My February highlights lead with Jonas Kaufmann, whose Groundhog month is already underway at the Wiener Staatsoper (two Fausts remain: 7th, 10th). On the 13th and 15th he repeats his Met recital more or less note for note (Liszt, Mahler, Duparc, some changes to the Strauss songs) at the Musikverein and Graz’s Stephaniensaal. Would Dominique Meyer have given his last remaining follicles to have had that Kaufmann Liederabend at the Staatsoper, at the risk of irritating Musikverein Intendant Thomas Angyan even further? It’s hard to say. Roberto Alagna continues the house’s ill-starred series on the 8th and ticket sales have, again, been dreadful, though with the Staatsoper doing nada to promote the event (they also haven’t released any programme details beyond ‘diverse Komponisten’) I’m predicting that this experiment will be quietly put out of its misery at the end of the season.
There are two more tenor highlights am Ring: Botha’s Chénier (one performance left tomorrow) and Villazón’s Nemorino (18th, 21st). Normally I’d be out – I can’t stand either opera, both productions are Schenk, and life is too short – but I might try Villazón. I have a soft spot for Roberto de Simone’s adeptly traditional Così and am glad it wasn’t scrapped for another Martinoty catastrophe; the production returns at the end of the month with Barbara Frittoli, Adam Plachetka, Toby Spence and Jérémie Rhorer conducting.
The Theater an der Wien goes back to baroque this month with a new Telemaco. Bejun Mehta is in the title role, production is by Torsten Fischer. I’ll be going to this despite bête noire René Jacobs in the pit. This month’s Oper Konzertant is Il Giustino (on the 21st), which I can’t make.
On February 14th the Musikverein is offering a date with Mitsuko Uchida, and with Schubert’s last three piano sonatas on the programme it’s an unmissable one. Things drop off after that: from the 15th to the 19th the Wiener Philharmoniker play through two of the programmes they are taking to New York in March for their annual Carnegie Hall weekend. It’s a lot of Sibelius (7, 5, 1 in one programme) and Mozart KV 550 coupled, strangely, with the ‘Ring without words’. Which means Maazel, my cue to avoid. For competent execution of a less dubious orchestral arrangement you’re better off with the Brahms first piano quartet arr. Schoenberg (Musikverein, 17th). The Five Pieces for Orchestra and the violin concerto are also on this RSO Wien programme, which is good as the only Skandal happening at the Musikverein nowadays is how little the Second Viennese School is programmed. Peter Eötvös conducts (I’m warming to him on the podium) and Hilary Hahn plays (warmed to long ago). My Tonkünstler highlight of the month is Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune, Strauss songs (Cäcilie, Das Rosenband, Morgen), and Mahler 4 with chief conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada and soprano Soile Isokoski (18th, 19th).
The Musikverein and Konzerthaus haven’t coordinated their diaries very well this month. Kaufmann’s Musikverein concert conflicts with a Nina Stemme Liederabend in the Mozart Saal (interesting programme: Wesendonck Lieder, Schumann, Weill, Rachmaninov). It was a hard decision, but I’ve gone for Stemme. Another recital I’m not happy to be missing that evening is Nelson Freire in the Großer Saal (a rich programme of Schumann, Granados, selections from Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives, and heaps of Liszt). The Konzerthaus also hosts the contemporary music event of the month on the 15th: the Klangforum Wien performs Feldman, Furrer, Cerha (Bruchstück, geträumt), Neuwirth (... miramondo multiplo ...) and the short flute piece Mémoriale which formed the basis for Boulez’s 1991-93 reworking of ... explosante-fixe ... (I know this well, but not Mémoriale). Bookending the concert with this and the Neuwirth (fascinating piece) is very clever programming. On the 19th, there’s a Martin Grubinger concert postponed from the 3rd. Programme includes The Rite of Spring arranged for three percussionists and two pianos (kept in the family with Grubinger, his father, his wife Ferzan Önder and her twin sister Ferhan). Grubinger is a big Publikumsliebling and the Konzerthaus has added an extra performance in the afternoon.
Slim pickings for high modernism at the Alte Schmiede this month, but there is a load of experimental stuff which based on my experience will be a mixed bag. I regard Ed Lear without Volkmar Klien as a bit of a risk; his the rosy glow of now (studio-based sound art for loudspeakers) is on the 18th. A better bet is unpredictable pianist Rupert Huber, who can always be relied upon to come up with something interesting. The Schmiede lists his influences as Beethoven’s harmony, Haydn’s phrasing, Steve Reich’s musical language and the blues of Blind Willie McTell – and they could have gone on... The event title Noise Gates is also the means, so the Schmiede informs us, which will separate live piano from a parallel electronic environment. With Huber expect something less old-hat than this sounds. Dates for this and many more February Schmiede events can be found here.
When they founded the Wiener Tage der zeitgenössischen Klaviermusik, the organizers invited John Cage, who hesitated, saying ‘I will come, if I can’. That was for an event that took place this time in 1993. Oh well. Now in their twentieth year, the Wiener Tage are doing the next best thing by devoting a week of workshops, masterclasses, lectures and concerts to the iconoclast. Cage experts they’ve assembled include Stephen Drury, Andrew Culver and Tim Ovens. Details about the event, which takes place this coming week at the MusikUni, are here. Concerts cost €15 (€9 concessions). Elsewhere in Vienna, an interesting-looking art exhibition inspired by Cage opens on the 16th at freiraum quartier21 (inside the Museumsquartier). Information in English can be found here and here.