(photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Simon Rattle conducts Mahler’s Fourth Symphony

The climax of this concert with Sir Simon Rattle is Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which stands out among the composer’s monumental works with a sunny amiability. The evening opens with the premiere of a short piece by Wolfgang Rihm, followed by György Ligeti’s violin concerto, a work that impresses soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with its “colourful, sometimes flickering and sometimes floating auditory impression”.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Sir Simon Rattle Conductor

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Violin

Camilla Tilling Soprano

Wolfgang Rihm

Gruß-Moment 2 commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation Première

György Ligeti

Violin Concerto

Patricia Kopatchinskaja Violin

Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 4 in G major

Camilla Tilling Soprano

Dates and Tickets

Fri, 10 Feb 2017, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:00

Series I

Sun, 12 Feb 2017, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:00

Series B


“György Ligeti’s violin concerto,” professes Patricia Kopatchinskaja, “is perhaps the most exciting violin concerto since Beethoven. It’s the concerto I most enjoy playing.” There’s no doubt about it: Ligeti’s concerto, which the Moldavian-Austrian violinist will present conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall, is an exceptional work: “The instruments used range from […] old ocarinas to an Asian lotus flute to the modern orchestra instruments with a lot of percussion. The composed material borrows from the medieval Notre Dame school, Renaissance and Baroque music, Javanese harmonies and Hungarian and Bulgarian folk music. […] The solo violin part is composed in an extremely virtuosic style, but actually in many places the orchestral parts are no less virtuosic than the solo violin. The whole thing is a complicated […] puzzle that as a whole creates a highly colourful, simultaneously strange and yet familiar, sometimes flickering and sometimes floating auditory impression” (Patricia Kopatchinskaja).

The evening kicks off with a new piece by Wolfgang Rihm composed in the context of the Philharmonic “Tapas” series of short commissioned works, in which composers can (and should) draw on a cornucopia of sounds. The evening’s main symphonic work is Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which in the composer’s words begins as if the music “couldn’t count to three, but then launches out into the full multiplication table”. In the eerie Scherzo, “Friend Hain strikes up the music”: “Death,” said Bruno Walter, “fiddles rather strangely; his playing sends us up to heaven.” After the “reposeful” Adagio, in which the broadly flowing song of the low strings gradually conquers the entire tonal space, there follows the final paradise vision of the orchestral song (the Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling will sing the soprano role), which towards the end gets ever softer and slower until the music – in stark contrast to the sung text about “joyful awakening” – fades away “morendo” in a low register. Adorno appropriately called the work an “as if from the first to the last note”. It is precisely this chimerical quality that gave the work the lucid character that Mahler had in mind from the start: in the symphony “the greatest mobility of rhythms and harmony prevails – and what polyphony! – […] Indeed, the thousands of little stones that make up the painting often change like a kaleidoscope, so that we are not able to recognize it.”

About the music

Dreamscapes at the Edge of the Abyss

Rihm, Ligeti, Mahler and the Enchantment of a Small Orchestra

Three frequently performed, admired composers brought into close proximity. The classic musical set menu: a brief orchestral piece as starter, the obligatory solo concerto before the interval; and as pièce de résistance, a major symphony. Just what you’d expect? Not quite. Each work being performed today fulfils its traditional function in the concert programme – yet, at the same time, thwarts it pointedly and thoroughly. An external indicator of this distance from convention is intentionally reduced orchestral forces: in all three cases, transparency takes precedence over opulence, specific atmosphere over physical power.

Transcending the original commission: Wolfgang Rihm’s Gruss-Moment 2

Wolfgang Rihm’s Gruss [Greeting]-Moment 2 – in memoriam Pierre Boulez, receiving its world premiere in these performances, goes beyond Sir Simon Rattle’s original commission. Sir Simon had requested short musical appetizers. A total of twelve composers accepted the conductor’s carte blanche and will deliver small orchestral “album leaves” by the summer of 2018. Rihm had already, in 2015, composed a five-minute orchestral piece for Boulez’s 90th birthday to a commission from the Lucerne Festival. In that Gruss-Moment 1, formulations of intimate lyricism are perforated by hard blasts of massed brass and percussion. For the second Gruss-Moment, Rihm has also carefully chosen his colours: dispensing with clarinets, bassoons (except for contrabassoon) and trumpets, he has opted for quadruple flutes, horns and timpani, as well as single oboe, cor anglais (English horn) and trombone. The “drama” of the piece is thus predetermined. It begins with a solo on the cor anglais, that instrument of lamenting and loneliness, giving out an unaccompanied line filled with big leaps and abrupt dynamic contrasts. Soothing horn and string phrases answer it. In the second run-up, the disrupted line is taken over by the solo oboe, now joined by an expressive trombone that quickly strides across a compass of nearly three octaves. The flute choir reacts with fierce cries. A characteristic long-short rhythm emerges and soon becomes a driving force. The contrasting layers interpenetrate, with the flutes and strings finally taking up the impassioned gesture in unison. This development leads to a brief, vehement climax. The ending is given over to pacified solos on wind and softly rumbling timpani.

Irritating the conventional sensation of hearing: György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto

György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto irritates the conventional sensation of hearing in multiple ways. A violinist and a viola player from the string section tune their instruments to an overtone of the double bass, making the violin a shade higher, the viola a bit lower than the rest of the ensemble and the solo violin. The resulting “glassy, shimmering quality of the movement”, to which Ligeti’s score indication refers, is increasingly disturbed by irregular accents until the irregularly hammering rhythms gain the upper hand altogether. The second movement is a series of variations on a theme that Ligeti took from his Bagatelles for wind quintet (1953). The melody, Baroque in aspects, is played first on the G string of the solo violin and then subjected to ingenious variations. Complexity and feigned naïvety are combined in unusual fashion: four of the woodwind double on ocarina, whose intonation varies considerably according to how hard the players blow, while the two percussionists play slide whistles, among many other instruments, and the horns use natural tuning in two movements.

In the Intermezzo, which plays for just over two minutes, a flowing motion gradually swells to become a raging cataract. The languorous violin melody is accompanied by chromatically rising runs on divided strings, which proliferate until the solo part is enveloped and, finally, submerged altogether. Ligeti’s conception of a glassy dreamscape can most readily be connected with the pp beginning of the Passacaglia fourth movement. But even here is an undertow of disaster: loud, sharp dissonances are heard above the percussion rolls then suddenly break off. In the last movement, Ligeti quotes the descending lamenting line that runs through his late works like a pessimistic leitmotif. The movement unfolds as a sequence of the most contrasted images imaginable (musicologist Constantin Floros). As precisely as they seem to have been arranged, they scarcely are beholden to any strict structural principle. At the end comes a solo cadenza, which can be freely fashioned on the basis of all five movements.

Disconcertingly enigmatic humour: Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony

There is an illuminating connection between Ligeti’s Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Fourth – the symphony also walks a fine line between cheeriness and near-death. Mahler realized that “only a very few will comprehend” his humour. In fact, the world of childhood in the Fourth does initially seem out of place in the context of a large symphony: it begins with the ingenuous sounds of sleighbells, perky woodwind passages and a graceful violin theme. Mahler compensates for the radically reduced scoring with writing of chamber-musical flexibility and an unprecedented wealth of colours.Of central importance for the symphony as a whole is a new theme presented by the four flutes at the beginning of the development section which directly anticipates the fourth movement. This finale – the Wunderhorn song Das himmlische Leben (“Life in Heaven”) – begins with the line “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden” (“We revel in heavenly pleasures”). But just what sorts of pleasures are meant? The composer never provided a programme for the Fourth Symphony, but his verbal statements suggest an interpretation of its internal progression as a “dreamlike journey up to the blissful fields of heaven”, as Paul Bekker proposed in his 1921 monograph. This journey first leads through the “landscapes of this ‘world as eternal now’” to Friend Hein (Death), who, however, is here “conceived in the friendly legendary sense” of enticing leader. The idea of tuning the solo violin a tone higher to suggest “Death striking up a tune on his fiddle” apparently first came to Mahler when he was already at work on the scherzo. In the G major slow movement, a set of double variations, Bekker refers to “a new world expanding ever more broadly and clearly in front of the new arrivals, who ascend, so to speak, through a series of metamorphoses”.

Shortly before the end of the movement comes the surprise: in an erupting chord played by the full orchestra, the music turns directly towards E major. Four horns reveal the main theme of the song about “life in Heaven” while the trumpets chime in with the naïve motif that the four flutes had introduced in the first movement. Delicate lines above magically shimmering chords lead to the vision of Cockaigne, a paradise in which the finest delicacies are served and the most beautiful music is heard. Meanwhile the atrocities of earthly life proliferate ever more grotesquely: John the Baptist lets the little lamb out to be slaughtered; St. Luke sacrifices the ox, his own symbol. And dancing to the music are the 11,000 virgins supposedly martyred along with St. Ursula of Cologne. The contradiction between the bucolic cheerfulness of the vocal stanzas and the vehemence of the orchestral interludes that separate them is never reconciled. Mahler’s humour here contains something unsettling and cryptic. It is a form of humour, as the composer himself once remarked in connection with his Third, that “has to aim at heights of expression where all other means fall short”. Irony, high spirits, laughter: these would take the place once intended for faith. They served as substitute for a transcendence that would otherwise hardly be attainable.

Anselm Cybinski

Translation: Richard Evidon


Patricia Kopatchinskaja, born in Moldova, studied composition and violin in Vienna and Bern. The winner of numerous awards (including the 2013 Royal Philharmonic Society’s “Instrumentalist of the Year”) is this season’s artist in residence at the Berlin Konzerthaus, at London’s Wigmore Hall and at the Kissinger Sommer Festival. Her diverse repertoire ranges from baroque and classical, often played on gut strings, to new commissions and re-interpretations of modern masterworks. The violinist has performed as a soloist in Berlin with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Staatskapelle, with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and renowned orchestras in Vienna, Paris, London and Tokyo, working with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andrey Boreyko, Pablo Heras-Casado, Vladimir Jurowski and Sakari Oramo. Patricia Kopatchinskaja gives concerts at international centres of music and major festivals (e.g. Edinburgh, Lucerne, Vienna, Salzburg, Montreux and Santander). Her chamber music partners include Sol Gabetta, Markus Hinterhäuser and Polina Leschenko. She is also a founding member of the quartet-lab, a string quartet together with Pekka Kuusisto, Lilli Maijala and Pieter Wispelwey. Patricia Kopatchinskaja has premiered numerous works, including violin concertos written for her by Johanna Doderer, Otto Zykan, Jürg Wyttenbach and Fazıl Say. As a goodwill ambassador for the charity Terre des Hommes, she supports projects to help needy children in her native Moldova. Patricia Kopatchinskaja made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in September 2014 as soloist in Peter Eötvösʼs Second Violin Concerto DoReMi under the direction oft he composer.

Camilla Tilling hails from Linköping in Sweden. She studied at the University of Gothenburg and at London’s Royal College of Music. She has appeared in many leading opera houses in Europe and the United States of America as well as the Glyndebourne, Salzburg, Drottningholm and Aix-en-Provence Festivals. Among the conductors with whom she has worked are Semyon Bychkov, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, Andris Nelsons and Sir Simon Rattle. Her operatic repertory extends from Handel and Mozart to Rossini, Verdi and Strauss and also includes roles by Debussy and Britten. Among the international concert halls and recital rooms where she has appeared are the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Promenade Concerts, the Wigmore Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York. Camilla Tilling made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 2007, when she took part in performances of Handel’s Messiah under the direction of William Christie. In recent years, she participated in the staged performances of Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passion, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Her last appearance with the orchestra was in October 2014 in Handel’s oratorio La resurrezione, directed by Emmanuelle Haїm.

(photo: Monika Rittershaus)