It was in 2005 when Teodor Currentzis gave an interview to British journalist Peter Culshaw in Novosibirsk, where he served as chief conductor of the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. They met in a restaurant, ordered borsch, and had a few drinks. The atmosphere quickly became relaxed – and then came the remarkable sentence: “Give me five or ten years,” Currentzis said, “then I’ll save classical music.” That was a powerful statement: did someone who until then had been regarded as an insider tip, see himself as the saviour of the allegedly lethargic and monotonous music scene? Even though Currentzis later tried to put his message into perspective and explained that it was not quite what he meant, it cannot be denied that he does have a certain messianic trait. And some of his performances have something of a séance about them.
Spiritual, transcendent, heavenly
Spirituality is the key to iperformance for Currentzis, although he immediately cautions: “This has absolutely nothing to do with ‘wellness’. Spirituality has something to do with transcendence. And that requires the effort to engage in it seriously.” He feels music as an “echo of paradise” which he seeks to access. And his ensemble, which is supposed to pave the way for him, calls itself a “brotherhood” (which, however, also includes some sisters). Again a concept from the spiritual milieu. And fittingly, Currentzis dreams of one day founding a “musical monastery”: “a place beyond the reach of communications where artists can live, meditate and make music together. We would then sometimes go to the big cities and play concerts. Then return home.”
Teodor Currentzis differs in many ways from “traditional” conductors – even in terms of his background. He was born in Athens in 1972, the son of a sailor, who later retrained as a police officer, and a musician. But it was his father, a fanatical music lover, who awoke his passion for the world of sound. Currentzis studied the violin, then also composition, and finally tried his hand as a conductor, at first with a circle of musician friends. The experiment was so promising that he decided to study conducting, which took him in 1994 to the class of the legendary teacher Ilja Musin in St. Petersburg, whose graduates also include Valery Gergiev and Semyon Bychkov.
An unusual career
Ten years later, now chief conductor in Novosibirsk, Currentzis founded musicAeterna in order to perform Baroque and Classical works with their original sound. The fact that his ascent to world star occurred in the Russian provinces of all places, in Perm, a city closed to foreigners until 1991 which was once called Molotov and housed a large Gulag, so that his star did not shine in one of the great Western cultural capitals is part of the myth that surrounds Teodor Currentzis. The legend reads: from the deep, dark forests came a fearless innovator who didn’t care about rules and radically overturned the classical music business. It will be interesting to see what happens when Currentzis and musicAeterna appear on 5 December, the second of their two concerts at the invitation of the Berliner Philharmoniker, to perform another well-known repertoire hit: Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which, ironically, ends in the afterlife.
On the first of two evenings, on 25 October, Currentzis offered a real discovery: the choral opera Tristia by French composer Philippe Hersant. The work was commissioned by Currentzis, musicAeterna and its choir and was premiered in June 2016.
This text is the abridged version of an article by Susanne Stähr for the magazine 128 (volume 03/2018). Copies of the issue are available in our online shop and in the Philharmonie shop