The horizon of musical possibilities can never be reached. The MCO is convinced of this; thus, contemporary music and world premieres have been featured regularly in the orchestra’s programming since its founding in 1997. Now the MCO is taking the next step: for the first time in its history, with help from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, it has commissioned a work itself. For this project, the orchestra chose the composer Toshio Hosokawa, who was born in Hiroshima in 1995, studied in Germany, and today lives in Nagano, Japan. He has written an oratorio-like work entitled Sternlose Nacht (Starless Night) for the MCO. The piece requires two soloists and a choir in addition to the orchestra.
Sternlose Nacht follows the idea of the cycle of seasons. Memories of human tragedies are woven into the piece and function as interjections: a memento to the destruction of Dresden, which took place in February, a remembrance of the bombing of Hosokawa’s birthplace Hiroshima, which took place in August. The composer selected poems by Georg Trakl (among others) for the libretto.
The premiere is counterbalanced by a work by the orchestra’s namesake, Gustav Mahler, which will be played in the second half of the concert. Mahler composed Das Lied von der Erde, a “symphony for tenor, alto and orchestra” almost exactly one hundred years before Toshio Hosokawa began his work on Sternlose Nacht.Das Lied von der Erde was premiered in November 1911, half a year after Mahler’s death.
As the basis for his libretto, Mahler chose ancient Chinese poetry that had been translated into German by Hans Bethge: 1. Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of Earth’s Misery), 2. Der Einsame im Herbst (The Lonely One in Autumn), 3. Von der Jugend (On Youth), 4. Von der Schönheit (On Beauty), 5. Der Trunkene im Frühling (The Drunkard in Spring), 6. Abschied (Farewell). “I am not sure what this will become”, wrote Mahler during the piece’s composition to conductor Bruno Walter. “A beautiful time has passed, and I believe this is the most personal piece I have yet composed.” Mahler already knew of the heart problems that would eventually lead to his death during the composition of Das Lied von der Erde. He avoided naming the work his 9th Symphony – partly in order to avoid Beethoven’s and Bruckner’s fate. They had both only written nine symphonies…
In autumn 1910, Mahler gave the score to Bruno Walter, who conducted the premiere a year later. “The Earth is disappearing, different air wafts in, different light shines; it is a completely new work with a new style, a new method of discovery, of instrumentation, of compositional technique,” wrote Bruno Walter of the music. “Here, the self becomes, itself, an experience, while the world under it sinks away, a strength of feeling without boundaries unfolds in this separation; (…) – das Lied von der Erde comprises the most personal sounds in Mahler’s oeuvre, and perhaps in music in general.”
The encounter between Hosokawa’s premiere and Mahler’s forward-looking late work promises to be exciting. The concert in Festspielhaus Baden-Baden will be an occasion for various reunions: Toshio Hosokawa was Composer in Residence at the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin (DSO) in 2006/07 and at the WDR Rundfunkchor Köln in 2006-08. Thee choir is singing at the premiere of Sternlose Nacht, and former DSO principal conductor Kent Nagano will conduct the concert. Nagano has performed with the MCO previously in Munich, Bonn and Madrid.