Doundou Tchil
"We are here for the music and NOT the other way round !"
3179 Entries
Galina Ustvolskaya and Reinbert de Leeuw, 2011
 Exclusive,first-person article on Galina Ustvolskaya on Andrew Morris's blog Devil's Trill. Please read it here - it's a significant addition to what we know of the reticent Galina Ustvolskaya and opens out new areas of research.   Ustvolskaya is coming out from under the shadow of Shostakovich. Whatever the nature of their relationship, Ustvolskaya's music is utterly distinct from his, so original and so uncompromising that it's unlikley she'll ever be as popular as he. But what amazing music she wrote !  Read HERE about her Symphony no 3 Jesus Messiah, save us ! from the Berlin Musikfest with Valéry Gergiev and the Münchner Philharmoniker  

hether or not Shostakovich compromised with the Stalinist regime, he managed to balance on the edge. Ustvolskaya wasn't sent to Siberia, but seems to have struggled on in a kind of external exile.  Perhaps her reputation for being a recluse protected her - she's not unlike many mystic visionaries in Russian history.  The integrity in her music comes from very deep sources, influenced by Slavic tradition, but also decidedly modern.  Her association with Shostakovich is misleading,  She's closer to Stravinsky and the "primitivism" of the Rite of Spring,  and to the brief explosion of modernity which flourished in the early years after the Revolution, and produced works like Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry (1925-6)   Ustvolskaya's music even connects  to the fierce awkwardness of Janácek's Glagolitic Mass, and indeed to Messiaen's ground-breaking masterpieces like Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Follow this link HERE to a discussion of  Ustvolskaya, her place in Soviet music and her relation to Shostakovich.  Also, this excellent documentary, made when Ustvolskya was, at last, being valued for her own sake. She was nearly 90 when the film was made but her mind is sharp. She knows who Reinbert de Leeuw is and what he stands for.   

Perhaps someone should folow up on Sister Andre Dullaghan.  For example - what was her order, and which convent did she live in ?  Her manuscript and papers  may remain in the convent library.   Or the nuns might know what happened to he effects,  and put researchers in touch with her family, or someone who might know.  Two fascinating, independent women, who should be remembered.
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau's opera Le Devin du Village, (1753) at the Petit Théâtre de la Reine at Versailles last July, now available on Culturebox.  Listening to opera audio-only is sterile and unnatural.  For Rousseau and his contemporaries the idea that any one aspect of opera could be cut out of context was anathema. Opera was meant to be enjoyed as part of social life, which at Versailles meant the aesthetic of the surroundings. The film begins as the camera pans in on the palace and its vast formal gardens. Versailles was more than a royal residence; it was and is the symbol of audacious vision.  The performance takes place in the theatre at le Petit Trianon, built for Marie Antoinette in 1780 where the opera was performed, capturing its intimate, elegant scale which is absolutely part of meaning. Like Versailles iitself, the opera encompasses in miniature the essence of the world beyond, Nature contained, distilled and civilized.  Yet paradoxically it's also a reminder that Nature cannot be tamed. The palace is ringed by ancient forests in which the King would hunt. He hardly needed to catch his own dinner : hunting was a ritual monarchs enacted for fun and fresh air, but also to display their dominance. Though Marie Antoinette wasn't to know what was coming, we do, and that knowledge does affect our appreciation.
It is also significant that Rousseau was a philosopher. Le Devin du Village is more than mindless entertainment in the modern sense.  For audiences of the Age of Reason, art was inextricably part of wider human experience. Without ideas, no art !  While baroque operas can be enjoyed on a very basic level, they are almost always allegorical, with concealed sub texts. At le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette had a farm but no way was she going to muck in with the peasants. Imagined Nature served a purpose, presenting an ideal that was probably impossible to attain.  The noble savages in Rameau's Les Indes galantes  weren't carefree. Theatre is not naturalistic : it is artifice, not reality.  We need to understand the real traditions of opera to detoxify modern notions of  "tradition" based on movies and TV.  The photo above shows a cloud descending from the heavens bearing a crown which Colette accepts, as if such things happened every day : a device that would enrage "traditional" audiences today.
The flats are clearly painted, the stage is empty apart from chairs for the singers to sit in when they're not in action. Gestures are stylized and the singers, dancers and musicians wear what was normal costume in court circles of the period.  Dance is integral to the whole aesthetic. Like the gardens of Versailles, dance is a formalization of nature, movement organized into patterns.  Baroque dance is structured, like athletics, employing the body into the whole concept.  Thus the large ensemble when most of the cast is on stage, together, carefully choreographed and vocally balanced.  Dance is pulse, and pulse the basis of music.  Separate the two and lose the plot.  It would be impossible and inadvisable to recreate the full baroque experience, but this production is a glimpse into what might have been. For the rest, we use our imaginations, based on what we've learned.  Les Nouveaux Caractères are conducted by Sébastien d'Hérin. The dancers are Le Compagnie d'Eloquents, choreograped by Hubert Hazebrocq. Singers are Caroline Mutel (Colette), Cyrille Dubois (Colin), and Frédéric Caton (Le Devin).  Historic staging by Jean-Paul Gousset.  It would be impossible to recreate the full baroque experience,  but in this staging we get a glimpse into what might have been, from which we can learn the foundations of French style.
Please read Reconsidering Rousseau's Le devin du Village : an opera of surprising and valuable paradox by Edward Green (Ars lyrica, 2007)  for a more detailed analysis of the score and ideas behind it.  Note his final paragraph : "Without exception, every aria in this opera is cast in a dance rhythm. In and of itself, this is evidence of a profound attempt on Rousseau’s part to reconcile individual and collective feeling. An aria is an opportunity for the assertion of individual feeling, and yet community is always implied, since a steady dance beat always implies the need to coordinate community. Thus, with a lovely equipoise of individual and communal singing – Colette alternating with the community as a whole – and in an infectious, swinging 6/8 meter, Le devin du village ends with the call : Allons danser!
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photo : Roger Thomas

It's still winter and the skies are overcast. But look to  the trees, where the buds are forming, which will soon unfurl as leaves.  So to Winterlied, one of Mahler's Drei Lieder (Im Lenz, Winterlied and Maitanz im Grunen) from 27th February 1880. Winterlied is not a Wunderhorn song.  Just as he was to do with Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Mahler wrote the text himself and dedicated the song and its companion, Im Lenz, to  Josephine Poisl, who lived in his hometown Iglau. He sent her flowers, but she wasn't too pleased. Soon after, she married another homeboy.  Mahler went on to Vienna, and to fame.  Though the songs (unpublished in Mahler's lifetime) aren't very sophisticated, they aren't bad for someone so young.  Besides, they were written at the same time as Mahler's first truly significant work, Das klagende Lied.

manuscript - click to enlarge

Über Berg und Tal
Mit lautem Schall 

Tönet ein Liedchen. 

Durch Schnee und Eis
Dringt es so heiß 

Bis zu dem Hüttchen. 

Wo das Feuer brummt,
Wo das Rädchen summt 

Im traulichen Stübchen. 

Um den Tisch herum
Sitzen sie stumm. 

Hörst du mich, Liebchen? 

Im kalten Schnee,
Sieh! wie ich steh',

Sing' zu Dir, Mädchen! 

Hat denn mein Lied
So dich erglüht
Oder das Rädchen? 

O liebliche Zeit
Wie bist du so weit! 

O selige Stunden!
Ach nur ein Blick
War unser Glück.
Ewig verschwunden! 


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It takes courage to pair Sibelius Luonnotar and Aare Merikanto's Ekho, as Sakari Oramo did with the BBC SO at the Barbican on 7/1/18.  Both pieces present fearsome technical challenges but Oramo and the BBCSO had a secret weapon in Anu Komsi, who can handle extremes of range and timbre, while also infusing her singing with warmth and meaning. Though Komsi sings with such assurance that she made the pieces flow with natural grace, they aren't at all easy; she's been singing them for a long time.  Experience shows ! This performance of Merikanto's Ekho was wonderful, much better than Komsi's recording with  Petri Sakari and the Turku Philharmonic. The BBCSO are a much more sophisticated orchestra, with a richer sound. And of course Sakari Oramo knows the singer and orchestra pretty well.   Since I've written about Luonnotar so many times over the years (Please read HERE) this is a good time to think about Ekho

After swimming in primeval oceans for 700 years (think amniotic fluid) Luonnotar called out, in agony to the god Ukko, who answered by sending a bird whose egg Luonnotar nurtured, from which the universe was born.  Ekho was a nymph, blessed with beauty of form and of voice.  But when she called out to Narcissus, he didn't care about anything but himself.  Although Merikanto's music seems lush - lots of glossy strings - it is also very much of its time.  Writing in 1922, Merikanto was well aware of the trends in European music around him. Ekho doesn't even pretend to be folkloric - it’s "modern" music, almost neo-classical, reflecting the clear sighted vision of a new world emerging from war.   Think of the clean lines of 1920's visual arts, and the gracious stylization of form that engendered.  The poem by Viekko Antero  Koskenniemi  (1885-1962) comes from the collection Elegioja.  In that context, Ekho is almost a New Woman, talented and emancipated   Lots of those in the 1920's, in Finland and everywhere else. Like many smart women, Ekho thinks she can reach out. But men like Narcissus could not care less.   

The sound of hunting horns and  ominous rumblings - Ekho is a nymph of the forest, but what,is her mission ?  Suddenly the line leaps upward "Narkissos, Narkissos — hu-huu, hu-huu! "  Almost a war cry. The orchestra rears up. Turbulence, then clearing away to quieter sounds, a pattern of call and non-response that repeats in different forms. Ekho calls again: "Narkissos, ma huudan, hu-huu, hu-huu!", the last word projected into the voice. Ekho is listening, but Narcissus isn't. Summer's ending (ie the end of fertility).  Komsi's voice lowers seductively , halo'd by strings, harp and melancholy violin, then rises again in a long, soaring arc. Near silence - you count the bars, listening and gradually, sounds return, shimmering like sound waves.  "Se mun kuoltuanikin soi ja soi" (It's my ringing and playing).  Liike an echo, the first line repeats, in muted form. "Koko yön minä yksin tanssinut oon ja kutsunut armasta karkeloon"  (all night, I danced alone). Dark sustained chords breaks.  Then silence.  Sibelius Luonnotar is grander, and more dramatic.  Merikanto's Ekho is compact, but just as tightly structured and haunting.  

I don't know who created the image above, but it's brilliant !  We do live in an age where reality doesn't penetrate the minds of folks like Narcissus. 

5 days ago |
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How is it that conductors who are safe hands on the podium (not necessarily a compliment) aren't necessarily safe hands off it ?

The picture shows Michael Costa (1808-1888).  It's just a nice pic. No implication that he was "handy" or that his stick technique was a little too grabby.
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Esa-Pekka Salonen, composer, the subject of  the Total Immersion Day at the Barbican, London, in December,which came at a busy time before Christmas, and coincided with Suomi 100 celebrations. Too muchn to take in all at once. Fortunately the Salonen concerts are now on BBC Radio 3 (link here). A great opportunity to hear Salonen's Wing to Wing (2004) again with Anu and Piia Komsi, for whom the work was conceived.  The Komsi sisters are almost mirror images of each other: both are coloraturas of unusually wide range and vocal agility. They have an instinctive closeness to each other which other pairs of singers can't quite equal. Symmetry is part of the concept of Wing to Wing, so the Komsis can probably do it better than anyone else.  I heard the UK premiere of the work at the Barbican in May 2006. Over the years, the Komsi sisters  have done it so many times that they've grown into it as naturally as if they were part of the organism.
"Wing to wing" is a sailing term  which describes the way sails can  be aligned to maximize wind flow. As the wind changes, the sails move. The interaction between the free flowing breeze and the flat surfaces of the sails controls the movement of the boat. The vessel is sailed by this interplay between nature and machine. Wing to Wing is an "architectural" piece because Salonen employs sound to create a structure within which natural forces can flow. Thus the flurrying lines which suggest the movement of wind, water and light, circulating through the structure, modifying, varying and constantly changing  The architect Frank Gehry's disguised voice is embedded into the music, adapted so that it becomes part of the "building". The Komsi sisters' voices soar and fly, suggesting the sound of seabirds flying in the open air, the percussion below them perhaps representing the urban landscape, often twining as if in spirals. Sometimes their lines are long and searching, as if probing the dimensions of space around them.  And sometimes, the turbulence clears and stillness reigns, sparkling repeated notes against clean, clear woodwinds, before we descend into sonorous depths.  Music as sculpture, almost as tactile as it is aural.  I've heard Salonen conduct Wing to Wing and also Jukka-Pekka Saraste.  Sakari Oramo is different to Salonen, but very good because he has an intuitive feeling for the inherent richness of the piece, and the BBCSO now seem to have it in their blood.
More symmetry and spatial awareness in Salonen's Karawane (2013-14) where the BBC Symphony Chorus joined the BBC SO. Here the symmetry is processional : vaguely exotic timbres, suggesting a caravan weaving its way through some strange landscape.  Steady rhythms give way to swirling chromatic textures. The voices sing rareified cadences that rise and fall, like the movement of caravans pulled by animals.  Tempi pick up, and playful staccato patterns emerge - choppy vocal fragments against pounding brass.  A violin materializes, playing a strange melody, like the song of a sad siren, lost in the desert.  Textures thin out and the pure sound of a flute calls as if into the distance of the night. Rustling sounds, timpani thud ominously and the voices are strange low murmurs which lead to more frenzied passages where the voices shout "Way !".  Ostinato exclamations in the orchestra, which build up in speed, like an engine jerking into action. Through these changes of pace and rhythm, Salonen progresses the piece so its component parts move as if in formation.    A glorious ending, swaying and waving in wacky waywardness. Conceptually strong and a good piece, yet sparkling with wit and good humour. 
Nicholas Daniel was the soloist in Salonen's Mimo II (1992) where the oboe "sings" with the winds and brass in the orchestra while the strings swirl round them. Slightly reminiscent of a Stravinsky ballet though the whimsy in the oboe part is quite distinctively Salonen. 
7 days ago |
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Perhaps the most intriguing programme in the whole Sibelius series with Sakari Oramo and the BBC SO at the Barbican, London. Three stylistic breakthroughs - Sibelius Symphony no 2 and Symphony no 7  and Luonnotar, with coloratura assoluta Anu Komsi, whose range and vocal flexibility is well suited to the piece. Luonnotar is always a tour de force,  but Komsi topped it off with Aare Merikanto's Ekho, yet another vocal challenge. Pairing Luonnotar with Ekho was daring indeed. Though the two pieces complement each other well, they are tricky to programme together, given the technical difficulties in the voice parts. But this conductor, orchestra and soloist have worked together so often in this repertoire that they can pull the feat off, and well, too.  They have been busy in recent weeks, with the Sibelius series (see below for links to my reviews of other concerts), with  Soumi 100 and with the Esa-Pekka Salonen Total Immersion at the Barbican which coincided with Finnish Independence week, in which the Komsi twins sang Salonen's Wing to Wing.  A lot to take on board at one time! Luckily, the Salonen Total Immersion is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this week.  More about Salonen to come.

So hearing Oramo conduct the BBC SO  in early Sibelius (Symphony no 2), early middle Sibelius (Luonnotar) and late Sibelius (Symphony no 7) brings out the connections between them and throws into higher focus the overall traverse of Sibelius output.The year after Luonnotar, Sibelius was to explore ocean imagery again in The Oceanides, whose Finnish title is Aallottaret, or "Spirit of the Waves", just as Luonnotar was the Spirit of Nature, tossed by waves.  Luonnotar also marks a rebirth of a kind for Sibelius after the difficult period from which came the dark Symphony no 4. Mahler's works form a huge, coherent whole, but so too do the works of Sibelius when presented with the intelligence that Oramo has brought to this series. 

Luonnotar was the Spirit of Nature, Mother of the Seas, who existed before creation, floating alone in the universe before the worlds were made "in a solitude of ether". Descending to earth she swam in its primordial ocean for 700 years. Then a storm blows up and, in torment, she calls to the god Ukko for help. Out of the Void, a duck flies, looking for a place to nest. Luonnotar takes pity and raises her knee above the waters so the duck can nest and lay her eggs. But when the eggs hatch they emit great heat and Luonnotar flinches. The eggs are flown upwards and shatter, but the fragments become the skies, the yolk sunlight, the egg-white the moon, the mottled bits the stars.

The orchestra may play modern instruments and the soprano may wear an evening gown, but ideally they should convey the power of ancient, shamanistic incantation, as if by recreating by sound they are performing a ritual to release some kind of creative force. The Kalevala was sung in a unique metre, which shaped the runes and gave them character, so even if the words shifted from singer to singer, the impact would be similar. Sibelius does not replicate the metre though his phrases follow a peculiar, rhythmic phrasing that reflects runic chant. Instead we have Sibelius’s unique pulse. In my jogging days, I’d run listening to Night Ride and Sunrise, finding the swift, "driving" passages uncommonly close to heart and breathing rhythms. It felt very organic, as if the music sprang from deep within the body. This pulse underpins Luonnotar too, giving it a dynamism that propels it along. They contrast with the big swirling crescendos, walls of sonority, sometimes with glorious harp passages that evoke the swirling oceans.

But it is the voice part which is astounding. Technically this piece is a killer – there are leaps and drops of almost an octave within a single word. When Luonnotar calls out for help, her words are scored like strange, sudden swoops of unworldly sounds supposed to resound across the eternal emptiness. These hint at the wailing, keening style that Karelian singers used. This cannot be sung with any trace of conservatoire-trained artifice: the sounds are supposed to spring from primeval forces. After the duck approaches in a quite delightful passage of dancing notes, the goddess expresses agony for its predicament. Those cries of "Ei! Ei!" – and their echo – sound avant-garde even by modern standards. The breath control required for this must be formidable. Singing over the cataclysmic orchestral climax that builds up from "Tuuli kaatavi, tuuli kaatavi!" must be quite some challenge. The sonorous wall of sound Sibelius creates is like the tsunami described in the text, and the soprano is riding on its crest.

Luonnotar is a complex creature, godlike and childlike at the same time, strong enough to survive eons of floating in ravaged seas, yet gentle enough to cradle a hapless duck. The singer needs to convey that raw primal energy, yet also somehow show the kindness and humour. The sheer physical stamina of singing this tour de force probably accounts for its relative rarity on the concert platform. Luonnotar swam underwater for centuries, so a soprano attempting this must pray for "swimmer's lungs". The last passages in the piece are brooding, strangely shaped phrases which again seem to reflect runic chanting, as if the magical incantation is building up to fulfillment. And indeed, when the creation of the stars is revealed, the orchestra explodes in a burst of ecstasy. The singer recounts the wonder, with joy and amazement: "Tähiksi taivaale, ne tähiksi taivaale". ("They became the stars in the heavens!"). I can just imagine a singer eyes shining with excitement at this point - and with relief, too, that she’s survived! As Erik Tawaststjerna said, "the soprano line is built on the contrast between … the epic and narrative and the atmospheric and magical".

In his minimalist text, Sibelius doesn’t tell us that  in the Kalevala, Luonnotar goes on to carve out the oceans, bays and inlets and create the earth as we know it, or tell us that she became pregnant by the storm and gave birth later to the first man. But understanding this piece helps to understand Sibelius’s work and personality. Like the goddess, he was struggling with creative challenges and beset by self-doubt and worry. Perhaps through exploring the ancient symbolism of the Kalevala, he was able in some way to work out some ideas: in Luonnotar, you can hear echoes of the great blocks of sound and movement in the equally concise seventh symphony

In each concert in this Oramo/BBCSO Barbican series, other composers have been included for comparison and contrast.  Now, at the end of the run we're looking ahead to the future. Aare Merikanto (1893-1956) was the son of  Oscar Merikanto (1868-1924), also a composer and a contemporary of Sibelius.  Please read more HERE about mid 20th century Finnish music (Susanna Mälkki/Helsinki Philharmonic in December).  Oramo conducted Aare Merikanto's Ekho (1922), and Komsi sang.  But enough for now, I'm knackered.  I'll write about that tommorow .when I have more time. And here is my bit on Merikanto's Ekho, as promised !

Other concerts in the Oramo Sibelius series with the BBC SO at the Barbican:

Finland Awakes ! Finnish centenary celebration

Sibelius 4 and 6, Anders Hillborg

Sibelius 3 Ravel Franck and Schmitt

8 days ago |
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And why not ? A family of traditional instrument makers somewhere in Germany around the turn of the century. 
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New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinu's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck.  This is the world  premiere recording of the text in English. Martinu, wrote the original based on an English language translation which he disliked, for pragmatic purposes. "Nowhere would they sing my piece in Czech", he told his family in 1955.  He need not have worried.  Soon after, a Czech translation became available, which, to this date has been the standard version used in performance, with several fine recordings.  The piece is recognized as one of Martinu's key works and a part of Czech core repertoire. So what's it like hearing it in English ?

The opening erupts in the cry "Gilgamesh!" chorus alternating between soloist. group against individual.  Gilgamesh was all-powerful, but an oppressor  Martinu, who spoke good English,  was right about the clumsiness of the translation.  "To the appeal of their waiting, Goddess Aruru gave ear. She fingered out of clay......Enkidu made she, a warrior"  Jan Martiník sings the bass part. He's the only native Czech speaker in this cast, and possibly the youngest soloist. Because the text is so archaic, his (very) slight accent works well, since it emphasizes the stylized non-realism central to the work, and indeed to its origins. Yet Martiník also manages to nuance his singing with emotion. As he describes Enkidu, the wild man, finding human solace, his voice softens.  The music changes, flurries on harp suggest the flowing of water, the bringing of life to the desert from which Enkidu came.  The choral part (Prague Philharmonic Choir) is lit by searching lines in the orchestra.  The soloists don't portray individuals : the flow between choir, orchestra and individual voices progresses the piece structurally. Gilgamesh and Enkiddu end up in epic struggle, the choral lines moving back and forth until the dramatic breakthrough.           
Andrew Staples sings the tenor part, demonstrating the unique artistic qualities of the English Tenor voice type. He makes the awkward, jerky text curl and bristle with sinister tension. "When  I entered the House of the Dead, the Queen of the Underworld, she saw me, she lifted her head, she saw me...."  Although the other soloists (Lucy Crowe and Derek Welton) are good, the "personality" of the voice type hints at extra levels of meaning, making this English version worth listening to.  Enkidu lies dying, and Gilgamesh, now his friend, grieves. Welton's last lines are followed by tiny broken fragments in the orchestra. The choir comments, male and female lines crossing and combining with the fluidity of waters in a river.
The final section, the Invocation, begins with vaguely "Babylonian" rhythms. An unearthly, high pitched "O!" wails from time to time (Lucy Crowe), her cry linking the disparate segments.  Tension builds. Gilgamesh enters the Temple of Enlil searching for the dead Enkidu. The orchestra pulsates savage ostinato, developing into a tumult of windswept frenzy.  Suddenly, the sound of single bells. For a brief moment, the two interact, as if in embrace. The baritone (Welton) asks about the afterlife. The bass (Martiník)  can only say "I saw, I saw", expressed with great feeling.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has come down to us in broken fragments : we don't know the whole story and cannot understand the full cultural context.  It's enough that we can glimpse it through the archaic symbolism of Martinu's music. The quality of singing in this performance (particularly the English tenor) makes it worth hearing, though the narration (Simon Callow), while suitably theatrical overpowers the purity of the music.  Thus I'd dare say that the Czech text should remain  unchallenged.  Whether it's better than the English translation or not, I do not know, but the richness and depth of Czech language recordings is far more rewarding, in particular the recording by Belohlavek, also with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and also for Supraphon, nearly 20 years ago.  In marketing terms, some might assume you need an "international" style, but quite frankly,  the pungency of Czech is unique, and brings out the true punch in Martinu.  

10 days ago |
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The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has named Christian Thielemann as conductior of the 2019 Vienna New Years Concert.  All the more reason Thielemann's Silvesterkonzert with the Dresden Staatskapelle.  He's done similar repertoire at the Dresden New Year's Eve concerts for years. Come 2018/2019 he'll be nipping back and forth, but one thing for sure, he'll be interesting.  Dresden Silvesterkonzerts don't always follow the same formula.  This year's concert marked the centenary of  UFA GmbH, the conglomerate behind the German film industry.  Yet the concert was more than music from the movies. Outside Germany, UFA is associated with the Nazis, who took it over in 1933. With the rise of Far Right extremism all round the world, it might be safer to steer clear. But it's far braver to confront the past, warts and all.  If we don't learn from the past, we'll make the same mistakes. 
With some trepidation, I approached the programme. But the UFA situation is far more complex than simple black and white. Deliberate pun on the technology behind Weimar film. For UFA was associated with some of the finest art movies ever made, and with directors like Fritz Lang and F W Murnau.  Goebbels wasn't the first to realize that film could be used for mind control.  Witness the wave of Soviet films like October (more here) which are works of art but also propaganda.  When the Nazis came to power, the studios churned out stuff like Jud Süß which I confess I haven't been able to watch for more than a few minutes. And hundreds of Africans and Roma were forced to work in slave conditions.  But  UFA made over 1000 films in this period and not all can be condemned.  The gradation between art and the abuse of art is a dilemma we need to confront, if we are to learn. 
Thielemann began with Erich Korngold's main theme and love scene from Captain Blood.  Korngold  didn't work at UFA but his music epitomizes what we'd now call "Hollywood Style" but like so many in Hollywood, he was European. Chances are he would have followed Max Reinhardt to the US whatever the circumstances, but by remembering him we also honour those who did not have a choice  Theo Mackeben remained in Germany, writing operettas and film scores, but  he knew Brecht and Weill, having conducted the premiere of Die Dreigroschenoper.  Angela Denoke sang his song Frauen sind keine Engel, not as politcial as Weill but certainly racy.   Hans May went into exile, but to Britain, not Hollywood, where he was part of the then-thriving British film industry.   Daniel Behle sang May's Heut ist der schönste Tag.  The show stopper, though, was Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt made famous by Marlene Dietrich. Elisabeth Kulman looked the part in a silvery gown, but vocally she's a lot stronger than Dietrich and could sing the "cadenza" arrangement.  The song comes from Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel  (1930) starring Marlene Dietrich.  The real star of that film was Emil Jannings, who'd established a career in Hollywood silent film.  He "reverse migrated" back to Germany. After 1933 he made movies for UFA on historical subjects, which in the circumstances had political overtones. Was he nationalist or Nazi ? Does nationalism necessarily lead to evil things ?
The Dresden Staatskapelle musicians morphed into dance band for fox trots, setting the mood for songs by Werner Richard Heymann, two from Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930). The songs have an almost Schlager-like gaiety.   Saxophones and guitars turned the Staatskapelle into jazzband, with Daniel Behle hamming up stylishly in top hat and tails.  A moment for contemplation, though, with melancholy torch songs by Michael Jary, sensitively sung by Elisabeth Kullman.  Jary was a jazz musician, a genre the Nazis despised, but managed to scrape a living writing film scores for UFA. More songs by Mackeben , Friedrich Hollaender and Robert Stolz, "the luckiest man in the world" who made and lost several fortunes in the theatre. Winding up old, penniless and stateless in Paris, he was about to be imprisoned as an enemy alien, when he was saved by a beautiful 19-year-old heiress,who fell in love with him at first sight and became his (I think) sixth wife. They went to Hollywood where he made another fortune in movie music before returning to Dahlem and then Vienna (read more here).
Altogether a delicious concert,  played with total conviction, the material treated as serious music, not just "movie music".  One of the finest classical,orchestras in the world, letting their hair down without dropping a note.  When Christian Thielemann swings, he swings like a natural!  Thielemann and the orchestra had much more substantial music to work with in Georg Haentzschel's Große Suite in sechs Sätzen zu Münchhausen from one of the most extravagant movies UFA ever made, József Baky's Münchhausen (1943).  Goebbels gave UFA an unlimited budget. The Grand Canal in Venice, no less,  was closed off for the filming.  Thousands of extras were employed, including, alas, African prisoners of war and German-born men from former colonies in West Africa.  Münchhausen travels to the palace of the Grand Sultan, where the Turks are comic and the eunuchs camp. That's fairly benign by the standards of the time and not only in Nazi Germany, one should emphasize.  The Black men are dressed in silks, as slaves.  One wonders what was going on in their heads ?  At least they were - relatively - safe and many survived.  This is such an amazing movie that I'll write more in depth later.  Like the Wizard of Oz, it's fantasy but with quietly subversive political undercurrents,. The script was by Erich Kästner, definitely not a Nazi.
13 days ago |
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