Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Wiener Staatsoper 2013/14

The two eye-catching items are a role debut for Jonas Kaufmann and a better director for Lohengrin than had been expected. There’s also more Gheorghiu than there’s ever been at the Staatsoper. Among the new productions, the biggest surprise is that Marco Arturo Marelli’s Zauberflöte, which was not so old and had developed a loyal following as a Kindervorstellung, is to be junked in favour of a new Caurier & Leiser production. Most Wiener would prefer to see the back of Jean-Louis Martinoty’s Don Giovanni. All in all 2013/14 seems no worse than 2012/13 and yet no better than 2011/12, which was hardly a season for the annals.

New productions

La fanciulla del West, 5 October 2013. Franz Welser-Möst, Marco Arturo Marelli. Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, Tomasz Konieczny.

Die Zauberflöte, 17 November 2013. Christoph Eschenbach, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser. Brindley Sherratt, Benjamin Bruns, Olga Pudova, Anita Hartig, Markus Werba.

Rusalka, 26 January 2014. Jirí Belohlávek, Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Michael Schade, Krassimira Stoyanova, Günther Groissböck, Monika Bohinec, Janina Baechle.

Adriana Lecouvreur, 16 February 2014. Evelino Pidò, David McVicar. Elena Zhidkova, Massimo Giordano, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Frontali, Raúl Giménez. Co-production with ROH, SFO etc.

Lohengrin, 12 April 2014. Bertrand de Billy, Andreas Homoki. Günther Groissböck, Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Wolfgang Koch, Michaela Martens, Detlef Roth. Co-production with the Zurich Opera.

The Cunning Little Vixen, 18 June 2014. Franz Welser-Möst, Otto Schenk. Gerald Finley, Chen Reiss, Wolfgang Bankl.

Wiederaufnahmen, i.e. major revivals:

Anna Bolena, 25 October 2013. Evelino Pidò, Eric Génovèse. Krassimira Stoyanova, Sonia Ganassi, Luca Pisaroni, Stephen Costello, Zoryana Kushpler.

Peter Grimes, 23 November 2013. Graeme Jenkins, Christine Mielitz. Ben Heppner, Gun-Brit Barkmin, Iain Paterson.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann, 23 May 2014. Marko Letonja, Andrei Serban. Daniela Fally, Marina Rebeka, Nadia Krasteva, Thomas Ebenstein, Ildar Abdrazakov, Stephanie Houtzeel, Piotr Beczala.

Other assorted revivals/highlights:

Tosca, 5 September 2013. Marco Armiliato, Margarethe Wallmann. Angela Gheorghiu, Marcelo Álvarez, Zeljko Lucic.

Simon Boccanegra, 27 September 2013. Alain Altinoglu, Peter Stein. Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Joseph Calleja, Tamar Iveri.

Don Carlo, 13 October 2013. Franz Welser-Möst, Daniele Abbado. Ferruccio Furlanetto, Ramón Vargas, Ludovic Tézier, Anja Harteros, Violeta Urmana, Eric Halfvarson.

Der Rosenkavalier, 20 October 2013. Adam Fischer, Otto Schenk. Renée Fleming, Peter Rose, Wolfgang Bankl, Sophie Koch, Mojca Erdmann.

La bohème, 4 December 2013. Philippe Auguin, Franco Zeffirelli. Angela Gheorghiu, Vittorio Grigolo, Gabriel Bermúdez, Valentina Nafornit̆a.

Wozzeck, 23 March 2014. Daniele Gatti, Adolf Dresen. Matthias Goerne, Herbert Lippert, Herwig Pecoraro, Wolfgang Bankl, Evelyn Herlitzius. 

Parsifal, 17 April 2014. Franz Welser-Möst, Christine Mielitz. Matthias Goerne, Peter Rose, Johan Botha, Waltraud Meier.

Faust, 2 May 2014. Bertrand de Billy, Nicolas Joel/Stéphane Roche. Piotr Beczala, Erwin Schrott, Anna Netrebko, Adrian Eröd.

Norma, 8 May 2014 (in concert). Andriy Yurkevych. Edita Gruberova, Massimo Giordano, Nadia Krasteva, Dan Paul Dumitrescu.

Das Rheingold, 30 May 2014. Jeffrey Tate, Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Tomasz Konieczny, Norbert Ernst, Elisabeth Kulman, Janina Baechle, Eric Owens.

Die Walküre, 31 May 2014. Jeffrey Tate, Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Lance Ryan, Ain Anger, Tomasz Konieczny, Gun-Brit Barkmin, Nina Stemme, Elisabeth Kulman.

Siegfried, 5 June 2014.Jeffrey Tate, Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Stephen Gould, Nina Stemme, Tomasz Konieczny, Herwig Pecoraro, Eric Owens.

Götterdämmerung, 8 June 2014. Jeffrey Tate, Sven-Eric Bechtolf. Stephen Gould, Attila Jun, Nina Stemme.

For details of all the other productions, see the 2013/14 Spielplan on the Staatsoper’s website.

Regie drip feed

Oozing coy charm like a crêpe discharges beurre Suzette, Dominique Meyer confirms ahead of tomorrow’s 2013/14 season announcement that Stefan Herheim has been signed up to direct at the Staatsoper.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Schoenberg Fest

This coming week the Arnold Schönberg Center celebrates its fifteenth year with concerts ranging from the aspirationally hip (‘Schönberg Vinyl Night’, on Tuesday) to the inevitably excellent (Arditti Quartet, on the 18th). Rounding off the programme, winds from the Wiener Symphoniker perform op. 26 on Wednesday, and on the 16th Zubin Mehta conducts the Ensemble Wiener Collage, a group particularly close to the ASC, in op. 9 and works by other composers including Bernd Richard Deutsch and René Staar. For some reason I don’t seem to write up all that many Collage concerts but there is one previous post here. The Mehta concert will also be live-streamed in another free webcast from the Vienna-based platform sonostream.tv; for further details, see their website.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ö1 petition

Ö1, or Radio Österreich 1 – like BBC Radio 3 and 4 in one station – has long been live moderated 24 hours a day. As the ORF periodically likes to threaten cuts to the few things it does well, it has been announced that the moderated night service will be cancelled in May. My domestic readers will recall that the ORF RSO survived a similar threat a few years back. The ORF’s financial situation is not so precarious that these cuts are conceivably justified, and there certainly never seems to be any shortage of money to throw at Alfons Haider and other such ‘talent’. Night service broadcasters are paid a comparative pittance and freelance music professionals would be disproportionally affected as programming is mainly comprised of the ‘Ö1 Klassiknacht’.

Austria is of course a self-styled Kulturnation and with that the term ‘Einzigartigkeit’ is abused on a regular basis. What has never failed to strike me as singular however is that the nation’s flagship radio station devotes an hour’s programming every weekday night to a contemporary music journal. On Friday nights Zeit-Ton is broadcast in a two-hour extended edition and I often find myself catching it live. Tonight’s programme is marking International Women's Day with a profile of e_may, the Vienna-based platform for female composers headed by Pia Palme and Gina Mattiello (featured in the links to the right). The programme title ‘Wie wir wollen, wir Komponistinnen’ takes its name from the recent Wien Modern event which showcased e_may collaborators including Katharina Klement, Judith Unterpertinger, Eva Reiter, Elisabeth Harnik, Tamara Friebel, Joanna Wozny and Olga Neuwirth. Another composer cropping up whom I haven’t heard from in a while is Manuela Kerer. There’s no use pretending that Irene Suchy is a perfect or even decent moderator, but important issues are being raised and the discussion is on the level of a worthwhile Wien Modern fringe event.

Now Zeit-Ton is pre-recorded but the ORF likes to go down slippery slopes if it can get away with it. So if this sounds like the kind of public service broadcasting that deserves protecting, or if from abroad you’ve found yourself listening to Ö1 via the regular links on Ionarts or wherever, then please consider signing the petitions currently active via the Greens and ORF_FM.

ORF_FM also has a video appeal up on Youtube:

Friday, 8 March 2013


Chaos reigned yesterday evening following a marathon session of the Salzburg Festival’s supervisory board. When Barbara Petsch’s article for Die Presse was first posted online, it reported that ‘the board had come out on top’ and suggested that Alexander Pereira’s overspend will be treated as a negative carry forward, reducing the resources available for 2014 regardless of any further sponsorship revenue. Or as a board member phrased it when briefing Petsch, two operas would have to be cut in 2014. Now a heavily revised version of the article states that the revenue raising block has been lifted. If Pereira can come up with the money, he won’t be forced to make savings in 2014.

Der Standard reports more or less the same thing albeit with some dodgy maths and a loose end about the smaller overspend Salzburg mayor Heinz Schaden has said he will ‘tolerate’. Aside from that Pereira has been warned to bring 2014 in on budget. But while another budget battle has been won, it comes at Pyrrhic cost. When Pereira asked the board about his future, they confirmed that, well, his Salzburger Nockeln have wrinkled and collapsed as rapidly as they rose. There will be no contract extension after 2016 and the board is already in discussions with potential replacements. Candidates named by Die Presse include a caretaker (Sven-Eric Bechtolf, current head of the Festival’s drama division); the oddest of wild cards (um, Franzi); and the successor everybody wants (Markus Hinterhäuser). Hinterhäuser takes over the Wiener Festwochen next year but on a three year contract, leaving him free to succeed Pereira in 2017.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Italian Job

Time again for the raucous Salzburg Festival sideshow that is the annual budget finalization board meeting (pictured). This year’s controversy is Alexander Pereira’s 5 million euro overspend on a budget fixed at 60 million this time last year. In addition, the mayor of Salzburg claims that Pereira did not outsource financial commitments to the friends’ association last year, as agreed. But while Salzburg’s political establishment is demanding that the festival be brought back into budget, the programme has been long been decided and the only painless cutback would be the axing of the misconceived festival ball. Gert Korentschnig speculates that Pereira’s star could shine brightly but briefly as a result. He has been in discussions with La Scala for some time now, and his partner already lives in Milan, where she studies fashion design. As was also helpfully pointed out in, well, let’s call it another place, men in Milan ‘are not blind’.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Skeletons’ new clothes?

Wilhelm Jerger
A report published in Friday’s New York Times offers some indication of the details we can expect to read about Tuesday after next, when the findings of a six-week long review of the Vienna Philharmonic’s historical archive will be posted on the orchestra’s website. In a way this is quite exciting: documents which I have long suspected the archive of housing will finally come to light. At the same time the current review has proceeded on a basis which raises as many questions as it answers. Most curious, leaving aside certain discrepancies in the NYT article – an October 1938 letter, presumably to Walter Thomas, was more likely sent in October 1940 (Schirach himself was not appointed Gauleiter until August 1940); and the wartime activities of the orchestra’s SS officers were certainly aired within the postwar Culture Ministry at the time this department assumed responsibility for denazification – is the reported discovery of Wilhelm Jerger’s private papers. In previous posts where I mentioned private correspondence, I was referring mainly to these. As Vorstand or chairman of the orchestra, Jerger was a central figure during this turbulent period and to accept, in the twenty years since Clemens Hellsberg first broached the subject, that the archive has been relaxed about the loss of such important documents requires no small amount of credulity. Reasons given for restricted access are also cast into doubt. If these sources were lost, as claimed, why not just say so? 

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The others have fluff

Some links for die restliche Woche:

“An owlish man with a broad forehead and wire-rimmed eyeglasses” – FWM and the Wiener Philharmoniker visit Toronto.

From the Musikverein, La damnation de Faust in a recent performance with Tugan Sokhiev and the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse is up on medici.tv, while the webcast of Edita Gruberova’s La straniera remains available until tomorrow.

Tune into SR 2 at 20:00 CET for Georg Friedrich Haas’ ... wie stille brannte das Licht in a new arrangement. For further details see UE and the Philharmonie Luxembourg.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Marie-Claire Alain, 1926-2013

Marie-Claire Alain, a towering figure of the organ world, has died at the age of 86. During the last fifty years she and Jean Langlais were the doyenne and doyen of French pedagogues, and many a leading British organist braved pre-Tunnel hovercraft trips to take part in her class. For the younger generation there were her US and UK masterclasses, a breath of fresh air in a stifling hothouse consumed with finding the next 16 year old Wunderkind to collect the FRCO with all the prizes, and unhealthy competition for the King’s and Christ Church organ scholarships. Not one for didactic instruction, her gift was thoroughly non-prescriptive demonstration which sought to patiently nurture latent – or indeed repressed – individuality. Alain did not teach the kind of classes where she had to polish up half a dozen Litanies, but if she had, no two performances would have sounded remotely the same.

It was however clear that she had mellowed in recent years; a development, at least judging by her Bach teaching, that could perhaps be pinpointed to her final integral recorded during the 1990s, HIP-influenced as it was, with curious extremes of tempi and an emotionally detached manner (magnificent highlights such as BWV 543 notwithstanding). I recall an interview with David Sanger in which he called her a ‘charming though quite dogmatic teacher’ – back then, entirely conceivable – and that side of her came to the fore in these recordings. Sanger himself was for decades a rite of pedagogical passage for British organists and his great wisdom and exactitude, not always forthcoming in equal measure, will be remembered in much the same way. Private lessons could be like root canal surgery and his Oundle classes nothing short of ritual humiliation, however well-meaning, as he indicated himself (‘some of the young people who come to Oundle really have very little idea. But hopefully they go away better able to play things properly [my emphasis]). By the time I encountered Marie-Claire, in 2004 or thereabouts, she seemed, without explicitly letting on, to have the measure of what was going on in the training of young British organists, geared as it was to note-perfect, mechanized trio sonatas calculated only to appeal to Stephen Cleobury come the fiercely contested King’s trials. To the Royal College of Organists, too, freedom in Bach meant one thing: freedom from error; with musicality counting for no more than it would in the notorious transposition exercises (a tone or semitone up or down, at sight). The Marie-Claire I played for seemed closer to the freer organist of the second integral, obsessed less with control than independence of mind. Fussily-maintained consistency of articulation in the trio sonatas bored her, and besides that nothing further about the creative pinnacle of Bach’s organ oeuvre needed to be said. She never contradicted other teachers.

Alain’s legacy as an organist and tireless advocate for her brother (and French Romantic school more generally) is no less formidable, though of the three-and-a-half Bach integrals, of which only the second and third are widely available, I find myself alternating regularly however much more I’m drawn to the second. The one constant I look for is the same personality she encouraged in others, as shown in this vivid first movement to the G major trio sonata:

The punctilious RCO examiner would doubtless clock her for those two faltering moments – one rushing, the other a dead cert for their favourite euphemistic phrase, ‘slight hesitancy’ – but everything about the performance simply sparkles. It is a salutary reminder of our primary duty to these trio sonatas, to bring them to life.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Jewish Museum, Wiener Philharmoniker and public debate

An informative article published in the New York Times yesterday is the second English-language report on the sensitive topic of restitution and Vienna’s Jewish Museum, an institution increasingly criticized over the past few years for showing little interest in examining the provenance of its holdings. Quotes from Danielle Spera, the museum’s director since 2010, put her efforts in a sympathetic light, and though the museum’s recent closure seemed to be as much about needless cosmetic remodelling as necessary renovation, it would appear that some action concerning research was taken well before this story broke in Der Standard last month. The Standard’s writer, Thomas Trenkler, offers further local insight hitched to a few trenchant observations. Referring to legislation passed in 1998 which saw an increase in objects subject to restitution in federal museums, he comments that “one museum was however viewed as sacrosanct: Vienna’s Jewish Museum, opened in 1993 in the Palais Eskeles. For years the museum withheld information about the provenance of its collections or simply swept the issue under the carpet. Those who asked questions at press conferences were viewed as disrespectful and received a pat response”.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Next stop Ehrengrab

Ehrenmitgliedschaft of the Musikverein, normally a one-foot-in-the-grave honour, was quietly awarded to Franz Welser-Möst this weekend.

Image credit: Dieter Nagl

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Kaplan’s Mahler: Der Mensch liegt in größter Peinlichkeit

Konzerthaus, 17/2/2013

Mahler: Symphony no. 2 ‘Auferstehung’ (new arrangement for chamber orchestra by Gilbert Kaplan & Rob Mathes)

Gilbert Kaplan, Janina Baechle, Marlis Petersen

Wiener KammerOrchester, Wiener Singakademie

I went to this performance with the lowest expectations I have brought to any concert and it would be unfair to say they were not fulfilled. Gilbert Kaplan, should anybody need reminding, is a Mahler-obsessed multi-millionaire who over the last thirty years has opened his chequebook to the world’s leading orchestras and in the process become the world’s most familiar recreational conductor. The Second Symphony, which Kaplan holds in cultish regard, is the only work in his repertoire and according to this New York Times profile from 2008, he has performed it around a hundred times with close to sixty orchestras, and broken sales records with his recordings. As the Times also notes, Kaplan has received a generous number of glowing reviews, the consensus among them being that whatever technical facility he lacks as a conductor is more than offset by rare critical authority as a Mahlerian. The most widely read of the less flattering notices (which, note, Kaplan dismisses as politically motivated) was penned by no critic, but New York Philharmonic trombonist David Finlayson, and goes about as far in the opposite critical direction as is imaginable. Hence my expectations.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Stranger in the night

Musikverein, 8/2/2013 

Bellini: La straniera 

Alaide | Edita Gruberova
Arturo | José Bros 
Valdeburgo | Paolo Gavanelli
Isoletta | Sonia Ganassi 
Osburgo | Randall Bills
Il Priore degli Spedalieri | Sung Heon Ha
Il signore di Montolino | Leonard Bernad 

Conductor | Pietro Rizzo 
Münchener Opernorchester
Philharmonia Chor Wien

Another month, another bel canto gala with Edita Gruberova. The Viennese could get used to this. While this Straniera didn’t quite crackle with the same electricity as January’s Anna Bolena, it delved further into the melodrama the two pieces have in common and sounded a good deal less titillating than it had any right to be.

FWM/Wiener Philharmoniker: The Bruckner Problem Complexified

Musikverein, 13/2/2013

Franz Welser-Möst

Frank Peter Zimmermann
Wiener Philharmoniker

Berg: Violin Concerto
Bruckner: Symphony no. 4 (1888 version, ed. Korstvedt)

In der Wiener Oper, im Wiener Burgtheater wurde nichts übersehen; jede falsche Note wurde sofort bemerkt, jeder unrichtige Einsatz, jede Kürzung gerügt, und diese Kontrolle nicht etwa nur bei den Premieren durch die professionellen Kritiker geübt, sondern Tag für Tag durch das wachsame und durch ständiges Vergleichen geschärfte Ohr des ganzen Publikums. Während im Politischen, im Administrativen, in den Sitten alles ziemlich gemütlich zuging, und man gutmütig gleichgültig war gegen jede „Schlamperei“ und nachsichtig gegen jeden Verstoß, gab es in künstlerischen Dingen keinen Pardon; hier war die Ehre der Stadt im Spiel. Jeder Sänger, jeder Schauspieler, jeder Musiker mußte ununterbrochen sein Äußerstes geben, sonst war er verloren. Es war herrlich, in Wien ein Liebling zu sein, aber es war nicht leicht, Liebling zu bleiben; ein Nachlassen wurde nicht verziehen. Und dieses Wissen um das ständige und mitleidlose Überwachtsein zwang jedem Künstler in Wien sein Äußerstes ab und gab dem Ganzen das wunderbare Niveau.

So blathers Stefan Zweig in Die Welt von Gestern about Vienna’s cultural heyday, likening its bourgeois base to parasitic loggionisti. Were the Wienerinnen and Wiener of today so fastidious they might very well recognize that performances of Bruckner 4 stand or fall on decent standards of brass playing, and that between the rock of complacency and hard place that is the infernal Wiener Horn, this familiar corner of the Austro-German canon has for a while not been the impregnable core repertoire the Vienna Philharmonic so firmly avows it to be. At the Musikverein on Wednesday, clean brass entries were like hen’s teeth and with notes falling in all manner of unusual orders, the horns appeared to be improvising a new critical edition (nominally the orchestra uses Korstvedt nowadays). As farce, this rivalled the Messiah on crack.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Horses for courses

Just as Hans Werner Henze, citing among other things the suffocating hegemony of the Darmstadt aesthetic, abandoned Germany for Italy, Maderna left Italy in 1963 to take up residency in Darmstadt and German citizenship. There the parallels end, for Maderna arrived in Darmstadt at a time when Cagean experimentalism was a far greater influence on European serialist thought than the post-Webern legacy commonly misrepresented as imposing doctrinal discipline on all conceivable compositional parameters. Whether it is due to this or the slipperiest of versatile idioms, his output has largely fallen through the historiographical cracks except for a small number of works including the late opera of sorts Satyricon, which works well both as a staged piece and in concert.

The Klangforum Wien performed Satyricon in concert at the Theater an der Wien and I wrote about it for Bachtrack. Completely different but no less lurid, surreal and of its time is the Fellini take on Petronius:

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Invitation for ridicule

The Wiener Staatsoper propositions you with the following:

The Wiener Staatsoper will host a new exhibition, to open on 28 March 2013, on ‘Richard Wagner and the Vienna Opera’. As part of this exhibition the audience is invited to contribute their thoughts on the question: can Wagner be described in one word? We don't imagine he can, but we ask the members of our public anyway: what is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Wagner? Please send us your suggestion to dramaturgie [at] wiener-staatsoper.at. A selection of the words we receive will feature in the exhibition.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Rattle/OAE: Mozart on mute

Musikverein, 27/1/2013

Sir Simon Rattle
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Symphony no. 39 in E flat major, KV 543
Symphony no. 40 in G minor, KV 550
Symphony no. 41 in C major ‘Jupiter’, KV 551

Salzburg’s Mozartwoche is currently in full swing but Vienna doesn’t take well to being outshone during the season and, for motives only a Freudian psychiatrist could explain, the Musikverein tends to up the star wattage for this particular week in January. The big name Thomas Angyan pulled out of the hat for today, the 257th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, was the same as for Mozart’s 255th anniversary, though Simon Rattle actually conducted Mozart this time around and appeared not with the Berlin Philharmonic but rather his regular guesting gig, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (which is currently on European tour).

It would take a special performance to begin to compare to the last time I heard these late symphonies but far from showing what Rattle is capable of on a good day, or indeed something running the less flattering Rattle gamut of inconsistent to infuriating, this was vanilla Mozart of the type that wouldn’t protest too much were it to be relegated to elevator music (or to give a Musikverein analogy, deemed fit for the commercially-driven indignities of the bewigged ‘Wiener Mozart Concerts’ that typically occupy the Brahms Saal next door). I write about it here without a great deal of reflection as so much of it already drained from my mind on the U-Bahn ride home.

The OAE didn’t play badly and brass accuracy on these unforgiving instruments was generally excellent if not quite untouchable. Winds went rapidly out of tune and to have paused for adjustment between movements would have been no small mercy. Under Rattle the strings produced a lush roundness that tried almost to ape Viennese-style golden tone, but in straining to do so and pushing these instruments in tonal directions for which they are not configured this gave way in a number of places to outright thinness and astringency. Abbado has been dabbling for a while in this kind of hybridity but I don’t know what to make of its more perverse practices and results, except that if Taruskin can ever get over his hostility to modernism then we appear to be in need of a revised edition to Text and Act.

Rattle kept hard-driven tempi at bay but pulse was consistently at a level where the great disfigurement of much otherwise decent Mozart playing, contrived urgency, repeatedly intruded; and all the more fraudulently as this music-making never seemed to want to truly possess the vitality that was in abundance at Jordi Savall’s Resonanzen concert the other day. Rattle doesn’t go out of his way to stylize this music but of his efforts at shaping the less successful touches were all unmistakably his and, unluckily, what might be considered as insight too generic to pass for genuine individuality (though as a seasoned visitor to the Musikverein, he knows the bewitching pianissimi this hall’s acoustic makes possible – and never failed to get them). The Jupiter’s counterpoint knitted poorly and there was little interplay between voices elsewhere; inner voices were often prominent for no clear musical reason and when a line was articulated it rarely ran a fully conceived course. If Barenboim was deriving tension and order from textural planes, Rattle was hoping to get it from vertical rigidity, in an all too commonplace misreading of galant periodicity which stripped too much of the richness away from the writing. The Musikverein likes to group big names in subscription packages labelled ‘Meisterinterpreten’ and judged by that billing, Barenboim’s Mozart was Hegelian and Rattle’s Harnoncourt with an unprepossessing human face.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Resonanzen: Savall & Hespèrion XXI

In der allgemeinen Verwirrung war nicht klar, ob es ursprünglich Savalls Absicht war, Stücke hintereinander aufzuführen, welche auf den gleichen harmonischen und rhythmischen Abläufen basieren - und so Längen entstanden, in denen sich eines wie das andere anhörte.
Hearing one piece was as good as hearing them all; for some reason during this concert that hoary chestnut got stuck in the German-speaking part of my brain and, being capable of only thinking in one language at a time, ultimately came out as something neither English, German, nor particularly musically literate. Following the altered programme was similarly confusing, but despite the organizational shambles and more than a few longueurs the playing was at least unfailingly vibrant and infectious. This was the first time I’ve heard Savall live and what is systematically denied by our local ayatollah of period practice – musicality, a collective sense of expressive freedom, and purely unforced Heiterkeit – was thrown into stark relief. For more, see Bachtrack.

Friday, 25 January 2013


This Sunday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and ahead of this, in fact this afternoon, the Austrian Parliament will host the premiere of Peter Androsch's opera Spiegelgrund. Part of the vast Steinhof psychiatric hospital complex designed by Otto Wagner, Am Spiegelgrund was a Viennese children's clinic that became a place of mass euthanasia following the Anschluss with Nazi Germany.

The performance takes place at 17:00 Vienna time and will be broadcast on ORF III starting at 17:20, and also available to watch for free via a live internet stream provided by Samantha Farber and the team at sonostream.tv. The live stream starts at 17:00 and offers subtitles in English.

A press release has been made available in English with further information about the opera and some comments from Nationalrat president Barbara Prammer:

Austria’s Parliament is breaking new ground in its commemoration of the victims of National Socialist tyranny. “There will be a time when Holocaust survivors will no longer be among us and will not be able to tell subsequent generations of their horrific experiences,” National Assembly President Barbara Prammer said of the upcoming world premiere of the opera Spiegelgrund this Friday, 1/25/2013, at 5:00 PM in the historic Federal Assembly Chamber. In this work, composer Peter Androsch of Linz thematises the murder of at least 790 sick or disabled children at the Children’s Department of Vienna’s Spiegelgrund psychiatric hospital during the Third Reich. “This opera is touching, striking, and is an appeal to all of us to assume responsibility and to decisively reject discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism time and again,” Barbara Prammer said. The world premiere of the opera Spiegelgrund serves to commemorate the victims of Nazi euthanasia and is Parliament’s contribution to the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which since 2005 has reminded the world of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on 27 January 1945.

What happened at Spiegelgrund?

After the “Anschluss” in which Austria was annexed to National Socialist Germany in 1938, the ideology of “racial hygiene” also gained a dominant role in Austria. The medical community was assigned the task of “eradicating inferior persons from the National Socialist ethnic community.” The murder of the mentally disabled, psychologically ill and maladjusted was a precursor to the policy of exterminating Jews, Romanies and Sinti.

A centre of National Socialist death medicine was the state psychiatric hospital Am Steinhof. There, thousands of patients were murdered, among them at least 790 disabled children and youth in the children’s department Am Spiegelgrund; they were poisoned with barbiturates, enervated with cold water showers and Speibinjektionen and suffered fatal infections as a result. These crimes remained unpunished, as it was not until the 1990s that criminal proceedings against the doctor in charge, the prominent neuropathologist Heinrich Gross, were initiated. After the war, Gross still published his “research” at Spiegelgrund and acted as a forensic expert. The trial against him could not be completed due to the accused’s inability to stand trial. The mortal remains of the children of Spiegelgrund, which continued to be used as medical compounds for a long time, only found eternal peace in the 21st century, in an honorary grave from the city of Vienna.

The opera Spiegelgrund

The composer Peter Androsch describes his opera as a triptych with three panels and three spheres: Law, Children’s Song and Memory. Spiegelgrund contains texts by the literary scholar and cultural journalist Bernhard Doppler, the dramaturge and author Silke Dörner and the ancient historian and biographer Plutarch. Recitatives bring historical explanations. In grappling with the ideology of National Socialism, Androsch leads the spectator all the way back into antiquity. For good reason, too: Hitler admired the legendary lawgiver Lycurgus and the Spartans’ military state, where—according to Plutarch—all life was subordinate to war, where deformed children were abandoned at birth, where gruesome methods of raising children reigned and slaves were regularly killed. At this point, the contrast between Hitler’s archaic Sparta image and the stage ambiance of the world premiere might become noticeable, the cheerful Greek style of the architect Theophil Hansen, who gave the Reichsratssaal an amphitheatre shape and decorated it with images and statues of Attic democrats and Roman republicans in order to reveal the ancient roots of democracy.

By contrast, in Peter Androsch’s opera, the children’s song “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen” (A Bird Comes Flying) makes the homesickness of the tortured children at Spiegelgrund palpable, while Memory quotes reports of survivors, in order to gradually overcome speechlessness and find words for the horror: “carts full of dead little children, like thrown-away dolls.”

Responsible for the production of the opera Spiegelgrund by Peter Androsch is the Anton Bruckner Private University of Upper Austria, which is dedicated to classical music education and simultaneously fosters contemporary opera and the reappraisal of works by persecuted and ostracised composers.

Collaborating on the performance are: Thomas Kerbl (conductor), Katerina Beranova (soprano), Robert Holzer (bass), Alexandra Diesterhöft (child’s voice), Karl M. Sibelius (narrator), Ensemble 09, Alexander Hauer (stage direction) and Ingo Kelp (stage lighting).

Monday, 21 January 2013

Rodolfo, io voglio dirti un mio pensier profondo

For his second production at the Kammeroper, Australian baritone Ben Connor once again nobly ditches his pants for the sake of opera. La bohème opens tonight and is given in a 90-minute adaptation which uses Jonathan Dove’s chamber orchestra reduction overlaid with music by Turkish composer Sinem Altan and Turkish-German DJ İpek İpekçioğlu. The production is directed by former Konwitschny assistant Lotte de Beer, who, inspired by her experiences as a drama student, has crafted a satirical vignette of bobo trustafarians whose countercultural artistic pretensions are belied by their privileged backgrounds. Performances run until February 24.

Image credit: Barbara Zeininger

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Jedes Ding hat seine Zeit

Der Rosenkavalier
Wiener Staatsoper, 9/1/2013

Die Feldmarschallin Angela Denoke
Baron Ochs | Peter Rose
Octavian | Stephanie Houtzeel
Faninal | Clemens Unterreiner
Sophie | Sylvia Schwartz
Marianne Leitmetzerin | Caroline Wenborne
Valzacchi Michael Roider
Annina | Ulrike Helzel

Jeffrey Tate | Conductor
Otto Schenk | Director

There comes a moment in life, it is said, when one realizes that one is no longer young. It does not inevitably follow that one is old or indeed incapable of going back to younger ways, embarrassingly or otherwise, just that one begins to evaluate one’s existence and internal standards in a different way. In this sense Der Rosenkavalier is less about the passage of time than the transformative power of self-awareness, which the Marschallin steadily gains in shortly after Ochs, a man entirely without it, barges his way into her escapist romance. He is far more of a mirror than the one in which she imagines her fading looks, and his timing, gender and character are no accident. The foil to his predatory hedonism reveals itself as a bittersweet empowerment which, far more importantly than the giving up of Octavian, the Marschallin uses to set Sophie on a more positive matrimonial course than that she has enjoyed (we sense from her reaction to Octavian’s breezy, unaware comments about the Feldmarschall’s exploits in the Croatian forests that her husband’s trophies swiftly lose their fascination once mounted). Ochs, who remains in denial, will not allow one setback to prevent him from chasing skirts, but while the Marschallin will never look at romance or herself in the same way again, more than mere impulse governs the near certainty, as Strauss himself later felt moved to flippantly point out, that Quinquin will not be the last youth she takes as a lover. A common observation draws the Marschallin of Act III as a female equivalent to Hans Sachs, but a more optimistic possibility Hofmannsthal leaves open is that she and Sophie have transcended the dualism of the Madonna/whore archetype.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

2013 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize goes to Mariss Jansons

The Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis, considered the most prestigious award in the German-speaking classical music world, is split fairly evenly between composers and musicians with the odd token musicologist acknowledged every decade or so. In honouring performers the prize aspires to recognize a certain intellectual contribution and so Mariss Jansons counts as one of the more unusual choices in recent years, in that his musical intellect is chiefly preoccupied with thought in music. To see this as a departure one need only look at other conductors among the previous recipients, whose careers also encompass thought, whatever one might be inclined to think of it, on music: Boulez, Harnoncourt, Barenboim, Gielen. Inadvertently or otherwise the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung has also dragged Viennese musical politics into the decision, as the chair of their jury and president of the board of trustees is none other than Musikverein Intendant Thomas Angyan, a figure so closely allied with Jansons professionally and personally that the only way for him to play a plausibly neutral role in this process would have been through recusal once Jansons’ name was admitted to the short list. Whether the foundation or Herr von Angyan, as he is known in Switzerland, will be interested in offering such a clarification is another matter.

The prize money has been increased this year by 50,000 euros to 250,000 euros, and just as Barenboim directed the bulk of his Siemens award to renovation work at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Jansons will be donating his 250k to the construction of a new concert hall to supplant Munich’s Gasteig. 

Image credit: Manu Theobald, from the obligatory Ernst von Siemens photo shoot

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A final word from Luc Bondy

This year’s Wiener Festwochen mark the end of Luc Bondy’s seventeen years in Vienna (fourteen of those as Intendant), a passing which has been mostly greeted with what might be termed Wurschtigkeit. Nobody less than the sainted Markus Hinterhäuser is to take over in 2014, after all, and great things are expected of him. Still, there is no reason to throw the 2013 edition out with the bathwater even if the offerings are as characteristically uneven across divisions as last year and the year before. Stefanie Carp, director of theatre and least work-shy of the festival’s ruling troika, has for instance again assembled an embarrassment of riches that surely places the Festwochen as one of the leading European festivals of its kind for drama. For concerts the story is much the same as in previous years, with programming possessed of no distinctive festival identity, though as this year’s host the Konzerthaus is also celebrating its 100th anniversary and has accordingly devoted the bulk of its Festwochen budget to the Vienna, New York and Berlin Philharmonics. The two major operatic projects are Il trovatore, which wraps up the Festwochen’s wretched Verdi series, and a tour stop for George Benjamin’s Written on Skin

The festival’s socio-political projects are once again more closely aligned with the theatre division, though musical highlights involve a Christoph Marthaler production that will see music from Jewish composers persecuted or otherwise affected by the Nazis performed in the Austrian parliament, a music theatre piece inspired by Mexico’s drug war from Vienna-based composer Diego Collatti, and what is billed as a Twitter opera from Franz Koglmann. A particularly active Into the City programme will be announced in full later, but some details are given here. The theatre programme is as international as always, including productions from Festwochen regulars Martin Kušej, Robert Lepage, Bondy himself, and many others. Of particular note is a return to Vienna for Nicolas Stemann, peerless director of Elfriede Jelinek’s stage works, with another media-focused project that will almost certainly prove more provocative than Koglmann’s.

Back in 2001 Luc Bondy gave the Festwochen a much-needed reboot and for some years pursued – by Viennese standards – a radical course that harvested improbable commercial success. But by the time of his latest contract extension he was reflecting that he had stayed in Vienna for too long and the public perception in recent years, confirmed all too often in press conferences and interviews, is that bar Carp his team treads water shamelessly. Stéphane Lissner, who in addition to contributing nothing to Into the City couldn’t be bothered to turn up to his own press conference this year (‘he probably missed his flight’, fudged Bondy half-heartedly), should have been pressured into resigning years ago. A golden handshake would have been small beer set against the absurd cost of his further employment. It will not take much for Hinterhäuser to better the festival’s musical output, but as noted, expectations are high and perhaps unhealthily so.

The Wiener Festwochen take place this year from May 10th to June 16th and full listings can be found here.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Getting Anna Bolena rolling

Musikverein, 3/1/2013

Anna Bolena | Edita Gruberova
Giovanna Seymour | Sonia Ganassi
Enrico VIII | Riccardo Zanellato
Lord Percy | José Bros
Smeton | Hagar Shavit

Lord Rochefort | Daniel Kotlinski
Hervey | Andrew Lepri Meyer

Conductor | Pietro Rizzi
Münchener Opernorchester 
Münchener Opernchor

Anna Bolena is very much fresh in the minds of the Viennese, but beyond Anna Netrebko’s spellbinding performance the opera’s 2011 outing at the Wiener Staatsoper did not move me much. Further beyond that is my general problem of failing to square, pace Gossett and artistic maturity, a composer who takes his historical narrative so very seriously with the formulaic vapidity of the music inspired by it. The seeds of high tragedy are there in some musical sense but banalities win out time after time, even when the artistic whole, with the nobly-borne fate of a self-ensnared victim at its centre, aspires to something considerably grander than melodrama.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Philharmonic archives and the Austrian art of remembering

            UPDATE, 5/3/13: further posts on this topic can be read here and here.

The 2013 New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic is now over, with the focus this year less on women (see this new post from William Osborne) than darker aspects of the orchestra’s history, a debate that invokes the concert’s origins but which also encompasses a broader subtext about Austrian attitudes towards working through the past. The catalyst for this has been the disclosure of a postwar postscript to the 1942 awarding of the Philharmoniker’s Ring of Honour (Ehrenring) to Baldur von Schirach, a one-time Nazi Gauleiter of Vienna and war criminal convicted of the deportation of 65,000 Viennese Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Schirach was sentenced to 20 years in Spandau for crimes against humanity and following his release in 1966 an emissary of the orchestra was sent to give him a replacement copy of the ring (details of the whereabouts of the original may be found be Henriette von Schirach’s book Der Preis der Herrlichkeit). Although the orchestra remembered the support Schirach gave them during his time in Vienna, it neglected to formally commemorate its six Jewish members murdered in the camps, among them Julius Stwertka, who was protected for a time by Furtwängler but eventually found himself rounded up in Vienna on the orders of Schirach’s deportation policy.* This astonishing revelation comes from Richard von Schirach, who writes in his book Der Schatten meines Vaters that his father failed to show any remorse following his release from Spandau. Schirach comments that he does not wish at present to disclose the identity of the Philharmonic musician who delivered the ring, but the orchestra’s archive possibly holds a paper trail. The 1966 incident is not mentioned in Demokratie der Könige. Die Geschichte der Wiener Philharmoniker, the official history of the orchestra.