Monday, 10 December 2012

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:

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