Cologne / ACHT BRÜCKEN | Musik für Köln / Kölner Philharmonie / tel +49 221 2802 80 / / www.achtbruecken.de
Maurice RavelMa mère l’oye Arnold Schoenberg Violin Concerto op. 36 Igor StravinskyPetrushka (1911) Conductor Pierre Boulez/ Violin Michael Barenboim/ MCO Academy Project
MCO Academy Concert at the “ACHT BRÜCKEN | Musik für Köln” festival
2011 marks the seventh year of the Cologne MusikTrienale, and for the first time, it will appear under the name of "ACHT BRÜCKEN | Musik für Köln". As one of the biggest and most important festivals for contemporary music in Germany, the MusikTrienale's program includes experimental crossover projects, electronic music, as well as concerts featuring chamber music and symphonic repertoire of the 20th century. On May 8, an MCO Academy concert will open the ACHT BRÜCKEN festival 2011.
The program brings together three of the most prominent composers of the 20th century: Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schönberg. Gracing the podium is a living legend, Pierre Boulez, to whom this year's festival is dedicated and whose works comprise the focus of the festival. In addition to his compositional and conducting career, Boulez has championed the restructuring of the music industry and the development of young musicians. Boulez has, among his many engagements, directed the Academy of the Lucerne Festival since 2004. In the summer of 2007, with the MCO, he brought Janacek's opera From the House of the Dead to critical acclaim in Vienna, Amsterdam and Aix-en-Provence.
Ravel, Stravinsky and Schönberg have certainly shaped the history of 20th century music. And although each of them has left behind works that are uniquely his own, they cannot be justifiably categorized. Instead, they have each proved themselves worthy of universal validity. One could consider Maurice Ravel – alongside Claude Debussy – a proponent of French Impressionism; but that would mean ignoring much of his life's work. Arnold Schönberg founded twelve-tone music and, just as his tonal compositions Guerrelieder and Pierrot lunaire joined the ranks of standard western repertoire, set music of the 20th century into motion. Igor Stravinsky's work can be seen as musical overview of his time: there were hardly styles, musical ideas, or influences that didn't find their way into his music.
Stravinsky was involved in musical reform from the very beginning, and his ballets – for Sergei Djagilev's Ballets Russes – revolutionized the genre in Paris. In 1911, Stravinsky had just finished Petrushka, a burlesque in four parts for orchestra. Under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux and choreographed by Michael Fokin, the premiere took place in June of the following year at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Petrushka, a tragic-comic figure in Russian puppet theatre, is akin to the Italian Pulcinella. Stravinsky constantly looked for inspiration in both Russian folk poetry and the classical canon, and in this ballet, he captures the conflicting nature of its characters: the tragic story of an unhappy lover unfolds in front of a happy carnival scene and ends in his death.
While in Paris, Stravinsky counted many artists as his close acquaintances, and Maurice Ravel was one of them. Ravel's Ma mère l'oye, composed in 1910 first as a fairy tale suite for four-hand piano, was orchestrated and premiered as a ballet a year later. Ma mere l'oye consists of five tales, from a collection of the same name, written by Charles Perrault in 1695. The piece exists as a piano cycle, an orchestral work, and a version for ballet. These arrangements are so closely related, however, that to distinguish the original from its various arrangements would be inconsequential. In Ravel's work, dance elements play a similar role as they do in Stravinsky's music. The compositional differences in Ravel's most famous piece, his Bolero, are only evident in association with choreography that breaks through the opulent sound texture.
Already during his time, Ravel was considered more as a classicist than a revolutionary. The musical crisis at the beginning of the 20th century seemed not to apply to him: there is nothing disturbing about his sound and orchestration, and harmony prevails. Much of Ravel's music is, therefore, often charged with lacking in substance and truth.
In stark contrast stands Arnold Schönberg, who not only founded twelve-tone music, but who – through his Society for Private Musical Performances, which hosted performances by modern composers, including Ravel and Stravinsky – also led music in a new direction. Schönberg's Violin Concerto op. 36, written in 1936 in the United States, is considered one of the most challenging pieces in the violin literature even today. It was premiered by Louis Krasner, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, in 1940. The work was initially not recognized by audiences of the time; the thematic material and audacity of the musical language – expressed in the tumultuous scenes of the first performance – simply demanded too much from the public.
Since 2009, the MCO Academy NRW has offered select students from the Orchesterzentrum | NRW the opportunity – among other activities – to perform in a concert with the MCO. The MCO's wide spectrum of repertoire frees the MCO Academy from programmatic limitations and allows different musical focuses for each Academy project. These MCO Academy performances are led by specialists of the selected orchestral literature.