Monday, 30 April 2012

Classical Vienna im wunderschönen Monat Mai

One of these days I will be sure to relegate the Staatsoper to the bottom of the monthly highlights post and lead with the Elektroakustik goings on about town. I’m just waiting for the right month, which would not be one where I have a cancelling diva to set the ball rolling, namely one ailing Renée Fleming, who called off her Musikverein Liederabend last Wednesday and has now pulled out of the Staatsoper’s upcoming Arabella, replaced by Emily Magee. House Zdenka Genia Kühmeier – who really is something in this role – and house Matteo Michael Schade are joined by (fast becoming) house Mandryka Tomasz Konieczny. Franz Welser-Möst, who got some wonderful sounds out of the pit the last time he conducted this opera, leads the first two performances (6th & 9th), and Stefan Soltesz the last (12th). The Magee replacement has followed the time-honoured Holender principle of ‘who’s already in town singing absurdly strenuous roles?’ which means two Arabellas and two Salomes for her with only two nights off between the 9th and the 14th, hmm. [It took him a while, but Dominique Meyer did good: Salome just became a must-see event with the announcement that Lise Lindstrom will sing the title role.] About that Salome: Ulf Schirmer conducts and the cast is rounded off by Falk Struckmann, Thomas Moser and lebende Legende Dame Gwyneth Jones. Also returning am Ring: Jean-Francois Sivadier’s inch-deep Traviata (Bertrand de Billy, Ermonela Jaho, Francesco Demuro), Christine Mielitz’s Höllander (Graeme Jenkins, Jennifer Wilson, Endrik Wottrich, and house Holländer Albert Dohmen), and Roberto Devereux with Gruberova. There’s another Liederabend at the end of the month (Goerne & Andsnes), and also a premiere: La Clemenza di Tito (director Jürgen Flimm, conductor Louis Langrée, with Schade, Banse, Garanca and the suddenly ubiquitous Chen Reiss). In the first week of the month there are two performances left of Konwitschny’s Don Carlos (1st and 5th) and three of Meier and Seiffert’s Cav/Pag (2nd, 4th, 8th). And in the second of his highfalutin’ Positionslichter talks on the 5th FWM tries once more to convince the Viennese he is a great philosophical mind, or sticks his clunking Upper Austrian foot in his Mund again.

Things are typically quiet over at the Theater an der Wien for much of May as they not only have the annual Festwochen opera to prepare for but also a big Festwochen play or two (this year Simon Stephens’ Three Kingdoms). The opera is of course Deborah Warner’s Traviata, which opens on the 27th. Irina Lungu sings Violetta and Vienna regular Saimir Pirgu Alfredo, Omer Meir Wellber conducts. The strange figures in the image above show Rudy Sabounghi’s costume designs (limp-wristed cross-dressing Alfredo might explain a lot, but I fear the wtf-ery here is of a different nature). About the Festwochen, which starts on the 11th: there will a post in the next few days.

Following their Europakonzert, the Berlin Phil and Dudamel repair to the Musikverein for one concert on the 2nd (Beethoven 5, Also Sprach Zarathrustra). On the 3rd and 4th David Afkham is back in town with the Wiener Symphoniker and Coriolan, the Berg violin concerto (Arabella Steinbacher), and Shostakovich 10. And on the 13th and 14th the Symphoniker are back with the guy who’s still nominally their chief conductor. I thought Fabio Luisi would cancel these concerts, but it turns out he’s quite the Das Buch believer and perhaps just as well, because certain Viennese Heiligtümer you don’t mess with. All my recent Bücher have been with the Arnold Schoenberg Chor and I was looking forward to the massed forces of the Singverein, but sadly can’t make it. I might make their other concert though – they are double-dating with the Philharmoniker and Muti for a programme of Salieri, Haydn and Schubert 8. The Phil have a further two and a half programmes, both with Barenboim, who takes over the Schoenberg violin concerto (with his son) and La Mer from Boulez,  and a few days before conducts Mozart 543/550/551, or if you want some variety Mozart 543 & 551 and Ibert’s flute concerto with Dieter Flury. Barenboim also accompanies a Trebs Liederabend on the 5th, which would be your only chance to see her in Vienna this season had it not sold out aeons ago.

Taking a leaf from his mentor’s book, Cornelius Meister directs a Boulezian programme of Boulanger, Zemlinsky and Schoenberg (Pelleas) on the 8th – I know I just wrote it’s the end of the RSO Wien’s season but that obviously meant season im Konzerthaus. Oh, and it appears the Singverein is juggling all three grand old Viennese mistresses this month. This cannot end well.

Only the three major visiting orchestras this month: the OAE and Ian Bostridge with all-Bach, Bruckner Orchester Linz with DRD and Mozart/Strauss/Haydn, and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Nikolaj Znaider and Sir Colin with all-Mozart. Soloists this month besides Netrebko include: Kirchschlager, Buchbinder, JDF (commercial promoter), Mojca Erdmann, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Radu Lupu.

On to the Konzerthaus, though let’s continue with exciting soloists: Ingolf Wunder performs on the 3rd in the Mozart Saal [postponed to 12th November], Hilary Hahn is in the Großen Saal on the 13th, as is Elisabeth Kulman with organist Wolfgang Kogert on the 15th, Murray Perahia on the 22nd, and Diana Damrau on the 28th (commercial promoter). Orchestrally, there’s the Wiener Symphoniker with Ivor Bolton and Simone Dinnerstein on the 8th and 9th (Mozart K 467/Bruckner 5), Norrington and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe with Haydn and Reger arrangements of Schubert Lieder on the 11th and 12th, two programmes from the LSO and Gergiev including the suddenly ubiquitous (in Wien at least) Gautier Capuçon, the long ubiquitous Symphoniker again at the end of the month with Luisi and Joshua Bell (Bruch violin concerto, Mahler 1), and Martin Grubinger und Vater once more with the Camerata Salzburg on the 30th (Martin père has arranged West Side Story this time). In the rarities column there’s Ivor Bolton again, appearing on the 4th with the Mozarteumorchester, Singakademie and a Schubert opera in concert, Alfonso und Estrella. I doubt I can make this but it is highly recommended; the last Schubert opera I heard in Vienna, Adrast (claimed to be a world premiere, with possibly a touch of Hogwash), was great fun even if it all sounded rather a bit like Mendelssohn.

Also on the Konzerthaus this month, lots of chamber music: the Belcea Quartet have a Beethoven quartet marathon on six nights between the 2nd and the 12th; in the ‘Rising Stars’ programme the Tetraktys Quartet perform yet more Beethoven (but also Ginastera and Nikos Stalkottas), confusingly, in the Brahms Saal (promoter is the Konzerthaus though); and an intriguing one-night-only (?) gathering of Lisa Batiashvili, Lawrence Power, Sebastian Klinger and François Leleux on oboe perform Mozart, Schnittke, Britten, and Nicolas Bacri on the 21st (Mozart Saal).

Contemporary music briefly, as this post is getting long. At the Musikverein, the Ensemble Kontrapunkte give their last concert of the season. At the Konzerthaus on the 14th, it’s the Klangforum’s final concert of 2011-12 as well, with some of my favourite Italian modernists (Nono, Sciarrino, Scelsi, Dallapiccola) and which, unfortunately, I can’t make. Emilio Pomàrico conducts. On the 22nd in the same place the Ensemble Resonanz and Peter Rundell perform Mozart, Lachenmann, Manuel Hidalgo and Rolf Wallin. The final of the Berio Saal’s Im Loth series sees pianist Manon-Liu Winter and ensemble deepseafish K perform works by the soloist, Wolfgang Suppan, and Cardew. Having enjoyed the Im Loth series (unblogged, mostly) I may do the unthinkable and skip Cornelius Meister’s Pelleas for this. There’s a fair bit of interest going on the Alte Schmiede this month, as always, but I won’t bother relisting as full details are set out very neatly and only a click away (seriously, do click). And a few Austrian composers who have been devoting their energies lately to the setting of pornographic texts will put their efforts on show at the event ‘Dirty Songs’ in the Volkstheater’s Rote Bar this Wednesday (tickets on the door or under By ‘dirty’ they mean mostly fruity language from the Volksmund, which tends to involve very little between lame and pathologically disturbing, because Haneke has to get his inspiration from somewhere.

Meister & Leonskaja end RSO Wien season

A paean to Elisabeth Leonskaja, who played Rach 2 at the RSO Wien’s season closer on Friday. Her conductor was Cornelius Meister, who is making a thing of programming a Martinů symphony every season, and this 4 was as terrific as his 2 last year. Next season comes the Fantaisies symphoniques.

To the people I know in Britain and the States who complain about never seeing Leonskaja: her touring has picked up a lot and she actually doesn’t give so many concerts in Vienna any more, so your chance is as good as mine! Just saying. 

Image credit: Lukas Beck

Viennese worship at Gruberova's feet

Past Wiener glories...
Wiener Staatsoper, 26/04/2012

Edita Gruberova / Alexander Schmalcz Liederabend

Vier Canzonen, D 688
La pastorella al prato, D 528
Vedi quanto adoro,  D 510
Suleika I, D 720
Suleika II, D 717
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D 118
Lied der Delphine, D 857

Gesang Weylas
Der Gärtner
Zitronenfalter im April
Er ist’s
Der Knabe und das Immlein

Ich wollt ein Sträußlein binden, op. 68 no. 2
Säusle, liebe Myrte!, op. 68 no. 3
Als mir Dein Lied erklang, op. 68 no. 4

The reaction to this recital – which involved two long standing ovations and enough bouquets to fill the green room a couple of times over – was, yes, a touch overblown, but then I imagine audience members of a certain age were witness to Edita Gruberova’s Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta back in the day at this house, so nostalgia was inevitable. Those Wiener who could be overheard claiming that the voice is practically unchanged may have been kidding themselves, though Gruberova’s instrument, as has often been noted, is remarkably well-preserved – and particularly its timbre, which in these Lied selections sounded fresh and melodic with nary a hint of shrillness all evening. Messa di voce, trills and runs were all typically Gruberovian, and vintage Gruberova at that, while sopranos twenty years her junior would kill for the clean attack and resonance of her top notes (five Cs, a D flat and E flat, by my count, and none negotiated with the trademark scooping, incidentally).

There was plenty of scooping elsewhere, which didn’t bother me, though I can’t say I find it as artistically grounded as Gruberova’s admirers claim. Her agility is not what it used to be, as ‘Ich wollt ein Sträußlein binden’ showed, and intonation was often under and with odd consistency (phrases that started out flat remained that way to precisely the same degree). And what some might call interpretation I felt subordinated to Gruberova the force of nature, particularly in the Rossinian stylings of Schubert’s Vier Canzonen (rendered into full-blown Donizetti without the slightest trace of irony). There was a stab at ‘proper’ Lied singing with ‘Gretchen’, which my companion felt captured the spirit of the song (her line was very subtle, I’ll give Gruberova that, but what it said about the song, I’m not sure).

The second half was no less operatic, with Gruberova’s Zerbinetta act laid on pretty thick in both the Wolf and Strauss selections. One need only read Susan Youens’ McClaryist Wolf readings – and do read them, because her analysis is a lot more convincing than McClary’s – to recognize how open to interpretation many of his Lieder are, and what can often point to a sinister underside (see the opening of ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’) was skated over in Gruberova’s frivolous, even glib accounts. But ja, to hear the legendary Zerbinetta act in ‘Säusle, liebe Myrte’, that was special. Equally memorable was the radiant tone and vividly spun line of ‘Als mir Dein Lied erklang’.

At the end there was some Munich-directed banter about this not being her last Liederabend in Vienna and encores included a wicked ‘Wir armen Primadonnen’ quite obviously directed at the usual suspects (her Ange smile was DEAD ON). Flowers were not hurled but placed reverentially at Gruberova’s feet by a steady procession of fans.

This being Gruberova I can’t say I heard much of accompanist Alexander Schmalcz, except to note that his name is no indication of his playing. He performed on a Bösendörfer and the timbre sounded less tinny than the Steinway Rudolf Buchbinder used in the last of these Liederabende I attended, but the problem of a distant and hollow sound remains. With Goerne and Andsnes coming up next month the suitability of the space will no doubt come under scrutiny once again (an exception was made for Gruberova, but the Viennese are still not sold on the idea of Liederabende in the Staatsoper).

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Peter Serkin: Wolpe, Takemitsu, Schoenberg, Beethoven

Some performers are perfectly at ease in the bright acoustic of the Mozart Saal, while others find the exposure intimidating – including, I think, Serkin, whose generally faultless playing belied his shaking hands. Much of the programme was overpedalled and few pianissimos, or even pianos for that matter, were played without the soft pedal. The dampened muddiness reached a somewhat idiosyncratic height in the play of dynamic contrasts in the nineteenth Diabelli variation. Elsewhere more of an obvious or ironicized sense of parody was missing in the Beethoven, which not only spoofs Diabelli in its less reverent moments but also Don Giovanni. The central adagio in the Wolpe, titled ‘Too much suffering in the world’, also seemed rather passive. Much can be made, in Schoenberg’s Suite, of the parody of centuries-old forms using the ahistorical musical language of the twelve-tone method, but Serkin’s interpretation was, again, an irony-free zone and I’m afraid I found it rather ugly and characterless. The best playing of the evening was to be found amid the delicate textures and gentle utterances of the Takemitsu, which, mobile phone excepted, was quite haunting.
Sad to hear Peter Serkin, whose virtues I am well acquainted with, at somewhat less than his best. You can read more here. The ‘suddenly, startlingly’ passage I didn’t write, just to be clear; normally I wouldn’t point these editing things out, but there was a bit of detail here which didn’t make the cut and makes the broader point I’m making look less than articulate. The crummy title, however, I take responsibility for.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Berlin Phil kantern zum 1. Mai

1st May 1926
I should be writing about Edita Gruberova and Cornelius Meister’s brilliant Martinů now, but Alex Ross published a 1st May post yesterday which got me thinking about events which will take place in Vienna next Tuesday.

May Day is a great day to have a birthday (am mentioning this for no particular reason! Though if you are of a gift-giving disposition then please do consider Zerbinetta’s pledge drive). More significantly, in the Austrian public holiday stakes International Workers’ Day is regarded as second in importance only to the National Day on 25th October. The marches started here in 1890 and were important events for the burgeoning social democratic movement and its thinkers, whose actions had been both limited and shaped up to this point by the 1867 law on associations. (The associational culture cultivated by what would later become Lager factions, i.e. ‘high’ culture meeting the politics of the masses with all its attendant aestheticization of politics problems, is something I work on.) This brings me to the first of Tuesday’s events, hosted by the Schoenberg Center, which will mark Schoenberg’s involvement with workers’ choruses with an open house in Mödling and a concert given by the Kapfenberg choir ‘Stahlklang’ (a common workers’ chorus name). Tuesday is my only chance to see the Konwitschny Don Carlos so unfortunately I can’t go to this. Details here.

May Day also marks the founding of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and this year they are in Vienna with Gustavo Dudamel. Their annual concert for Europe was announced the other week and once I’m done marching I’ll be going to this. I’m no expert on the event but do know that apart from taking place in a different European city every year there’s not much European significance to it, and that the venue tends to be unconventional. (Warning: the grumbling starts now). I presume there are reasons for choosing the Spanish Riding School beyond those given here, but really Berlin Phil, is this the best you could do? For one thing, this concert has been selling very slowly and today I received my second email offering a discount on the $$$ ticket prices (it seems that the Viennese are of the opinion ‘Beethoven amid the stench of horse shit for €200? No thanks’). Then there are the optics of it, or as the Phil puts it on their website, the ‘cultural significance’ of the venue. Presumably the Viennese tourist office can’t be too displeased that a major televised event is showing off some local attraction other than the Musikverein and Schönbrunn, and from the Berlin Phil’s perspective we don’t need to push the rarebreed stallion and k.u.k. analogies too far. In addition to horse droppings there’s the whiff of a page lifted wholesale from the Vienna Philharmonic’s book.

In the spirit of Simon Rattle’s Kabelwerk Oberspree concert in 2007, this event could have taken place at the Expedithalle of the former Ankerbrot factory in the tenth district, now, like Oberspree, a cultural centre and venue for (among other groups) the Neue Oper Wien. There’s a Tag der Arbeit connection there and the space is big enough for the Phil still to make $$$ while offering a range of ticket prices and perhaps, with the appropriate outreach and marketing, even showing the TV cameras something of the changing face of Europe (the tenth district has one of Vienna’s highest immigrant populations). The significance would not just be cultural but also historical, pointing to Germany and Austria’s shared past (not to mention the Berlin and Vienna Phil’s): the Anker factory was aryanized in 1938 but became a centre of resistance and was monitored closely by the Gestapo during the war. Naturally this would never have made it past the proposal stage – the  immigrants and uneasy historical resonance are all far too close to the bone for the Viennese – but it is just one of many alternatives which would have some actual cultural significance beyond showing the world, yet again, a complacent city living off its imperial past.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Brahms chez Wittgenstein

The Musiksalon in the (razed) Palais Wittgenstein, 1910
Haus Wittgenstein, 22/04/2012

Allan Janik in conversation with Irene Suchy

Daniel Ottensamer, clarinet and Christoph Traxler, piano

Brahms: Sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat major, op. 120 no. 2/I

Brahms: Sonata for clarinet and piano in F minor, op. 120 no. 1/III

Weber: Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano in E flat major, op. 48/III

Walking through the metal frame doors to sit in the salon that logic designed and encounter Brahms, whose own formal perfection can so often seem, Schoenberg’s ‘musical prose’ notwithstanding, as expressively mute as this room, and valued in my business for proving the ‘rightness’ of analytical techniques (if the fetishization of the Brahms of the Harmonielehre is anything to go by); and in performance, to hear the restricted voice of that rigour concealed so credibly, with the stifling historicism banished and the German master’s lyrical gift somehow abstracted; and then be brought to the Vienna School and made to reflect if Brahms really is as much their composer as Wittgenstein is their philosopher, only to consider that other fin-de-siècle master of motivic structuring, Wolf, and dwell on how inscrutable and reductively resistant his generative impulse is, and how accounting for all his motivic relationships would be just be the start, leaving the ever-present problem note, particularly in his Lieder, which is structurally and expressively essential and yet threatens to challenge the whole piece or at least one’s analytical conception of it; and, finally, some mind-wandering by association over to the slippery slope of Wittgenstein and Wolf gratuitously insulting Brahms (Wolf: ‘The art of composing without ideas has found its worthy representative’, Wittgenstein: ‘I can begin to hear the noise of machinery’)… Hmm, this was not a good afternoon for my Brahms problem.

For those without said problem there was much to admire about Daniel Ottensamer’s articulate playing: plenty of flair here, and the flowing line that makes everything in Brahms sound so natural. His Weber was rather the showstopper too. The pianist, Christoph Traxler, isn’t as far along in his career as Ottensamer but impressed with prize-winning accompanying – technically effortless, superb touch, and sensitive and complementary to Ottensamer while coming sparklingly to the fore at all the right moments – and is a name to watch out for. These two have released a CD of this programme which deserves a plug.

The musical Umrahmung was quite clever as Wittgenstein was a clarinettist and Brahms a regular at the family’s Musiksalon over at the Palais Wittgenstein (formerly on the Alleegasse, now Argentinierstraße). A family story has it that Brahms came round to dinner one evening and Ludwig’s socially awkward sister Hermine was so on edge she retired to spend the evening vomiting into a lavatory. But without mentioning this or the quotations above Wittgenstein authority Allan Janik downplayed the Brahms connection and, more generally, the place of music in Wittgenstein’s thought. Janik is the co-author of Wittgenstein’s Vienna, a fin-de-siècle Wien standard reference work and model for similar studies (including, in the musicological domain, James Wright’s Schoenberg, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle and Nicholas Cook’s The Schenker Project), and for those who know this book and a few of his articles this Gespräch, pitched for a general audience, didn’t contain much of interest. There were a couple of anecdotes I hadn’t heard and some observations about Wittgenstein’s reading habits, but his delivery was stream-of-consciousness and the way he ignored or contradicted moderator Irene Suchy suggested that the two weren’t on the same page. Suchy is actually a seasoned moderator and has some wissenschaftliche Tätigkeit on the side, including on Wittgenstein, so for her to hinder this discussion was disappointing.

Next up in this Haus Wittgenstein series: Clemens Hellsberg, chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, and Albena Danailova, its first female concertmaster, on the topic of the VPO and WOMEN. Details here.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Wiener Staatsoper future plans

I couldn’t attend Dominique Meyer’s recent Publikumsgespräch and since the press didn’t report it I assumed that nothing of interest was said. Stimmt doch nicht! I translate from the Merker [with corrections due to unwisely posting this in too much of a hurry, see the comments/upbraiding below], starting with the most alarming item:
  • Otto Schenk will direct once again in Vienna. On the phone with Dominique Meyer he said words to the effect of ‘But I’m practically dead’, only then to ask which set designer he could work with.
  • Holender-era regular Marco Arturo Marelli is also signed up to direct a new production.
  • Official reason for FWM’s veto of a Thielemann Ring CD is that one performance of each opera wasn’t enough for a recording and could ‘affect the reputations of the artists involved’. Citing cancellations, Meyer might have simply referred to those who stepped into these performances more or less unrehearsed and left it at that. Thielemann’s view was that one performance was enough and for those of us, including myself, who found these performances exceptionally poor on the orchestral side, Meyer’s reference to this might be interpreted as an implicit acknowledgement of problems that patch sessions would not have resolved. My view is that FWM made the right call on this, and for those who thought more highly of these performances there will at least be a full broadcast on the ORF (27 April, April 28, May 1, May 5). 
  • Do we need another Wiener Phil FroSch so soon after this? Yes, says GMD Franz Welser-Möst – the revival he recently conducted was recorded for CD.
  • The Staatsoper’s upcoming Fleming Arabella, also with Welser-Möst, will be broadcast on French TV and possibly released on DVD.
  • Lots of new Strauss too: Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s co-produced Ariadne next season, a 2015 NP with a role-debuting soprano, and later an Ägyptische Helena NP; the FroSch centenary in 2019 was also mentioned.
  • Tentative Palestrina discussions are underway with Thielemann.
  • On Italian rep: ‘We already have a good [Graham Vick] production of Ernani,’ said Meyer, ‘and I would programme it if only I could rely on two casts capable of singing it’.
  • Il Trovatore NP on the back burner – check back in 2016/17, commented Meyer.
  • Meyer is no great fan of French repertoire with the exception of Pélleas, and is happy to leave this to the TadW (where in any case Pélleas has been recently performed) – but every season he wants one or two NPs of operas new to the Staatsoper (no word on what happened to similar new commissioned opera promise).
  • 30% is the reduction in performances the Staatsoper would have to make were they to pay the same soloist fees as La Scala or the Bay Staats.
  • But according to Meyer one singer has asked for more (and been turned down) – Marcelo Álvarez.
  • Meyer says that legally he can’t do anything about scalpers who resell tickets directly outside the house but has had words with them (which I’ve seen firsthand). But even if we accept that these people are trading unofficially, that does not alter the fact that there is official trade between the Staatsoper and a number of independent commercial ticketing agencies in operation across the city. This would seem to make good commercial sense were the Staatsoper to be hedging against genuine risk, but for three or four fairly sizeable agencies to have remained in business for so many years indicates a profitability that the house is willingly ceding. One only has to look in the windows of these places to see the mark-up that is commercially viable for certain performances. Whether the Staatsoper sees any cut of this is unclear, and perhaps there would be uproar were Meyer to introduce 800 euro premier seating (which is what certain people seem willing to pay for Anna Netrebko), but this is an issue which the house is not discussing in an entirely open manner.

Und wie lebendig es mit nächstem in Madrid sein wird!

Directors are typically NFI at Wiener Staatsoper revivals, so this is encouraging. They are marketing this as a Neuinstudierung but with the Staatsoper that can mean a range of things, many of them involving little to no input from the original director (cough Schenk cough). Don Carlos opens tonight and continues on 28/4, 1/5 and 5/5.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Larcher's Padmore Cycle: Heimat die keine mehr ist

Tirolian composer Thomas Larcher has always struck me as a musician in the mold of that great Austrian stylistic dabbler, Ernst Krenek. A great deal of the twentieth-century finds itself reflected in Krenek, who rode the wave of numerous landmark ‘-isms’, a master of all (and his twelve-tone opera Karl V, the first full-length instance of operatic serialism, is a masterpiece) and exemplar of none. It wasn’t so long after his experiments with electronic music, contemporary with Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge, that he sank into musical obscurity, having attempted in his little-known later works some enforced union of the various styles he had served. Unlike Krenek, Larcher enjoys the postmodern inalienable right to wander freely among musical traditions – and yet, in the order he imparts to his eclecticism, he picks up, in a sense, where Krenek left off.

I push the Krenek parallel quite far, as I tend to do with Larcher, but then his Padmore cycle is practically modelled after the Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. The other influences I mention were discussed at length in a pre-concert Gespräch between Larcher and Till Fellner, whose questions were so intelligent it made you weep at the sorry state of Austrian music journalism. Incidentally, this was the first time I’ve been overwhelmed by Mark Padmore. For more, see here.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

RSO Wien 2012-13

Somebody extend this man’s contract
Now this is what I call an imaginative season. So there’s your Sibelius 5s, Bruckner 9s and German Requiems just to keep the Viennese coming. But I think the rest speaks for itself.


23rd November, Cornelius Meister – Miroslav Srnka piano concerto, world premiere (Nicolas Hodges), Dvořák 7

7th December, Ingo Metzmacher – Schreker, Mahler (with Petra Lang), er, Pfitzner, Berg op. 6

1st March, Cornelius Meister – Grieg, Pärt, Sibelius 5

5th April, Cornelius Meister – This is the concert where the police start arresting people who complain about not hearing Brahms 4 in over a week

5th May, Alain Altinoglu - Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien (Petibon, Singverein)


11th October, Cornelius Meister – Strauss’s Festliches Präludium commissioned to open the Konzerthaus 100 years ago, 4’33’’ (silence after the awful Festliches Präludium – yes indeed, Meister knows what he’s doing), extracts from Parsifal (arr. Meister), Lulu Suite (Laura Aikin)

5th November, Susanna Mälkki – Bernhard Gander (dirty angel, 2010), Olga Neuwirth (Remnants of Song ... an Amphigory, 2009), Ligeti (Lontano; Atmosphères).

12th December, Cornelius Meister – more Miroslav Srnka (Reading Lessons, 2007), Mozart Clarinet Concerto (with Sabine Meyer), Martinů 6

18th January, Timothy Brock – Brock’s semi-annual film concert: The New Babylon, 1929 (dirs. Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg, score Shostakovich).

22nd February, Cornelius Meister – Boléro, Rhapsody in Blue (Lang Lang), Ein Heldenleben

15th March, Cornelius Meister – German Requiem (with Christiane Karg, Luca Pisaroni, Wiener Singakademie)

26th April, Cornelius Meister – Shoichi Yabuta (Anima, world premiere), Korngold violin concerto (Renaud Capuçon), followed by, um, Bruckner 9

10th June, David Robertson – Ligeti (Romanian Concerto), Steven Mackey (Beautiful Passing for violin and orchestra, with Anthony Marwood), Petrushka

Klangforum Wien 2012-13 highlights

The mystery of the cryptic postcard is now revealed… These seven concerts – heading: ‘Europe, global’ – won’t be all we hear from the Klangforum Wien next season (full Wien Modern details are yet to be revealed, for one thing), but this selective tour of contemporary Europe is what my Lieblingsensemble have on subscription offer in the Mozart Saal of the Konzerthaus:

1st October 2012
Héctor Parra – Moins qu'un souffle (à peine un mouvement de l'air), world premiere
Alberto Posadas – La Lumière du noir
Elena Mendoza – Fragmentos de teatro imaginario (versión corta), Austrian premiere
Francisco Guerrero Marín – Anemos C

Enno Poppe, conductor

30th October 2012
Klaus Lang – new work (to be premiered in September at the Klangspuren festival in Schwaz)
Peter Jakober – Dort

Markus Deuter, oboe
Anders Nyqvist, trumpet
Gerald Preinfalk, saxophone
Olivier Vivarès, clarinet
Thomas Lehn, synthesizer
Peter Böhm & Florian Bogner, sound design
Johannes Kalitzke, conductor

18th December 2012
Arnulf Herrmann – Seestück (Traum) und Tanz, Austrian premiere
Johannes Kalitzke – Angels Burnout Graffiti, world premiere
Sven-Ingo Koch – Der Durchbohrte
Hans Zender – Issei no kyó

Lukas Schiske, percussion
Claron McFadden, soprano
Markus Zapp, tenor
Vocalensemble NOVA
Peter Böhm & Florian Bogner, sound design
Johannes Kalitzke, conductor

11th January 2013
Mark André – da, Austrian premiere
Franck Bedrossian – Charleston, Austrian premiere
Yann Robin – Vulcano, Austrian premiere

Alejo Pérez, conductor
Lorelei Dowling, bassoon

19th February 2013
Ole Henrik Moe – Eraser's Edge
Malin Bang – new work
Simon Steen-Andersen – On And Off And To And Fro, Austrian premiere
Evan Gardner – Erstarrung, Austrian premiere

Peter Rundel, conductor

12th March 2013
The East
Dimitri Kourliandsky – Objects impossibles I oder II, Austrian premiere
Petros Ovsepyan – Crossed, Austrian premiere
Vykintas Baltakas – Redditio
Anna Mikhailova – Map of Tight Joint. part B. Bonus of Binary Balance, world premiere

Emilio Pomarico, conductor

16th April 2013
Europe, global
Unsuk Chin - Gougalon
Dai Fujikura - ice
Saed Haddad - On love II
Eduardo Moguillansky - new work

Peter Rundel, conductor
Joonas Ahonen, piano

There is much of interest here, a lot of it unfamiliar to me – which is how it should be – and not a single Beat Furrer work in sight, which has to count for something. For more see here, though best ignore the thought bubbles – is the obliviousness some joke I’m not getting? If not, then the Spain one (‘Does an insular position at the outermost reaches of the continent allow the preservation of a locally ascribable and identifiable musical idiom?’) really is something.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Musikverein 2012-13 season announced

2012 means 200 years of the Musikverein, a milestone marked in the latter stages of this season and the first few months of the next in the Rolodex-raiding way that Intendant Thomas Angyan knows best. So no different from any other Musikverein season then, except that all the eggs do seem to have been put in the anniversary basket, leaving 2013 looking bereft of stars. Or so went some foyer Raunzen I heard at the MV last night.* (Odd for the Thielemann Publikum to complain about the absence of Dudamel and Lang Lang, but let us move on.) There are indeed many annual visitors we won’t be seeing in 2012-13, the biggest beasts among them Barenboim, Boulez, the Berlin Philharmonic, and any one of the Big Five (normally it’s at least two). Why could that be?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Heinrich Schiff to focus on conducting

Schiff has had shoulder problems for a couple of years and last month cancelled recital and concerto appearances in Germany, saying that his future plans were limited to conducting. Now the news out of Baden-Württemberg is that he is to end his cello-playing career altogether, though if the Vienna press doesn’t report it then don’t rule out a return. I’m yet to be convinced by his conducting but his qualities as a cellist are widely known, and I wouldn’t be without his Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Schnittke and Cerha recordings, to name but a few. Then there are the collaborations like this:

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Bezaubernd sind sie heute wieder

Regarded as one of the best young string quartets around today, the Quatuor Ebène have made a name for themselves with their homogeneity of sound, in equal parts vibrant and mellifluous, and the powerful immediacy of their playing. Hearing them for the third time in this concert, I was no less taken with this or their considerable musicianship, but had my reservations about the prominence of a certain Gallic sensibility in Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

Earlier in the week I heard an expanded Quatuor Ebène play on superb form as always, and thought yes to a Capriccio sextet which does something more interesting than aping our local pit, jawohl to the range of response in their spirited Souvenir de Florence, and meh to music hall Poulenc in Verklärte Nacht. See here for more.

Performances are underway as I write, so now is a good time to mention the glaring omission in my round-up of this month’s events – the premiere of Woyzeck 2.0, a new chamber opera by Markus Lehmann-Horn. The promoter is peripatetic conscience raiser of contemporary opera the Neue Oper Wien, the venue the temporarily defunct Kammeroper. It’s received some enthusiastic notices and I’ll be giving Renée Fleming a miss next Wednesday to take it in. Two other performances take place, tomorrow and on Sunday. Booking can be found here and some information about the opera in English here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

They’ll learn to love the Neue Komplexität yet

Konzerthaus, 13/04/2012

Wiener Philharmoniker, Antonio Pappano

Haydn: Symphony no. 22 in E flat major ‘Philosopher’
Jörg Widmann: Teufel Amor. Sinfonischer Hymnos nach Schiller (2009). World premiere
Brahms: Symphony no. 4 in E minor, op. 98

Ever noticed how the Wiener Philharmoniker can make a dog’s dinner of its core rep and yet plays tricky contemporary music astonishingly well? Lord knows it’s not as if they like the modern stuff (grapevine dismissals heard about recently include Boulez’s Notations I-IV and VII, Salonen’s piano concerto and Cerha’s percussion concerto). The Salonen I didn’t get to hear, but the other two were given fine performances with no outward sign of reluctance, indeed quite the opposite. And so it was the case again in this concert, which featured dedicated playing in the world premiere of Jörg Widmann’s Teufel Amor and some utterly pedestrian Haydn and Brahms.

Monday, 16 April 2012

GMJO/Afkham: ways to climax like Isolde

The programme’s conceptual underpinnings were plausible enough on paper: Zimmerman unpacks and expands Webern while preserving his tightness of motivic construction; Scriabin gives Wagnerian themes of longing, will and self-assertion his distinctive impressionistic, mystical gloss. In practice however, the strongest impact made concerned three big climactic high-points, and the way they bring about endings which attempt to rise above earthbound musical finality. Wagner does this by packing Isolde off to the eternal bliss of self-obliteration (as Slavoj Žižek once put it); Zimmerman with a ‘never-ending’ intensification of sound (his description); and Scriabin by positioning his radiant ecstasy of C major at the end of the Poème de l’Extase as a transcendental breakthrough. One constant at the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, which auditions every year, is their massive forces – forces which dispatched these epic culminations with astonishing power and vitality.

The Wiener Staatsoper may have reverted to old habits as soon as Claudio Abbado prematurely quit as GMD, but his reforming stint in Vienna at the end of the 1980s left behind two fledgling musical organizations which have since flourished into institutions with formidable reputations: Wien Modern and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. The latter is now on its 25th Easter tour and I reviewed their Vienna stop for Bachtrack. Between this Webern op. 6 and Berlin’s new Lulu it has not been a great Easter for the Second Viennese School, but the rest of the programme was impressive: much exciting playing, Iréne Theorin taking the packed stage in her stride for the Liebestod, and promising conducting from David Afkham. Click here to read more.

Image credit: Chris Christodoulou

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Parsifal redeems Thielemann and Wiener Philharmoniker

Wiener Staatsoper, 08/04/2012

Falk Struckmann | Amfortas
Kwangchul Youn | Gurnemanz
Simon O`Neill | Parsifal
Angela Denoke | Kundry
Andreas Hörl | Titurel
Wolfgang Bankl | Klingsor
Stephanie Houtzeel, Juliette Mars, Norbert Ernst, Peter Jelosits | Esquires
Benedikt Kobel | First Grail Knight
Janusz Monarcha | Second Grail Knight
Ileana Tonca, Christina Carvin, Stephanie Houtzeel, Anita Hartig, Alexandra Reinprecht, Zoryana Kushpler | Flowermaidens
Juliette Mars | Voice from Above

Christian Thielemann | Conductor
Christine Mielitz | Director

Forget the spotty cast and Christine Mielitz’s tawdry mess of a production – the one wondrous wounding spear at the Wiener Staatsoper’s Parsifal last Sunday night was wielded by one Christian Thielemann, who led an Ereignis im Graben night to remember and puzzle over.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Name that choir

Last week’s glut of things that are heilig continued with Bruckner’s second setting of the liturgy in a first-rate performance from the Chorus sine nomine. More about that can be read here.

A short note about the Thielemann Parsifal at the Wiener Staatsoper – my non-blogging job is very interesting but heavy on the workload and I’ve not found the time yet to write about Sunday, but as tonight is the final performance I will say this briefly now: if you are in Vienna and have the time to spare then get yourself down to the returns or Stehplatz queue, because what comes out of that pit simply has to be heard. (Jaja, Wilhelm Sinkovicz isn’t always wrong.)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The dog ate the ripieno

This PROVES it, godamnit
Joshua Rifkin’s theory that Bach had no ‘choir’ in the modern sense may have gradually inched its way towards acceptance, but for all the heated discussion his research has generated, one-per-part Passions are rarer than one might suppose. Austrian conductor and choral director Martin Haselböck is absolutely convinced of the theory’s authenticity and promised in an excitedly worded programme note that this performance would give us a St Matthew Passion as Bach conceived it in scale and interpretation.
One-per-part didn’t sound too lean and mean in the acoustic of the Minoritenkirche, but I’m not sold. Do click through anyway to read more about Tilman Lichdi’s Evangelist (highly recommended).

As for last week’s other Passion, I seem to have suffered a Midgette moment. I would add that a UniWien colleague (and Baroque specialist) also found the playing and conducting below-par. But in the interests of even-handedness here’s a more obliging review from the London Good Friday performance which reads as a rebuttal to mine.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Friday, 6 April 2012

Thielemann Rising

This deserves a mockery spot in Die Fackel

And on the third day Christian Thielemann conducted Parsifal and all was put right with contemporary Wagner performance as the Wiener Staatsoper once again proved its INDISPUTABLE OPERATIC DOMINANCE. Christine Mielitz’s production returned last night and will be back on Easter Sunday and the 12th with Falk Struckmann, Kwangchul Youn, Simon O’Neill and Angela Denoke. Also am Ring this month: a Stemme/Garanča Rosenkavalier, a Furlanetto Boris, a Meier Santuzza, Konwitschny’s Don Carlos, and Gruberova in recital.

Olivier Py directs the Theater an der Wien’s Hamlet, which points to a Gerald and Birkin duel and Horatio torn over exactly whose nice bit of rough he’s supposed to be, and who knows, that just may prove sufficiently distracting from Marc Minkowski’s conducting and the crappiness of the opera. Potential vocal highlight: Christine Schäfer’s Ophélie.

The honours for this month’s most out-there concert programme go, unusually, to the Musikverein: the 12th sees the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester perform the Vorspiel/Liebestod (with Iréne Theorin), Webern’s Sechs Orchesterstücke, Zimmermann’s Photoptosis, and Scriabin’s Poème d’Extase. The conductor originally responsible for this craziness was Ingo Metzmacher, who is ill, meaning that David Afkham’s Musikverein debut is brought a month forward. There is another GMJO concert on the 11th (Immolation at Leningrad, hmm). Afkham is the assistant conductor for this GMJO tour but deserves props for leaving both programmes unchanged, and I’m looking forward to seeing him for the first time.

Also on at the Musikverein: a repeat of Anna Prohaska’s well-received recent Wigmore Hall programme, La Mer with Patrick Lange and the RSO Wien (I’m avoiding), God again Thielemann and the Phil (all-Schumann concert), the BRSO with Nelsons and Grimaud, a Renée Fleming Liederabend, and a (commercial) bel canto evening with Vesselina Kasarova and Krassimira Stoyanova. A Rainer Küchl solo spot in the Thielemann concert was enough to put me off, but I should also mention it’s sold out anyway. For all this and a few other things I’ve haven’t listed see here.

At the Konzerthaus: more commercial bel canto, this time with Rolando Villazón; the Wiener Philharmoniker and Antonio Pappano with Haydn’s Philosopher, a Jörg Widmann commission and Brahms 4 (repeated at the Musikverein); the Quatuor Ebène with a great programme of the Capriccio sextet, Chaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and Verklärte Nacht; an all-Schubert Gerhaher Liederabend; and (hopefully) banishing all thoughts of Schlockmaninov, Cornelius Meister and Elisabeth Leonskaja with the RSO Wien (second piano concerto and Martinu’s fourth symphony). Dates and details here.

It was warming to see a recent Googler find his/her way to this blog with the search term ‘contemporary music Vienna April’ and I am pleased to be able to thrill and amaze! At the Konzerthaus on the 13th there is a birthday concert in honour of grand old man of the Viennese contemporary music scene, Lothar Knessl, on his 85th (programme: Haubenstock-Ramati, GF Haas, Feldman, Kagel; sadly I have a subscription ticket for Pappano and the Phil that night). And in the Berio Saal on the 18th, Mark Padmore sings his Larcher cycle and Henze’s Sechs Gesänge aus dem Arabischen (pre-concert event at 19:00: Till Fellner in conversation with Thomas Larcher). Over at the Musikverein, the Ensemble Kontrapunkte perform Eröd, Sterk and Schwertsik on the 16th. The Austrian National Library hosts its Musiksalon series of three concerts in the spring and while there’s no theme this year, Upper Austrian composer Helmut Schmidinger gets a portrait concert on the 11th. The ensemble LUX (reviewed here) is back at the Alte Schmiede on the 20th with Webern, Nono, Reinhard Fuchs and Thomas Wally, and on the 13th at the same place an event in the not-making-this-up category: cover versions of rock songs and Wienerlieder presented by Gilbert Handler (vocal, electronics), Alexandra Sommerfeld (vocals, readings), Gunther Rabl (sound alchemy) and, ahem, Hugo the singing robot. For details of these and more Schmiede events see here.

Not complaining, but for no particular reason this is Verklärte Nacht Month. (That last link should be for the Ebènes, which means, yes, three times in three days).

Say what with a postcard

A surreal mailshot from the Klangforum Wien:

(Should you not have received this postcard, please call or send us an email).

(If you have received this postcard, you can be pleased.)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Not so tall tales

Director William Friedkin doesn’t put a dramaturgical foot wrong in his Theater an der Wien production of The Tales of Hoffmann and yet doesn’t challenge, or even engage with, any of the opera’s Romantic positions. Did the notion that serious artists aren’t entitled to live life, for instance, ever have much currency outside of the 19th-century? (Photographs of Schoenberg, who took himself with the utmost seriousness, show him perfectly at ease on family beach holidays.) I don’t know if it is a good thing that these questions don’t seem to matter in Friedkin’s production, but then it is so well-crafted, and its three tales of thwarted love follow on so seamlessly from one another, that it covered up its lack of substance without ever seeming unsatisfactory for doing so.
This was my first William Friedkin production and if you click through you can see I thought there wasn’t much wrong with it and I didn’t find it lacking for not having much wrong with it. The aesthetic and stagecraft brought to mind Miller, Carsen and Sellars at various stages – never these three at their best, but by the same token never at their worst.

Angel Blue was like ‘and who says Giuletta has to be a diva?’ and it worked up to a point. Still, good to see her back at the TadW after the nasty taxi incident of last year (and also interesting that this article had her down as Antonia, which might have been a better role for her).

This production used the new Kaye/Keck critical edition and things didn’t drag as much as I’d been led to believe. There will be a second run in July (4/7, 6/7, 8/7, 10/7) with Marlis Peterson singing all four soprano roles.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Easter = French sentimentality + Viennese charm

Or so the Wiener Symphoniker is saying. And you can see for yourself as their bonbon-stuffed Easter concert, coming up this Sunday, will be streamed for the first time on (link & programme here).

Georges Prêtre was scheduled to conduct but is ill and will be replaced by the oh-so-sparkling, er, Bertrand de Billy. And it seems she’s survived being *eaten alive* by Angela Gheorghiu at the Opernball because this blog’s favourite ORF Kulturlady, the gaffe-a-minute Barbara Rett, will be moderating the event. Worth her weight in entertainment gold, that woman.

Christ crucified, Bach buried alive

Oh for some hysterically informed performance
The ovation for last night’s St John Passion, given by Stephen Layton, Polyphony and the OAE, was depressingly stürmisch, though seeing as Harnoncourt is the local benchmark this should be viewed from a certain perspective. In reality it was a poor Passion by any standard: wretched playing throughout from the OAE (whose viola d’amores hit an ‘Erwäge’ rock bottom), an Ian Bostridge who meted out mutilation to music and text while sounding terribly pained himself, and clueless conducting from Stephen Layton. The polite version of this review is, incidentally, here.

I was fairly soft on Polyphony because the main choral problem lay with the insanity of HIP dogma: to see Layton trying to coerce a full, massed sound out of 26 people and hear so much vocal forcing as a result was a hard test of endurance. If 
any performance were validation for larger numbers, this was it. As Layton didn’t seem unduly concerned by what was going on in the pit, there also arose a perverse contrast between the heavily regulated singing on stage and lack of ensemble in the orchestra.

Still, if you click through you’ll see that we are on a headshot roll.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

And his sweat became like drops of blood

I know the world has heard enough lame Johan Botha jokes but in this case it was no exaggeration. Here’s a review of his agony in the garden with the Wiener Philharmoniker, Philippe Jordan, and a score I want to hear performed more often. There’s also yet another brilliant conductor headshot for your amusement.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Brahms, Brahms, Brahms, Brahms, Brahms

And almost nearly Brahmzzz, which is not what I expect from the Gesang der Parzen and Nänie, and certainly not from Cornelius Meister. Still, the Wiener Singakademie were great. Click here to read what I wrote for Bachtrack and see a great photo they chose which I’m captioning ‘Dracula’s paedophilic younger brother’.

That was on Thursday. On Friday I went to Tosca at the Staatsoper – the improbable one with Nina Stemme and Franz Welser-Möst. A 
Plácido-channelling José Cura – not that he managed to channel any of Plácido’s better qualities, mostly sounding just crass – and Stemme’s volume made for over-the-topness which threatened at times to outdo Tosca’s inherent over-the-topness, starting with a ‘Mario! Mario!’ straight out of the Dolmio ad. As limited compensation for the lack of subtlety there were Stemme’s efforts to do something interesting with characterization (she wears the trousers in the Cavaradossi household but keeps Tosca fairly level-headed in what was compellingly stated feminist reading). Franz Welser-Möst also seemed to have ideas but didn’t execute them with anything approaching Stemme’s clarity: the opening chords were a heavy and thick wall of sound held for an eternity, Puccini à la Bruckner, which promised delicious subversive fun, if only Franzi had followed through rather than leaving the upper hand there for Cura to take (which he did). Ultimately the evening sounded mostly rudderless, as Stemme was more co-operative, allowing things to calm down again, but without any audible sign of control regained in the pit. The Phil were superb but for all the hearty playing they weren’t able to find the sound and phrasing Welser-Möst was looking for after he dropped the Bruckner act, though only, I think, because it was to be found lurking dubiously in the aural equivalent of Südtirol.
Marco Vratogna, a solid Scarpia

Margarethe Wallmann’s 1958 production is, I believe, the oldest on the Staatsoper’s books, and yet it seems a good twenty years younger than Schenk’s 1968 Rosenkavalier both in look and spirit. Go figure.

Image credit: Michael Pöhn / Wiener Staatsoper