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No. 9, September 2000
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Lucerne Festival
in 2000 when the article was added still called
International Festival of Music Lucerne 2000: Pierre Boulez, Christian Tetzlaff and the London Symphony Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach, Vadim Repin and the Houston Symphony Orchestra; Haitink and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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The International Festival of Music Lucerne was created in 1938, the year Hitler marched into Austria. Due to the political circumstances, Switzerland became, for a few years, a safe-haven for a lot of artists who could or would not perform anymore in Germany or Austria. The Concert de Gala of the year 1938 was directed by Arturo Toscanini. He performed Wagner's Siegfried-Idyl which the composer had written in his house in Lucerne. In its more than 60 years of existence, the Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern, as the festival is called in German, has become one of the leading events of classical music in the world. For its year 2000 edition, the organizers have published substantial programs, including a book of 460 pages with essays on the festival's guiding theme, metamorphosis, and on other subjects such as the anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach and the composer's in residence, György Kurtág and Toshio Hosokawa, to whom another, 301-page book, is dedicated. The salle blanche, conceived for 1840 people by the acoustics specialist Russell Johnson and the French architect Jean Nouvel, who first wanted it blue and red, but changed his original plans after criticism by conductors against too much color, was inaugurated in August 1998. The acoustic are excellent thanks to the traditional shoe box hall-form with its its 1:1 relation of height to width. The insulation of the hall from outside noise is perfect. Not only for these reasons, the festival can live up to its ambitions and the prestige of its famous performing guests. By the way, the audience was excellent too. No cell phone ringing! What a pleasant contrast to Zurich's Tonhalle. The following article renders the impressions of three symphony concerts of this year's edition.

The London Symphony Orchestra, directed by Pierre Boulez and with Christian Tetzlaff, violin, August 20

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), London's oldest and Britain's first self-governed orchestra, was founded in 1904. Among its former conductor's are Hans Richter, Arthur Nikisch and Claudio Abbado. Since 1995, Sir Colin Davis occupies the post of principal conductor. At the festival in Lucerne however, Pierre Boulez directed the LSO. On August 20, the program's first part offered zeroPoints, a composition by Hungarian composer (and conductor) Peter Eötvös (*1944). ZeroPoints was commissioned by several orchestras and this was its Swiss premiere. The LSO's sound was precise and the composition offered a great, but not always convincing spectacle. Eötvös said he was impressed by the year 2000 and its zeros, which he integrated into his work. It is a composition of multiple beginnings from zero and it ideally fits into the festival's theme of metamorphosis. Thunderstorms, heavy rain, lightning, zeroPoints has it all. But the cymbals unnecessarily covered up to much of the orchestra's sound. The strings were partly opposed to the rest of the orchestra, the polyphony was entertaining, but, overall, the composition is quite traditional in the sense that it could have been written at the beginning of the 20th Century. Interesting were the use of bells as a rhythmic background and the ironic end of zeroPoints. The composition is too weak and will hardly make its way into the regular repertoire.
 
The evening continued with the Violin Concert (1960) by Györgi Ligeti (*1923). Boulez played it in the Hungarian composer's newly arranged version of the year 1992 - with only half of the LSO's musicians. The concerto begins with dissonant sounds by the solo violin. Christian Tetzlaff was slowly joined by the other strings. The piece lives from its contrast between the violin and the orchestra as well as between dissonant and harmonic tunes. It is demanding for the musicians as well as the listeners. The second part of the concerto for violin is inspired by Haydn and his economic use of notes. Both, Tetzlaff and the LSO were convincing. The impression of a full, clear and direct sound was enhanced by the salle blanche's sensational acoustics which can be best heard at the stalls. Soft or extremely loud, the concert hall reflects the sound without any distortion. As an encore, Tetzlaff played the fugue of the second movement of Béla Bartók's Jolo Sonata. It is a dramatic piece of high virtuosity which allows the soloist to show his full capacities - and that's what Tetzlaff did, proving himself to be one of the outstanding violinists of his generation.

After the break followed Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) ballet pantomime The Carved Wooden Prince op. 13 Sz 60 (1914-17) - in Lucerne with no pantomime of course. The few lengthy moments of the composition stem from this fact - nothing visual happened on the scene. But the overall impression is still overwhelmingly positive. The LSO played at its full strength with about 70 strings. The orchestra had no difficulty in musically illustrating the warmth, romantic and dramatic story of a princess who at first takes a carved wooden puppet for real and prefers it to the prince in flesh and blood who had made it. The ballet pantomime allowed Bartók once to have a first and huge success in Budapest. But the composition is rather traditional - hence probably the success in Hungary's capital. It is not the Bartók who inspired more than one composer and musician of classical and jazz music. Still, The Carved Wooden Prince is a delight for its graphic description of what is happening on scene. The music is easy to follow and was served as dessert to the public in Lucerne. After the challenging piece by Ligeti, it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on music which appeared, in comparison with the Violin Concert, easy-listening. Would it have been better to play Ligeti at the end? Probably not since a majority of the audience preferred the romantic entertainment to the contemporary sound. Bartók found wider appreciation and, therefore, the concert ended in harmony. Judging by the performance on August 20, the LSO under the direction of Pierre Boulez proved to have become one of the leading orchestras of the world.


Krystian Zimerman, piano; director: Pierre Boulez; London Symphony Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra. Maurice Ravel: Piano Concertos. CD 1999.
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Salle blanche, Lucerne.

Houston Symphony Orchestra; 
Director: Christoph Eschenbach; 
Vocals: Renée Fleming. 
Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs
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The Houston Symphony Orchestra, directed by Christoph Eschenbach, Vadim Repin violine, August 25

The Houston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach began its concert with the hugely popular Fanfar for the Common Man (1942) by American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Afterwards, in a Swiss premiere, the orchestra played John Adam's (*1947) Concert for Violin and Orchestra (1993). It is no piece of repetitive minimal music, but influenced by the late romantic composers such as Liszt and even Schönberg. The New York City Ballet was one of the three institutions who commissioned the concert. Adams knew his piece would be interpreted choreographically and that influenced its form and content. The solo instrument plays an exceptionally important part. In the first movement, violinist Vadim Repin has only one minute to rest. But it is no traditional composition in the sense that there is no fight between the soloist and the orchestra. The violin is always at the center. Vadim Repin first played elegiac tunes, but also had dissonant parts to master before the music becomes tonal again. The calm end of the (for the listener most demanding) first movement with a bell ringing was a highlight. In the middle section, bells, strings and horns create an atmosphere of  resignation and contemplation. In the third movement, life comes back and a lot of action goes on. The horns blew in a stirring way, drumbeat, strings and horns alternated in a spectacular way. Adams' composition is entertaining and virtuous, but he does not express profound emotions and is never deeply touching (such as e.g. Shostakovich). Before the break, Vadim Repin added three encores to his performance. He started with Smetana's Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride, followed by Dvorak's Slavonic Dance op. 46 and a Sarabande by Bach. Repin's play was warm, polyphonic and subdued. Nothing was too virtuous, he did not try to show off, but remained well-tempered. After the break followed Gustav Mahler's (1860-1911) Symphony no 1 (1884-88). The Houston Symphony Orchestra was supposed to express youth, innocence and strength. But as for all of the evening, the orchestra's sound remained somewhat pale, especially in comparison with the LSO. Their best part of rendering Mahler came in the movement described as solemn and measured. In the dramatic ending of the Symphony no 1 the strings lacked some volume and power. The sound lacked warmth, character and expression. Still, the audience was enchanted - who does not like Mahler. The Houston Symphony Orchestra made an honorable performance, but it cannot compete with the immediate and full sound of the LSO or the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
 
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Bernard Haitink, August 31

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is the orchestra which has performed most often in Lucerne, regularly since 1968. So it is no surprise that, in August 1998 under the direction of Claudio Abbado, it had the honor of opening the new concert hall built by French architect Jean Nouvel. For health reasons, Abbado could not direct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on August 31. Another leading conductor, Bernard Haitink, replaced him. Let's say it right away: he made a wonderful job. The first part of the concert was dedicated to Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Don Quixote op. 35 (1896/97). The German composer was a master of the dramatic form. The colorful symphonic poem based on Cervantes is full of dramatic effects and irony. The Berlin Symphony Orchestra was able to make the story come alive. Russian cellist Natalia Gutman played a key role. One could easily follow Quixote's different adventures. Highlights were the first ride of the strange pair, Quixote and his squire Sancho Pansa, and their fight against windmills. Dissonant sounds alternate with the description of idyllic scenes. Simply sensational was the ride through the air, with popular tunes followed by breathtaking wind-effects which I have never heard better before, although the Berlin Symphony Orchestra did not play at its full personal strength and I was not in the stalls, but on the first balcony, where acoustics are good, but less impressive. Not only the orchestra's rendering of dramatic, tragic-comic effects, irony and madness, but also Quixote's return to clear conscience and the calm and peace of his last days before his death were convincing. The second part of the concert was dedicated to Johannes Brahms' (1833-97) Third Symphony (1883). It is not (purely) heroic as Hans Richter suggested at its premiere in Vienna in December 1883 where he called it Eroica. It is a composition of refined complexity, dramatic and romantic. Especially the second part, Poco allegretto was rousing through the purity of sound and the well-tempered, neither over-dramatic nor pale playing. Especially the wind section did a remarkable job. In the Allegro, the calm beginning with the outstanding, suffering transversal flute, the dramatic play by the string section and the violent and exploding energy of the orchestra before its return to an introspective ending were stunning. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Bernard Haitink offered a journey through the spectrum of human emotions, and that's what music is all about.

Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra; director: Simon Rattle.
Mahler: Symphony no 10. CD 2000.
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www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 9, September 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.