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Anne-sophie Mutter

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Classical iconoclast

August 29

Puppets? Yes! Wozzeck Matthias Goerne Salzburg

Classical iconoclast Alban Berg's Wozzeck  at Salzburg, with Matthias Goerne, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the Vienna Philharmoniuc Orchestra, at last on medici.tv.  Goerne's done the role many times in the last 20 years or so, so his approach is authoritative, with searing intensity, so expressive that you almost flinch.  But flinch you should, since that's what makes for a good Wozzeck. When my son went to his first Wozzeck, he heard some in the audience chuckling. "What!" he gasped in exasperation, "If you can come out of this opera without feeling  disturbed, there's something wrong with you". For Berg's Wozzeck is the epitome of Expressionist Angst, a psychodrama that unfurls in multi-level complexity.  It is a howling scream of outrage against a system that dehumanizes and destroys all involved.  Not just Wozzeck, or Marie, but the regimented (in every way) world around them.   Everyone in this opera is a puppet of some kind,  manipulated by some unseen, invisible force beyond their control.William Kentridge's production was created for the Haus für Mozart, a relatively small, performing space, which must magnify the impact.  On film, however, the physical darkness overwhelms. It's not easy to watch, but well worth the effort because Kentridge's reading is highly perceptive.  The abstraction of the set is disconcerting. It's as if we were within an infernal machine, where things are regulated by clockwork: odd angular planes, horizontals and diagonals, myriad tools and mechanisms.  The Captain is seen, taunting Wozzeck from above.  He's wearing a ceremonial hat and red uniform, his arms waving like a wound-up toy. Gerhard Siegel spat out the words "Haha! Haha!" with maniacal savagery.  So he's not being shaved?  Wozzeck (Matthias Goerne)  is seen bent over, grinding away.  Then you realize why the Captain's cloak is blood red.  Parallel realities, psychological truth.  Berg was writing at a time when psychological theories entranced the public imagination, and cinema was quick to capitalize on its ability to present multiple-level visual and emotional effects.  Berg, a keen movie goer,  incorporated new ideas into his score. The orchestral interludes operate like curtain changes, keeping the action swift even when drastic changes of scene are taking place.  Wozzeck exits whatever room he's been in with the Captain, into a maze of shadows, the path ahead of him narrow and skewed in zig zag form - an image which could come straight from a 20's silent movie.   Suddenly we're in the surreal world of the reed beds, where Wozzeck and Andres (Mauro Peter) are collecting reeds for fuel. The contraptions on their backs are the kind of baskets used by woodcutters in the past, which incidentally resemble straitjackets. Though we don't see the reedbeds, we sense they're there on either side of the narrow path, waiting to suck the men in and drown them. The orchestra growls ominous menace, timpani pounding, the gloom lit by will o' the wisps of high woodwind, suggesting surreal spirits.  Goerne's voice rises spookily from the darkness "Still, alles still, als wäre die Welt tot!"The orchestra heralds another change of scene:  Marie is glimpsed, alone with her child, here seen as a puppet. And why not? Berg portrayed the child as nameless, unformed without a voice of his own, an observer of horrors who will quite possibly grow up to act out the dehumanization around him all over again.  The puppet wears a gas mask, and the puppeteer the uniform of a field nurse.  It's utterly relevant, since Berg experienced horrors in a military hospital during the First World War. The system was sick, the hospital palliative, not focused on cure.   There are many who object to the employment of a real child in the part, but there's something wrong with the kind of viewer who doesn't want a kid to witness sex.   Why not get angry about the fact that millions of kids grow up abused and neglected in reality all round us?  Perhaps Wozzeck grew up in such conditions. The cyclical nature of Berg's idiom makes it clear that cycles go on, unbroken, like the palindromes in the music.The Drum Major (John Daszak) fascinated Marie (Asmik Grigorian) and Margret (Frances Pappas) because he seems to embody another, more glamorous world than their own. Yet he, too, is a puppet, strutting and marching in formation.  Though Marie loves her child and tries to amuse him with songs, she can't break out of the pattern of inept parenting she probably experienced herself.   Goerne's voice with its rich depth suggests more warmth and basic decency than the role strictly speaking provides, but this household isn't Happy Families.Kentridge's staging suggests how Wozzeck seems to live his life struggling between one box and another.  Goerne sits passively while the Doctor ( Jens Larsen) prods and pokes him in the name of crackpot science. "Ah....." sings  Goerne, his voice almost rising to falsetto, suggesting pain and muffled protest.  Interestingly, Marie cries almost as shrilly before she succumbs to the Drum Major.  Moments later, she's singing fairy tales, as if nothing's happened.  The puppet, however, expresses pathos, crumpling into immobility, like a child shutting out trauma.  The Doctor and the Captain converse, but they, too, are in a psychic hell of delusion. Officers, but still puppets acting out roles they can't otherwise fill.  In comparison, Wozzeck is sane. "Man könnte Lust bekommen, sich aufzuhängen! Dann wüsste man, woran man ist!" sings Goerne, but the Capatian and doctor think it's a joke.A momentary glimpse of another puppet-child, dressed in white like the Drum Major, marching while the men in the barracks carouse.  Yet again, Berg contrasts horror with mindless banality: boozy drinking songs and the cry of the Madman  (Heinz Göhrig) the first to smell blood.   Fabulous ensemble singing - Goerne's voice rising above the ghostly sounds in the chorus.  The confrontation between the Drum Major and Wozzeck is brutal, trumpets blazing, staccato percussion, like gunfire.  Grigorian's tiny, her voice more shrill than most Maries, so in comparison with Goerne, she's like a fragile child.  He towers over her, like a father figure, a chilling image, suggestingb that both of them were brutalized, too, in the past.  Two tiny figures in a vast landscape oif abstract black and grey with flashes of red light, like thunder (in recognition of Berg's original stage directions). The "curtain" falls in a cataclysmic scream in the orchestra, horns ablaze.   But Goerne dominates, in every way, singing with exceptional character, better even than in the past.  "Das Wassser ist Blut ! Blut!"  The Doctor and Captain, yet again, retreat in denial.  Atmosopheric playing from the Vienna Philharmonic, decidedly "more" than a Strauss orchestra. Jurowski's years of experience as an opera conductor pay off well. The harsh dissonance and swirling strings scream horror, yet also elegy.  At last we see some semblance of scenery, but it's not natural. The pool shines, but it's surrounded by broken uprights. Is it a bomb crater filled with rain and mud?  Magnificent, malevolent video projections to match the intensity in the music. One screen shows a figure - neither male nor female - relentlessly walking.  Thus Berg ends with the song "Ringel, Ringel, Rosenkranz, Ringelreih'n!"  It is a round, yet another typically Bergian palindrome. The children's voices sound innocent but the message is sinister.  The puppet child rides a hobby horse, as mentioned in the libretto, but this time, it's made from a crutch.  The children's voices are heard from offstage. "Du ! Deinn Mutter ist tod!" they cry, cruelly. The puppet is truly alone trapped in his own dimension.  He listens, then bends his little head desolate and crestfallen.,  He may be made of wood, but he has more humanity than most of the other characters in this bleakest of operas. -------------------------- William Kentridge | Stage director Luc De Wit | Co-stage director Sabine Theunissen | Stage sets Greta Goiris | Costumes Catherine Meyburgh | Video editor Urs Schönebaum | Lighting Kim Gunning | Video operator Matthias Goerne | Wozzeck John Daszak | Drum Major Mauro Peter | Andres Gerhard Siegel | Captain Jens Larsen | Doctor Tobias Schabel | First Apprentice Huw Montague Rendall | Second Apprentice Heinz Göhrig | Madman Asmik Grigorian | Marie Frances Pappas | Margret Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor Wolfgang Götz | Chorus director Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus Ernst Raffelsberger | Chorus director Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Vladimir Jurowski | Conductor

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

August 18

The occult past life of my old violin

Our diarist Anthea Kreston has been mingling with the Mystic Megs. I have the amazingly good fortune to have been loaned a gorgeous Italian violin – a 1710 Testore. The four instruments in our quartet sing together – each a legendary work of art – and they sound together as one – the dark, burnished tones of old Italian masters are like magic under our fingers. While the other instruments in this quartet have a traceable history (some more complete than others), mine has, so far, defied any attempt to fill in a back story. The Viennese gentleman who loaned it to me has just one tantalizing snippet about my immediate predecessor- otherwise – basically 300 years of mystery surround this violin. I have read about Testore, the other master violin makers, and yet felt like I needed more. While being privy to nightly readings of Harry Potter this past year, I feel, with inflated chest, that I have become somewhat of an expert at witchcraft. I can, in fact, mutter several spells by memory (Expelliarmus, Lumos), and realized suddenly that what I needed to fill in the history of my violin was a visit to someone akin to Trelawney, the divination teacher at Hogwarts. Unable to find platform 9 and 3/4, I quickly, with the help of Yelp and Google, found about 20 people along the Spokane-C’oeur d’Alene corridor who might be able to shed some light on this mystery. I typed into the search box – “Tea Leaves Reader, Psychic, Fortune Teller, Tarot Cards and Medium”, and got to work calling and emailing this small but intriguingly named list of people. After a day of calls (I was interested to speak to both Candice, Kandass, and finally a Cayndyss), I decided to make two appointments, so as to be able to compile my findings. My request (I am looking for someone to do a reading on an old violin – can you Palm-Read an inanimate object?) threw many people for a loop (“no, honey, I can’t do that, but I can give you a love reading if you bring me a photo of your love interest”). One person on the phone even had a very strong “red” color flash in front of her as we spoke, gasping deeply, and offering me a package deal – palm reading, looking into my future, and a Celtic Tarot all for $100 cash. I decided to go with Elaine – I liked the sound of her voice – old and crackly, and people from the Rotary Club Halloween Picknick gave her rave reviews on Yelp. We set up a time (I was slightly unnerved when she couldn’t seem to remember her own address) and I drove to meet her at her home. I know what you are thinking, because I was thinking the same things – cloak, crystal ball, lots of purple and incense, having to push aside heavy drapery held back by thick golden cord. But, as I made my way from a sketchy Spokane neighborhood into a downright scary area bordering the railroad tracks, I realized that my mystical experience might be heart-pounding in a different kind of way. As I slowed to see the house, a one-story brick affair from the 70’s, I could see silhouettes of several people through the half-drawn Venetian blinds – one pacing with head bowed. Hmmm – maybe a whole house of wizards? Fantastic. I decided to circle the block, just to get a better sense of the neighborhood. Trailers and brown patchy lawns – and wait – a black cat just streaked across the road. This is a good sign. As I pulled behind Elaine’s house, I noticed around 10 rusty beat-up cars parked all over her lawn – perhaps she had a way with cars as well as cards? Each opening to the house – be it window or door – was heavily fortified against the world – this was one secure residence. I hesitated, again noticing that the house seemed to be quite full of people, but then I took a deep breath and thought, “I have come this far, let’s follow this through”. I grabbed my violin and walked confidently to the front door. It was open, save the black metal “screen” door. I leaned forward and said – “Elaine? This is Anthea here for my reading!”. The shadows I had seen from outside were now audible – but I couldn’t quite pick up the language which was being spoken. A shuffle of feet at a jingle of keys brought Elaine to to door – she tried about 4 keys, muttering about how a person couldn’t be too safe these days, you know the neighborhood, etc, before the door eerily creaked open. “Oh goodie”, I thought – a squeaky door! She was old, she was shriveled, and her hair was done up in a kind-of modified beehive. Wonderful. Nails long (how does an 90 year old manage with such long nails?), and a black and white stripped dress – shag carpet, and enough icons to start “Elaine’s Icon and Stolen Car Shoppe”. The men milling about in the adjacent room paid us no heed as we walked to the living room, a small white dog bouncing and snapping at us all the while. Elaine first asked me if I had a dog – hers was so fond of me – even jumping all over me and licking me as I tried to settle down into the white couch, covered in a thick clear plastic sheet. I decided not to mention my allergies and fear of dogs, hoping this was just a slight miss-step in Elaine’s initial reading of my aura. She asked me to take the money for the session, claps it between my hands, and to make two wishes. After this she took the money, and with a deft slight of hand, it disappeared into her bosom. What next transpired was a collection of observations such as: I would come into some money soon, people are proud of me, I would be buying something soon (she thought a car – maybe even from one of the gentlemen from the other room?), I have a star in my right palm – a long life! I gingerly removed the violin from the case so she (and her dog) could get a closer look. She immediately felt a power coming from the violin. It had the ability to bewitch the player – to put them under a spell and to take them away from family and friends. She told me that I had a very strong connection with this violin, but the danger was that it would entice me away from family – I had to find a balance. Then, she told me one of my wishes would come true soon and one would take a long time. I thanked her, and also thanked my lucky stars that my car was still there as I left the house, keys jangling behind me as I confidently, but quickly, got into my car. Interesting – and now onto Kandass. She was in quite a different area – newer houses on what was recently farmland – out in the country a tad. She came to the door – an attractive woman about my age, with heavy long eyelashes clumped with mascara and what seemed to be lips which were bold in proportion to the rest of her face. She explained that they had recently moved in – her husband ran the Harley Shop down the way. Again I was greeted by a dog – this time a large black scary looking dog who was equal to the previous canine in its desire to get to know me better, and quick. Again, strong pointing and firm talking to the animal produced no results, and we three settled down at the dining room table to chat. Kandass was pulling up a strong Grandmother presence – interesting to me since I never knew my maternal grandmother, and had only occasional and somewhat formal interactions with my paternal grandmother. After saying this, I realized that this meeting wasn’t a one-way situation. Kandass wasn’t having any of it and asked me to dig deeper – to find a wider definition of grandmother. Someone was trying to contact me from beyond. I worked with her, and together we came up with some creative possibilities. And here is where some magic really happened. I was floored when told, again, that not only would I be coming into some money, living a long life, buying a new car, but also that people were proud of me. And – after holding the violin – she told me she thought the violin was worth a lot of money – she was pulling up between $100-$200! And, that it was very likely that I, myself, would be playing a concert on this violin some day. I eagerly eyed the Native American drum lying on the table, secretly hoping she would suggest we just “play a bit and see where the spirit takes us”, but was disappointed when she jotted down some dates that she was pulling up that were important to the history of the violin – 1914, 1940, 1971. She urged me to look more deeply into the history of the violin – and demonstrated a position where I could slump or huddle over the violin, cradling it in my body, and that the violin would then feel comfortable speaking to me. She also thought that a man had probably played the violin before. So – that was exhausting. I am in the air, daughter asleep on my lap, as we head back to Berlin. I hope our car is ok – my house sitter just texted me saying that they couldn’t get it started and we would have to get it towed. I could have told her that already – I know a new car is in our future.




Classical iconoclast

June 19

Schubert, Wanderer - Florian Boesch Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey : Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point  in the whole traverse. A well planned programme, of much loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish. Boesch and Martineau began at the peak, with Schubert's Der Wanderer D493, (1816 Schmidt von Lübeck).  "Ich komme vom Gebirge her".  A deceptively simple phrase, but delivered by Boesch with great authority, for this song is the quintessential symbol of the whole Romantic revolution.   The song is itself a journey.  The resolute beginning gives way to desolation, then to the short, lyrical rtst "Wo bist du, wo bist du, mein Geliebtes Land".  As Richard Stokes has written, the song "takes the form of a short cantata".  Boesch's flexibility allowed him to mark the transitions clearly without sacrificing the line.   In the last verse, his voice moved from firmness to despair, descending to ghostly whisper, so the last words rang out with anguished finality, connecting the last verse with the first. One of the most rewarding Der Wanderers I've ever heard, and I've heard hundreds.   With its regular, repetitive lines, Der Pilgerweise D 789 (1823). can sometimes sound undistinguished, but Boesch and Martineau brought out its depths.  The pilgrim is a beggar who struggles on though "Thread after thread is torn from the fabric of his happiness". So why carry on ? No mention of religious faith in this text, written by Schubert's raffish friend Franz von Schober.  Perhaps this pilgrim is the epitome of an artist, driven to create.  He's poor but has the gift of song. Boesch coloured the words with gentleness, suggesting quiet strength.   Rewarded be, those who hear the song so well interpreted. In  Der Wanderer an den Mond D870 (1826, Seidl), Martineau depicted the steady tramping pace in the piano part, over which the vocal lines floats  with carefree lyricism.  In some ways, this song is the opposite of Der Wanderer.  In the context of this programme, we were looking backwards before moving forward.  I had wondered why Boesch's body language had become quite jaunty towards the end of Der Wanderer an den Mond.  This fitted the upbeat mood, but was also proved a good introduction to An den Mond (D468 (1816,Hölty)  Provocatively, Boesch spoke a few words before starting. "What's this song about ? Who,is dead, the girl, or the man ?"  It's a curious poem, with an unidentified protagonist gazing down from the sky. Who is weeping on who's grave ?  A stimulating approach. There's no reason Lieder should be grim and stiff. Perhaps this was a song Schubert played in the company of friends, enjoying themselves for sheer pleasure.  Two more happy songs: Der Zufriedene D320 (!815, Reissig) and Der Weiberfreund D271 (1815, Abraham Cowley, translated Ratschky).  The first concise and pointed, the second second risqué.  From contemporary drawings, we can assume that Liederabend audiences were open minded.  Endless variety: the pious An Die Natur D372 (1815-6, Stolberg-Stolberg), with Bundeslied D258 (1815, Goethe0. Schubert treats this as drinking song, while Beethoven, setting the same text, makes connections to the drinking clubs of then time which fueled political action. Thus Boesch and Martineau ended the set with Lacheln und Weinen D777 (1823, Rückert).  Laughter and tears - the landscape of Lieder is vast and varied. Der Seig D805, (1824 Mayerhofer) is an anthem, but its brave front is disguised by references to classical antiquity.  The protagonist has slain the Sphinx. The song  resumes in repose ("O unbewölktes Leben !") but the way Boesch sang the critical linen "Und meine Hand - sie traf" haunted the peace with a sense of horror.  Two songs of Spring, Frühlingsglaube D686 (1820 Uhland) and Im Frühling with An den Schlaf D447 (1816, anon) and Abendstern D 806 (1824 Mayerhofer), beautifully articulated by Boesch and Martineau. This set of songs was balanced by the final set, with Prometheus D674 (1819 Goethe) and Grenzen der Menschheit D716 (1821 Goethe) , powerful songs which Boesch van sing with authority, all the more moving because his approach can evoke more sensitive feelings. Limitations of mankind, for men are human, not gods.  Thus the unforced elegance of Boesch's An den Mind D296 (1819, Goethe and the tenderness in then two "motherhood" songs, Grablied für die Mutter D616 (1818 anon) and Die Mutter Erde D788 (1823 Stolberg-Stolberg).  It's surprising that this song isn't done more often as it exemplifies many of the themes in this Wanderer journey.  The piano introduction is finely poised, suggesting slow footsteps "schwer und schwül".  In the moonlight, someone is being buried.  Diminuendos and a minor key, but the mood is "erhellt von sanfter Hoffnungn Schein"  Mother Earth holds us all.  Death ,does not triumph.   This concert was being recorded live. If it's released, this song will be one of the highlights.  Boesch and Martineau's encores were An den Mond D296 (Goethe) and Nachtviolen D752 (!824 Mayrhofer).



Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 4

Anne-Sophie Mutter marks 40 years on stage

The German violinist, 54 next month, celebrated an anniversary today at Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler, Cecilia Bartoli, Anne-Sophie Mutter. Photo: SF/Marco Borrelli Press release: “On 29 May 1977, this stage witnessed a Pentecostal miracle in music. Herbert von Karajan, to whom Salzburg owes so much, including this very theatre, invited the prodigy violinist to perform even before her 14th birthday. She came, played and conquered audience and reviewers. And thus it has remained ever since,” said Helga Rabl-Stadler. The Festival President thanked Mutter for this morning, which was not merely an “event”, but a musical highlight that was going to live on in the consciousness of all those present. She called Anne-Sophie Mutter a discoverer, enabling new interpretations of supposedly familiar pieces. Anne-Sophie Mutter also briefly addressed the audience, commemorating Herbert von Karajan, with whom she worked for 13 years until his death, recalling how he would often ask her to join him shortly before a concert, to keep polishing details of their interpretations. Cecilia Bartoli, whose birthday is today, was celebrated by the musicians and audience with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” before the audience again broke into rapturous applause. After Anne-Sophie Mutter’s anniversary concert, Cecilia Bartoli hosted a Charity Lunch at the Karl-Böhm-Saal. The award-winning chef Johanna Maier and her sons treated the guests to an early-summer menu created especially for the Festival. Net proceeds will be donated to the Salzburg Festival’s education programmes and the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation.

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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