September 2009

We'll be back!

The musikfest '09 - a review

Partner Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

We'll be back!

The musikfest '09 - a review

By Werner Friedrich / Translation: Andrej Huesener

A music festival such as the musikfest '09 is a tough nut to crack: the program for the two and a half weeks between opening and final concerts is so densely packed and artistically coherent that it's almost impossible to decide which performances to attend. Considering that the reviewer presenting his views here is not a professional critic but also has a day job and his children to look after, it is virtually impossible for him to attend every night, unless he wants to sacrifice his health! The musikfest berlin has succeeded in re-inventing the traditional music festival - a sequence of (primarily) orchestra concerts. Not by making it easier for the audience by shortening the concerts and thinning out the programme, but instead by throwing one big long party. And parties continue until the last guest has taken his leave - only to return shortly thereafter.

Iannis Xenakis

The surprising fact is that, although the organisers do not market the musikfest as a festival of "new music", they do present a lot of 20th and even 21st century works and still achieve that party feeling. And these modern concerts are not token events, nor do they come across as long-winded rituals held for aesthetically progressive people. Rather, these concerts manage to generate impressive enthusiasm, not just for the reviewer (who, granted, is a fan of contemporary music) - the whole hall was plunged into a suspense without coughs, sifting to an enthusiastic reception. Take, for example, "new" as in the compositions by Yannis Xenakis which shook musikfest audiences to the core: Nomos Gamma, Aïs, Jonchaies and others. Remarkably, the programmes are not just put together from the existing repertoire of the orchestras invited. Each program was made to order, so to speak. David Robertson, who conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra on opening night, reported that they'd performed the same program in London and that London would never have witnessed such a concert had it not been ordered by the musikfest: Xenakis, Rachmaninow's Isle of the Dead - a rather minimalistic piece untypical of the composer - followed by more Xenakis and topped off with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9. What a tour de force! And there's an unbelievable story behind the Symphony No. 9: Stalin ordered it in 1945 to celebrate the heroism of the young Soviet nation. He expected a celebratory powerful piece but instead got a composition almost entirely consisting of slow introspective movements; these may be accepted now as the work's core components, but they did not necessarily meet Stalin's expectations.

Shostakovich constituted the main focus of the musikfest, but possibly also its weak spot. Henze once said that listening to Shostakovich always makes him fall asleep; even today there are many to whom Shostakovich does not speak. Rather than focussing on Shostakovich once again (which the Berliner Festwochen did back in the 1980s), the musikfest would have been well advised to perform works by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Shostakovich's "shadow image", helping popularise a repertoire hardly known in Central Europe - another opportunity missed!

Hanns Eisler

But that's the only fly in the ointment, even though this year's musikfest had darker themes at its core, and death played a prominent role. Apart from the Isle of the Dead by "Rach", there was a work by Max Reger, 4 Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin: a beautiful piece, perhaps somewhat out of context, beautifully conducted by the impressive Ingo Metzmacher. (Let's hope the Berliners understand just how good Metzmacher is before he leaves the Deutsches Symphonieorchester!) The Deutsches Symphonieorchester also performed Hanns Eisler's deeply riven Deutsche Sinfonie, a rather depressing piece in which the composer indirectly admits that history can make composing hell! No safe haven, no beautiful world of make-believe, all is poisoned by the nausea of history - made worse by the revulsion of the present. Metzmacher tried in vain to create tension where there wasn't any; Matthias Goerne pumped himself up to create a full-bodied tone. Although their efforts did not succeed, together with the Rundfunkchor they succeeded in creating a representative performance of Eisler's symphony, which in a negative way represents its time (the late 1950's) and a country which no longer exists.

Enno Poppe

Unfortunately, we missed Hans Zender and his well-received performance as conductor of Lachenmann's Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied, as well as the premiere of his new violin concerto, commissioned by the musikfest together with the Klangforum Wien. But we did experience the premiere of Enno Poppe's new work Markt on the final night, performed by the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under Susanna Mälkki. With his new composition in three sections, Poppe shows again that, despite his relative youth, he is one of the outstanding contemporary German composers. This was preceded by Bernd Alois Zimmermann's fabulous trumpet concerto (soloist: Marco Blaauw), a unique work whose title Nobody Knows de Trouble I See betrays its close link to Afro-American tradition. Zimmermann doesn't try to create a big band sound with symphony orchestra. Rather, he wrote an infectious piece of music with a modest, authentic swing. In other words: there are no concessions in Zimmermann's music, just as there were none in the musikfest berlin. We'll be back!

Werner Friedrich attended concerts on
September 4 at the Philharmonie
September 16 at the Philharmonie
September 21 at the Konzerthaus