Sunday, September 11, 2011

Digital Morgenkonzerte on the East Coast; Nelsons Conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker

Around 1772 Mozart started a series of early morning concerts in the Garden Hall of the Palais Augarten in Vienna. Later this series was taken over by the great violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, who premiered many late Beethoven string quartets.

It is rare to have the opportunity to review live music that begins at 5:00 am on the east coast, but this event transmitted over the Digital Concert Hall was actually an afternoon concert in Berlin. Over here it was dark when Andris Nelsons took the podium to conduct Pfitzner and Kaminski, but after intermission the sun rose during a work by Wolfgang Rihm, which gave that work an extra dimension. The concert ended with the Rosenkavalier Suite.

Andris Nelsons is best known in the US for his Met performances. He conducted Turandot in a run from October through January 2010, and most recently he conducted Queen of Spades last March. But he has also conducted at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, and he conducted Lohengrin at the Bayreuth Festival in the summer of 2010.

Nelsons bubbles with smiles. He has the most cheerful countenance of any conductor I recall having seen. His spirit is good for an orchestra with the intensity of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and this joyfulness came across most clearly in the Rosenkavalier Suite that closed the program.

We know that the waltz sequence in Rosenkavalier is a parody; that the waltzes represent the use of refinement as a weapon to control people's actions and life trajectories. They are dances that reflect the crumbling of the waltz idiom. Nelsons nevertheless smiled all the way through them, accenting their charm, and the wit and humor of their parody. Unlike the opera, the suite ends with a boisterous coda that gives us once last chance to roast Baron Ochs. Nelsons made the sound itself laugh.

The program began with the second act prelude to the opera Palestrina by Pfitzner. Nelsons took a quick tempo and angled the energy of the opening toward the ominous and grand music in G minor marked "Rhythmus von je 3 Takten" in the score. The work had a convincing sweep, though the concert ending, with its explicit reference to the music at the opening was a disappointment. It would have been better to end the prelude as it ends in the opera; slightly off-balance and unresolved. The prelude represents a moment in the opera Palestrina where things could have gone in any direction.

The centerpiece of this event presented two tasty works.

We seldom get to hear music by Heinrich Kaminski (1886-1946) in the States, so his Dorian Music was welcome. Cast in three movements, Dorian Music is guided by a curious logic that is a mixture of styles and compositional attitudes. The work has a concerto grosso feel and was built around a string trio. The trio, and especially violist Amihai Grosz, played with rich inflections and quiet elegance. Nelsons was able to integrate the complex banding in this work to produce a coherent whole.

After intermission we heard the concerto for trumpet and percussionist called Marsyas by Wolfgang Rihm, who was in attendance. Marsyas was the figure in Greek Mythology who challenged Apollo to a musical contest. He lost both the contest and his life. Hmmm. Just goes to show ya.

Trumpeter Gábor Tarkövi and percussionist Jan Schlichte joined the orchestra as soloists. Rihm's work requires amazing endurance from the trumpet soloist who remains almost constantly engaged throughout the 15-minute concerto.

The music is filled with ghosts and echos. Its textures often sounds as if eternal return had thickened the events of the myth into a sounding shadow that followed the events even as they first happened. Schlichte shifted from marimba to 7 side drums as the music progressed into the sounding of the competition itself. The closing of the work shifts suddenly into a parody of jazz that quickly dissolves into a questioning ending.

This morgenkonzerte was refreshing. I can see why the original Mozart series was such a success--it is a great time of day to hear great music.

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