Magnus Lindberg is a contemporary composer who writes in highly sensuous timbres. “It is not about making a manifesto. Music is something which is about emotion! It is an experience” – says the composer, whose new violin concerto will be presented by Daniel Harding and Frank Peter Zimmermann. Just as haunting is Pierre Boulez’s colourful and multi-faceted Mémoriale, heard here with Emmanuel Pahud as soloist. The evening ends with Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony.
Othello Concert Overture
Violin Concerto No. 2 commissioned jointly by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Radio France German Première
Frank Peter Zimmermann Violin
Mémoriale (... explosante-fixe ... Originel) for flute and eight instruments
Emmanuel Pahud Flute
Symphony No. 2 in C major
A recording of the concert is available online at our Digital Concert Hall.
Daniel Harding, who began his career as Sir Simon Rattle’s assistant with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before assisting Claudio Abbado with the Berliner Philharmoniker, has placed Antonín Dvořák’s passionate Concert Overture Othello at the beginning of these Philharmonic concerts – an ideal “opener”, followed by an exciting premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s new violin concerto. That’s because Lindberg is considered among the most virtuoso orchestral composers of the present day: “It is not about making a manifesto. Music is something which is about emotion! It is an experience.” The soloist is violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, who has many contemporary works in his repertoire: “As violinist I would like to bring to life the new ideas that a composer from our time has brought forth.”
After the interval, Daniel Harding will conduct the Boulez classic Mémoriale (... explosante-fixe ... Originel) for flute and eight instruments, in which the soundscape broken like a prism into the most varied instrumental colours leads to silence at the end. The programme ends with Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony, a piece which consistently heads for its triumphant Finale. The successful premiere took place on 5 November 1847: “In this work,” the journalist Alfred Dörffel wrote in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, “the composer reached a new high point in his oeuvre.”
Antonín Dvořák’s arrival on the Vienna musical scene and, shortly thereafter, on Berlin’s at the end of the 1870s can be imagined as an influx of oxygen-rich fresh air into a room whose atmosphere, after years of unrelenting strains and ongoing disputes over fundamentals, must have begun choking its participants. In 1876, Wagner had launched his Bayreuth Festival with the Ring tetralogy; only a few months later Brahms presented his long-awaited First Symphony. As contrasted as the aims were of these two endeavours, they had in common an immense aesthetic and intellectual ambition. Dvořák, on the other hand, was content to flirt with the image of a “simple Bohemian musician”. That stereotype of cosy sunshine may chiefly explain why a masterwork of tragic character like his Othello overture continues to lead a shadowy existence in the repertoire.
In 1892, a year before composing his New World Symphony, Dvořák exploits orchestral colours and effects with supreme confidence while marking out a conspicuously wide harmonic trajectory. Although he has related nodal points in the musical proceedings to the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the dramaturgy of a sonata-form movement remains clearly discernible. The figures are formulated so concisely and memorably, the developments staged so grippingly, that it hardly matters whether the piece is heard in terms of its literary background or as pure music.
One of the few composers to have reclaimed some of the Bohemian Romantic’s emotional directness in our time is Magnus Lindberg. The Finn loves powerful gestures and swift tempi; his dense scores vibrate with inner motion and convey contagious physical energy. Lindberg combines a mastery of large forms with an almost hedonistic delight in elaborate detail. Sir Simon Rattle credited the prolific master from Helsinki with embodying “one-man living proof that the orchestra is not dead” – thereby also alluding to the long-held view of progressive composers that the traditional concert industry had lost its cachet. Meanwhile the avant-gardists dispersed: where ideology and rigidly materialistic thinking once prevailed, pragmatism now held sway. Similarly, the Finnish composer’s language has become more flexible, at times eclectic. Along with echoes of late Romanticism, one even finds in it isolated smatterings of folk music.
He finds himself “particularly drawn to the great instruments” of the traditional concerto literature, declared the composer in an interview. It took a decade before he turned a second time to the violin. Whereas in the melodically generous first concerto he complemented the instrument with a chamber orchestra, here he employs a comparatively lean symphony orchestra with double woodwind and modest percussion. Lindberg avoids the typical problem of balancing solo and tutti in his work, not by choosing a particularly high register for the violin part, but by means of agile, often small-scale dialogue between individual and collective. Furthermore, longer passages are accompanied exclusively by strings. The three sections of the work, which merge without a break, clearly relate to the traditional scheme of a fast main movement with calmer introduction, rhapsodically freer middle movement with cadenza and a perpetual motion-like finale. Yet the cycle is tightly bound together by a wealth of insertions and thematic cross- and back-references, which serve to create the illusion of a large single-movement form.
Flanked by the weighty orchestral statements of Lindberg and Schumann, Boulez’s miniature for flute and octet has the effect of cool sorbet offered to refresh the palate between courses of a menu: a piece of musical filigree in bright colours and free gestures suggesting an improvisation. In its ethereal beauty, it is not easy to grasp, an alluring yet disconcerting picture-puzzle play with similarity and difference.
Mémoriale is part of the same extensive complex of works as ...explosante-fixe…: in 1972 Boulez had published a sketch on a single sheet of music paper in the music journal Tempo as a tribute to the recently deceased Igor Stravinsky. The central section, entitled Originel, was a seven-note cell gravitating towards E flat, surrounded by six models for its elaboration. Boulez took the title of ...explosante-fixe…, which evocatively refers to the antagonism between maximal energy development and stability, from a verse of André Breton, the poet and pioneering Surrealist.
The antagonism of objectivity and fantasy, control and freedom which so fundamentally confronted Boulez was also dealt with, albeit inversely, by Robert Schumann in the middle of the 19th century. Whereas the rigidly principled avant-gardist, after the complete determinacy of his early works, slowly had to reclaim space for intuition, the inspirational musician Schumann, burnt out formally by his mid-30s from several years of almost vehement productivity, sought new compositional stability in a methodical and controlled process. “Only from the year 1845 onwards, when I started to work out everything in my head,” he wrote later in his diary, “did a completely new manner of composing begin to develop” – a method less involved with logging his surge of ideas than with planning, sorting out and constructing them.
Schumann tried out the process on a new symphony beginning in December 1845. Although the sketches were done in matter of days, their elaboration and orchestration occupied him intermittently for nearly a year. The Second Symphony – its predecessor in D minor Schumann later revised extensively and published as his Fourth – developed into his most ambitious symphonic project. The work’s monumentality is evident not only in the gravity of its demeanour but also in its magnificently effective culminations. Also indicative of the Second’s high aspirations are the skilful deployment of contrapuntal technique and the subtle thematic connections between all the movements. Schumann’s contemporaries recognized Beethoven’s path “from darkness into light”, or “from suffering to redemption”, in the work’s expression of ideas and emotional states. The composer himself apparently regarded it as a genuine triumph of intellect over the dark forces seething inside him. That autobiographical factor could explain why the finale is driven towards a theme that actually bursts open the form as prescribed by textbook rules: it is the sequence of notes to which Beethoven set the words “Nimm sie hin nun, diese Lieder” (Take these songs now) in his song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. Schumann repeatedly worked this cipher into his instrumental works, each time as homage to Clara. A number of theorists of the 20th century criticized this system from a formal perspective. Considered psychologically, however, it may take on a different aspect: the instrumental dedication – a decidedly personal gesture in the public context of a large symphony – defers to a strong emotional impulse. All his striving for classicism notwithstanding, Schumann really was a Romantic after all – the truth of subjective experience for him always prevailed over the aesthetic illusion of the perfect formal context.
Daniel Harding was born in Oxford and began his career by assisting Sir Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which he himself conducted for the first time in 1994. He later worked as Claudio Abbado’s musical assistant, and in 1996 became the youngest conductor to appear at the BBC Proms in London. That same year he also made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Berlin Festival, conducting works by Berlioz, Brahms and Dvořák. After holding appointments as principal conductor with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway, as principal guest conductor with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, as music director of the Deutschen Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (1997 – 2003) and principal conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (2003 – 2011), Daniel Harding is now music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and music partner of the New Japan Philharmonic. He is Artistic Director of the Ohga Hall in Karuizawa, Japan and was recently honoured with the lifetime title of Conductor Laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In constant demand in the world’s leading centres of music, he has appeared with many internationally acclaimed orchestras and conducted opera performances in houses as prestigious as the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, the Vienna and Munich State Operas and the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals. In 2002 Daniel Harding was awarded the title Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government and in 2012 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. As a guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Daniel Harding last appeared with the orchestra in December 2014, when he conducted three concerts with Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.
Emmanuel Pahud, born in Geneva, received his first flute lessons as a six-year-old in Rome. Later he studied in Brussels, then in Paris with Michel Debost as well as in Basle with Aurèle Nicolet. Pahud won first prizes at several international competitions. He gained orchestral experience playing with the Basle Radio Symphony Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic before joining the Berliner Philharmoniker as a principal flute in 1993. Following a period of teaching at the Geneva Conservatoire, Emmanuel Pahud returned to the Philharmonic in April 2002. As a soloist he performs with the leading orchestras of the world – with the Berliner Philharmoniker he was heard in flute concertos by Carl Nielsen, Marc-André Dalbavie, Elliott Carter and Jörg Widmann – as well as in duos and larger chamber ensembles. In 1993, he co-founded the chamber music festival “Musique à l’Empéri” in Salon-de-Provence, France, together with pianist Eric Le Sage and clarinetist Paul Meyer. In June 2009, Emmanuel Pahud was made »Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres« by the French Ministry of Culture and in April 2011 he was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Muisc. He is also an Ambassador for UNICEF.
Frank Peter Zimmermann was born in Duisburg in 1965 and was only five when he had his first violin lessons. By the age of ten he had made his debut performing one of Mozart’s violin concertos, and two years later he won a first prize at the “Jugend musiziert” Competition. After studying with Valery Gradov, Saschko Gawriloff and Herman Krebbers, he began his international career in 1983 and quickly rose to the very top of his profession. He now appears as a soloist with all the world’s leading orchestras and with all its most eminent conductors. He has been artist in residence with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (2010/2011 season), the New York Philharmonic, the Bamberger Symphoniker and the Rheingau Musik Festival. Zimmermann has given the first performances of four new violin concertos: Matthias Pintscher’s en sourdine with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Peter Eötvös in 2003; Brett Dean’s The Lost Art of Letter Writing, premiered with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 2007 under the direction of the composer; and Augusta Read Thomas’s Juggler in Paradise in January 2009 with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under the direction of Andrey Boreyko. Last December he gave the workd premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the London Philharmonic conducted by Jaap van Zweden. Among Frank Peter Zimmermann’s chamber partners are the pianists Piotr Anderszewski, Enrico Pace and Emanuel Ax; with the violist Antoine Tamestit and the cellist Christian Poltéra he founded the Trio Zimmermann in 2007, together they have appeared at the festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and the Rheingau Musik Festival. Among the awards that the violinist has received are the 1994 Rhineland Music Prize and the 2002 Music Prize of the City of Duisburg. In 2008 he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Federal German Order of Merit. Frank Peter Zimmermann made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1985 and since then has returned on numerous occasions; most recently he was heard in May 2015, when he performed the Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor by Dmitri Shostakovich.