Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012

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

Best concert (contemporary)

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

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

Best concert (cooperative Philharmoniker)

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

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

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

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

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

Best curtailed concert
The Arditti Quartet at Wien Modern.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Wiener Philharmoniker’s New Year programme

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

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

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

Image credit: Terry Linke

Tut alles langsam

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

Sokolov in recital – the annual Konzerthaus visitation

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

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

RSO Wien – more Martinů from Meister

Monday, 24 December 2012

Scho Weihnochten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 December 2012

O, du lieber Franzi, alles ist hin

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Wiener Symphoniker releases Celibidache’s Brahms 1

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

RIP Lisa Della Casa

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

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

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

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

Eschenbach to replace FWM

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

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

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

Monday, 10 December 2012

Salzburg soap opera

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

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

My translated highlights of the Korentschnig:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eindeutige Worte nach Ariadne

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

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

Nono Nono Nono don’t tell me no lies

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Welser-Möst cancels Salzburg

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Heiße Luft von anderen Planeten

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Hans Gabor competition to leave Vienna

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

Iphigénie en Aulide: Inert Locker

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

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

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