Midsummer Night's Symphonies

Musikfest 2009 - A Celebration of Shostakovich
September 6, 2009 - Philharmonie

Program

Dmitri Shostakovich
Symphony No. 7

Artists

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur - Conductor
September 7, 2009 - Philharmonie

Program

Dmitri Shostakovich
Suite on Poems of Michelangelo Buonarroti
Béla Bartók
Bluebeard's Castle

Artists

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Marek Janowski - Conductor
Johan Reuter - Bass
Petra Lang - Mezzosoprano
Albert Dohmen - Baritone
Otto Sander - Narrator
September 15, 2009 - Philharmonie

Program

Dmitri Shostakovich
Suite for Jazzorchester No. 1
Symphony No. 6

Artists

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons - Conductor
September 17, 2009 - Philharmonie

Program

Sofia Gubaidulina
Glorious Percussion
Dmitri Shostakovich
Symphony No. 12

Artists

Berliner Philharmoniker
Gustavo Dudamel - Conductor
Ensemble Glorious Percussion

Partner Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Midsummer Night's Symphonies

Musikfest 2009 - A Celebration of Shostakovich

by Heiko Schon / Translation: Andrej Huesener
Photos: Christophe Abramowitz (Kurt Masur), Felix Broede (Marek Janowski), Marco Borggreve (Andris Nelsons), Kai Bienert (Gustavo Dudamel)


Kurt Masur
Foto: Christophe Abramowitz

Day 4: Summer is drawing to a close, but the final hot phase of Germany's electoral campaign has only just begun. Political advertisements hang all over Berlin, and even the big posters next to the Berliner Philharmonie are covered in Photoshopped smiles of Germany's political leaders. Tonight, however, contemporary German politics takes a backseat and the focus is on the history of the musical world. For Kurt Masur, Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for many years and a leading figure at the famous 1989 Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, has made it into the annals of recent political and musical history alike. As Masur enters the hall to conduct Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, the audience welcomes him with enthusiastic applause. The Leningrad Symphony, though written during the German Army's siege of Leningrad, deals with themes of "totalitarianism in general, with terror, slavery and tortured souls". Masur conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra without baton, using sparing hand movements and gestures. This may appear underwhelming, but the result is highly effective. The stealthy attacks of the percussion (phenomenal: Rachel Gledhill) are set off by explicit bursts of violence, which Masur and the LPO neither exaggerate nor underplay. The scraps of waltz in the 2nd movement and the circus march in the 3rd are full of detail, moving and serious at the same time. The 4th movement is performed astonishingly: sharp brass sounds transform the patriotic celebration of victory into a nightmarish party. Ovations.


Marek Janowski
Foto: Felix Broede

Day 5: Marek Janowski once likened conducting staged opera performances to damage control; this arch remark could be construed to mean that Janowski prefers concert performances where the focus is on the music itself rather than the stage interpretation. Considering the immense range of orchestral colours in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, one may be inclined to agree with Janowski. However, the gothic horror story of Bluebeard and his seven doors literally clamours to be staged. Given that this performance had no supertitles, those unfamiliar with the work or the Hungarian language had no idea what was being sung. Petra Lang has made the part of Judith so much her own that she no longer needs the music. She creates an impressive portrait, breathing tiger-ish energy into the role; the tessitura suits her powerful mezzosoprano voice like a glove. Albert Dohmen, Wotan in Bayreuth, is her equal in terms of powerful singing, exemplary diction and phrasing. With jet-black and plangent sounds and seemingly unlimited vocal reserves, this Bluebeard never runs out of breath. Although Dohmen does use a score, these two singers are ideal for these roles. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra's playing is technically brilliant: the trombones precise (Door Five), the strings completely together. Janowski conducts a well-balanced, dynamic, accurate interpretation. However, he fails to convey the morbid beauty and dark colours of Bartók's score. The first part of the concert leaves a mixed impression as well. The Suite of 11 Michelangelo Poems, composed by Shostakovich first for bass and piano, transcribed later for orchestra, is a stylistic mishmash and sounds dry and boring. Johan Reuter tries his best to lift the music by singing with full tone and precise diction, but neither he nor Janowski manages to overcome the music's shortcomings.


Andris Nelsons
Foto: Marco Borggreve

Day 13: Mariss Jansons, Simon Rattle, Hans Zender, Lothar Zagrosek, Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Valery Gergiev have all shared the spotlight during this year's Musikfest. Now it's over to the next generation. The first of the lot is Andris Nelsons, Musical Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2008. A few years ago, the 31-year old Latvian was known to only a few, but now he is in great demand. He was even courted by Kirsten Harms upon Renato Palumbo's departure from the Deutsche Oper Berlin. As Principal Conductor at the Riga National Opera he conducted the complete Ring cycle, which led to an invite to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival (premiere July 2010 / Lohengrin / directed by Hans Neuenfels). Those who have experienced Nelsons can attest to his high spirit and all-encompassing enthusiasm: a grown man who, by the end of his performances, is as thrilled as a child and completely exhausted. Nelsons' passion is infectious, for instance when he conducts Shostakovich. The Allegro is all softness of touch and finely chiselled, detailed play. The 3rd movement march is full of dynamism and powerful, earthy playing. Although the CBSO may not have played perfectly (flutes!), this was a performance of great expressive power.


Gustavo Dudamel
Foto: Kai Bienert

Day 15: The Musikfest 2009 could easily be called the "Shostakovich Festival". Eleven symphonies, two suites and a sonata alone by Shostakovich - all other works are more a second thought … a bit of Mozart here, a little Stockhausen there. However, we also heard something (almost) new. Sofia Gubaidulina's Glorious Percussion was first performed under Gustavo Dudamel on 18 September 2008 in Gothenberg. But the reaction on its first anniversary performance in Berlin is rather muted. This could be explained in part by the fact that Dudamel conducts seemingly without any interest or inspiration. On the other hand, it's not entirely clear what the "glorious" in the title actually means. A few bars are reminiscent of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, but the rest of the music is rather sparse and self-contained. The rhythms in the percussion sound like a strange mix of STOMP! and music therapy. Gubaidulina's piece is followed by Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12, which the Berlin Phil perform for the first time, hard though that may be to believe. However, Dudamel conducts a lame performance, devoid of any "South American spirit". The playing is predominantly noisy, robbing the music of any chance to unfold and shine in its full glory. Volume rather than a statement, pain rather than mystery. A weak finale to the Musikfest 2009.



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