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Micro concerts

A project by Kent Nagano

Crisis holds within itself the possibility of renewal. Our music – responding to the present, remembering the past, envisioning what may come – can console us, warn us, and celebrate our resilience.

The micro concerts shape a collective composition. Born of the need during COVID to disband operatic programs, they retreat into the realm of chamber and solo music. With this project we want to make classical music tangible online and break new ground. The five programs were visualized by international video artists: Luis August Krawen, Jonas Englert, Zbig Rybczyński/Dorota Zglobicka, Kamila B. Richter/Michael Bielicky and Virgil Widrich.

Read more about the project

Crisis and Renewal, 2020-2021
by William Kinderman

Crisis holds within itself the possibility of renewal. Our music – responding to the present, remembering the past, envisioning what may come – can console us, warn us, and celebrate our resilience.

These five programs shape a collective composition. Born of the need during COVID to disband operatic programs, they retreat into the realm of chamber and solo music.

They portray a narrative of questioning, reflection, painful recognition, overcoming – an emergence into a restored yet transformed new reality.

The components are old, yet their meaning fresh. Like the Syrinx – the nymph pursued by Pan – musicians have been chased into the reeds, but have reemerged sounding their instruments, beguiling us, triumphing over adversity. Claude Debussy's remarkable piece for solo flute, Syrinx, written at the threshold of World War I, reminds us how a single instrument embodies an essential human voice.

Before Debussy, Robert Schumann posed the question "Why?" ("Warum?") in his Fantasiestücke. He divided his artistic self into extroverted and introverted sides – naming them Florestan and Eusebius. Schumann then set forth "Why?" as a pointed critique of Florestan's exuberant overconfidence. It is a political message – a gentle questioning, an invitation to sharing, a rejection of power politics, a plea for compassion.

As an ever-changing world eludes our control, music helps us envision transformative possibilities. A single page of Beethoven's music seizes musical conventions – like routine modes of life – and endows them with an unexpected creative spark that burns them into our memory.

In "Of Youth" in Gustav Mahler's Song of the Earth, rendered in a chamber-music version by Arnold Schönberg, confident zest yields to something else when the music reaches the words "wunderlich im Spiegelbilde" ("strangely in the mirrored reflection"). This is a moment like Schumann's "Why?" – a question so many posed during the pandemic. The question has no simple answer, but points toward risks requiring fortitude and resistance. Olivier Messiaen's Dance of Fury in his Quartet for the End of Time – written in the fateful year 1941 – grapples with such realities. In its terrible angular fortissimo lines, its formidable hard sound, it is unyielding: music of stone.

Renewal and rejoicing invest the last stage of this collective project of 2021. The contagious vitality of Rebonds B by Iannis Xenakis reminds us how an artistic world can be built from a percussive substratum, just as Beethoven, in the harrowing transition to the finale of his Fifth Symphony, conceals his endangered head-motive softly in the timpani, awaiting the chance for a positive breakthrough. As Friedrich Hölderlin once observed, "Where danger threatens, the forces of salvation increase too." ("Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst/ das Rettende auch."). The dispersal of musicians during the pandemic harbored an unsuspected opportunity after all, preserving confidence in the future.



Micro concert #1: Why?

Video
Luis August Krawen

Music

Jörg Widmann: From Elf Humoresken: VI. Warum?
Robert Schumann: From Märchenerzählungen Op. 132: III. Ruhiges Tempo, mit zartem Ausdruck
Johannes Brahms: Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen für Chor a cappella, Op. 74, 1
Arnold Schönberg: Warum bist du aufgewacht?
György Ligeti: Nouvelles aventures
Robert Schumann: From Fantasiestücke Op. 12: Warum?

Interprets
Kent Nagano
Rupert Burleigh
Bernhard Hansky
Volker Krafft
Katharina Konradi, Jana Kurucová, Georg Nigl
Harvestehuder Kammerchor
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

About the program

In the first concert, a single word signals a timeless mystery: to what purpose our existence, our striving? The program is bookended by short piano pieces by Jörg Widmann and Schumann, both titled "Warum?". Widmann invited performers of his 2007 piece to offer "a touch of mockery here, a dry touch there, and a touch of melancholy." Ironic detachment is far more abundantly evident in the absurdist theatricality of György Ligeti's Nouvelles aventures, with its "grand hysterical scene" for the soprano to pose as a mad bel canto heroine. A very different orientation is reflected in Johannes Brahms's 1877 questing motet "Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen" ("Why has light been given to the weary of soul") for a cappella chorus. Its opening movement is based on a Biblical passage (Job 3:1-26) full of existential probing about the misery of human life; Brahms's composition was triggered by the death of a dear friend. The vast temporal span of music in this opening program—including Brahms's evocation of earlier sacred choral style, and Widmann's ironic backward glance toward Schumann—promotes reflection. Issues of life's meaning strain our capacity for understanding and compassion, but works of art help sharpen our insight, and offer consolation for our grief.

About Luis August Krawen

Luis August Krawen grew up in Berlin, was a long-time member of P14 at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, and studied applied theatre studies in Gießen. Since then he has been a freelance video artist; in 2020 he was appointed Artist in Residence at the Münchner Kammerspiele. His first collaboration with Georges Delnon and Kent Nagano at the Hamburg State Opera was "Pierrot Lunaire / La Voix Humaine" in 2020.



Micro concert #2: A new world

Video
Jonas Englert

Music
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Sexteto Místico
Ludwig van Beethoven: From Elf Bagatellen Op. 119, 7 "Allegro ma non troppo"
Anton Webern: Fünf Stücke für Orchester Op. 10
Claude Debussy: Danse sacrée et danse profane
Toshio Hosokawa: Im Frühlingsgarten

Interpreten
Kent Nagano
Rupert Burleigh
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

About the Program

Heitor Villa-Lobos was a largely self-taught musician from Rio de Janeiro whose unique chamber piece, Sexteto Místico, dates from 1917 but was first performed only in 1963, after the long-lost score was reconstructed by memory by Villa-Lobos. This piece evokes the mystery of remote reaches of Brazil, including music of indigenous peoples and of the formerly enslaved peoples of African heritage. The orchestration blends two opposed groups: three woodwinds (flute, oboe, saxophone) and three coloristic instruments (guitar, harp, and celesta). This music from the "New World" sometimes displays the influence of Claude Debussy, whose Danse sacrée et danse profane also foregrounds the harp. The contrasting duality between sacred and profane is that between spirit and body, heaven and earth. The gentle waltz of the danse profane leads into a swirling dance with finely wrought harp figuration, before the final notes suddenly dispel this vision, as if awakening the listener from a dream fading into the common light of day.
Villa-Lobos considered his works as "letters to posterity without expecting an answer", a description that fits as well to the pathbreaking compositions by Beethoven, Webern, and Hosokawa on this program. Beethoven's seventh bagatelle from his Op. 119 is a spin-off from his monumental Diabelli Variations, Op. 120. This concise piece begins with interweaving voices and a telltale trill, which yield to a dance-like character. The trill soon returns with a vengeance: it gradually speeds up, and by generating an astonishing climax, shows how seeds of the eternal can be discovered in unassuming, commonplace material. Anton Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 10 are pieces of timeless density, subtle miniatures that inspired a generation of avant-garde composers following Webern's tragic death in 1945. Toshio Hosokawa's Im Frühlingsgarten (In the Garden of Spring) from 2002, for five strings, two clarinets, horn and flute, evinces a deep connection to nature. This is music of renewal, conveying animating life-forces through sound. As Hosokawa expressed it: "We hear the individual notes and appreciate at the same time the process of how the notes are born and die: a sound landscape of continual "becoming" that is animated in itself."

About the video
"Eine neue Welt" is divided in five parts, or rather compositions [I-V], five filmic chapters examining a concept of the world, enclosed by a pro- and an epilogue, using found footage, video material of the orchestra and the artist's own visual recordings. A musical and poetic video work, where the different chapters each function individually, while relating to each other as a whole, narrating a bigger story, a broader context: first the genesis as life itself, microscopically showing the mystery of space and time from where life begins [I], to the bacteria in space [II], the face, the gaze, the nonverbal as a metaphor for the dialogue as a form [III], from the brain to the carnal, the physicality of the social body within the mass, the dualism between freedom and state power [IV], until leaving this world, lonely, as technical artifact searching for a new one [V].
(Jonas Englert)

About Jonas Englert

Jonas Englert is a German artist. His works are part of the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Ivo Wessel Collection and private collections. Furthermore he created various works in the theatrical context, amongst others at the National Theater Mannheim, the State Playhouse Dresden, the Hannover State Theater, the Theater Bonn and the Berliner Ensemble. Englert is represented by Gallery Anita Beckers and lives in Frankfurt (Main).



Micro concert #3: Songs from the earth

Video
Zbig Rybczyński & Dorota Zglobicka

Music
Gustav Mahler: From Das Lied von der Erde: "Von der Jugend"
Leoš Janáček: From Auf verwachsenem Pfade – Zyklus Nr. 1: 3 "Kommt mit!"
Béla Bartók: From Dorfszenen SZ 79: 3 Lieder
Arnold Schönberg: Friede auf Erden for choir a cappella Op. 13

Interprets
Kent Nagano
Klaus Florian Vogt
Hellen Kwon, Gabriele Rossmanith, Kristina Stanek, Kady Evanyshyn
Rupert Burleigh
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

About the Program

The theme of "Songs of the Earth" — as in Gustav Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" of 1909 based on Chinese poetic texts—has now assumed far more urgency than a century ago, owing to the impact of global warming and climate change. Older modes of rural life are increasingly threatened and upended. The works by Leoš Janáček and Béla Bartók reflect their commitment to country life. The opening speech-melody of Janáček's "Come with us!" from his piano cycle On the Overgrown Path absorbs the title phrase from a popular Moravian folk song, with the words "Come with us, You Lads." Bartók's three songs From Scenes of Villages are his arrangement from 1926 of three Slovak folk songs for small chorus and orchestra. The three pieces—Wedding – Lullaby – Lads' Dance—form a ternary formal design of movements in a fast-slow-fast arrangement: Vivacissimo – Andante – Comodo. These settings bring to life the vivid, authentic character of traditional rural life in Slovakia.
Arnold Schönberg's Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth) for a cappella chorus, was conceived in 1906-7, shortly before his experimental artistic voyage into pantonality, as embodied in his musical setting of Stefan George's text "Ich fühle luft von anderem planeten" ("I feel air from another planet") in his Second String Quartet, Op. 10. For Peace on Earth, Schoenberg choose a Christmas poem by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, a text also associated with the pacifist movement of Bertha von Suttner. In Schönberg's work, the connection of peace with divinity is tangible: the relation of musical dissonance to consonance reflects the contrast between a strife-ridden reality and an ideal harmony. Years later, following World War I, Schönberg could only envision that ideal as an illusion, regarding "pure harmony in humanity" as unthinkable.

About Zbig Rybczyński & Dorota Zglobicka

Zbig Rybczyński and Dorota Zglobicka are award-winning filmmakers in their own rights, now married and working together since 2010. Their shared film projects have been screened in the United States and Europe.
Zbig is an internationally renowned filmmaker. He has won numerous prestigious awards including an Oscar, Emmy, three MTV awards, a Silver Palm at Cannes, just to name a few. Zbig created music videos for Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Grand Master Flash, Simple Minds, Lou Reed, Herb Alpert, and many others. He is also an HDTV pioneer, coder, and an innovator, and author of several US patents regarding cinematographic techniques, including motion control, optics and image compositing. Zbig directed and produced over 50 films.
Dorota has been working with various film forms, from video-art, and short films to documentaries featuring critical social issues such as corruption in politics and social injustice. To date, she has produced and directed over 30 titles, including award-winning commercials in Europe and the United States.
Together, Zbig and Dorota settled in Arizona, USA, where they established Gila Monster Studios for film production in 2015. Currently, they are hard at work on their newest feature film project "Thee Designer."



Micro concert #4: Time and memory

Video
Kamila B. Richter & Michael Bielicky

Music
Claude Debussy: Syrinx
Pierre Boulez: Mémoriale (...explosante-fixe...Originel)
Johann Sebastian Bach: From Die Kunst der Fuge: "Contrapunctus IV and V"
Henri Dutilleux: From Le temps suspendu: "Ainsi la nuit“
Olivier Messiaen: From Quatuor pour la fin du temps: No. 6 „Danse de la fureur"

Interprets
Kent Nagano
Manuela Tyllack
Rupert Burleigh
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

About the Program

Pierre Boulez's Mémoriale arose from the 1971 memorial piece . . . explosante-fixe. . . (. . . exploding-fixed. . . ) written in response to the death of Igor Stravinsky, while the title alludes to the last line of the first chapter of André Breton's novel L'amour fou (Mad Love) of 1937, a classic of the surrealist movement. Boulez's piece underwent various arrangements and reincarnations; it absorbs allusions to commemorative works by Stravinsky, while its emphasis on the note E flat ("Es" or "S" in German musical terminology) also relates to the Russian composer. Boulez's work is thus a matrix for memory. Another piece that seems to suspend time is J.S. Bach's monumental Art of Fugue, a work of unspecified instrumentation left incomplete at the composer's death in 1750. Shortly before Bach's manuscript breaks off, he introduced the four-note chromatic subject B flat-A-C-B natural (=B-A-C-H), a cipher for his own name (in German musical notation, B flat is called B, and B natural is H). Bach's musical signing of his name at the end of the incomplete Art of Fugue is a gesture pregnant with implications, defying and exploding the apparent fixation of cultural works in history.
The closing seventh movement of Ainsi la nuit (Thus the Night), the string quartet by Henri Dutilleux from 1976, is titled "Temps suspendu" ("Suspended Time"). The technique of progressive growth used by Dutilleux involves motives that recall the music of earlier sections or hint at music to be developed later. These processes invite comparison to literary strategies of Marcel Proust, and his notion of "involuntary memory." Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, was first performed in a German prison camp in Görlitz in 1941, where the composer was incarcerated. In the climactic sixth movement, "Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes" ("Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets"), Messiaen described how "the four instruments in unison imitate gongs and trumpets (the first six trumpets of the Apocalypse followed by various disasters, the trumpet of the seventh angel announcing consummation of the mystery of God)." For Messiaen, this is "music of stone, formidable granite sound; irresistible movement of steel, huge blocks of purple rage, icy drunkenness."

About Kamila B. Richter & Michael Bielicky

Kamila B. Richter and Michael Bielicky, born in Czech Republic examine the relationship between reality and simulation, perception and experience, and experiment with data visualization technologies in the spirit of "Infoart." In their installations they reduce the content of the news industry to recurrent headlines and tags, which they translate into a dynamic pictogram language in order to identify the patterns of information that today seemingly connect us with reality.



Micro concert #5: Rejoice

Video
Virgil Widrich / tx-transform technique: Martin Reinhart

Music
Federico Mompou: From Charmes: No. 6 "Pour appeler la joie"
Darius Milhaud: From Sonate für Flute, Oboe, carinet and piano, Op. 47: II. "Joyeux"
Hans Werner Henze: From Kammerkonzert 05: II. "Notturno"
Paul Hindemith: Kammermusik Op. 24 Nr. 1
Iannis Xenakis: Rebonds B

Interprets
Kent Nagano
Rupert Burleigh
Fabian Otten
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

About the Program

"Call for joy" – the last piece of Catalan composer Federico Mompou's sensitively poetic piano cycle Charmes from 1921 – opens the concluding stage of our encompassing concert cycle with a theme of resilience and rejoicing. Darius Milhaud's Sonata for flute, oboe, clarinet, and piano, from 1918, was composed in Rio de Janeiro, but displays no Brazilian atmosphere. Its second movement, titled Joyeux, is animated by stirring rhythms and adroit figuration, trills and roulades, generating deliciously luminous textures of sound.
Another post-war piece is Paul Hindemith's four-movement Kammermusik, Op. 24 no. 1 from 1922, which is scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, accordion, piano, and string quintet and percussion. Then often regarded as a "bad boy" of music, Hindemith challenged the stern nationalistic tendency in Germany following its defeat in the first World War. One offended critic responded to his Kammermusik with the claim that "no German composer with an artistic attitude has ever even dared think about, let alone write, music of [such] lewdness and frivolity." Hans Werner Henze's Notturno from his Kammerkonzert (Chamber Concerto) for fifteen players (2005) has a history reaching back more than a half-century, to the composer's Symphony No. 1 of 1947, in which it formed the slow middle movement. This too is a post-war piece, musical art untouched by nationalism. The Notturno foregrounds the viola, with a stylistic nod to Hindemith, featuring sensuous lyricism, and a mysteriously transparent instrumentation, dying away in the culminating soft tones of the percussion.

About Virgil Widrich

Virgil Widrich, born 1967 in Salzburg, works on numerous multimedia and film productions. He is one of the founders and Managing Directors of the multimedia company checkpointmedia GmbH, University Professor of Art & Science at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and owner and Managing Director of Virgil Widrich Film- und Multimediaproduktions G.m.b.H.


Credits

The Micro Concerts is a 2020-2021 project by Kent Nagano. The essay "Crisis and Renewal" by William Kinderman is an original text for this project. The visuals were created by Luis August Krawen, Jonas Englert, Zbig Rybczyński & Dorota Zglobicka, Kamila B. Richter & Michael Bielicky and Virgil Widrich, the usage and exploitation rights are held by the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra.The musical works and recordings were licensed by the publishers Schott Music, Universal Edition (Wien), Eschig, ALPHONSE LEDUC EDITIONS MUSICALES (Paris), Durant, Salaband, Edition Peters, Ricordi, Universal Music bzw. Hammonia Mundi/PIAS.

Production
Executive Producer: Georges Delnon
Associate Producer: Hannes Rathjen
Recording: Wolfram Nehls, Thomas Bößl, Sebastian Nattkemper, Clémence Fabre (all works unless otherwise noted),
Ulrich Holst (Brahms), Erdo Groot & Karel Bruggemann (Ligeti), Martin Sauer, Tobias Lehmann, René Möller (Schönberg "Peace on earth")
Coordination: Hannes Rathjen, Susanne Fohr, Tobias Behnke, Annika Donder, Isabelle Gabolde, the administrative teams of the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra and the Hamburg State Opera

© Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg (2022)

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