Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem – conducted here by Donald Runnicles – is among those sacred works that convey a notion of a better world beyond. Echoes of Gregorian chant are mixed with scintillating impressionist colours to create a magical and ethereal whole. The remaining programme consisting of works by Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen is also French and transcendental.
La Damoiselle élue
Requiem op. 9
Donald Runnicles specialises in performances of requiems. At least this impression could arise if you look back on the Philharmonic concerts the Scottish conductor has conducted since 2003: he has already conducted the requiems by Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms. This time, the General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin will apply himself to Maurice Duruflé’s requiem.
The work is the best-known creation of the French composer, who was one of his country’s great organists in the 20th century. Duruflé, who studied with Louis Vierne and Paul Dukas, was inspired in his requiem by the Gregorian melodies of the Catholic liturgy, which he in some cases quotes in the original and drapes in very subtle sounds. By this means he created a vocal composition of suggestive character – archaic, transcendent, consolatory. And the work makes one thing very clear: Duruflé’s musical language is rooted not only in Gregorian chant, but also in French impressionism.
The programme begins with a work by Duruflé’s contemporary and colleague Olivier Messiaen: Hymne. Like Duruflé, Messiaen was also an organist. The Catholic church, the liturgy and piety also strongly shaped his musical oeuvre. The torchestral composition, an early work by Messiaen, has a sacral character and is characterised by a richly coloured, atmospherically dense musical language. Claude Debussy’s poetic cantata La damoiselle élue is another early work. While in this work the young composer is still under the influence of Richard Wagner’s music, Debussy’s personal style is already apparent.
Donald Runnicles has been General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra since the autumn 2009. He is also Music Director of the Grand Teton Music Festival and Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Donald Runnicles was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and educated in London and Cambridge. After first engagements at the theatres of Mannheim, Hanover and Freiburg, he became Music Director and Principal Conductor of the San Francisco Opera in 1992, a post he held until 2009. During his tenure, he led more than sixty productions, including the world premieres of John Adams’s Dr. Atomic and Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons. Since 1991 he works each year at the Vienna State Opera and has also led productions in the opera houses of Munich, Hamburg and Berlin, Milan, Paris and Zurich, and at festivals such as in Salzburg, Bayreuth and Glyndebourne. In concert, he is a frequent guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the North German Radio Orchestra, Hamburg (NDR), and Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Munich, as well as the Orchestre de Paris, the Staatskapelle Dresden and leading U.S. orchestras. He appears annually in Great Britain at both the BBC London Proms and the Edinburgh Festival. Since his debut in November 2003 with Britten’s War Requiem Donald Runnicles has returned regularly as guest conductor to the Berliner Philharmoniker. His last performance with the orchestra was in December 2011, when he conducted works by Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar. He is recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and holds honorary degrees from Edinburgh University, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Noel Bouley was born in Houston, Texas, and is a graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Louisiana State University. The young bass-baritone appeared in the title role of Stephen Sondheimʼs Sweeney Todd at the Aspen Music Festival at the start of the 2012/2013 season before becoming an ensemble member of Kentucky Opera where he sang the roles of the Sacristan (Tosca), Zuniga (Carmen), Antonio (Le nozze di Figaro) and Masetto (Don Giovanni). He subsequently made his debut with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra singing Ralph Vaughan Williamsʼ Five Mystical Songs. In the summer of 2013, the American singer covered the title role in Wagnerʼs The Flying Dutchman as a “Young Artist” at Glimmerglass Opera. He also appeared as Sir Lionel in Frederick Loeweʼs musical Camelot. In October of the same year, Noel Bouley made his debut at Amarillo Opera as Raimondo in a new production of Lucia diLammermoor. His repertoire includes the title roles of the operas Le nozze di Figaro and Falstaff and roles such as George in Carlisle Floydʼs Of Mice and Men, Collatinus in Benjamin Brittenʼs The Rape of Lucretia, Guglielmo (Così fan tutte), Angelotti (Tosca), Schaunard (La Bohème), Donald (Billy Budd), Marchese dʼObigny (La Traviata) and Lodovico (Otello). In January 2013, Noel Bouley was awarded first prize at Shreveport Operaʼs Singer of the Year Competition. After spending the 2013/2014 season as a scholarship student of the Patrons of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, he became a permanent member of the ensemble the following season. Noel Bouley now makes his debut in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Kelley OʼConnor studied in Los Angeles at the University of California and the University of Southern California, where she was a student of Nina Hinson. Her portrayal of Federico García Lorca in the premiere of Osvaldo Golijovʼs opera Ainadamar at Tanglewood in 2003 played a decisive role in the American mezzo-sopranoʼs stellar career. She has since sung the role on many occasions in leading opera houses and concert halls, and she was awarded a “Grammy” for the role. This season, Kelley OʼConnor has performed at New Yorkʼs Lincoln Center as a soloist in Mozartʼs Requiem with Louis Langrée conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. The singer also sang in Leoš Janáčekʼs Glagolitic Mass with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Alan Gilbert. Last season included concerts with Beethovenʼs Mass in C major as part of an international tour with Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra, and performances of John Adamsʼ opera oratorio El Niño with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Kelley OʼConnor works regularly with conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Iván Fischer, Daniel Harding, Lorin Maazel and Esa-Pekka Salonen. The versatility of her repertoire is demonstrated both by the names of composers such as Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, Verdi, Ravel, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Berio and by a work such as Peter Liebersonʼs Neruda Songs with which the artist made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of David Zinman in mid-October 2008.
Martina Welschenbach received her musical training at the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London; also in London, she graduated from the Opera Course at the Royal College of Music. While still a student, she appeared in minor roles at the Staatstheater Stuttgart and made her debut at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb as Pamina in Mozartʼs Magic Flute. Masterclasses with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Sir Thomas Allen and Graham Johnson completed the singerʼs training. In 2005, Martina Welschenbach joined the International Opera Studio of Zurich Opera where, after only a few weeks, she was engaged as a permanent member of the ensemble. Since the 2008/2009 season, the soprano has been an ensemble member of Deutsche Oper Berlin, where her roles have included Musetta (La Bohème), Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Susanna (Le nozze Figaro), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Micaela (Carmen), Pamina (The Magic Flute), Woglinde (Das Rheingold, Götterdämmerung) and Liù (Turandot). The artist, who has worked with conductors such as Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedosejev, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ingo Metzmacher, Carlo Rizzi, Donald Runnicles, Nello Santi, Peter Schneider and Franz Welser-Möst, made her acclaimed debut at the Opéra national de Paris in the autumn of 2010 as Regina in Paul Hindemithʼs Mathis der Maler. In June 2012, she enjoyed great success in the role of Thekla in a concert performance of Jaromír Weinbergerʼs opera Wallenstein as a guest artist with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Cornelius Meister. This will be Martina Welschenbachʼs first appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
The Rundfunkchor Berlin is a sought-after partner of leading orchestras and conductors all over the world, including long-standing partnerships with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Berliner Philharmoniker. In around 50 concerts per year the chorus displays an exceptional breadth of repertoire and stylistic versatility. With it’s experimental series, “Broadening the Scope of Choral Music”, in collaboration with artists from diverse disciplines, the Rundfunkchor Berlin is breaking down the classical concert format and adopting new modes of choral music for a new audience: In 2012 an interactive scenic version of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem staged by Jochen Sandig / Sasha Waltz & Guests attracted great attention. Founded in 1925 and shaped by conductors including Helmut Koch, Dietrich Knothe and Robin Gritton, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has been directed since 2001 by Simon Halsey. Their work together is documented by many recordings and awards, including three Grammy Awards. Simon Halsey, who was awarded the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” (Cross of the Order of Merit) in January 2011, has also initiated many of the choir’s education and outreach projects, such as the annual Sing-along Concert and the “Liederbörse” (Song Exchange) for children and young people. The Rundfunkchor last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the end of January in Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.