Sunday, 30 September 2012

Wien Modern in full

This year’s Wien Modern features 37 different projects for which programme details are 37 clicks away on the website, so linked after the jump are the highlights, fleshed out a little. First, some kvetching similar to what I wrote here.

Last year’s Wien Modern had its Sternstunden – Cerha’s complete Spiegel, rehearsed exhaustively on a 9am-9pm schedule by Cornelius Meister and the RSO Wien – but lost focus around a week in and ultimately suffered the ignominy of being a far less interesting festival than an event with this length, funding and prestige should be. Possible reasons were discussed at the time in one of the traditional Café Heumarkt panel discussions titled ‘Wie modern ist Wien Modern?’, which concluded that the festival is modern in the sense of modernist but not particularly contemporary. This is A Good Thing according to Lothar Knessl – the only Wien Modern co-founder to still involve himself, and who at 86 shows no signs of quitting – because the problem for composers looking to establish a profile is getting repeat performances of their works, not premieres. The logic of thoughtful consideration given to a body of work rather than continually chasing after the thrill of the new is understandable enough, as is the argument that the pressure to be compositionally prolific – akin to the ‘publish or perish’ maxim drilled into untenured US academics – shuts out slow burners and late bloomers, but in practice this is a weak excuse for programming lots of music by composers who have been ubiquitous for years and are, more importantly, Knessl’s favourites (only around a third of whom, incidentally, are still alive). Now if you are under 35 the only prospect of getting your work performed at Wien Modern is at a fringe event like the three Alte Schmiede dates, but that I haven’t been able to get a seat at these concerts up to an hour before the scheduled start is as clear an indication as any that the festival’s public wants to hear more from younger composers yet to make a name for themselves.

A reduction in scale is another thing to puzzle over, what with a 5% subsidy increase and no Vienna Philharmonic on the programme this year (saving a handy quarter of a million), and the festival has, it seems, given up on ambitious operatic projects, which in an Olga Neuwirth year is a enormous missed opportunity. The Neuwirth composer focus is at least more focused than the Cerha Schwerpunkt last year, and the two female conductors involved is a nice touch. Finally, one bit of sad news is that the opening concert will be overshadowed by the premiere of a Penderecki double concerto over at the Musikverein; I and doubtless many others would gladly go to both concerts and the decision to ditch Wien Modern for a house which traditionally programmes as little new music as it can get away with was not made at all lightly. At best this is thoughtless, though chances are good it is petty; the BRSO after all is playing a different programme the previous night that wouldn’t clash so obviously. The Wien Modern concert is at least almost fully sold out, even if Penderecki followed by a tactical Eroica – Angyan has pill-sweetening down to a fine art – guarantees that not much will be written about it.

So now for what’s on:

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Muted homecoming

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria was last put on at the Theater an der Wien by Nikolaus Harnoncourt when still in his Bluto days, and with things falling flat in this new Claus Guth/Christophe Rousset production a spot of ol’ mad eyes might not have gone amiss for once. Not even gods clad as pastry chefs from outer space could liven up this staging, which aimed to show Monteverdi as a subtle observer of human psychology but in the end only seemed indifferent to the opera. My full review is here and some images from the production follow the jump.

Du kannst mich nicht dem Gericht ausliefern!

From Berlin, Manuel Brug reports that Olga Neuwirth’s American Lulu – abridged, yes, from that Lulu, and due to be premiered at the Komische Oper this Sunday – has been threatened by a last-minute injunction: the installation artist Stan Douglas claims that a Lulu dealing with themes of racial discrimination in America was originally an idea he developed, and one which Neuwirth lifted after the two fell out in 2008 (they had collaborated on the project since 2006 and a planned premiere, for which he created video art, never came to pass). Douglas is now claiming ownership of the concept, insisting that he wants to continue work on it with a different composer. The Komische Oper is in no doubt however that his €500,000 injunction won’t get very far. A statement reads ‘we are convinced that Stan Douglas has not played the smallest part in American Lulu and therefore can have no success with his claim ... we are confident that the premiere will take place.’ (As they well would claim to be, Brug adds, with a new production on the line).

There is more information about the opera in English on the KOB’s website. I do hope it doesn’t get cancelled as I really wanted to see it, probably in June now rather than November. A number of people have been fiddling with Lulu, so to speak, since the copyright expired, but of all those who have had a go so far I trust Neuwirth the most to do something interesting and intelligent. Obviously if Douglas is proven to have had some input he should get the credit he is owed, but with this composer a plea is put fittingly in Lulu’s own words:

Du kannst mich nicht dem Gericht ausliefern! Alwa, verlang was Du willst! Lass mich nicht der Gerechtigkeit in die Hände fallen! Es ist schade um mich! Ich bin noch jung. Ich will Dir treu sein mein Leben lang. Ich will nur Dir allein gehören. Sieh mich an, Alwa! Mensch, sieh mich an! Sieh mich doch an!

UPDATE: Douglas’s claim has been considered by a district court in Berlin and rejected, leaving American Lulu free to have her onstage day in court (actually showing a film of the trial has surely never been more topical).

On the fringe of infringement

While the second night of the sirene Operntheater’s epic fringathon didn’t quite live up to its billing, those who were there aren’t likely to forget Franziska Sörensen’s extraordinary Récitations pour voix seule in a hurry. The musicality of Georges Aperghis’s writing tends to shine through in all but the most incompetent performances, but here the various non-pitched noises – dry retching, shrieks, titters and the like – were even more improbably expressive than usual, with the moments when the soprano is given voice in the conventional sense no less eloquently phrased. While unabashedly theatrical, the piece also strives to forge an emotional bond of some intimacy and here the audience members taken by the gushing nonsense patter seemed as concerned with the character’s fate as those who sought to look through or past it. Quite whether this mysterious creature is blessed or to be pitied was a question Sörensen rightly left open.

The retweaked staging by peripatetic ensemble Oper Unterwegs proved as gleeful as the version performed last year at a Viennese swimming pool, with the stringing of a hammock a comedic improvement on similar business with a sunbed (the struggle to get a high-heeled foothold making a witty punchline of the ‘Je m’excuse’ tic), while the entrance of an aloof cyclist offered a more touching and fitting reflection on the work’s themes of isolation and human indifference than the daft inflatable double bed which had previously floated into sight. I must admit I missed Sörensen giddily wailing her way down the pool’s flume, but in every other respect this pared down staging was preferable despite being trimmed down to what sounded like just seven or eight out of fourteen numbers. A more obviously linear narrative than before was initially some cause for concern until I recognized it as greater focus brought to bear, with the story of a sheltered innocent compelled by the emotional poverty of her circumstances to don a rucksack and venture out into the world leading to a character caught in an internal conflict between hope and fear. With the ingenuity of Aperghis’s writing showing a poignancy, both in the staging and Sörensen’s singing, that I have yet to encounter in any other performance or recording, the work seemed every bit the superior postmodern companion piece to La Voix Humaine.

The rest of the evening saw some pointlessly tasteless transgressions of political correctness. Two dances, ‘Burka Baazi’ and ‘The striptease of the bearded lady’, scored as fragrant wisps of tonal nothingness by Akos Banlaky, had nothing more to offer than the would-be titillating proposition of men in burqas flashing fake breasts. The Kafka short story Der Jäger Gracchus, put on again by Oper Unterwegs, didn’t involve any singing, while Olga Neuwirth’s taped incidental music was kept brief – almost as if Unterwegs had to pay for it by the minute – and proved not as interesting as I thought it might have been. In a strange bit of Regie one of the Gracchus dialogues was done as a Japanese guided tour party inspecting the site of the boat and presumably where Gracchus died, though in Japanese translated abominably (ほとんど漢字覚えてないけど、話すのはまだペラペラな方) from a German text full of ugly stereotyping. Why the director felt moved to indulge in borderline racism was not made remotely clear in dramatic terms.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Not what the Klangforum had in mind

Publicity is gearing up for a new house for music theatre that will open in Vienna’s 2nd district:

And this is what we’re talking by ‘music theatre’:

The real news here, before I get sidetracked into speculation about the possible correlation between that video and the lack of nationwide vetting for adults who work with children, is that a controversial new concert hall for the Vienna Boys’ Choir is set to open in December after years of protests from local residents (construction involved the paving over of green space in the Augarten, one of Vienna’s most historic parks). The opposition has certainly been colourful, with the establishment of an ‘Agitchor’ calling itself the singing ravens, or the Wiener Sängerraben (Vienna Boys’ Choir in German is Wiener Sängerknaben), and there will be a final futile demonstration this Sunday which I will drop in on for shits and giggles. Comparing themselves to the Occupy movement, the ‘Bürger vom Augartenspitz’ have won some concessions including listed status for the park’s baroque gates, which would have been demolished per the original plans. But construction has gone ahead, prompting ten year old Leander, son of one of the protestors and a participant in the choir’s extracurricular education programme, to declare to the Sängerknaben’s director: ‘I hope that there will be one person less visiting that stupid concert hall for every single branch you are sawing off!’ (more of the website in English, including a comparison of the new building to a US stealth bomber, here). The Occupy references come at the expense of hot shot investor Peter Pühringer, who has donated 12 million euros to build the hall and also provided enough capital to keep the place independently operational for 65 years, after which it will pass into state ownership. So far Pühringer has yet to enjoy the same results as a philanthropist as he has done as a financier: if the Musikverein’s new VW Rabbit of an organ, to which he contributed over a million euros, were one of his hedge funds its ROI losses would have been cut long ago.

The programme for the Augarten hall’s first season will be revealed in a press conference on November 9th, though it’s clear the inaugural concert will involve Franz Welser-Möst, the Wiener Philharmoniker, and Haydn. Franzi and Haydn ought to be safe, but the Thomanerchor these boys ain’t and a more entertaining time is likely to be had at this weekend’s Sängerrabenfest (programme here).

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Not over until the fat lady cries wolf

‘People think that the federal theatres live in the lap of luxury. But here we count every roll of toilet paper. There’s zero scope to do otherwise.’ Thus complains an anonymous Staatsoper employee who insists that the house is owed a public subsidy increase after a freeze which has lasted for years. The outrage is manufactured right on cue in a classic move from the Holender playbook – albeit one which Holender himself, for all his flaws, practiced a hundred times more subtly – intended to hush the hostile noises which have bounced around the Viennese echo chamber over the past few days. Sven Hartberger on his own could have been politely disregarded, but now Sinkovicz has made a none too helpful intervention, arguing in his typically fatuous style that a house for contemporary music theatre could well be funded using money allegedly wasted by the holding company which manages the city’s federal theatres. Add Klaus Bachler’s finger-pointing to the mix and the resulting clamour for Vienna’s most feared c-word has reached a pitch only the most desperate appeal can hope to silence. And here it is: with reserve funds dried up and a season in danger of ending in the red, the house might be forced to cut down to *five* performances a week. In a house where quantity is everything, a grim thought indeed for the Staatsoper’s most loyal patrons.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Bachler fouls the national nest

This has not been a great week for Viennese pretensions of cultural grandeur. A couple of days ago the Klangforum’s Intendant vented his frustration at the Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien, saying that he has been silent for too long about the museum culture he sees hardening at both houses, and now Klaus Bachler has held forth in a provocative interview which harks back to the culture wars of the 1990s, when one heretical remark about our einzigartige Kulturnation, or ‘isola felice’ as Pope Paul VI once put it, was enough to get you branded a Nestbeschmutzer by Jörg Haider. Gert Korentschnig, one of the few Viennese music journalists worth reading, has a knack for pushing buttons, though as with many a Nestbeschmutzung piece – and let us not forget this was elevated into a literary genre by the likes of Bernhard and Jelinek – the rhetoric is backed up by the legitimacy of the claims made. In English Bachler’s comments seem all the more calmly and incisively worded; for my translation of selected highlights follow the jump.

Jesus, Byron and Küchl walk into a bar...

... and one of them sticks out like a macheted thumb. More on Vladimir Jurowski’s inauspicious Wiener Philharmoniker debut at the Theater an der Wien here; there is nothing really to add except that Rainer Küchl was Konzertmeister for the night and managed to centre his pitch around a tenth of the time while playing with squealing tone all the time.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Fringe benefits

Given the content and timing of Sven Hartberger’s press conference and the coverage he must have known it would generate, it’s a pity no plug was made for the events taking place this weekend at the ten district’s former Anker factory under the rubric ‘13 – no risk no fun’. Organized by the sirene Operntheater, the retrospective-cum-preview is spread across two long evenings and showcases work from Vienna’s music theatre fringe, much of it highly creative and well worth seeing. Highlights yesterday included the ZOON Musiktheater’s contribution, Das Bupadest Verhör, which involved a Marlene Dietrich figure flinging herself around a room that should probably have been checked for asbestos to the strains of a taped Gestapo interrogation, and Hans Zender’s Cabaret Voltaire for soprano and chamber ensemble, which seemed to owe less to Dadaism than Erwartung, or as my companion put it, a Salome spared and slowly allowed to go nuts. I Funerali dell´Anarchico Serantini, ostensibly to do with the death of Italian anarchist Franco Serantini, saw the men of the PHACE ensemble sat around a table in Agent Smith suits and shades for a clapping and squeaking routine – Clapping Music meets Récitations pour voix seule – about as artistically vibrant as old hat gets.

Tonight’s instalment will probably be the more interesting of the two evenings, not least of all for an actual performance of Récitations pour voix seule originally staged by Oper Unterwegs at a Hütteldorf swimming pool last year (titled here Flaschenpost), and an adaptation of Kafka’s Der Jäger Gracchus with music by Olga Neuwirth. Entry is pay as you wish, the bar and food make Gerstner at the Staatsoper look shabby, and the event is compèred by the worst ventriloquist a shoestring budget could buy. Do go if you can; the full programme is here and the live events start in a couple of hours.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Klangforum boss: opera in Vienna is artistically bankrupt

Wiener Staatsoper: promoting new art, one stage curtain at a time

I posted about the Klangforum’s 2012/13 season months ago and saw no point in attending a press conference to announce it. Sadly it turns out I missed the opportunity to hear their Intendant Sven Hartberger tell, in blistering fashion, some home truths about our complacent little Welthauptstadt der Musik. Claiming an ‘aggressive attack against all composers working today’, Hartberger called attention to the absence of any opera written during the last seventy years in Vienna’s three main houses this season, adding that ‘the public is being cheated out of these works’. That the Theater an der Wien, which once committed itself to promoting contemporary opera, has programmed nothing written after 1935 (Mathis der Maler) is a ‘disaster’. Following a meeting with Dominique Meyer, who ‘inherited a ruin’, Hartberger hopes there will be fresh impetus for the establishment of a house for contemporary music theatre (an idea floated some years ago, and no more likely now than it was then). Meyer added in follow-up comments to Der Standard that the Staatsoper puts on many 20th century works – er yeah, Der Rosenkavalier counts – and has commissioned new operas to be performed in coming seasons. Talk of ‘finding a balance’ is so unbelievably disingenuous I can’t bring myself to report it, if not quite as fatuous as the comment elsewhere in today’s press that the Klangforum ought to be grateful that the Staatsoper does not compete for their audience. Elsewhere Meyer remarks that ambitions ‘are not so easily realized. C’est la vie’ [sic].

M. le directeur can simper and shrug all he likes, but no amount of clichéd Gallic charm can conceal the fact that what the Staatsoper so abjectly fails to do poses no great difficulty for other European houses: this season the Klangforum will guest in pits including Oslo, Madrid, Toulouse, La Scala and the Bay Staats; and further afield at the Teatro Colon and in Japan.

In Vienna this season some contemporary opera, however loosely we may define it, is to be found on the periphery: tonight and tomorrow, the Sirene Operntheater presents a retrospective of work from thirteen different fringe groups; next month the Neue Oper Wien stages Le grand macabre; in December there is the premiere of a Kafka-inspired chamber opera, Verkehr mit Gespenstern, by Hans-Jürgen von Bose; and in May George Benjamin’s Written on Skin comes to the Festwochen, with the Klangforum in the pit.

Haus of cards

Having consulted my Wiener Musikleben eyes and ears (pictured), hard-bitten cynics the pair of them, and spoken to a well-placed source in the, um, basement of the Konzerthaus, I feel moved to weigh in again with some observations about Bernhard Kerres’ departure:

1) There was discontent with Kerres from the start
Described as ‘fierce resistance’ in this 2007 report, and to an extent understandable: following an unsuccessful attempt at an opera career, during which he founded the Wiener Taschenoper (his only experience of artistic management prior to the Konzerthaus appointment), Kerres went into business and never looked back. And as we have seen with Pereira this summer, the Austrians prefer to keep sponsors at arm’s length, so the impression of Kapsch levering ‘their’ man into the top job probably didn’t go down too well either. Now, Kerres turned out to be a capable Intendant, but the Viennese don’t let go of grudges too easily and particularly when they are proved wrong, as anyone who has met my grandmother will attest.

2) Kerres led a self-sufficient operation
The team Kerres assembled is an efficient unit, and it is quite possible he lacked patience for the various layers of supervisory bureaucracy (in this case, a board, a presidium, and grandly titled ‘senate’) typical of Austrian public institutions. Unlike Salzburg, where president Helga Rabl-Stadler now has Pereira halfway house-trained, the higher positions at the Konzerthaus are pretty much toothless, meaning that egos need to be regularly massaged and the appearance of influence kept up. Intendanten forget at their peril that their future, come contract renewal time, lies in the hands of these otherwise powerless functionaries.

3) He’ll be back
Kerres is wisely choosing not to burn his bridges, and has even diplomatically conceded a few regrets. Vienna will be closed off to him for a while but the classy departure should stand him in good stead and victims of Viennese back-stabbing usually suffer no damage to their employability, if anything the opposite (see Dominique Mentha).

4) The six million euro canard
Grounds for dismissal don’t come any more convenient to the fiscally cautious Austrians than structural debt. Kerres did the responsible, indeed necessary artistic thing, leaving only enough cash left over to service interest payments, money which some of those aforementioned functionaries have claimed to resent eating in to the budget each year. This seems just an expedient fig leaf for personal differences, but now that the issue has been raised the house will have to make efforts to deal with it. A change of guard usually sees some political traction, but there is no guarantee of outside support and without it Naske won’t be able to retire this debt over the next five years without compromising artistically. Which leads us to:

5) Doubling down on Naske
When Kerres was hired he made it through a long list of 160 candidates, ten of whom were interviewed exhaustively on their qualifications and vision for the house. Naske was also a candidate back then and with some degree of internal support, as his appointment by cabal this time round demonstrates. And as he is carefully signalling, if only by omission at the moment, the debt problem Kerres was not able to solve is not a matter he is going to slash budgets over. These two things alone add up to a position of strength that should remain formidable even if his face turns out not to fit, that is if the Konzerthaus is mindful of what acrimonious internal politicking did for the Volksoper over the last ten years.

MacMillan in Grafenegg

The final concert at Grafenegg is always devoted to the composer in residence, and while looking over my photos of trees I see my review is missing a name, though Cristóbal Halffter (2010) is another composer-conductor.

There are more things I could write about James MacMillan, but instead a few words about the structure above, which was used instead of the auditorium this year and not because the weather was appreciably better. The Austrians have traditionally been suspicious of outdoor concerts, at least at the highbrow end, and I fail to understand why this space is tolerated. What we should hear is unidirectional – so if you weren’t sitting directly in front of that harp, as I was, forget it (same goes for the brass) – while the audience’s contributions are picked up from all directions. Every cough bounces around the concrete walls, gulps of champagne become like Chinese water torture, and the grassy areas around the Wolkenturm sound as if infested by Austria’s noisiest crickets. On the final chord of Tristan the previous night the local church bell started tolling loudly, though thankfully on F sharp. Thielemann shuffling around the podium was audible even in the more booming moments of Bruckner 7, while MacMillan reported he had bugs crawling all over his scores. To stop the wind blowing over pages, Grafenegg has kitted out the musicians with metal clips that, yes, fasten to metal stands, so there is the sound of a hundred mousetraps going off with every page turn. Balance is a joke, with only the strings really blending, and overall I’d rather have the appalling amplification switched off and risk an even drier sound. Or better yet, stop putting a decent concert hall to waste and move the entire festival indoors.

More Grafenegg photos after the jump.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Matthias Naske confirmed as new Konzerthaus chief

The vote was unanimously in favour, according to Konzerthaus president Teresa Jordis. Naske starts at the Konzerthaus on July 1st next year, leaving behind on the same day what must be one of the grandest job titles in classical music: Director General of the Etablissement public Salle de Concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte and the Philharmonie Luxembourg. Not one to try with a gobful of strudel.

Naske’s initial contract period is for four and a half years, a better deal than his predecessor. Jordis has commented that the Konzerthaus is still left with some six million euros of debt following a renovation completed around ten years ago, and that to tide them over this season it has been necessary to lean heavily on the house’s main sponsor, the Kapsch Group. That would be the same Kapsch Group where departing Intendant Bernhard Kerres was CFO of the communications technology division until 2006, so naturally there is nothing awkward about this. (I wrote before about Kerres quitting the Konzerthaus here and here).

However weirdly the Kerres situation was handled, the Konzerthaus has at least successfully secured an exciting candidate for his replacement. All Naske has to do over the next nine months is avoid the ‘should have been Hinterhäuser’ muttering and find a way to magic those bothersome millions off the balance sheet. No biggie then.

Then again, he might want to start with smaller things first, like getting the Konzerthaus to acknowledge his existence:

Austria 1-2 Germany

This week it seems that opera is mirroring World Cup qualifiers, if only in the results and not the play. First up, Berlin’s Deutsche Oper of all places has put Dominique Meyer to shame with a production of Lachenmann’s Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (pictured) which early reports indicate is a triumph. Austria scores with the news, not yet confirmed but looking certain, that Kent Nagano and not Cornelius Meister will replace Simone Young as Hamburg GMD; with any luck this may make Meister keener to extend his contract with the RSO Wien. (There are those who won’t be impressed by Meister’s conducting until he acquires some status, but then we should remember that the same people once regarded Abbado as a washed-up insult to Viennese cultural pride.) Making this a comfortable win for Germany however is the Monteverdi madness at the Komische Oper and lack thereof at the Theater an der Wien: having thought over Claus Guth’s Ulisse I concluded there’s really not very much to think about, whereas the L’Orfeo/Odysseus/Poppea marathon in Berlin kept me glued to the screen for ten straight hours yesterday (thanks, 3sat). Barrie Kosky’s three productions amounted to a muted start to his Intendanz despite the various calling cards (lots of nudity, and outrageous drag, as there well should be, and pokers inserted into people’s bottoms), but if as conceptually bare as Guth’s latest production they at least avoided seeming as empty. What has been done to the music, by contrast, is far more audacious: taking Renaissance principles of expressive freedom as carte blanche to let her imagination loose, postmodern style, composer Elena Kats-Chernin has pushed Monteverdi’s scores down a rabbit hole with results only the most joyless purist would pull a face at. From the dodgy reverb of a Procul Harum Hammond to the hillbilly banjo, what might have sounded tastelessly gratuitous was incisively applied with a skilled orchestrator’s ear and welcome absence of New Age stylings, even if ‘Pur ti miro’ did sound like that Norah Jones crap all the rage in coffee shops a few years ago (you could avoid Starbucks, but never Norah’s sultry shtick). The continuo was HIP standard padded by various non-Western instruments I hadn’t heard since the days of ethnomusicology seminars spent sat on beanbags, listening to our esteemed ma’lūf specialist reminisce about what she smoked in Tunisia during the mid-1980s, so bear with my rustiness: a cimbalom, definitely; some kind of bowed instrument like a kamancheh or probably ghazhak, as it seemed much lower in register; a plucked instrument, no European lute, for which the umbrella term of dutar will have to do; and a few other things I didn’t get. The beauty of these instruments is something one needs to be no ethnomusicologist to recognize, and how well they served that of Monteverdi's music should perhaps have come at little surprise too. Those who subscribe to the HIP hegemony will have no patience for this contemporary alternative, but they get Monteverdi performed their way often enough as it is and nobody but the most partisan HIP devotee would accuse Kats-Chernin of lacking respect for the music. So go and enjoy, and consider: after six hours down and four to go, your resistance to a Monteverdian electric guitar may well be much reduced.

Briefly, back to this morning’s football analogy. Three yellow cards for Austria in that match, and three here:

Wilhelm Sinkovicz reports that a new Klagenfurt production of Der Freischütz has nothing to do with Weber’s opera. Why could that be? He explains: ‘as I have said for years, the problem is that psychoanalysis was invented. Ever since, there have been people who can explain everything.’

The Wiener Zeitung writes of children’s concerts in the four new halls underneath the Musikverein. Phew. When I read the headline ‘Mehr Kinder im Edelkeller’ I mistook it for quite a different article.

Ben Becker, the actor who got thrown out of the Salzburger Festspiele’s inaugural ball, claims that tickets for the event sold so poorly that the festival packed the Felsenreitschule with extras who were paid €70 for the evening and kitted out with ball gowns from the costume department.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Christian Thielemann, Fortschrittliche & Sleeper Agent

Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony was about as commanding a performance of the work as one is likely to hear nowadays. Possessed of synthesizing power from the outset, the first movement’s three expositional themes unfolded with great lucidity and showed Bruckner as a composer of long but efficient paragraphs (indeed, measuring the movement’s proportions as he did, Thielemann showed precisely how their length is ideal). If form in Bruckner was ever a matter of material emerging from nothing and knitting together organically, Thielemann summoned the illusion of it here. The moment-by-moment care to detail and phrasing for which he is well known was also responded to strongly – the fussiness of the Wagner thankfully gone – and the expressive surface was perhaps all the more convincing for having the backdrop of a thoroughly conceived span, relieving the need to contrive urgency or force import onto any one event. Thielemann’s chief virtue to the Viennese may be the old-fashioned sound he draws from the orchestras he conducts (nearly exclusively German and Austrian grandes dames), but here there was no latching of it on to Brucknerian style and indeed no place for unnecessary grandeur: the enormous dominant pile-up which prefigures the third theme, typically a magnet for bombast, was shown to be a prolongation which, however unconventionally, does resolve – so much for Bruckner’s non sequiturs – and here achieved a seamless transition; while the weight of the very end was thrown not onto Wagner’s Rhine bursting its banks in E major but onto a wrenching recapitulation.

See more of my Grafenegg review of the Staatskapelle Dresden here.* On the heels of this and my Parsifal observations, which I admit must read weirdly in places, I have this strange thesis to share: Christian Thielemann, alleged defender of all that is echt und traditionsgebunden und gottverdammt Deutsch, is at his most scintillating when he’s being... a crypto-modernist.

With conducting this dialectical there can only be one explanation. The Austrian Communists were until as recently as the 1990s the richest political party in the land, thanks to hundreds of millions – euros, not schillings – smuggled over the East German border by a musicologist (a tale for another day). After much legal wrangling following the fall of the Berlin Wall they were forced to repatriate the money, though it is reckoned there’s still some cash stashed away, which we can only speculate is funding the kind of covert warfare the Austrian party knows best – cultural. The strategy is an oldie but a goodie, and involves Manchurian conductors who will ingratiate themselves with ultra-conservative audiences, priming them for a coup d’opéra in which they won’t even recognize their willing complicity. Stage 1, the brainwashing of Agent Thielemann and select critics, is nearing completion, while the Austrians, playing true to form in their susceptibility to charismatic German leaders, have required barely any external stimulus in their Stage 2 psychological programming – the hysteria which greeted Thielemann’s Vienna Ring made his Bayreuth ovations look positively flaccid. Conditioning is set to continue at the Staatsoper in 2014, when Thielemann will unleash his most radical interpretation to date: an Ariadne auf Naxos as vicious and nihilistic as Wozzeck. The strategy will pay its final devastating dividend six years later, when Dominique Meyer bows to the cult of personality and engages a fully activated Thielenator to conduct Intolleranza 2020 and Wir erreichen die stinkende Donau, a new Olga Neuwirth opera set to Elfriede Jelinek’s most trenchant libretto yet. Certain communist operatives fear it might be too much even for mass hypnosis and so the contingency mechanism of a Sinkovicz trigger may well have to be deployed (the Thielenator promising to Die Presse that everything will sound ‘really romantic and German’). Duly placated, the uncritical hordes will rise to their feet, unwittingly greenlighting Wolfgang Rihm’s new Parsifucked am Ostersonntag to replace all Eastertide performances of Wagner’s opera, and the new era of permanent operatic revolution will begin.

Be on your (van)guard folks, Thielemann has gone red and it ain’t Dutchmen he’s seeing.  

*On a more serious note, there can be little doubt that the Nowak edition was used, as I suggest in the review; the orchestration corresponded in every respect. By all means use Haas, but to credit his edition while performing another risks misinterpretation and ought to have been clarified at some point during the tour (disentangling Haas the editor from Haas the Nazi sympathizer is a matter of Bruckner scholarship still fraught with unresolved questions). A Viennese Bruckner colleague commented ‘and this happened mit dem Thielemann!?’ which I imagine is not the kind of conclusion the Staatskapelle would wish people to jump to, so sort out your misprints, Dresden people!

Every day a little death

I cannot believe I am linking to the Austrian Independent, our utterly crappy English-language newspaper, but here goes: plans are underfoot to introduce QR codes to the headstones of the numerous famous composers and other luminaries buried in Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof. Austrians love love love DEATH – remember that Mahler dude? – and are rather keen on their smartphones as well (I believe we have the cheapest tariffs in Europe, though I have yet to purchase one of the damn things). So it was inevitable that the two would at some point collide. This new scheme, funded by the EU – which never ceases concocting new ways to shoot itself in the foot – will make the headstones interactive, linking to an online biography of the composer as well as musical extracts.

This kind of thing hinges on the quality of information provided. Assuming it’s either good or lowest common denominator, one of two things will happen to make aficionados of musical memorials enthuse or flinch:

a) people visit these graves and learn something meaningful about Beethoven
b) you won’t be able to visit Beethoven’s final resting place without hearing tinny da da da dums and: ‘check out this awesome deaf music guy’. ‘Dude, it’s composer, duh.’ ‘More like decomposer’ (sniggers all round).

For more see the AI
’s article, titled ‘Decomposers rave from the grave’.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Klangspuren Schwaz starts today

Every September in the small Tyrolean town of Schwaz there takes place a contemporary music festival which one of these years I am determined to take a fortnight off and attend in full. Established nineteen years ago by local composer Thomas Larcher, the event has gone from strength to strength and is this year particularly mouth-watering.  

Today is Schoenberg’s birthday by the way – don’t think this blog is letting you forget that – so what better occasion for modernism to show some life signs than this evening’s opening concert, which features orchestral works by Georg Friedrich Haas, Johannes Maria Staud and Unsuk Chin. The Haas work, Tetraedite, is a premiere commissioned by the town of Schwaz. Technically city, as Emperor Franz Joseph gave Schwaz the right to call itself that in 1898, though I am at a loss to say what sounds stranger in English, a ‘city’ of 13,000 people or that said city with mere 13,000 souls, probably outnumbered by livestock, has chosen to serve the common cultural good in this way. My Viennese district has 70,000 people and the most pressing cultural question for our district council is getting streets renamed after recently deceased local politicians. (A prospect to make any anti-establishment Brit think the honours system a lesser evil: living on Thatcherstraße).

I digress. Born in South Korea but resident in Germany since she was a student (famously, of Ligeti), Unsuk Chin has a fluid idiom open to influences ranging from her former teacher to Balinese Gamelan, usually if not always accompanied by a liberal dose of electronics. Her writing can be delightful in an evident child-like manner, if sometimes close to twee as in her 2007 opera based on Alice in Wonderland (available on DVD and reviewed here by Alex Ross), and yet often speaks inwardly with a self-awareness not given to many composers. Very much an aesthetic of contrasts, and as such handily explored through the composer in residence focus she will receive at Schwaz over the next two weeks.

Larcher, who ran the festival until 2003, has long been a dedicated promoter of his Austrian contemporaries and this year’s edition is no exception, with music from Klaus Lang, Olga Neuwirth, Bernhard Lang, Karlheinz Essl and Beat Furrer, in addition to the two already mentioned. The German, British and American names will all be readily recognizable. Also prominent this year and tying in with the Chin focus are composers from South Korea, an initiative supported by the Tongyeong International Music Festival.

Venues are mostly in Schwaz the town but there are a couple of days set aside when the Tylorean landscape becomes integrated into the festival’s activities. I am not a huge outdoors person but usually go weak-kneed for Österreich, Land der Berge – words enshrined in the national anthem – when confronted with Alpine scenery and even elements, I freely admit, of the associated kitsch culture (hey, it’s my Austrian party and I’ll wear Tracht if I want to). Combine that with Sciarrino as Schwaz is doing this Sunday and, well, I’m already looking at train timetables. The hike across the Brenner Pass starts in Gossensass/Colle Isarco in South Tyrol – i.e. Italy even if it is 99% German speaking and nobody says Colle Isarco or Brennero – with stops in various churches to hear music by Sciarrino, Nikolaus Brass and Bernd Redman, ending up at St. Jodok in Tyrol proper. There is another hop over the border starting on the 22nd, when Sabine Liebner will play the Etudes Australes over four concerts. Recordings of these fiendishly difficult Cage pieces appear infrequently but Liebner put one out last year which I bought out of curiosity – I am fascinated by the work, or the idea behind it at any rate – and there’s a firmness there (for she does not suffer Cage gladly) which puts paid to pointless contest, even if on the whole her rhetoric will speak most to those who fetishize pianistic discipline. This year’s Cage frenzy – in certain places, an orgy of hero worship – I have so far largely avoided, his exploding of musical ontologies being something to my mind that composers are still in an early stage of processing, a stage we risk absorbing all the more slowly for directing our attention towards behaving as if members of a dubious cult. Schwaz has not been able to resist, but is dealing with aspects of Cage’s biography – and who by now does not know he was a keen mycologist? – in ways detached, eccentric and uncontrived, not to mention welcome. A professorially moderated discussion about the Etudes will take place under a ‘starry sky’ at the autumnal equinox – I did mention eccentric, and what could be more so than taking this composer very, very literally – while a ‘mushroom foray’ on the morning of the first day elbows Cage out of the way, the guide for the occasion being that rather less well-known forager of fungi, Georg Friedrich Haas (so brilliant I am still smiling).

The Klangspuren festival is opened tonight by President Fischer and runs until the 29th. The full programme is here. Schwaz, by the way, is only 30km from Innsbruck, a charming town which endears itself greatly for having a tourist industry based around Tracht and pork products.

Schwaz image credit: Wolfgang H. Wögerer

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Merkel in the Haus

I believe she’s saying ‘no, I wouldn’t swap jobs with you’. Having been greeted with hostility in Spain, Angela Merkel dropped into a much friendlier town today to talk about how Europe is still going down the toilet and flatter the Austrians into thinking they can do something to help (we actually can a little bit, though if Merkel could get Maria Fekter to shut her cakehole that would probably go much further to solving the continent’s problems). It hasn’t been the smoothest of weeks for M. le Directeur either: a laryngitis-stricken Alagna pulled out of Don Carlo only for replacement Fabio Sartori also to fall ill. At the last minute Giuseppe Gipali was recruited, but for the first two performances only; cue Bobby announcing he would be fit enough to manage the last two before cancelling again 24 hours later. Now Gipali not only sees out the rest of the run but also performed this evening in front of the German and Austrian chancellors.

The Wiener Staatsoper has long been the place for the Austrian government to parade visiting dignitaries, but as much as historian Oliver Rathkolb talks up the house as a ‘memory site’ of Austrian unity, its use as a glittering backdrop for politicians and corporate interests is less notable nowadays for cultural resonances than unintended ironies. In 2002, European dependence on Russian gas led to talks in Vienna and an agreement to construct a new transcontinental pipeline, a deal sealed with a visit to the Staatsoper, and as Peter Sain of the EU Observer reported at the time: ‘When all was signed the promoters went to the Viennese state opera, which that night was performing Verdi’s Nabucco. And thus the anonymous pipeline acquired a fancy name, though as Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar in English) is hit by a thunderbolt it doesn’t seem the most propitious name for a gas pipeline in these unfortunate days of rampant terrorism.’

Over the last four years there has been a noticeable drop in Staatsoper attendance from the current crop of Austrian leaders, and the ruling Faymann cabinet is deemed to be the most culturally disinterested in the history of the Second Republic. A rare reaffirmation of the tradition in this case has doubtless more to do with the Austrians observing Merkel’s fondness for opera than following what was once the protocol of an obligatory Staatsoper visit. Uncultured chancellor Werner Faymann will have sat through Don Carlo tonight fighting the urge to yawn, but as much contempt as he deserves politically (there is not a single principle he won’t compromise to cling on to office), I can only sympathize. For one thing, this production sucks so badly there are very few loathable public figures you’d wish it on. More seriously, not everyone has to be interested in opera, and it is high time the founding Kulturnation myths of the Second Republic, through which opera has become merely an excuse to preen, were laid to rest. If only Faymann could find it in himself once in a while to follow the example of President Heinz Fischer, who is seen at cultural events none of his predecessors would have considered going to, but genuinely seems to balance duty with what works for him – if you visit enough Klangforum events you will see him eventually, and he is familiar enough with figures like Friedrich Cerha to greet them like old friends. Unfortunately he is the only honourable person left in Austrian politics, but that’s a post for a different blog.  

More photos of the Merkel visit after the jump.

Friday, 7 September 2012

TadW’s season opener: testing journey

There is a famous scene in the noir classic The Third Man in which Joseph Cotten returns to his hotel and is swiftly bundled into a cab that speeds off recklessly through the streets of Vienna. His kidnapping comes minutes after he has been fingered as a murder suspect by the locals, and once the car screeches to a halt he emerges, a nervous wreck, to encounter a gathering he’d forgotten about, or more precisely, never bothered to remember in the first place. His destination is the British Council, whose fool of a director had mistaken him, a writer of pulp cowboy fiction, for a serious author worthy of headlining their literary evening on the state of the modern novel. With the irony done to a blackened crisp – the British Council as bathetic punchline for the fate-worse-than-death trope, Cotten introduced as ‘Holly Martens from the other side’, and the flailing around when asked if he ‘believes’ in the stream of consciousness – it is only natural that the name of James Joyce should crop up. ‘Where would you put him?’ an audience member enquires insistently. ‘In what category?’
Whether Vienna, occupied or otherwise, ever hosted roomfuls of Joyce-obsessed Anglophiles is another matter. Earlier in the week I had asked a friend in the university’s English department where, for want of a better phrase, the Viennese put James Joyce, and learned that the city has a couple of specialists and Ulysses is given a full public reading every Bloomsday, quickly qualified as a fringe event. That would seem to tally with this bizarre evening at the Theater an der Wien, which assumed total lack of familiarity with Ulysses and accordingly dumbed it down to the glib, digestible level of a sitcom, full of cliché and slapstick. To translate, adapt and make accessible this of all books is no enviable task, but this attempt simply seemed condescending.

For more (this event also featured Evelyn Glennie), click here. Ach, liebes Theater an der Wien, of all the masterpieces to mutilate, why this one? The first thing I did on returning home last night was take Dubliners from the bookshelf to read ‘The Dead’ while nursing a glass of wine. Were the TadW to stage that the opening would likely involve every syllable of ‘literally run off her feet’, however that might be rendered into German, lingered over with lots of winking; perhaps Markovics might also feel compelled to drive the symbolism home by producing a lily from his pocket. But the Viennese of all people are sufficiently morbid in outlook to get this stuff without aids. Ulysses too translates surprisingly well into German, certainly enough to leave the sledgehammers at home. Bold projects and concepts are great; Vienna needs more of them and fewer Stardirigenten-Jasager like the Musikverein’s Thomas Angyan. But too often they are spectacularly misconceived, and only one thing needs noting from the programme booklet here: ‘Gesamtidee Joyce-Projekt: Roland Geyer.’

I hope to report much more positively from the TadW next week, what with their Wiener Phil Manfred concert and Claus Guth’s Ulisse. The Monteverdi premiere this evening got rather upstaged by Angela Merkel at the Staatsoper but I expect it will be one of the highlights of the season; if you are in town and get the chance, do go.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Salzburg 7: Verdi Requiem

Despite the star wattage of Harteros, Garanča, Kaufmann and Pape, this Super-Requiem didn’t quite live to die another day. Full review here.

A few words about the ball: Pereira has decided this was enough of a success to continue next year, though how much money it raised hasn’t been made public yet. Those who only paid 190 had to watch the opening from a screen in the Karl Böhm Saal, and Die Presse found a disgruntled Bavarian gentleman to grumble about that. Ben Becker, the actor who played Death in this year’s Jedermann, was evidently in high spirits after getting married in the morning and got politely escorted out after heckling Pereira. A little premature, as his services were called for – I warn you, the Jedermann irony is about to get horrible – when Pereira led a charity auction in aid of the local day hospice. A Nice-Barcelona cruise eventually sold for the reserve price of 10,000 after getting no higher bids from an audience including Wolfgang Porsche (net worth: four billion euros) and other assorted Croesuses. As God laments in the Hofmannsthal play, ‘Ihr Trachten geht auf irdisch Gut allein / Und was darüber, das ist ihr Spott’.

Moving on to the Wiener Philharmoniker. I already wrote here of how difficult modern music, as much as they dislike it, tends magically to concentrate their Schlamperei-addled minds, so that Die Soldaten was good was perhaps not too unexpected. Rather more of a surprise – I write having heard them in two concerts, an opera, and four broadcasts – was the general standard of playing given a reconfigured funding arrangement which, as of this year, meant they got paid a flat rate for the entire festival instead of per performance and rehearsal (thus removing the incentive to rehearse more than they deem necessary). But all anxiety about that was dispelled and I would be a happy Hase indeed if they played as consistently during the season here.

I never go the theatre in Salzburg because many of the good productions make their way over here, and one must-see over the next two months at the Burg, for a fraction of the Salzburg price, will be Andrea Breth’s Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. It got rave reviews and opens in Vienna tonight.

After the jump, some facts and figures from this year’s festival.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Salzburg 6: Kavakos, Jansons and the Concertgebouw

Mahler remains a cornerstone of [the Concertgebouw’s] repertoire, and is in safe if not always conventional hands with current principal conductor Mariss Jansons. To that end, it was difficult to understand what he was striving for in the opening to this First Symphony. The ethereal seven-octave A in the strings and introduction of the falling fourth in the winds (the symphony’s thematic kernel) can be taken as the mysterious stirrings of nature or as something of greater tension, if one notes the exact placement of Mahler’s marking ‘Wie ein Naturlaut’ (‘As if voiced by nature’) as applying to the fourths alone and follows Theodor Adorno’s observation of the pedal note as an industrialized sound (the unpleasant whistling of a steam engine, he called it); but Jansons’ reading, lacking in character and yet far off from a potentially curious inertness, avoided these approaches and left a vacuum in their place. The rest of the movement unfolded flowingly, give or take the winds occasionally racing ahead of the strings, but remained unusually dull for this conductor, with interest limited to aspects of the playing – the distinctive timbre of the horns’ soft playing, produced with throat vibrato, easing into their fuller golden sound, or the celli playing much of the movement on the D string with a muted take on the famous Mengelberg portamento.
For more see here. I suppose this Mahler 1 counts as an improvement on my last Mahler encounter with Jansons, which Zerbinetta reported last year. That Fourth was a reminder of how hit-and-miss Jansons can be sometimes: I am still bewildered as to why the Scherzo’s bassoon and horn contrapuntal lines of secondary importance should be three times louder than the main voice, and with a vulgarity that would make Lenny blush. Though not as objectionable this performance remained unsatisfying in many smaller ways.

The star of this concert was Leonidas Kavakos, a violinist I heard here for the first time and whose future Vienna dates went immediately into my diary (he repeats this Bartók concerto with Jansons in January at the Musikverein and gets a Großer Saal spot for the complete Beethoven sonatas with Emanuel Ax in October, February and April). His playing had everything one could ask for in a big concerto: magnetism, depth of thought, and an astonishing range of tone colour – richness and warmth for Bartók’s broad themes, sweetness for the lyrical passages, and even when playing in the squeakier parts of the violin’s high end never an unattractive sound. The shirt, by the way, was two tones of black but polka dots are polka dots whichever way you look at them.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Bluebeard’s Staatsoper

I usually find myself at Grafenegg in the first weekend in September, and have always missed the Wiener Staatsoper’s day of the open door. Well not this year. Briefly for readers outside of Austria and Germany: the Tag der offenen Tür is a tradition maintained annually by institutions ranging from government ministries to schools and colleges and somewhat disingenuously named, as the space made open is always restricted and everything the public sees stage-managed. As such the exercise is less about openness than image. When I ventured down from the Carlos Kleiber rehearsal room to the Direktion’s offices on the second floor, a burly bouncer of a steward warned, oblivious to irony, ‘it is not possible to get past me’, while announcement boards had been expunged of all memos except for the very first Dominique Meyer released, concerning a new employee wellbeing policy and the appointment of a consulting mental health professional (subtext: I know how much Holender traumatized you. It’s over now).

While this open day stymied those of us who might have pried too much, judged as a fun-filled family afternoon out it was a resounding success, with the snow machine and wandering crocodiles from Marco Arturo Marelli’s Zauberflöte big hits with the assembled Kinder. There was also a live show of sorts beginning with a Küchl-led Staatsopernorchester and a Figaro overture which soared a great height beyond the day’s call of duty. The lovely Ileana Tonca appeared from behind the curtain ready to be Susanna but conductor Guillermo García Calvo had other ideas, deciding that the overture needed some contrived ‘rehearsal’ (it didn’t) while his spotlit singer just stood there awkwardly. The Staatsoper wouldn’t be the Staatsoper unless the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing, but for Calvo to slow-mo descending violin runs from a friggin’ Küchl-led section is something no ear needed to hear. Tonca’s ‘Deh vieni’ would have been exquisite were it not for a frankly unmusical tempo; Eijiro Kai fared a little better with the conducting but gave an underpowered ‘Non più andrai. The orchestra excused, there followed a sequence of strange sights all coordinated to the strains of a recorded Barbiere overture: the fly system came down and did a little Mexican wave (easily impressed woman next to me: ‘das ist einfach Klasse’), something resembling the love duet dance from Giselle competed for attention with our Ring’s crummy 90s video game graphic of Siegfried slaying Fafner, and Octavian got chased by the crocodile. Random, indeed senseless, and yet thrown together so entertainingly that maybe the Staatsoper should ditch Sven-Eric Bechtolf for Cenerentola and go with whoever directed this.

More photos after the jump.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

New season, old habits

Time to shed those fetching shades Franzi, summer hols are over now. The extended Salzburg festival isn’t over yet but, throwing caution and rehearsals to the wind, the Wiener Staatsoper hits the ground running this time next week with a festival schedule of its own: the low-maintenance Don Carlo NP from June, so dull I almost died, and with more or less the same cast (Alagna Fabio Sartori now Giuseppe Gipali replaces Vargas on the 4th & 7th; 10th & 13th is TBA now Bobby again), won’t need much poking back to life as there was never any in it; Arabella, with FWM and Camilla Nylund, has traditionally been a production worth seeing just for Genia Kühmeier’s Zdenka, though I think the chronically overlooked Ileana Tonca, who takes on the role, will be just fine, and after what he managed in Die Soldaten perhaps also Tomasz Konieczny; L’Elisir and Malin Hartelius make two things I am compelled to avoid because of their associations (insufferability and Harnoncourt, respectively) [update: Chen Reiss replaces Hartelius on the 6th. Still meh.]; and I vespri siciliani marks the Staatsoper debut of Angela Meade, starring alongside Gabriele Viviani, Burkhard Fritz and Ferruccio Furlanetto (Noseda conducts). Nope, not remotely near October yet. On the 20th Elektra returns with resident Klytämnestra Agnes Baltsa and attendant jokes about elektive surgery that never get, um, old. There is also Deborah Polaski’s Elektra, which I very much hope should still be an event one doesn’t miss (?). Sifting the politics out of the Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is a dubious but staggering achievement, and though the Wiener Staatsoper is the place to witness such feats in this instance you’d have bags more fun watching grass grow (review here). Boris Godunov I haven’t seen but am told is traditional, with stiff robes and more arbitrary pan-Slavic iconography than you can rattle a shashka at. Rising star Tugan Sokhiev I haven’t seen yet either, though one critic’s effusive description – ‘if it were possible to cross conductors with one another, then Tugan Sokhiev would perhaps be the perfect blend of Christian Thielemann, Gustavo Dudamel and the Russian school’ – makes me think these Rocky Horror scenarios should be banned from music criticism altogether (come up to the lab and see Thielemel on the slab, eew). Just as well next and last up is glassy-eyed Joseph Calleja, who sings Pinkerton to Oksana Dyka’s Cio-Cio San from the 29th.

The Theater an der Wien opens the season, as always, with a concert. Roland Geyer likes to think outside the box for these and though I’m not sure I thank him for it, the bringing together in 2010 of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Lang Lang and the Vienna Philharmonic will remain forever indelibly etched in my memory. This year’s offering will involve, as far as I can gather, three Burgtheater actors reciting extracts from Ulysses to be either punctuated or overlaid by Dame Evelyn Glennie playing arrangements of Bach, Berio and Kate Bush. Hmm, close but no Harnonlang. The Joyce serves as a tie-in with this month’s opera: Claus Guth continues his Monteverdi series with Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. His L’Orfeo last year was outstanding so this is one not to miss. On the 12th the Wiener Philharmoniker offers a more conventional concert programme with Vladimir Jurowski: Schumann and Chaik Manfreds either side of Messiaen’s L’ascension, which I’ve always been convinced works better on the organ (Transports clinches it). There is one opera in concert this month, Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto, with Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques.

The Konzerthaus always remains dark until October and September isn’t the busiest of months for the Musikverein either. There is however one very obvious highlight on the 16th and 17th: Abbado, Pollini and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, with a Mozart piano concerto you don’t hear too often (no. 17) and a Bruckner symphony practically never performed outside of the dreaded cycles (no. 1). The Musikverein says the Bruckner is going to be in the Wiener Fassung, though if Abbado does as he has done recently it may be his own curious amalgam of the Wiener Fassung and Linzer Fassung, which for meeting midway I’ve always thought could be cheekily called the Sankt Pölten Fassung. The matter is however somewhat complicated by the Linzer Fassung actually having been prepared in Vienna. I have now typed the word Fassung quite enough for one day and will stop being a Bruckner bore.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Wiener Philharmoniker secretly shares my aversion to Brahms, since in the time I’ve lived here I’ve yet to hear them produce anything approaching a respectable Brahms symphony. Let us see what Daniele Gatti manages when he conducts all four of them later in the month (22nd, 23rd, 25th). Lastly at the Musikverein, it’s a sluggish start on the recital front: Rudolf Buchbinder playing Schubert (I gave up long ago, he simply does nothing for me) and the beginning of the Capuçon residency are the only highlights.

Grafenegg’s Musik Festival continues for another week and there are tickets remaining for all concerts except FWM (Cleveland) and Thielemann (Staatskapelle Dresden). I can’t in good faith encourage you to snap them up as the Wolkenturm is an acoustic atrocity, but I’ll be enduring it for Thielemann’s Bruckner and James MacMillan.

At the end of the month the echoraum hosts an event postponed from May, the second concert in a three-part series showcasing the work of Tamara Friebel. I never made it to the other two so can’t rate, but any concert involving the Platypus Ensemble is worth considering. Next Wednesday at the Zacherlfabrik the Klangforum Wien repeat Katharina Klement’s einen Moment bitte, which will be recorded and transformed into a sound installation (on Cage’s 100th birthday, natch). I wrote a little about the first performance here and can’t recommend it highly enough. It is just a shame it coincides with this Cage-themed event at the Essl Museum (no one-off concert; here is their full autumn programme, put together of course by Karlheinz Essl junior). Naturally the Schönberg Center isn’t missing out on Cage at 100 either: on Wednesday there is an event styled ‘Red Carpet for John Cage’ with the Ensemble Wiener Collage. Also at the ASC this month: a cello recital from Christophe Pantillon, and the Ensemble Kontrapunkte with two arrangements I can’t imagine being much good (the Sechs kleine Klavierstücke and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony). Lastly, on the 21st and 22nd the Moozak Festival (all things experimental) takes place once again at Media Opera.

Ball busting

In Vienna 24 hours before the Opera Ball the preparations to the entrance are routinely complete, including a cordoned-off Ringstraße to keep the plebs at bay, the press tent, a separate VIP tent-cum-covered-entrance where the ORF can ask inane questions of the inane celebrities before they enter the house, and of course a red carpet. It’s Vienna’s Oscar Night and the effect is monstrously tacky, but if you are a ball aspiring to be a Ball it’s the required look.

This was Salzburg at 14:00 this afternoon, four hours before the festival’s inaugural ball opens its doors:

Inside, festival sponsor Nestlé has secured the coveted right to promote kiddies ice creams:

The photo isn’t so clear but the cheapest wedding disco you ever went to had better lighting than this:

Moving on. The only event worth its ticket price today was this morning’s Verdi Requiem, with the Pereirian Besetzung of Harteros, Garanča, Kaufmann, Pape, Barenboim, and La Scala’s combined forces. An immediate standing ovation ensued but I had my reservations and didn’t think it came off as well as Barenboim’s Requiem (also with La Scala) at the Staatsoper last year. More on that soon. For now it would be remiss of me not to report that the karmic power of collective desire conspired to relieve Jonas Kaufmann of his cummerbund just before his solo number (it did pop open rather spectacularly). Kicking it aside was an unwise call as it appeared to be the only thing holding his trousers up; with reddened face and sheepish grin he fastened it firmly back on before the Offertorio. Apart from that a wasp attacked Anja Harteros but this didn’t seem nearly so exciting by comparison.