|View of Dresden from the River Elbe (Yahoo stock)|
Preview by Rodney Punt
Viewed from high balustraded walls, the sinewy River Elbe bisects the city of Dresden, sauntering like a lazy snake alongside the town center. But when provoked by heavy rains, as in recent years, the Elbe can rise to cover the Saxon capital’s streets, giving it the eerie appearance of a Venice without the gondolas.
Such a watery landscape is suggested by the theme of this year’s Dresden Music Festival. Dubbed “Fire Ice,” its music has a lot of hot-and-wet Venice about it, but also just as much of cold-and-icy Helsinki. A whiplash of climate zones is the point of focus for works from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, opposite boundaries of European geography. Northern composers, so it is observed, take pen and ink to score under the influence long shadows and cold twilight, differing in sensibility from their sun-drenched Southern counterparts. That dynamic is springboard for a clash of musical sensibilities slated to converge on the Saxon capital for a jammed-packed three weeks starting in mid-May.
The centrifugal focus also slyly emphasizes Dresden’s growing preeminence in the European musical firmament. Like rivaling Vienna, but less so of the more northerly Berlin, this historic city of trade routes has always stood at a musical crossroads. While the Festival advances the term ‘North-South divide’ with due caution, it sees not so much a competition as a creative contrast between stereotypes of the North’s severe intellectualism and the South’s natural lyricism. Embracing both, the theme also reminds us of successful accommodations struck here between the city’s Protestant population and its Catholic court in otherwise less tolerant historic eras.
There is a time dimension to this north-south juxtaposition. Most of the Scandinavian composers, apart from Grieg and Sibelius, are contemporary, reflecting that region’s leadership role in modern-era innovation. By contrast, many of the representative Mediterranean composers are from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reflecting the general trend of earlier-era musical innovations advancing from south to north; contemporary southern composers tend to represent world music styles.
Dresden Music Festival and its Modern-Era Music Capital
No city in Germany has experienced more dramatic comebacks than Dresden, the Baroque-splendored former seat of Saxon royalty that, seventy years on from war-torn devastation and more recent flooding, has seen its jewel-box center fully restored and its palaces, concert halls and galleries once again brim with patrons. In the last five years, festival ticket revenues have swelled, as has attendance at events that now approach capacity seating. Audiences from outside of Germany, an important tourist component, have reportedly doubled in the last five years.
Launched by the GDR in 1978, the Festival has been helmed since 2009 by cellist and cultural entrepreneur Jan Vogler. A protean presence on the central European music scene, Vogler has just extended his contract as intendant to 2021, while also leading each August the nearby Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival. Vogler’s line-up of programs ranges from a generous gaggle of orchestral works, to vocal compositions, a youth opera, workshops and open air concerts, solo piano pieces, works for dance ensembles, chamber quartets and trios, children’s concerts, and even oddities like the group Barocklounge in an evening of “Alehouse Session.”
The Dresden Music Festival’s big-ticket performances -- quite apart from its other fine ensembles and soloists -- are its orchestras in residence, which this year display a range of repertoire and styles that could fill a couple of continents. In fact they do just that. From Helsinki to Venice, Philadelphia to Rome, they set a standard for quality and variety that put many other festivals in the shade.
The venues for this year’s concerts are, of themselves, worth the price of admission. Exquisite Baroque splendors like the Semperoper, the restored Frauenkirche, and the brocaded castles at Pillnitz, Wackerbarth, and Albrechtsberg will dazzle the eye, and soon delight the ear. The historic Martin-Luther-Kirche, Kreuzkirche, the Albertinum and Festspielhaus Hellerau the Messe Dresden and ultra modern glass-and-steel facilities like the Gläserne Manufaktur von Volkswagen and the Hochschule für Musik Konzertsaal round out and complement the city’s storied historic character for the verzauberte Besucher (enchanted visitor).
Opening Night Gala
Dresden Festival Orchestra
The three-week festival formally kicks off on May 14 with a gala evening of the Dresden Festival Orchestra at the Messe Dresden, an event and convention center reconfigured for the occasion as a concert hall. Founded in 2012 by Vogler, with handpicked musicians from Europe’s renowned period ensembles, the DFO is a throwback to the court bands of Augustus II "The Strong," Dresden’s golden-age monarch of the eighteenth century. Recently the ensemble has taken on works in the Romantic tradition, as it will, under the baton of Ivor Bolton, when it couples Grieg’s Peer Gynt with works by Rossini, Mascagni, Verdi and Bizet. The north-south musical cocktail will set the tone, and the tones, for the next three weeks.
2015 Concert Summary: Orchestra Concerts
The Dresden Festival Orchestra has a second outing with Bolton in Beethoven's Violin Concerto, with violinist Isabelle Faust, the Saxon Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra under conductor Aapo Häkkinen performs Handel arias and Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, featuring soprano Julia Lezhneva. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding have Nikolaj Znaider’s violin in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, with Albert Schnelzer’s Tales from Suburbia and the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique.
Michael Sanderling and the Dresdner Philharmonie give the world premiere of the Swede Tobias Broström’s Concerto for two Percussionists and Orchestra with the Sibelius Finlandia and his Second Symphony. The pan-German Deutsche Streicherphilharmonie (string orchestra), under Wolfgang Hentrich, features violinist Chad Hoopes in works by Kilar, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Sibelius, and Grieg. The Philadelphia Orchestra makes an Atlantic crossing, not to Dresden but to a DMF-sponsored performance at the Berlin Konzerthaus, with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony and Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, with violinist Lisa Batiashvili.
Sir Antonio Pappano’s Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia will feature Vogler and his cello in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, with the Rachmaninoff Isle of the Dead and the Sibelius Second Symphony. The Venice Baroque Orchestra with conductor/harpsichordist Andrea Marcon and soprano Karina Gauvin perform an all Vivaldi program. Myung-Whun Chung leads the Sächsische Staatskapelle in Beethoven’s Second and Mahler’s Fourth symphonies. Finally, Christoph Eschenbach’s Bamberg Symphony will feature percussionist Martin Grubinger in Avner Dorman’s Frozen in Time, with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Ravel’s La Valse.
Chamber Music, Small Ensemble, Dance, and Solo Artists
Hélène Grimaud joins frequent collaborator Jan Vogler in works for piano and cello by Debussy, Brahms, Schumann, and Shostakovich. Pianist Boris Giltburg plays Grieg and Granados. The Dover Quartet airs Saariaho and Grieg with Mozart. The Danish String Quartet, with clarinetist David Orlowsky, performs Nielsen, Golijov and Danish folk music. The Quatuor Ebène performs Dutilleux, Haydn and Beethoven. The Auryn Quartet performs quartets by Arriaga, Ravel, and Sibelius. The Cappella Sagittariana ensemble essays early Baroque pieces. The Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen performs his own Sonata for Piano and works of Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Prokofiev.
Kent Nagano and his Ensemble Modern take on Bernstein’s A Quiet Place. Dresdner Kreuzchor sings classical and contemporary vocal works. The Vocal Concert Dresden sings works for children of all ages. The ensemble Al Ayre Español, with soprano Raquel Andueza, essays works by Handel, de Torres, Corelli, Cabanilles, Zamboni and Domenico Scarlatti. The Dvorák Trio and soprano Olga Peretyatko give a song recital of Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini and Strauss. Accordionist Martynas and the Sinchronic Quartet perform works ranging from Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart to those of Piazzolla and Lady Gaga.
Sweden’s Göteborgs-Operans Danskompani does a contemporary dance piece. The Trio Cayao will fling fiery tangos. Musicologist, philosopher, and mathematician professor Martin Rohrmeier will explore in sight and sound what musical creativity is all about. Mandolinist Avi Avital provides a new sonic experience for works by Villa-Lobos, Bartók, Tsintsadze, and Piazzolla. A children’s concert features trolls and fairies. The Pekka Kuusisto Project presents young Finnish musicians and dancers. Pianist Peter Rösel does Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. Finally, Fado singer Mariza ends the festival with a Mediterranean flair, making her special brand of Afro-influenced music at home in distant Dresden.
The Dresden’s Music Festival’s “Fire and Ice” theme of 2015 advances a strong argument for the city as a welcoming musical bridge between the evocative melancholy of the north and the expressive extroversion of the south.
Hope to see you there.
A complete listing of festival events, with ticket information, is on the Dresdner Musikfestspiele website. Information is available in English and German.