, and Boulezian highlights some Hagen Quartet Beethoven which you can hear for a fraction of the price at the Konzerthaus throughout this season (should you find yourself in Vienna, of course). Some other good news is that after Heinz Hollinger was left to carry contemporary programming this summer – and I did go a few events, which I didn’t write about here – next year’s offerings look in somewhat healthier shape if a little Wien Modern-ish (for those who recall random nods to spectralism, and the ‘British Collection’). Not remotely close to the Kontinente series, but there are enough pointless Hinterhäuser recriminations voiced in Austria as it is.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sackcloth and Nono’s ashes

Vienna gets just the one annual visit from the Arditti Quartet – a date cherished by Wien Modern regulars, who welcome the group like contemporary music royalty. A good event, then, to showcase Konzerthaus and audience to various Intendanten – the most I have seen at any one concert – including KH boss-in-waiting Matthias Naske, on working vacation from Luxembourg. Plans however went pear-shaped with the announcement that the house’s management had scheduled a commercial event to take place at the same time in the Großer Saal (normally not a problem) and not thought to clarify how much amplification Herbert Grönemeyer’s gruff crooning would require (very much a problem).

(For those who weren’t there, the first half went ahead as planned and there will be a review shortly.)

In a lengthy email sent this afternoon, the Konzerthaus explains the cock-up: the Grönemeyer concert was supposed to be a ‘relatively intimate event for his closest fans, not like a stadium appearance’. The relevant Denglisch used here is ‘Club-Gig’. It was thought that the delicate quietude of Nono’s Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima would be undisturbed, that is until the first sound check at 17:00 on the day of the concert (according to the house), though something doesn’t add up here as the Arditti concert was pushed back to 19:00 some days before, with reference to Grönemeyer. Adding insult to injury, Wien Modern had this date booked well before Grönemeyer’s management approached the house, and on the night, their Intendant and innocent party Matthias Lošek was left to carry the can and get roundly booed (yes, Rico Gulda, I saw you lurking sheepishly).

The silver lining is that a portion of the commercial takings will be going to a good home. Vienna claims to be the world’s most livable city but all doubt is removed concerning the global capital of whinging, and Wien Modern’s patrons have not been reticent. Now I wonder if the concessions extracted are starting to get ridiculous. On the night we got:
  • A complimentary drink as we waited all of fifteen minutes to hear that the second half was cancelled
  • A free col legno CD
  • A ticket refund (not, understandably, for those admitted with the Generalpass)
  • The promise that the Ardittis will give two Wien Modern concerts next year, one to include the cancelled Nono
As of this afternoon, the house is adding two free tickets to one of the five events listed after the jump, so if you bought your ticket at the Kassa and didn’t get the email, be sure to claim those. If pushed, Kerres will throw in one of his Guantanamo jumpsuit cakes and a weekend in Darmstadt. On a serious note, I am curious to see how many of those so aggrieved at missing the Nono will show up for this ensemble LUX concert.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

What’s good for the goose is good for the Wiener

Every local has their opinion about where best to eat it, but in my experience Martinigansl (in season this month) doesn’t tend to vary too much from place to place: half a carcass swimming in Rotkraut with a Knödel or two for extra ballast and your goose is cooked gans gut, as the thigh-slapping German pun goes.

The half of the Wiener Staatsoper’s flock that migrated to Japan last month is slowly heading back west and the operatic roast am Ring is still mostly turkey: much ballet and the dilapidated Rennert Barbiere which was Holender’s schedule filler of choice, three Domingo Boccanegras, more de Billy/Jaho Traviatas, and undying Wiener nostalgia for Neil Shicoff’s Cavaradossi. November’s big revival is a Rutherford/Botha/Eröd/Young outing for the Schenk Meistersinger, while double Gluck is kein Zufall for the month’s new productions: the Staatsoper’s Alceste, starring Véronique Gens and Joseph Kaiser, is directed by Christoph Loy and conducted by Ivor Bolton, and Iphigénie en Aulide, with Bo Skovhus, Michelle Breedt, Myrtò Papatanasiu and Paul Groves, continues Torsten Fischer’s Gluck series for the Theater an der Wien. The Wiener Symphoniker plays the TadW and the Freiburger Barockorchester the Staats; komisch.

Also at the TadW this month are concert performances for two touring shows: Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens on the 11th and the countertenorfest that is Vinci’s Artaserse on the 20th with Jaroussky, Cencič and the Concerto Köln. The Kammeroper is dark this month apart from four remaining performances of La cambiale di matriomonio.

At the Musikverein, Mahler is back on the menu with an Auferstehung this evening to conclude the Pittsburgh SO’s residency and, on Sunday, the Third from the Bruckner Orchester and Dennis Russell Davies. The Linzer return on the 11th with Schubert and Balduin Sulzer, an Upper Austrian priest and prolific composer whose music generally gets more performances than it deserves from Russell Davies. The Tonkünstler appear on the 9th, 10th and 11th with principal guest conductor Michail Jurowski and the Dvořák cello concerto (soloist Clemens Hagen, as in the Hagen Quartet) followed by Glazunov’s ballet music for Petipa’s The Seasons, and again on the 22nd and 25th with the Brahms Double (Renaud Capuçon, Daniel Müller-Schott) and the Symphonic Dances. Alan Buribayev conducts. The Wiener Symphoniker and their beloved Georges Prêtre offer Beethoven 4, the Rosenkavalier suite and La Valse on the 14th, 15th and 17th, and return on the 24th and 25th with Noseda conducting the Isle of the Dead, Rhapsody of a theme of Paganini (Khatia Buniatishvili), and Beethoven 5. It is the Musikverein’s turn to host the concluding concert of Wien Modern on the 16th and the RSO Wien’s focus remains contemporary for their next concert on the 23rd (the premiere of a piano concerto by Miroslav Srnka, with Cornelius Meister and Nicolas Hodges). Members of the RSO also put on an Exilmusik concert in the Brahms Saal on the 28th. The Concentus and Harnoncourt round off the house’s bicentennial celebrations with Mozart’s version of Handel’s festive ode Alexander’s Feast on the 28th and 29th. Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart (Schumann, Beethoven, Mendelssohn) on the 18th, 20th, and 21st are not to be missed; November’s other visiting orchestra is the St Petersburg PO with Brahms and Shostakovich on the 26th and Prokofiev, Mendelssohn and Dvořák on the 27th. Soloists for the two nights are Nelson Freire and Arabella Steinbacher, and Yuri Temirkanov conducts. The only recital of note is Christoph Prégardien on the 17th and 19th; on the 22nd the Kopelman Quartet are joined by Elisabeth Leonskaja for the Franck Quintet.

This month is a busy one for our beloved Wiener in both Vienna’s major houses: an indisposed Muti sees Tonkünstler chief Andrés Orozco-Estrada make his Philharmoniker debut this afternoon, tomorrow morning and Monday with a mostly unchanged programme save for the addition of a Stravinsky violin concerto from concertmaster Rainer Honeck which I suspect comes from here. At the Musikverein, Andrís Nelsons conducts Wagner overtures and Chaik 6 on the 17th and 18th; at the Konzerthaus, Brahms (with Grimaud) and Beethoven 5 on the 25th. Bychkov is in town for his 60th at the end of the month with more Chaik, another Wagner overture, and the Labèque sisters. Also celebrating a Wiener birthday is Daniel Barenboim, at the piano for first concertos from Chopin and Chaik at the Konzerthaus on the 10th and 11th. Daniel Harding conducts.

A Mozart piano concerto from Maria João Pires should be enough to lure you to the same place on the 7th or 8th; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Robin Ticciati also perform the Siegfried Idyll and Beethoven 6. The Wiener Symphoniker under Fedoseyev perform Shostakovich and Weinberg on the 20th and 21st, and the Grubinger circus rolls into town with the Camerata Salzburg in tow on the 26th. Solo and chamber highlights this month include Ingolf Wunder on the 13th, Florian Boesch on the 19th, Yuja Wang on the 29th, and Salzburg prices for Netrebko’s Iolanta on the 30th.

Not listed here are all the Wien Modern events at these venues and other places; dates and details can be found for that here. As always, the Alte Schmiede has events worth checking out, while LUX, a Schmiede ensemble in residence, performs Georg Friedrich Haas’s Third String Quartet at St. Ruprecht tomorrow night. There’s more contemporary music at all the usual fringe venues, but my recommendation is to make the most of Wien Modern while it’s on. For those after something different, the 9th annual KlezMORE festival starts today and runs for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Wien Modern chez Essl

27/11/2012, Schömer Haus (Klosterneuburg)
Marcel Toledo: Luminous Emptiness (world premiere)
Conductor: Jean-Bernard Matter
Klangforum Wien: Thomas Frey (flute), Bernhard Zachhuber (clarinet), Nenad Markovic (trumpet), Andreas Eberle (trombone), Annette Bik (violin), Benedikt Leitner (cello), Adam Weisman (percussion)

This Friday, Austria’s Nationalfeiertag, marked twenty-five years to the day that Claudio Abbado conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker in Wien Modern’s inaugural concert, and while his programming for that event – Berg, Nono, Ligeti, Boulez and Rihm – displayed a curator’s reverence for the modernist canon which persists to this day (the 2012 edition will close with Quadrivium and Rituel, works whose performance should ideally never have to rely on the pretext of Wien Modern), he also understood that any self-respecting contemporary music festival must to some extent, and for better or worse, reflect the current state of artistic achievement. Wien Modern has never been a huge commissioning festival, with the Schwerpunkt concept traditionally a glorified retrospective for either worthy doyens or younger figures recognized for more expedient reasons, and Abbado’s initial counterbalance now finds itself proving a Viennese rule: do it right (TadW), or let a stopgap solution stand for a generation.

At the time, it didn’t take too much smooth talk to outsource the job to the wealthy Essl family, guaranteeing the commissioning of at least one concert-length work in every festival. That’s Essl as in the composer Karlheinz Essl Jr., whose activities are more likely to be familiar to non-Austrian readers than those of Essl Sr., who is in turn the Austrian household name for introducing the nation’s consumers to DIY and ploughing his bauMax profits into art collecting and, more recently, the Sammlung Essl in Klosterneuburg, one of the few privately maintained museums of its size in the country (situated next to the Schömer Haus, which serves as the Wien Modern venue and bauMax’s corporate HQ). The enduring Wien Modern deal is that Essl Jr., or kHz as he likes to be referred to, guides the commissioning process more or less autonomously.

Without wishing to besmirch the Essls’ philanthropy – any blame is Wien Modern’s for allowing this venture to remain the festival’s major commissioning arm – there have emerged a few of the typical problems one encounters when resource-providing donors exercise influence over artistic processes: the requirement to explore the Schömer Haus’s none too singular acoustic properties – somewhat poetically compared to San Marco – has led to some clunky shoehorning of spatial effects in the past and did so again in this concert; and then there are the patterns in instrumention and spacing which crop up repeatedly, like this –

(If were you there on Saturday night this photo might look familar; it is in fact from the 2004 premiere of Mark Applebaum’s Asylum).

Anyway. On the basis that any Klangforum performance is worth attending for exceptional playing and total commitment to the work at hand, however debatable its virtues, this concert was no disappointment. Marcel Toledo’s Luminous Emptiness, on the other hand, lived up to the less flattering half of its title. Bookended by some reduntant spatial experimentation – heightened breathing and the Schömer Haus’s caged staircase given a good polyphonic battering with tablespoons – the piece itself played out seated in the round below, in ten minute sections which adhered feebly. It was here, more so than in any other Essl commission, that I felt the stipulation of a concert-length work – albeit something not so lengthy as to cause us out-of-towners the inconvenience of missing the 21:10 Vienna-bound S-Bahn – irritatingly counter-productive. The seventy minutes may have passed quickly enough, but then something of musical satsifaction beyond mere bearability – preordained to some measure by purely localized development in and of each segment – seemed withheld by the compulsion to mould self-contained movements into a sprawling totality.

Toledo’s aggresively non-thematic materials waned in inspiration as the evening wore on, save for the derivative Webernian collage of agigated voices coming to rest on half-diminished chords and tritones which formed the work’s first seated section. The looser, more flowing stretch of free composition which followed sounded as such in the most intriguing sense of liberation from stylistic precursors, though missing here was the canonic interplay readable in the full score from my bird’s eye vantage point but lost through conducting oblivious to Haupt- and Nebenstimmen. Only in a handful of exposed brass echoes could one belatedly detect that contrapuntal organization had come to pass. Elsewhere, we were usefully reminded of the importance of calibrating dynamics relative to different instruments, one of the conductor’s most critical duties; here, much shaping and phrasing evident on an individual level was prevented, through poor balance, from assuming the discursive character that even rudimentary organized movement of voices can impart.

Further sections seem almost too tedious to recount: some thankfully brief minimalistic sawing away which the Klangforum members treated with the mindless disinterest it deserved; again – as a reward? – greater independence for individual voices, sometimes overlapping and aligning satisfyingly, notwithstanding the reliance here on cliché, flabbiness, and drift; the obligatory bauMax interlude for abused gong and other everyday objects which took some metal-on-metal pounding; and, most weirdly, the carbonated electronic babble of the Gesang der Jünglinge rendered for solo strings. As the Klangforum ascended the staircase once again, spoons in hand, I was in two minds as to whether this long-winded entity would benefit all that much from being chopped up and having its more laboured parts dispassionately cut out.

More photos from the event after the jump.