Trouser roles and strong female characters – as a boyish Octavian in Strauss’s Rosenkavalier, a cheeky Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, a Charlotte of integrity in Massenet’s Werther, and above all as a fiery and sultry Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name, Elīna Garanča has sung her way to the top. In her concert appearances with the Berliner Philharmoniker on the other hand, the Latvian soprano likes to show a different artistic side of herself and presents more rarely heard works.
Opera diva following unusual musical paths
She made her debut with the Philharmoniker in 2008 with Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs. “From Black is the colour to the Azerbaijan love song, Garanča successfully reveals the prophetic magic of music which precedes today’s multiculturalism,” said the review in the Tagesspiegel. This season, Elīna Garanča is one of the four guest soloists performing in the orchestral concerts at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden. And in these, too, she demonstrates her fondness for unusual programmes: in addition to Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs, which the composer put together as a tribute to his wife Helen, she sings Maurice Ravel’s exotic song cycle Shéhérazade, inspired by the female character in the One Thousand and One Nights under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle.
Familiar sounds in unfamiliar settings
Baritone Gerald Finley’s appearance promises a very unusual listening experience: he sings well-known songs by Franz Schubert, including Prometheus and Erlkönig, in rarely performed arrangements by Max Reger, Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms. Stylistically assured, differentiated, and rich in nuance was how the press described Finley’s interpretation after his appearance in Berlin in March 2018 which allowed him to congenially combine his talents as a lieder and concert singer. The Canadian-born singer has been an artistic partner of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1994. Most recently, he gave impressive performances with them of the jealous and brutal Golaud in Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and the rugged forester in Leoš Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen. At the Easter Festival too, Gerald Finley can be heard on the opera stage: in the new production of Wagner’s Parsifal, he sings the role of Amfortas.
Krystian Zimerman has been connected with the Berliner Philharmoniker even longer than Gerald Finley. A year after his spectacular victory at the Chopin Competition, he made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1976: under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt, Krystian Zimerman performed Chopin’s E minor Piano Concerto. At that concert – according to press reviews – he impressed with his polished technique, brilliant touch and musical expressiveness. “This young master is simply a gift for the musical world,” rejoiced the critic of the Berliner Morgenpost. Over the years, he and the orchestra have performed all the great piano concertos of the 19th and 20th centuries under the direction of Herbert von Karajan, Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado, Erich Leinsdorf, Valery Gergiev and Sir Simon Rattle. At the Easter Festival in 2013, he thrilled audiences with Johannes Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. His programme this year commemorates the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. Under the direction of Simon Rattle, Zimerman plays the piano part in his Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety, which was inspired by W. H. Auden’s poem of the same name and ingeniously combines elements of jazz with the style of Gustav Mahler. This work is especially close to the pianist’s heart: he performed it together with the composer and the London Symphony Orchestra as part of the 1986 Amber Festival.
A tender love confession
In the same year, 1986, Vilde Frang saw the light of day in Oslo. The Norwegian violinist is therefore the baby of the family among the four Baden-Baden guest soloists. At the 2016 European Concert in Røros she made her acclaimed debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. As she revealed in an interview for the Digital Concert Hall, she initially thought the invitation to the event was a joke because she received the message on April Fools’ Day in 2015. Meanwhile, she has already made her second appearance with the orchestra. In December 2017, she presented Béla Bartók’s First Violin Concerto at the Berlin Philharmonie. This piece was written by the Hungarian composer while in love – unrequitedly – with the violinist Stefi Geyer. The knowledge of this background fascinates the musician: “When I play something, I think about the music more than anything else, but in this case ...? The concerto is so clearly a portrait of this young, beautiful woman.” It also impresses in that Bartók shows a completely unknown side of himself – not rough and tough, but very, very vulnerable.