Chamber Music

Poetry behind prison walls

Although Teodor Currentzis and his orchestra musicAeterna of Perm Opera are normally associated with their creative performances of Early music, on this evening they present a contemporary work. And with good reason. In Tristia for choir and ensemble, the composer Philippe Hersant has set the poems of French and Russian prisoners in a disturbing and at the same time moving way. “It’s about the monotony of prison life, about poetry and strong language,” says the composer.

musicAeterna chorus of Perm Opera

musicAeterna orchestra of Perm Opera

Teodor Currentzis conductor

Philippe Hersant

Tristia for mixed choir and ensemble

Supported by the Aventis Foundation.

Dates and Tickets

Thu, 25 Oct 2018, 20:00

Chamber Music Hall | Introduction: 19:00

Serie V


Philippe Hersant’s Tristia for choir and ensemble, presented in Berlin by Teodor Currentzis and his ensemble musicAeterna of Perm Opera, is based on poems by French and Russian prisoners: “It’s about prison monotony, about poetry and strong words,” said the former student of André Jolivet and who orientates himself towards the exponents of classical Modernism. “Musically, I have composed in different styles; I was interested in folk music with the Russians.”

The poignant work was inspired by Anne-Marie Sallé, who in 2004 founded the Ombres et Lumières Festival in Clairvaux Abbey in northern France which was formerly used as a prison. “For 40 years,” says Hersant, “the inmates have no longer been kept in this abbey, but in a modern prison next door. Anne-Marie Sallé soon felt that there was no point in organising concerts here while ignoring the prison world nearby. So she decided to hold writing workshops in prison, and she asked composers (Thierry Machuel and myself) to write choral pieces based on the prisoners’ poems.”

When Teodor Currentzis heard Hersant’s first of these pieces, Instants limites, he asked him “to extend this work to 75 minutes” (Hersant): “That is how Tristia came into being.” The premiere of the work took place in Perm – a city where there was a Gulag camp for decades. On working with Currentzis, Hersant said, “Teodor is a genius. He understands everything immediately. This is something I have never experienced before.”

Emotionally touching, poetic, archaic: Philippe Hersant’s “Tristia”