Simon Halsey Chorus Master
Knaben des Staats- und Domchors Berlin
Kai-Uwe Jirka Chorus Master
There are works with which one feels a special bond. They are true, lifelong companions. For Simon Rattle, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is such a companion. He has performed it often. In this urgent anti-war appeal, the English composer juxtaposed the Latin Mass for the Dead with the shattering poetry of Wilfred Owen, the “war poet” who fell in the last days of World War I at the age of 25. “I am writing what I think will be one of my most important works. These magnificent poems, full of the hate of destruction, are a kind of commentary on the Mass” (Britten).
The score’s title page contains the following lines by Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn.” Britten set the various texts to music of immense vividness, expressive flexibility and dramatic consistency. The War Requiem was premiered with overwhelming success on 30 May 1962 in the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in a German air raid in World War II.
Five days earlier William Mann, long-time chief music critic of the Times of London, had written: “It is not a requiem to console the living. Sometimes it does not even help the dead to sleep soundly. It can only disturb every living soul, for it denounces the barbarism more or less awake in mankind with all the authority a great composer can muster. There can be no doubt […] This is Britten’s masterpiece.”
John Mark Ainsley studied in Oxford, later continuing his training with Diane Forlano in London, at the same time building up a formidable reputation as a concert singer while working with conductors of the eminence of Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Marc Minkowski, Seiji Ozawa and Roger Norrington. Central to his operatic repertory are the roles by Mozart and Handel that he has sung at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence, San Francisco, as well as the State Operas in Munich, Dresden and Berlin. In recent years John Mark Ainsley has taken a greater interest in the 20th-century repertory and also in contemporary works: At the Frankfurt Opera, he has been heard in Britten’s Curlew River and in Billy Budd, while his performances of the role of Skuratov in Janáček’s From the House of the Dead have been admired in Vienna, Amsterdam and Aix. In September 2007, he took the part of Hippolytus in the world premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s opera Phaedra at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. That same year the Royal Philharmonic Society voted him Singer of the Year. John Mark Ainsley is also a committed recitalist with a repertory extending from Purcell to Britten, and is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1991 and since then has returned on many occasions, most recently for Joseph Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in September 2009.
Matthias Goerne was born in Weimar and studied singing with Hans-Joachim Beyer in Leipzig and subsequently with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. He is now equally acclaimed as an opera singer, concert artist and lieder recitalist in musical capitals all over the world as well as at international festivals. Among the conductors with whom he has worked are Riccardo Chailly, Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel and Seiji Ozawa. He first appeared as Papageno at the 1997 Salzburg Festival in a production of Die Zauberflöte conducted by Dohnányi. Although he limits the number of his operatic appearances, the range of his roles is wide, extending, as it does, from Mozart’s Papageno and Wagner’s Wolfram to the titles roles in Berg’s Wozzeck and Aribert Reimann’s Lear. Among the pianists who have accompanied his lieder recitals are Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Leif Ove Andsnes and Christoph Eschenbach. A fellow of London’s Royal Academy of Music, Matthias Goerne taught as an honorary professor of song interpretation at the Robert Schumann Academy of Music in Düsseldorf from 2001 to 2005. He first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1998 and has returned on frequent occasions since then. His most recent appearance was in June 2012, when he performed a selection of songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn by Gustav Mahler, in two concerts conducted by Andris Nelsons.
Emily Magee studied at Indiana University with Margaret Harshaw and has won a number of competitions. She made her stage debut as Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She attracted international attention with her first performance on a German stage in a new production of Lohengrin at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. As a result, she was invited to take on the role of Eva in the Meistersinger at the Bayreuth Festival in 1997. Her wide ranging repertoire includes works from Britten to Zandonai, concentrating primarily on the works of Richard Strauss, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, and Janáček. Emily Magee has performed in many leading opera houses, such as those in Hamburg, Munich, Zurich, Milan, Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet), London (Covent Garden), San Francisco and Tokyo, as well as at the Salzburg Festival. She has worked with major conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Antonio Pappano and Franz Welser-Möst. Emily Magee made her debut as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 2011 in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Salome, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
The Rundfunkchor Berlinis 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. Founded in 1925, the choir produced great musical moments of the 1920s and 30s under the direction of conductors such as George Szell, Hermann Scherchen, Otto Klemperer and Erich Kleiber. After the Second World War, the choir and its principal conductor Helmut Koch made the oratorios of Handel internationally known in their original versions. Dietrich Knothe (1982 – 1993) formed the choir into a precision instrument for the most difficult of works; Robin Gritton (1994 – 2001) both enriched and refined the ensemble’s palette of colours. Since 2001, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has been led by Simon Halsey, who places particular emphasis on stylistic and linguistic perfection, resulting in lively and exciting performances of works from all periods and in all styles. Their work together is documented by a busy recording schedule; their CD of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de loin with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester conducted by Kent Nagano won the 2010 Grammy Award for best opera recording. 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, the interdisciplinary event series Broadening the Scope of Choral Music as well as the annual Sing-along Concert. The Rundfunkchor last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in April this year with the world premiere of Brett Dean’s The Last Days of Socrates as well as Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.
The Staats- und Domchor Berlin is one of the most famous boys’ choirs in Germany, with a history that goes back to the 15th century. Today, the choir provides music for services at the Cathedral of Berlin and also for state occasions. In addition, it participates in performances in opera houses and concert venues in Berlin, and holds its own concerts with a repertoire which includes the great works of the Western choral tradition from the Middle Ages to modern times. Since 2002, the choir has been led by Kai-Uwe Jirka, professor of choral conducting at the Berlin University of the Arts. In addition to many other awards, the Staats- und Domchor Berlin won the European Youth Choir Culture Prize in 2002. Tours have taken the choir to other European countries, Asia, the USA and Israel. The Staats- und Domchor most recently participated in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation in April 2013 in performances of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, celebrating the 10-year-jubilee of the orchestra’s Education Programme.