August 2004

The Festspiele 2004

September 2-25, Haus der Berliner Festspiele and Philharmonie

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The Festspiele 2004

September 2-25, Haus der Berliner Festspiele and Philharmonie

by Nancy Chapple

This year's Berliner Festspiele concerts and operas constitute a clearly focussed, easily summarized program: orchestral and chamber ensemble concerts emphasizing Debussy and Saariaho; musical theater works; and fascinating keyboard evenings. After a two-year break, Sir Simon Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic will be featured with an all-Debussy concert of preludes arranged for orchestra, the warhorse La Mer, and the insinuating flute sounds of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Sept. 17 and 18). But Debussy can be easy background listening unless you really concentrate on the colors and moods. Finn Kaija Saariaho, one of the most significant female composers working today, was influenced by the French impressionists. The more interesting orchestral concert may be her full-length "heavenly" piece Orion combined with Karol Szymanowski Love Songs of Hafiz (1914) and Brahms' 2nd Symphony (Sept. 12-14). Sept. 10 brings German premieres of two of her chamber works for cello, guitar, flute, viola, piano and harp.

Michel von der Aa scored big at the Festspiele last year with his video opera One featuring soprano Barbara Hannigan. She features this year in his HERE trilogy, combining theater, electronic procedures and a computer soundtrack (Sept. 14). Colin Matthews' Continuum re-discovers late romantic Lieder to poems by Montale and Rilke, followed by miniatures for solo instruments and ensemble, and then a precision clock. With Saariaho's Graal Théâtre in a performance by the Scandinavian Avanti Ensemble (Sept. 15).

The Festspiele invest lots in their music theater commissions. This year you can hear Bérénice, composed by Johannes Maria Staud with a libretto by the Berlin poet Durs Grünbein. It is based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe about incestuously linked siblings, archetypical opposites who illustrate basic problems of human existence and all sorts of deep-seated fears (Sept. 23 & 25). Interzone was inspired by structural patterns in a William Burroughs text; interzones are spaces between ideas in which codes, symbols and traditions interlock and intensify. Enno Poppe's pulsing and compact music is set to song texts by the author Marcel Beyer; video artist Anne Quirynen also contributed (Sept. 2, 4, 5).

Karlheinz Stockhausen's piano pieces, composed between 1952 and 1999, are music landmarks. All 17 of them can be heard with the composer at the console on three sequential evenings, plus electronic music for 5 synthesizers from Sonntag. In the first pieces, the composer suggests one heed the rests, "experiencing as much variety in the sudden or gradual initiation of disturbances or interruption of silence as in the sounds." In Piece XI, one of nineteen groups is chosen spontaneously by the interpreter; it then determines the temporal and spatial characteristics of the next one. According to one writer, the sound is "a world of crystalline light in a wooden Karelian church with high windows, or the filtered rays of photons through the walls of an ice castle in Lapland". Sept. 11-13 at 20:00 in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele.

Debussy composed his crystal clear, effervescent piano works at the turn of the last century. It seems quite fitting to hear Images, Children's Corner and a number of Préludes performed on historical Erard pianos: compared to the usual Steinway sound, intimate and nuanced, clear and almost penetrating. Jos van Immerseel will play on Sept. 16 in the Kammermusiksaal.



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