Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sound of Schleimen


The Wiener Staatsoper has just unveiled David Hockney’s new safety curtain, created using an iPad. Traditionally these annual commissions give members of the public much to grumble about and this piece will likely prove no exception despite the textual sop to collective cultural narcissism (the smile and raised eyebrow is certainly Dominique Meyer’s conspiratorial face). Die Presse, which sponsors the curtain, bemoans a perceived lack of effort and suggests that a piss-take doodle would have shown more creativity.

Ioan Holender’s choices irritated the Viennese just as much but his Intendanz ended on the strong note of a Twombly classic:


Last year’s curtain, a pretentious statement on drama’s transportive power which read as intelligibly as Derrida run repeatedly forwards and backwards through Google Translate, was widely derided:

Meyer with artist Cerith Wyn Evans

The Hockney again, without Dominique:

Grafenegg 2013: largesse with strings attached


Grafenegg has rebranded with a new logo and website but the Salzburg-lite concept remains the same, even if the roster of visiting orchestras doesn’t quite measure up to this summer’s blockbuster edition. Highlights include Davis/LSO, Gergiev/Mariinsky, and Gatti/Concertgebouw, all with mainstream programming. Elsewhere there’s a lot of Buchbinder, Dutoit and Maazel, and contemporary music’s spot at the closing concert has been bumped for a Verdi Requiem. When the Metternich family and the Lower Austrian state lavished millions upon millions on this venture, the stated aim was to offer something more adventurous, starting with a high-profile composer-in-residence (this year Brett Dean, in a scaled back role). But the backing of Erwin Pröll, governor of Lower Austria and modern-day Metternich, has always come with the understanding that Grafenegg must make an international name for itself and by association, a Bundesland left in the cultural shade by Vienna and Salzburg. And so caution and Auslastung will take the upper hand next summer; for what it’s worth, Pröll made no effort to conceal his Mitterandian motives at yesterday’s press conference.

The full programme can be seen here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tough Love Actually

In its seasonal TV programming, the BBC traditionally runs helplines at the bottom of the screen for those feeling low over the Christmas period. In Austria we have something similar, called the Burgtheater. From the December Spielplan, feelgood fare guaranteed to raise consciousness if not your spirits:

Es muss ein Wunderbares sein

Austrian pianist Ingolf Wunder follows in the tradition of Chopin competition non-winners signed by DG, though that is where the 1980 comparisons end. His Chopin was more or less as expected, and this Konzerthaus recital as a whole under par, but branching out into Liszt could be an exciting development. And as Mozart showed once again, a note-perfect Ondine and Chopin op. 10 no. 2 are not necessarily the last word on the state of one’s fourth and fifth fingers; ‘twas ever thus. For more, see here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flat Earth

Konzerthaus, 5/11/2012

RSO Wien, Susanna Mälkki

Ligeti: Lontano
Neuwirth: Remants of songs ... An Amphigory (viola: Antoine Tamestit)
Gander: dirty angel for flugelhorn, accordion and orchestra (Anders Nyqvist, Krassimir Sterev)
Ligeti: Atmosphères


Mindful that one doesn’t stay music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain for six years by fooling IRCAM, not to mention Boulez, even some of the time, I am inclined to put my second underwhelming experience (out of two) with Susanna Mälkki down to the variability of live performance. Under Cornelius Meister, any vestiges of provincialism which once tinged the RSO Wien’s playing have long been shaken off, but Mälkki warrants some due for countenancing no slippage; precision and fleetness of response were fully there to the varying degrees required for the otherworldly grandeur of Atmosphères, the more mercurial landscape of Lontano, and the fluid yet altogether less weightless writing of the two quasi-concertos by Olga Neuwirth and Bernhard Gander. But the sure-footedness didn’t extend to ensemble: quite how well Antoine Tamestit played Neuwirth’s Remnants of songs ... an Amphigory I am at a loss to say, as Mälkki cued shrill woodwind and brass entries that drowned him out time after time; less recognizable still was Gander’s dirty angel, a work I remember fondly as luridly boisterous and yet not without its own internal logic, so glaringly absent here. Neuwirth conducted poorly reduces her idiom to a patchwork of oddities but in this performance even that was flattened out and rendered faceless. The best parts of Atmosphères and Lontano were merely static, which is to say that something went right, though the inertia remained earthbound – only the one tremolo entry in Atmosphères sounded briefly like the beating of wings – and there was little temporal suspension to speak of. Lontano’s famous bass outburst was as eruptive as Ligeti asks for but no Durchbruch in any wider sense. With her gaze directed most of the time to her score, Mälkki conducted the musicians like traffic, as if extraneous movement might jeopardize the transparency fought so hard for in rehearsal. But transparency was only really there in the two Ligeti works and no more sophisticated in character than your garden-variety HIP texture; a reminder that when Boulez fusses over the balancing of a single chord there is far more in mind than diaphanous clarity.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bregenz announces 2013 festival


Operatic productions at Bregenz get two-year runs so this in effect David Pountney’s final programme before Elisabeth Sobotka takes over in 2015. Pountney has proven effective at putting his stamp on the festival and next summer’s edition is once again something to go for should you share his tastes. The new lake production, which he is directing, will be Die Zauberflöte, and the Festspielhaus opera the world premiere of The Merchant of Venice by one André Tchaikowsky. Pountney is currently just about Tchaikowsky’s only champion and presumably hopes to change that with a composer portrait that also includes concerts and a symposium. (Some months ago he blogged about Tchaikowsky here.)

Causing a bit of a stir in the Austrian press at the moment is the cutting of the festival’s drama division; I’ve also noticed that the concert programming, carried mainly by the Wiener Symphoniker, looks a bit bare compared to recent festivals, with no visiting ensembles. The drama cut Pountney explains as a conscious decision to free up funds for more music theatre projects, which include a new work based on Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, with music by Ben Frost and text adapted by Pountney, and the Austrian premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s American Lulu in the John Fulljames production that will later tour the UK. American Lulu is also rumoured to be making a 2014 appearance at the Theater an der Wien in yet another new staging, which would make three productions in as many years.

Because a British-born Intendant has to be good for something, full Bregenz details can be seen on one of the most comprehensive English-language arts websites in Austria.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Domingo awarded Staatsoper Ehrenring

The Ring of Honour is the highest decoration the house bestows and last went to Waltraud Meier in 2011* veteran Philharmoniker cellist Franz Bartolomey in June (now I remember). The ritual for this is to act surprised when ambushed with the award at the end of a performance, in Domingo’s case last night’s Simon Boccanegra, though he knows Austrian politics well enough to be genuinely astonished at the rare sighting of culture minister Claudia Schmied in an actual place of culture. Quite what prestige the Ehrenring retains is debatable, after Ioan Holender awarded it to himself in 2004.

*Meier was actually awarded the Lotte Lehmann memorial ring, a somewhat rarer honour, previously held only by Leonie Rysanek and Hildegard Behrens. On death, this ring passes to a female singer of the holder’s choice; Meier was named by Behrens. 



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Salzburg Biennale 2013 announced

Two festivals into its existence, the Biennale has become another compelling reason to visit Salzburg out of season. More Wien Modern than Steirischer Herbst – well, this is still Salzburg – the third edition features composer portraits of Rebecca Saunders and Vinko Globokar, a row of piano recitals (with the GrauSchumacher piano duo, Nicolas Hodges, Fredrik Ullén, Marino Formenti and Stephen Drury), and an assortment of intriguing music theatre and dance collaborations grouped under the tag Szenenwechsel. It was announced some months ago that Georg Friedrich Haas had won the 2013 Salzburg music prize – for something like the fourth time, if I recall correctly – so he gets a Preisträgerkonzert along with Aureliano Cattaneo, winner of the Förderpreis. New works have been commissioned from Saunders, Klaus Ager, Beat Furrer, Elena Mendoza, Wolfgang Mitterer and Gerhard E. Winkler; in total the festival boasts 30 concerts and 46 composers from 18 countries. The 2013 Biennale takes place from the 1st to the 17th March and, knocking a nought off the Salzburg norm, tickets for all events are a flat €20 with further discounts for students and a festival pass. The full programme can be found here (German only).

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ardittis, aborted

Bernd Richard Deutsch
Konzerthaus, 2/11/2012
Arditti Quartet

György Kurtág: Hommage à Mihály András – 12 Microludes, op. 13 (1978)
Georg Friedrich Haas: String Quartet No. 2 (1998)
Bernd Richard Deutsch: String Quartet No. 2 (2012, world premiere)

The abiding public memory of this concert is likely to be its premature conclusion, and a typically indignant reaction to Matthias Lošek’s announcement – cries of ‘Frechheit!’ and suchlike – moved Irvine Arditti to plead ‘ladies and gentlemen, please do try to enjoy the first half’. Enjoyment enough to hear the Viennese spoken to like wayward children, but also, speaking for myself, gratitude that despite the organizational ineptitude the concert had been brought forward thirty minutes to ensure at least a full and undisturbed first half.

I wrote about Georg Friedrich Haas’ second string quartet once before, here, and would like to see a score before adding anything about the piece, except to note that Arditti cellist Lucas Fels opened the work by lunging at his C string with extreme force, a conscious destablization which went some way beyond localized pitch distortion or the ever-present Arditti determination never to hold back. Aggression and undermining of the work’s persistent root works as well as gentle anchoring, and is consistent with those moments when Haas will simply let an idea disintegrate – the first interruption of the harmonica-like microtonal texture and subsequent baleful glissandi cohered well as a sequence and had more drama than I recall from LUX’s more placid performance – but the antagonistic take on Haas’ writing expended all its insights by the seven or eight minute mark and decimated the work’s spectral qualities. A more satisfying approach, or at least one with Schweben, remains the Kairos Quartet recording I came across shortly after hearing the LUX performance, available in full on Youtube.

European contemporary music is populated by more modernists who don’t take themselves too seriously than some would care to admit, an identity Bernd Richard Deutsch comes closer to typifying the more I hear of his music. His second string quartet, premiered in this concert, opens with squealing syncopated fragments possessed of a rollicking, beer-swilling temperament and accompanied on their return by some inevitable foot-stomping and brief yelping. A calmer central section is marked by classical refinement and animalistic asides, less Deutsch’s Mad Dog than Carnival of the Animals, nattering away over a sensitive cello solo which has further space carved out for it – a good thing too, as Deutsch has a real gift for melody – when the hyperactive fragments resume. From the work’s Bavarian sensibilities to the unshowy sophistication and economy of the writing, there is something refreshingly unpretentious and sharp-witted about the way Deutsch nudges disparate elements into dialogue, an aspect of style the Ardittis did justice to without redundant overstatement.

Breadth of expression is even greater yet in Kurtág’s 12 Microludes, and continuity of line was striking amid the fundamentally non-linear web of aphoristic statements and their foregrounding and afterechoes, set in motion minutes into the work. It was however in the realm of effect that this performance made its most lasting impression, particularly in the vocal quality ascribed to the pristine harmonics, semitonal clashes and aria-like solos. What a bridge – bearing in mind the influence of Kurtág’s Omaggio a Luigi Nono – this would have made to the cancelled Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima.

Image credit: Tony Gigov

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sie schaffen nur, und der Intendant sagt, wann sie geschafft sind




Elfriede Jelinek has weighed in on Alexander Pereira’s recent decision to pass over Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast in favour of Birtwistle’s Gawain at next year’s Salzburg Festival with one of her famous online literary polemics. Titled ‘Erklärung Pereiras’, the essay colours Pereira’s response to Neuwirth’s criticism as the manifestation of a God complex, a (mock?) diagnosis Jelinek puts through the wringer of her convoluted, breathless, and yet somehow always very precisely paced prose style. If I were Pereira I
’d have it framed.

On the subject of Jelinek and her online essays, another post well worth checking out is her 1998 piece on Schubert, which in part should be read in the context of this silliness (though she does not address the issue explicitly or take a side). In German is better, but there is also an English translation. ‘Requiem auf einer Oper’, available only in German, deals with the other Neuwirth collaboration for Salzburg (discussed here) that fell through. Her take on Die Fledermaus, penned soon after the far right entered Austria’s governing coalition in 2000, centres on transgression and amnesia, and by rights ought to be reprinted every Christmas in the programme for the Staatsoper’s Schenk production.


A final Jelinek plug: performances of An Ideal Man, ‘übermalt’ by Jelinek, continue at the Burgtheater through December, though the play and Barbara Frey’s largely vacuous production may be lost on those without an interest in Karl-Heinz Grasser and the more sordid aspects of Austrian politics; director Stefan Bachmann is no Nicolas Stemann but has turned in a perceptive and at times profound production of Winterreise, essential viewing for the text alone, at the Akademietheater (two performances remain).

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Steirischer Herbst


The Klangforum’s focus was on Austria, or rather Graz, at their most recent europa, global concert. Klaus Lang has long been a favourite of mine though Peter Jakober’s music interests me more; if only he were programmed more often in Vienna. I mount my young composers soapbox in the full review as in this and many other cases the very Austrian understanding of waiting one’s turn – for those working today this means turning 40 – has never seemed so stupid. There are many historical examples, one of my favourites being the argument, aired just after the war, that it would be unthinkable to award Schoenberg honorary citizenship of the City of Vienna as he had not yet turned 75.

Salzburg 2013

Full details are now released and you can gucken to your heart’s content on the website. Intermezzo already picked up the promising news that Kurtág's Endgame-inspired opera might only be postponed until 2014, and Boulezian highlights some Hagen Quartet Beethoven which you can hear for a fraction of the price at the Konzerthaus throughout this season (should you find yourself in Vienna, of course). Some other good news is that after Heinz Hollinger was left to carry contemporary programming this summer – and I did go a few events, which I didn’t write about here – next year’s offerings look in somewhat healthier shape if a little Wien Modern-ish (for those who recall random nods to spectralism, and the ‘British Collection’). Not remotely close to the Kontinente series, but there are enough pointless Hinterhäuser recriminations voiced in Austria as it is.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sackcloth and Nono’s ashes


Vienna gets just the one annual visit from the Arditti Quartet – a date cherished by Wien Modern regulars, who welcome the group like contemporary music royalty. A good event, then, to showcase Konzerthaus and audience to various Intendanten – the most I have seen at any one concert – including KH boss-in-waiting Matthias Naske, on working vacation from Luxembourg. Plans however went pear-shaped with the announcement that the house’s management had scheduled a commercial event to take place at the same time in the Großer Saal (normally not a problem) and not thought to clarify how much amplification Herbert Grönemeyer’s gruff crooning would require (very much a problem).

(For those who weren’t there, the first half went ahead as planned and there will be a review shortly.)

In a lengthy email sent this afternoon, the Konzerthaus explains the cock-up: the Grönemeyer concert was supposed to be a ‘relatively intimate event for his closest fans, not like a stadium appearance’. The relevant Denglisch used here is ‘Club-Gig’. It was thought that the delicate quietude of Nono’s Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima would be undisturbed, that is until the first sound check at 17:00 on the day of the concert (according to the house), though something doesn’t add up here as the Arditti concert was pushed back to 19:00 some days before, with reference to Grönemeyer. Adding insult to injury, Wien Modern had this date booked well before Grönemeyer’s management approached the house, and on the night, their Intendant and innocent party Matthias Lošek was left to carry the can and get roundly booed (yes, Rico Gulda, I saw you lurking sheepishly).

The silver lining is that a portion of the commercial takings will be going to a good home. Vienna claims to be the world’s most livable city but all doubt is removed concerning the global capital of whinging, and Wien Modern’s patrons have not been reticent. Now I wonder if the concessions extracted are starting to get ridiculous. On the night we got:
  • A complimentary drink as we waited all of fifteen minutes to hear that the second half was cancelled
  • A free col legno CD
  • A ticket refund (not, understandably, for those admitted with the Generalpass)
  • The promise that the Ardittis will give two Wien Modern concerts next year, one to include the cancelled Nono
As of this afternoon, the house is adding two free tickets to one of the five events listed after the jump, so if you bought your ticket at the Kassa and didn’t get the email, be sure to claim those. If pushed, Kerres will throw in one of his Guantanamo jumpsuit cakes and a weekend in Darmstadt. On a serious note, I am curious to see how many of those so aggrieved at missing the Nono will show up for this ensemble LUX concert.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

What’s good for the goose is good for the Wiener


Every local has their opinion about where best to eat it, but in my experience Martinigansl (in season this month) doesn’t tend to vary too much from place to place: half a carcass swimming in Rotkraut with a Knödel or two for extra ballast and your goose is cooked gans gut, as the thigh-slapping German pun goes.

The half of the Wiener Staatsoper’s flock that migrated to Japan last month is slowly heading back west and the operatic roast am Ring is still mostly turkey: much ballet and the dilapidated Rennert Barbiere which was Holender’s schedule filler of choice, three Domingo Boccanegras, more de Billy/Jaho Traviatas, and undying Wiener nostalgia for Neil Shicoff’s Cavaradossi. November’s big revival is a Rutherford/Botha/Eröd/Young outing for the Schenk Meistersinger, while double Gluck is kein Zufall for the month’s new productions: the Staatsoper’s Alceste, starring Véronique Gens and Joseph Kaiser, is directed by Christoph Loy and conducted by Ivor Bolton, and Iphigénie en Aulide, with Bo Skovhus, Michelle Breedt, Myrtò Papatanasiu and Paul Groves, continues Torsten Fischer’s Gluck series for the Theater an der Wien. The Wiener Symphoniker plays the TadW and the Freiburger Barockorchester the Staats; komisch.

Also at the TadW this month are concert performances for two touring shows: Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens on the 11th and the countertenorfest that is Vinci’s Artaserse on the 20th with Jaroussky, Cencič and the Concerto Köln. The Kammeroper is dark this month apart from four remaining performances of La cambiale di matriomonio.

At the Musikverein, Mahler is back on the menu with an Auferstehung this evening to conclude the Pittsburgh SO’s residency and, on Sunday, the Third from the Bruckner Orchester and Dennis Russell Davies. The Linzer return on the 11th with Schubert and Balduin Sulzer, an Upper Austrian priest and prolific composer whose music generally gets more performances than it deserves from Russell Davies. The Tonkünstler appear on the 9th, 10th and 11th with principal guest conductor Michail Jurowski and the Dvořák cello concerto (soloist Clemens Hagen, as in the Hagen Quartet) followed by Glazunov’s ballet music for Petipa’s The Seasons, and again on the 22nd and 25th with the Brahms Double (Renaud Capuçon, Daniel Müller-Schott) and the Symphonic Dances. Alan Buribayev conducts. The Wiener Symphoniker and their beloved Georges Prêtre offer Beethoven 4, the Rosenkavalier suite and La Valse on the 14th, 15th and 17th, and return on the 24th and 25th with Noseda conducting the Isle of the Dead, Rhapsody of a theme of Paganini (Khatia Buniatishvili), and Beethoven 5. It is the Musikverein’s turn to host the concluding concert of Wien Modern on the 16th and the RSO Wien’s focus remains contemporary for their next concert on the 23rd (the premiere of a piano concerto by Miroslav Srnka, with Cornelius Meister and Nicolas Hodges). Members of the RSO also put on an Exilmusik concert in the Brahms Saal on the 28th. The Concentus and Harnoncourt round off the house’s bicentennial celebrations with Mozart’s version of Handel’s festive ode Alexander’s Feast on the 28th and 29th. Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart (Schumann, Beethoven, Mendelssohn) on the 18th, 20th, and 21st are not to be missed; November’s other visiting orchestra is the St Petersburg PO with Brahms and Shostakovich on the 26th and Prokofiev, Mendelssohn and Dvořák on the 27th. Soloists for the two nights are Nelson Freire and Arabella Steinbacher, and Yuri Temirkanov conducts. The only recital of note is Christoph Prégardien on the 17th and 19th; on the 22nd the Kopelman Quartet are joined by Elisabeth Leonskaja for the Franck Quintet.

This month is a busy one for our beloved Wiener in both Vienna’s major houses: an indisposed Muti sees Tonkünstler chief Andrés Orozco-Estrada make his Philharmoniker debut this afternoon, tomorrow morning and Monday with a mostly unchanged programme save for the addition of a Stravinsky violin concerto from concertmaster Rainer Honeck which I suspect comes from here. At the Musikverein, Andrís Nelsons conducts Wagner overtures and Chaik 6 on the 17th and 18th; at the Konzerthaus, Brahms (with Grimaud) and Beethoven 5 on the 25th. Bychkov is in town for his 60th at the end of the month with more Chaik, another Wagner overture, and the Labèque sisters. Also celebrating a Wiener birthday is Daniel Barenboim, at the piano for first concertos from Chopin and Chaik at the Konzerthaus on the 10th and 11th. Daniel Harding conducts.

A Mozart piano concerto from Maria João Pires should be enough to lure you to the same place on the 7th or 8th; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Robin Ticciati also perform the Siegfried Idyll and Beethoven 6. The Wiener Symphoniker under Fedoseyev perform Shostakovich and Weinberg on the 20th and 21st, and the Grubinger circus rolls into town with the Camerata Salzburg in tow on the 26th. Solo and chamber highlights this month include Ingolf Wunder on the 13th, Florian Boesch on the 19th, Yuja Wang on the 29th, and Salzburg prices for Netrebko’s Iolanta on the 30th.

Not listed here are all the Wien Modern events at these venues and other places; dates and details can be found for that here. As always, the Alte Schmiede has events worth checking out, while LUX, a Schmiede ensemble in residence, performs Georg Friedrich Haas’s Third String Quartet at St. Ruprecht tomorrow night. There’s more contemporary music at all the usual fringe venues, but my recommendation is to make the most of Wien Modern while it’s on. For those after something different, the 9th annual KlezMORE festival starts today and runs for the next two weeks.