Saturday, 16 November 2013

Salzburg Festival 2014

As ever, the problem with the world’s greatest music festival – and we should remember that it is not only a music festival – is knowing where to begin; or, alternatively, to what we might narrow down our choices. Opera, of course, looms large. Last year saw Così fan tutte open the new Mozart-Da Ponte cycle, which is progressing, or regressing, in reverse order. Christoph Eschenbach, Sven-Eric Bechtolf, and the Vienna Philharmonic renew their collaboration in Don Giovanni: notoriously a director’s graveyard. It remains to be seen whether Bechtolf will rise above the curse; in my theatrical experience, only Calixto Bieito and Graham Vick have done so, and even then, not entirely without ambiguity. But at this year’s press conference at the Austrian Ambassador’s Residence, he certainly spoke eloquently about the challenges involved; it was heartening to hear Kierkegaard invoked, and equally heartening to hear Mozart’s drama giocoso being treated seriously as drama. We shall see – and hear… A splendid cast includes Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, Luca Pisaroni, Gneia Kühmeier, and Andrew Staples.

The hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of Strauss’s birth brings a new Rosenkavalier. Robert Carsen’s previous staging was quite the best I have seen. Now we shall be treated to something for which I had feared I might be too late: a new production by Harry Kupfer. Zubin Mehta will conduct a cast including Krassimira Stoyanova, Sophie Koch, Mojca Erdmann, and Günther Groissböck. Strauss also features heavily in the orchestral repertoire, being treated to performances by Eva-Maria Westbroek, the Philharmonia, and Christoph von Dohnányi (Four Last Songs, with Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony); Don Quixote (the Philharmonia again, under Esa-Pekka Salonen, with Berg and Ravel); Ein Heldenleben (Concertgebouw/Jansons); Tod und Verklärung and Also sprach Zarathustra (VPO/Dudamel, along with René Staar’s new work, Time Recycling); Metamorphosen (Gringolts Quartet and friends); and songs from Thomas Hampson and Wolfram Rieger. Memories of a Vienna – and Europe – on the brink of war also connect with another Festival theme, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Christopher Clark, one of my esteemed former supervisors, will deliver an opening lecture. (Those who do not know his book on the origins and outbreak of war, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914, are urged to rectify that omission as soon as possible. Never again will they think that Germany’s was the only blank cheque issued during the July Crisis.) That context also explains the presence of Berg (Op.6) and Ravel’s La Valse in the aforementioned Philharmonia/Salonen concert.

Marc-André Dalbavie’s Charlotte Salomon will receive its world premiere, directed by Luc Bondy, with the composer himself conducting the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. Barbara Hönigmann’s libretto takes its leave from Charlotte Salomon’s Leben? Oder Theater?, in which the artist, who fled to southern France following Kristallnacht, tells of how she came to paint hundreds of gouaches, a semi-fictional retelling of the story of her life and that of her family, a ‘Singespiel’ (Salomon’s own term) now to be seen in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Dalbavie’s music will also feature prominently in the Festival’s ‘Salzburg Contemporary’ series, as will that of Wolfgang Rihm. Cornelius Meister will conduct the Vienna RSO in Dalbavie’s La Source d’un regard and Sonnets for counter-tenor and orchestra; the Klangforum Wien under Ilan Volkov will perform, alongside music by Stravinsky, Murail, and Debussy, Dalbavie’s Palimpseste and Melodia; the Gringolts Quartet give his String Quartet; and the Mozarteum Orchestra under Eschenbach offer, in between Haydn and Beethoven, the Flute Concerto and the Suite for Cello and Orchestra. Rihm offerings include Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber in a selection from the Goethe-Lieder and Harzreise im Winter, as well as some of Schubert’s Goethe-settings; Will Sound More, and Gejagte Form, together with Nono’s Guai ai gelidi mostri from Klangforum Wien under Sylvain Cambreling; and orchestral music from both Eschenbach (the Piano Concerto’s world premiere, with Tzimon Barto) and Jansons (Lichtes Spiel).

Schubert opera gains an all-too-rare outing with Fierrabras. Nikolaus Harnoncourt had originally been intended to conduct; he is replaced by Ingo Metzmacher, with Peter Stein directing. Daniele Gatti and Alvis Hermanis – previously director of Die Soldaten and Gawain – collaborate in Il trovatore, with a cast including Anna Netrebko, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, and the up-and-coming baritone, Plácido Domingo. La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli will transfer from ‘her’ Whitsun Festival; Damina Michieletto directs, whilst Jan-Christophe Spinosi conducts his period-instrument Ensemble Matheus. Donizetti’s La favourite is given in concert by Elina Garanča, Juan Diego Floréz, Nello Santi, et al. And a ‘Projekt Tristan und Isolde’ offers Wagner’s Handlung, or at least its Prelude, Second Act, and Isolde’s Verklärung, from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim, sung by Waltraud Meier, Ekaterina Gubanova, Peter Seiffert, René Pape, and Stephan Rügamer.

The opening celebration of sacred music (broadly construed), ‘Ouverture Spirituelle’ continues, this year turning its extra-European focus towards Islam, Sufi songs being presented by Al-Tariqa al-Gazouila, led by Sheikh Salem Algazouly, in the Fischer von Erlach Kollegienkirche. Haydn’s Creation, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink opens the entire festival. An absolute must should it all hover upon the horizons of possibility! Other concerts include two from the English Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner: Monteverdi’s Vespers and a 1685 trio of Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti; Mozart, symphonic and sacred, from Manfred Honeck; the final three Mozart symphonies from Harnoncourt and Concentus musicus Wien, intended to illustrate Harnoncourt’s latest theory that the three works form a single, wordless oratorio; the first book of the Well-tempered Clavier from Pierre-Laurent Aimard; and, intriguingly, Reger’s Requiem coupled with Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (Domingo/VPO/Barenboim).

Bruckner is the recipient of an entire symphonic cycle, succeeding Mahler last year. (And no, the cycle does not include the interminable variety of ‘versions’…) In addition to those conductors already mentioned, we shall hear from Riccardo Chailly (8th), Haitink (5th), Philippe Jordan (2nd,with the Te Deum), Meister (1st), Riccardo Muti (6th), and Daniele Gatti (3rd). The VPO plays in some, though not all, of those concerts. Other concerts include the regular series of Mozart Matinées, three concerts from the Camerata Salzburg (a particularly inviting one being Mendelssohn, John Casken, and Mozart, with Thomas Zehetmair); and the usual embarrassment of riches from visiting orchestras and recital soloists, instrumental and vocal. Fans of Rudolf Buchbinder will be treated to a complete cycle of the Beethoven pianosonatas. Highlights for me would include the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Murray Perahia (Stravinsky, Haydn, and Beethoven); a recital of solider songs from different eras (Anna Prohaska/Eric Schneider); Schubert and Brahms Lieder from Anja Harteros and Wolfram Rieger; piano recitals from Grigory Sokolov and Maurizio Pollini; and, last but certainly not least, a recital (Penderecki, Mozart, Previn, and Beethoven) from Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis.

As I said at the beginning. Salzburg is not entirely music, however, and there is a strong line-up of ‘straight’ theatre too. Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann appears, as it does every year, in its guise as Festival mystery-play. The First World War theme is picked up by Karl Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit, with members of Vienna’s Burgtheater ensemble. Other offerings include The Forbidden Zone, a multi-media production from Katie Mitchell and Duncan Macmillan, looking at the war through a number of women’s personal experiences; a dramatization of the 1913-15 bestseller, Gustav Meyrink’s Golem; and four productions from the Festival’s Young Directors Project. There is more, of course, much more; for further information on spoken drama, opera, and concerts, please visit the Festival website.