Saturday, August 10, 2013

Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival Launches in Saxony

Schloss Moritzburg.   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
by Rodney Punt

Schloss Moritzburg began as a royal hunting lodge five hundred years ago in a lake and woodland setting northwest of Germany’s Dresden. After the castle palace’s Baroque splendor was developed in the latter sixteenth century, its halls must have witnessed their share of intrigues and power plays. But in the past twenty years those same acoustically resonant spaces have welcomed the more convivial sights and sounds of musicians performing chamber music. 

The Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival, founded in 1993 at that very castle by internationally acclaimed cellist Jan Vogler, celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. Beginning today and running through August 25, the two-week experience features concerts, recitals, open rehearsals and composer lectures.

Given the long tradition of chamber music in Europe, it is curious that the idea for the Moritzburg Festival arose not in Germany but in the USA. Vogler, his brother Kai and colleague Peter Bruns often performed at the Marlboro Festival, famous for its idyllic Vermont country setting. Bruns suggested that  the Moritzburg Castle’s pond and gardens could offer a similar romantic setting. The rest has made for a happy chapter in local musical history.

For many years, Moritzburg’s intimate concerts, elegant dining and the opportunity for more in the nearby Saxon capital have been a well-kept secret within Germany. Recently, however, with British and American citizens rediscovering the glories of a restored Dresden, the musical life of the region has drawn more attention. It helps too that English is now virtually a second language in modern Saxony.

The Festival’s “chamber” moniker should be taken advisedly. One will hear familiar chamber dimensions when a solo viola essays a Bach suite, a string trio takes on Bach's Goldberg Variations and a string quartet Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. But chamber music gives way to grander proportions when a full orchestra dispatches such a work as the Brahms Symphony in E Minor.

While there are many recognizable composers, there are as many of them or their works unfamiliar. Pendercki is represented with his little known Sarabande in Memory of J.S. Bach; the forgotten Joseph Lanner, originator of the Viennese waltz style, has three works on the program; and the rarely heard Frank Bridge (teacher of Benjamin Britten) has an entry with his Sonata for Violin and Piano.

Eminent composer Wolfgang Rihm, head of the Institute of Modern Music at the Karlsruhe Conservatory of Music, will return to the Festival for the second time as composer-in-residence. Performed will be his Music for Three Stings (Part I), String Quartet, and the Phantom and Escape for violin and piano.

Southern California readers of LA Opus will be interested to see Hollywood composer Wolfgang Korngold represented with a concert chamber piece. His Brentwood neighbor, Arnold Schoenberg, will be featured with his Second String Quartet, the one that features also a soprano. Los Angeles resident Midori, who teaches violin at USC, will solo in Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Collection of antlers.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons
From the beginning, the Festival has always sought out appealing and unusual performing spaces. LA Opus asked Vogler how selected works relate to where they are performed:

“It’s very important that each piece be performed in its most suitable venue, like the large (and recently restored) Frauenkirche for grand pieces like Siegfried Idyll and Schubert’s String Quintet, or the intimacy of the Moritzburg castle for Mozart’s incredible Divertimento in E-flat Major. The ultra-modern Volkswagen Die Gläserne Manufaktur (transparent glass factory) is best for the opening concert with the Festival Orchestra of the Academy.” That orchestra, by the way, is made up of outstanding young musicians from around the world who also work together in the Festival's academy program.

Additional venues are the Evangelische Kirche (Lutheran Church) in Moritzburg, the famed Palais im Grossen Garten (Palace in Great Garden) in Dresden and Bad Elster’s König Albert Theatre. As if these aren’t exotic enough, an airplane hanger at the Elbe Flugzeugwerke Dresden (aircraft factory) will welcome the Family concert, “The Little Prince”, named after the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 

The twentieth edition of the Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival will see a reunion the three founders, Jan and Kai Vogler and Peter Bruns, along with two other performers from the very very first festival, double bass player Helmut Branny and violinist Mira Wang. LA Opus asked Vogler to reflect on accomplishments he found significant over the festival's first twenty years:

"Today, twenty years later, the festival has established itself on the German music scene. We have a year-round office in Dresden and we have toured internationally with the festival and recorded several CD’s for Sony Classical. We founded the Moritzburg Academy to support young artists and have added many venues and new concert formats. But the main message and the music-making have not changed. We still work with the same enthusiasm and dedication on wonderful music and performances still have the same freshness they had twenty years ago.

"I think it is partly the location that seems to inspire us, partly the kind of players who meet in Moritzburg year after year, and by now definitely the wonderful audience that keeps us searching for something special, the magic element in music that inspired us to become musicians in the first place."

Successful music festivals share certain elements: a unique identity, an ability to adapt and further innovate it over time, and an elusive element that we might as well call "soul." The Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival would seem to have all these things in place as it launches its third decade.

For more on the Moritzburg Festival, its dates and full program and ticket information, see: Moritzburg Festival in English.


Rodney Punt can be contacted at [email protected]

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