CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 15th and last for 2010 )

Berlin Philharmonic

You can tell that the Salzburg Festival is wrapping up when the local camera teams, trying to catch a glimpse of B- and C-celebrities, are thinning out, when outside seating at the Triangel restaurant across from the Festspielhaus becomes easily attainable, when the days get notably shorter than they were at the height of July and the temperature drops. The spot of the Festival’s last orchestral concert traditionally belongs to the Berlin Philharmonic, and after the out-of-this-world Firebird from the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, the Berliners under Sir Simon Rattle had to do something very special to see that their appearance would not be an anti-climax.

The Pieces Are Coming Together

Fortunately, they did have something special on offer, namely the programming. After Wagner’s Parsifal Vorspiel and Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Karita Mattila, Sir Simon programmed a veritable Second Viennese School workshop: Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces op.16 (1909), Anton Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra op.6b (1909, rev. 1928), and Alban Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces op.6 (1914, rev. 1929). In a very succinct introduction, Rattle asked to abstain from applause between the works, so that they might be appreciated as a triptych, “…or more—maybe even as an imaginary 11th Symphony of Gustav Mahler.”

What a daring, good program. Not so much a crowd pleaser as it is a taste-builder. This wasn’t going to elicit the ecstatic applause the Concertgebouw got post-Stravinsky, and indeed many in the audience fled pretty much immediately after the March from Berg’s 3 Pieces ended, but every disturbed set of ears was matched by a grateful, spellbound set that got lost in Schoenberg, Webern, Berg. Spellbound by the yearning love that Webern’s opening “Langsam” exudes, the cautious restlessness and search of “Bewegt”, the sweet longing of “Mäßig”, the looming, cloudy slowness of “Sehr Mäßig”, the road to serenity in “Sehr langsam”, or the mourning in the final “Langsam”. By the impossibly compelling climaxes of the “Präludium. Langsam” in Berg (finally putting an end to all distracted coughing), the audible heartbeat in “Reigen. Anfangs etwas zögernd – Leicht beschwingt”… by the rousing, gripping “Marsch. Mäßiges Marschtempo“, with Wozzeck bleeding through the score. One of Berg’s great skills is that he can cumulate climaxes, one after the other, without losing any tension in the stops, only re-gripping to further tighten the screws. The trombones, finally, burst out (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District-style) with a sexuality that belies any ideas of dry, theoretic dodecaphonic music.

Wagner from the Fridge

The Berliners, though distracted by a hearing-aid with its high-pitched feedback that reared its ugly head throughout, traded some of their perfection for grit and brawn, made Rattle proud and many in the audience very happy, indeed. That their Second Viennese School ended up more moving and romantic than the first part of the program was partly due to their excellence in the latter, partly due to blasé Wagner and cold Strauss. With little mysticism, nor even the absolute precision they are uniquely capable of under Rattle, Parsifal was more stuffer than spiritual experience. And The Four Last Songs, insensitive to Karita Mattila’s need to sing through the wall of sound around her, didn’t stir, didn’t move, and would have been unintelligible even if Rattle had taken his band back whenever he realized that Mattila was in trouble. Mattila was warmly received from the audience anyway, and half sang, half yelled a Straussian “Habet Dank” back at them, but the best thing about her that night was a tastefully purple, body-hugging dress that, in sharp departure from a dress recently worn during Strauss in Munich, didn’t make her look like a GDR shot putter.

Outside the Festspielhaus an old but sharp lady approached me, shaking her head about that ‘modern, newfangled music’, and how she could not be expected to like it, or applaud after it. Since I wasn’t going to pretend to agree, I tried to make the Second Viennese School slightly more palatable to her in the gentlest terms possible, suggesting that if she—by her own admission—could find it impressive or even rousing, just not beautiful, she was already three quarters of the way down the road to appreciating it. ‘Beauty’, in the conventional sense, isn’t the point of these works, but then that isn’t the point of something like Le Sacre (which she likes), either. And I couldn’t help point out that, and I went about this tactfully, the music she just heard and found so awfully ‘new’ was older even than she. There we are: A century later, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg are still poster boys for “New” music.

• • ♥ • •

Later that night the Berlin-bound Jürgen Flimm, the Intendant of the Festival for the last four years, threw a little parting party at the Triangel that marked the end of his reign. Markus Hinterhaeuser, the mind behind the concert series and the new music programs at the Festival, is responsible for the tantalizing next season, which includes Claus Guth's complete DaPonte/Mozart cycle (Minkowski, Nezét-Séguin, Ticciati), a Frau ohne Schatten with Christian Thielemann conducting and Christof Loy directing, and Esa-Pekka Salonen in Janáček’s The Makropulos Case. After that, it will be up the experienced (ex-) Zurich Intendant Alexander Pereira to take the reins, a choice that especially the modern music enthusiasts among the Salzburg Festival audience fear might be a leap backwards but should be rich in populisms.


Andrew Patner said...

Nice report, Jens! I can imagine every moment of that concert and am sorry to have missed the SVS "workshop" and glad that I missed the first two thirds! ;-)

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I've been enjoying the Salzburg Festival vicariously through your reviews. Perhaps you could consider writing a post about the nuts and bolts of attending the festival. I have travelled to various places in Europe and the US to hear music but something about Salzburg makes it seem so inaccesible. I have this perception that it is expensive and hard to get tickets so I have never bothered trying.

jfl said...

Opera and the 'big' Orchestral Performances certainly are expensive, though I wouldn't say it's particularly hard to get tickets, unless it's for that morality play "Jedermann" that they are doing religiously, every year.

I have the numbers of sell-outs somewhere, but this much off the top of my head (some may not be exactly correct): Theater (all the plays, excluding the Young Director's Project) runs at 100% capacity. Kontinent Rihm was somewhere around at 80 or just below, Operas were: Don Giovanni 98%, Orfeo 98%, Dionysos 86%, Norma and R&J 100%, Elektra somewhere up there, too... the Orchestral concerts in the 90s... interestingly the whole Brahms Scenes series did not sold well; they ran that at ~78% capacity. Chamber music events and recitals were well sold, but not at 100% (except for Sokolov, probably).

Which all means that you can either plan ahead, look if you can get what you want and then go... (finding a hotel that's inexpensive is *not* a problem, if you look hard enough and are willing to forgo luxury)

...or you can go travel in the region anyway (the whole point of Salzburg being that it's nice, even when there is no music; unlike Bayreuth, for example) and then pop in and see if you can fetch a performance that night, even if it means a less-than-ideal place in these venues.

...or you can become one of those professional scroungers, a pest that seems to travel all of Europe (on what budget, I don't know) only to try to get tickets for free for all the fancy events. Don't recommend that, though, seeing how all those scroungers somehow turn into (or had always been) extremely unpleasant, nasty people.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

It took me a while to get back here to look, but I thank you for your insights. Now I just need to act on the information.