Berlin Premiere: Lera Auerbach – The Blind (A Cappella Opera)

By Ronnie Rocket, in Berlin-Charlottenburg

Yesterday, the first performance of the first opera by Siberian born, New York based, Artist-in-residence in Dresden Lera Auerbach, premiered at the Konzerthaus.

The chamber opera for 12 singers (2 Soprano, 2 Mezzo-soprano, 2 Alto, 2 Tenor, 2 Baritone, 2 Bass) comprised of three combined works: A preludium, a prolog and the chamber opera, composed in 2001, itself.

At a lonely clearing in a wood, a group of blind people await the return of a priest who led them there in order to enable them to enjoy the last rays of the sun before the beginning of winter. Only the sound of the nearby sea can be heard. The longer they wait, the more restless the blind people become; in their desperation they realise that they are helpless and cannot move from their place. Their fear escalates to naked terror when they discover the corpse of the priest. The blind people form a circle round the dead man and begin to pray for forgiveness and salvation. Steps become perceptible during the prayer. The presence of something mysterious makes the blind people panic; they pray ever more fervently. In his mother’s arms, the small child, the only person in the group who can see, breaks out sobbing. What does the child see? Is it rescue, the rescue so ardently hoped for, or is it death?

As a preludium for the mini opera, the singers performed Henry Purcell / Sven David Sandström – Hear My Prayer, O Lord. Listen to a recording by Ars Nova Choir here:

The prolog was a version of Maurice Maeterlinck‘s Die Blinden from 1901/1926. Watch an excerpt from an earlier performance in Berlin here:

There is, of course, no recording of the premiere performance. But this blog posting will be updated with reviews.

Program details here. PDF program here.

Ticket information here.

Press release here.

Sheet music here.

Jehan Alain at the Philharmonie

By Ronnie Rocket, in Berlin-Charlottenburg

Sunday October 9, 2011, will be a very special day for me. No, I am not thinking about the Japanese F1 Grand Prix (even though I am getting up early to see that as well). This Sunday I will hear the music of French composer Jehan Alain played live for the first time.

I discovered the melancholic music of this legendary organist and composer at a very early age. As a teenager I travelled to Warsaw (dabbling with marxism in high school, my father thought it was a good idea that I experienced the east bloc first hand, which later turned out to be a really excellent idea, but for all the wrong reasons) and changing my valuable dollars into zloty on the black market in the eighties left me with bundles of local cash, that I did not know what to do with.

Visiting a record store looking for jazz records, I decided it was easier to buy a copy of every single record there. Then I could listen to records when I came home to Copenhagen. This crazy arrogant venture would later turn into one of the most important moments in my life.

By accident, I discovered the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutoslawski and – the very underrated female composer – Grażyna Bacewicz. Listening to these contemporary Polish composers as a young boy left a lasting impression on me and I still feel very privileged when I enter the unique world of these European cultural icons.

In the boxes there was also a record by a Polish organist playing the music of Jehan Alain. It was the saddest music I had ever heard in my life. Remember, this was in the eighties, so anything dark and suicidal was very appreciated. Learning that Alain was a motorcyclist for the French army during the war and killing 16 nazis in a dramatic shootout before getting shot himself in 1940 did not make the story less interesting.

I must have listened to this Polish vinyl record at least a hundred times and since on several CD recordings picked up around the world. On Sunday, the composition Le Jardin Suspendu will be performed live in the Berliner Philharmornie.

One of Alain’s seminal organ works, Le jardin suspendu (The Hanging Garden) is a feat of cross-cultural legerdemain. Ostensibly a dreamy evocation of Babylon and the 1,001 Nights, the piece is built upon a great structure of the European Baroque: the chaconne. Slow, soft, and remote, the work begins its four-bar ostinato not in the bass as expected, but in a very high register. (In keeping with the image of a suspended garden, no truly low notes tether the composition to the Earth.) Part of the melody seems a slow-motion version of “All the girls in France do the hoochie-coochie dance,” although this may simply be an unfortunate coincidence. The music varies little during its several repetitions, except for a thicker, more animated section just past the midpoint. Before long, the piece reverts to its opening mood: mysterious, exotic, hypnotic.

This is what it sounds like:

Also performed at the concert:

Here is another fan celebrating this years 100th birthday of Jehan Alain:

Another personal favourite:

Here is an introduction to the organist Olivier Latry:

A native of Boulogne-sur-Mer since 1985, Olivier Latry is one of the four titular organist of Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most prestigious organist posts in France. At the same time he has the reputation of being one of the most successful concert organists of his time. He discovered his instrument at the age of 12 years after he had already played several years of piano. After his training, he spent four years as organist at the cathedral in Meaux, before he, just 23-years old, received his Paris assignment. Olivier Latry is also conducting educational activities. Since 1995, as the successor of Michel Chapuis,he leads the organ class at the Paris Conservatoire. From his CD releases are of particular note the complete recordings of all the organ works of Olivier Messiaen and the recording of the Organ Symphonies No. 5 & 6 by Charles-Marie Widor.

Also performed at the concert:

Johann Sebastian Bach
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major BWV 552


Charles-Marie Widor
Symphonie pour orgue No. 6 in G minor


Program details and ticket information here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter and Andre Previn perform George Gershwin on David Letterman

Anne-Sophie Mutter recently stopped by CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman” to perform a selection from her new album collection — “ASM 35”, a compilation of music celebrating her 35 years as a violinist. Mutter was joined by her ex-husband André Previn, who accompanied her on the piano. Letterman had some trouble handling the large plastic casing for the album, joking that it would make an ideal home for a hamster. Following her performance, Mutter asked Letterman if he had a hamster at home, to which the comedian responded that he will get one. [Source]

Staatsoper Berlin Season Opening Premiere

By Ronnie Rocket, in Berlin-Charlottenburg

The Staatsoper im Schiller Theater season will open on October 3, 2011 with Leoš Janáček’s From the House of the Dead staged by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Simon Rattle as conductor, which is an obvious attraction for those yet to see the production, originally conducted in Aix by Pierre Boulez.

Leoš Janáček’s opera deals with power, relationships, passions and indignities; ultimately it portrays the hopeless misery of a Siberian prison camp, which could be seen as a symbol of a society that exists parallel to ours. Each of the three acts tells a story that tries to cope with life and the desperate melancholy: a dream, a report of a crime and the memory of a woman. The narrative helps to survive and a utopia of freedom to come.

Read the synopsis and watch previews (from a production by Theater Bonn and Beethovenfest Bonn in 2004 directed by Tomaž Pandur) here:

Daybreak at a prison camp. The prisoners are attending to their morning tasks before assembling for the drudgery ahead. Quarrels are rife. They are interrupted by the arrival of the new inmate Goryanchikov, imprisoned for political activism and who immediately becomes the centre of attention for the common-law detainees and the focus of the commandant’s hostility. His possessions are confiscated and he is beaten. In the meantime the prisoners are admiring an eagle, brought by the old prisoner.

Some of the prisoners march off to work, the others go about their daily chores in the camp. Among those are the young Tartar Alyeya, Luka and Skuratov, who recalls his life in Moscow. Luka relates how he came to kill he commandant during a previous spell behind bars and the flogging he received for that, before being sent to the labour camp. Goryanchikov is dragged in, half dead from his flogging.

Half a year later. The prisoners are busy with their chores. Goryanchikov and Alyeya have become friends, and the boy is talking about his sister and his mother. The elder one offers to teach him to read and to write. The sound of the bells marks the end of the chores and the start of a night of celebration.

After the visit of a pope, the prisoners eat. Before the show which is about to be performed by some of the group, Skuratov recounts why he landed in the labour camp: the murder of a rich German his sweetheart Luisa was forced to marry. Guests arrive and all take their places for the performance about to commence.

The prisoners enact »Kedril and Don Juan«, followed by »The Miller’s Fair Wife«, tales of seduction. The evening was coming to a close. One of the prostitutes who entered the camp goes off with a prisoner. Goryanchikov and Alyeya are drinking tea together. This arouses the envy of an inmate, who attacks Alyeya and injures him with a knife.

In the prison hospital, Goryanchikov watches over the feverish Alyeya. Chekunov offers them some tea, provoking words of contempt from the dying Luka. Shapkin recounts the tale of his burglary that backfired, as Skuratov lapses into madness.

Shishkov’s story draws the group’s attention: he relates how he married a young girl named Akulina that a certain Filka had boasted of having dishonoured. But it turned out that Akulina was still a virgin on her wedding night. Anyway he learned from his wife that she actually loved Filka. Losing control of himself, Shishkov slit her throat. As the story winds to an end, Luka dies. Shishkov now recognizes him as none other than his rival Filka and reviles his corpse. A guard comes to get Goryanchikov.

The governor announces to Goryanchikov that he is to be released. Alyeya embraces him, calling him dad: he now knows how to read. The prisoners release the restored eagle. Goryanchikov leaves the camp as the convicts return to their chores.

Listen to a recording of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado on Spotify here.

Listen to a recording of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras on Spotifyhere.

Ticket information here.

Read the history of the Staatsoper here.