Wolfgang Rihm – reinventing the greats

With more than 400 works to his name, Wolfgang Rihm is among the most prolific living composers. The BBC Symphony Orchestra exposed us to a fraction of this oeuvre in the form of one of its Total Immersion Saturdays at the Barbican — his 58th birthday, as it happened. The previous evening, at LSO St Lukes, the Arditti Quartet had given a mainly Rihm programme as part of the same venture.

Rihm was present to attend the concerts and be interviewed in the Mozart Room by Ivan Hewett, an interesting exchange, marred only by aqueous amplification. He came over as a hugely genial figure, unassuming yet instinctively confident, insightful yet down-to-earth; an insatiable creator, who, though a great revisiter and recycler of scores (he once said: “Double bar lines at the end are really only vertically extended colons”) is free from fuss, from fidgety perfectionism.

He just keeps writing, and, rather as with Schubert, whom he resembles a touch, it is daunting to contemplate merely the physical labour of producing so many scores. The volume of his music, and a certain stylistic flexibility he allows himself, make it difficult, I find, to get a purchase on his achievement, to sum him up or even describe his manner, if he has one. I’ve heard numerous works by him over the years (right back to the early Almeida Festival staging of the opera Jakob Lenz), but would not readily think of his music, or other people’s, as “Rihmian” in the way that the adjective “Birt wistlean” repeatedly offers itself.

(…)

The first of two Rihm works played by the Ardittis, his single-span String Quartet No 5 — dis ingenuously subtitled “Ohne Titel”, as if quartets usually did have titles — sounded as though the most extreme aspects of Bartok’s quartet style — the crunching dissonances and pizzicati, the rebarbative continuity — had been taken to a new and unsuspected extreme.

Read the full article in The Times here.

Read a review from The Barbican in The Times here.

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Leonard Bernstein on the Mystery Behind the Music

Imagine this: you drop onto the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, switch on the TV and see a dapper young man with a baton standing before an orchestra and demonstrating the patterns conductors use to lead music in different meters — two, three, four and five beats to the bar. He directs his players in a few examples, bits of Beethoven’s Ninth and Schubert’s Eighth Symphonies, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Waldteufel’s “Skater’s Waltz.” Then he ups the ante, showing how these simple gestures, with subtle modification, are used to coax a fluid, lyrical performance; a playful reading; or an urgently dramatic interpretation from an orchestra.

For 48 minutes, this young conductor — Leonard Bernstein, caught on film in 1955 — brings you into the musician’s world, talking about how tempo, dynamics and phrasing express a conductor’s feelings and beliefs about a piece, and how that expressivity affects a listener’s perception of the music. And he offers you a glimpse of his preparation for a performance.

“Take this opening bar of the Brahms First Symphony,” he says, and then conducts it. “There are 55 notes in it, being played by 100 instruments, and the conductor has to know them all, or he has no right to ascend the podium in the first place. And this is only one bar out of 1,260 in this symphony.”

Even with hundreds of cable channels to choose from today, the likelihood of running into a show like this is slim.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.