Classical Scene 2012 Departures and Farewells

Birthday boys, Barenboim und Rihm, were celebrated, Fischer-Dieskau and Henze were mourned. At the same time, the past year saw an ongoing boom for string quartets, new approaches in the opera and further discussions about orchestras and concert halls. Volker Hagedorn on the classical music scene in Germany in 2012.

Aufbruch in Stuttgart: Szene aus Jossi Wielers Inszenierung von Edison Denisows Oper „Der Schaum der Tage“ Aufbruch in Stuttgart: Szene aus Jossi Wielers Inszenierung von Edison Denisows Oper „Der Schaum der Tage“ | Foto: A.T. Schaefer Never before had the construction of a new philharmonic hall been so cheap, never before the time it took to build it so short – the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall) in Hamburg cost a mere 200,000 euros and it was finished in November 2012 – a mere five months after building was started.

This hall however is only 82 centimetres high and is one of the attractions at Hamburg's "Miniature Wonderland", which is located next to the actual building site of the real Elbphilharmonie- a project that is a constant source of desperate amusement for music lovers in Germany. It was actually supposed to be finished two years ago at a cost of 77 million euros; the construction costs however have now risen to 575 million euros and it looks as if it won't open until 2016. It is now clear that the problems in the realm of classical music are not just of a financial nature, but also the result of chaotic planning.

Operas in Berlin

If marshy terrain unexpectedly becomes part of the issue, as is the case with the foundations of the Berlin State Opera, then the capital also has a problem. The redevelopment of the Oper Unter den Linden, as it is also known, is costing more and taking longer than was originally planned. The other two opera houses in Berlin, on the other hand, are under new management and got off to a good start.

The Australian Barrie Kosky is the new artistic director at the Komische Oper and he staged a real marathon – all of the three surviving operas of Claudio Monteverdi in one day. They were rearranged by Elena Kats-Chernin, who makes use of Arab instruments as well as modern grand pianos and harps.

Furthermore Dietmar Schwarz took over the directorship at the Deutsche Oper, staging a modern-day masterpiece – Helmut Lachenmann's Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (The Girl With the Matches).

Small houses in a "financial squeeze"

From the rest of Germany there was both good news and bad news for the world of classical music. On the one hand cultural expenditure on a federal as well as state level has risen by a total of 80 million euros to 5.23 billion euros since 2010.

The very fact however that the mayors of Cologne and Bonn are thinking about a merger of their opera houses shows just how serious the financial problems of the municipal councils are. And if you type the words "financial squeeze" into the Google search engine, you will come across lots of small houses that are in dire financial straights, for example, in Wuppertal or in Görlitz where the Musiktheater is only running at half-throttle after its merger with Zittau.

In the more affluent federal states like Baden-Württemberg local people have been getting involved in the financing. One example would be the theatre in Heidelberg – of the 60 million euros required for the modernisation of the theatre, a third was donated by friends of the theatre and sponsors – and the work was even finished on time. At the official opening homage was paid to John Cage, who was born in America in 1912.

Jossi Wieler with a new concept in Stuttgart

In the meantime at the Stuttgart Opera an experiment seems to have turned out well – an experiment that is unique, even for Germany's multi-faceted opera scene.

The opera's new and very much sought-after director, Jossi Wieler, has got off the touring merry-go-round. If anybody wants to see his work, they now have to go to Stuttgart and, if they do, they should be prepared for quite a few surprises.

Alongside the company's huge repertoire there is also an all-out effort to stage some rarely performed masterpieces by Bellini and Janáček, not to mention Schönberg and Denisow – this has also helped to attract comparatively young audiences.

Wieler has been assisted in his endeavours by his new general music director, the Frenchman Sylvain Cambreling, who now looks back with great concern at his former place of work, Freiburg, which lies 180 km away to the south-west.

An orchestra merger with Southwest German Radio (SWR)?

Cambreling is not alone – many people are indeed very worried about what is going to happen to the SWR Symphony Orchestra and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, based in Freiburg and Baden-Baden respectively.

Tens of thousands of people have in fact signed a petition to protest against a merger between these two orchestras, backed up by culturally active politicians from all parties. In order to save money the broadcasting council of one of the largest public service stations decided to downsize the two orchestras from 2016 onwards and to merge them into a "Super Orchestra" in 2025, with Stuttgart as their base. In the 20 years since the reunification of Germany 37 of what used to 168 orchestras have either been "liquidated" or merged with another.

Johannes Kreidler's protest performance in Donaueschingen
If the SWR Symphony Orchestra were to go, it would mean the end of one of the world's most unique symphony orchestras – one that made the avant-garde part of its daily routine and one that premiered several new works every year in Donaueschingen, a town that for decades has been the "Bayreuth" of New Music. The festival got off to a spectacular start in 2012 with a performance by the composer, Johannes Kreidler, who "merged" two instruments to express his protest at the plans of Southwest German Radio.

A high-profile premiere – Babylon by Jörg Widmann

Two of the most highly praised opera premieres of the new season proved that the avant-garde can even make it beyond the walls of its festivals.

Babylon was realised at the Munich State Opera by the 39-year-old composer, Jörg Widmann, with libretti by the German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk; the Komische Oper in Berlin staged a version of Alban Berg's Lulu, which had been modified by 42-year-old Olga Neuwirth with new lyrics and new instrumentalisation, and with the addition of a third, newly composed act.

Uproar in Bayreuth

In 2012 Richard Wagner's Bayreuth was embroiled in quite a hefty scandal – "indelible" scandal might be more pertinent as a tattoo cannot be simply washed off.

Just before the festival opened with The Flying Dutchman a program about 38-year-old Evgeni Nikitin, the singer playing the leading role, was shown on television. In his younger years he used to play the drums in a rock band wearing no shirt. One of his tattoos was interpreted as a swastika and in no time at all the festival management had parted ways with Nikitin.

The decision was all the more controversial as the Bayreuth Festival, compared to the output in the field of journalism and research, has not really done very much up to the present day to come to terms with Bayreuth's involvement in the Third Reich and the anti-Semitism of the composer and writer.

Of all the very many publications to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth this year the most elaborate was the scientifically edited facsimile of the Tristan autograph that came out in 2012.

Festivities for Barenboim and Rihm

The past "classical" year celebrated quite a few names and among the best known we find a conductor/composer who lives in Berlin and a composer from Karlsruhe. Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires in 1942 and has been head of the Berlin Staatskapelle for the last 20 years. Right on time for his 70th birthday he got a project off the ground – a music academy that would bring Arabs and Israelis together in Berlin. It is called the Barenboim-Said-Akademie and is to find a home in a former warehouse of the State Opera.

Wolfgang Rihm, on the other hand, born in Karlsruhe in 1952, added, among other things, two new orchestral works to the 344 he has already had printed. Vers une symphonie fleuve" was premiered at the Badische Staatskapelle in Karlsruhe on the occasion of the orchestra's 350th anniversary. For the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig that is equally as steeped in tradition and for the celebrated soprano, Anna Prohaska, Rihm wrote Samothrake".

An ongoing boom for string quartets

Beyond the big ensembles the string quartet boom is still causing quite a stir.

Back in the 1990s the genre was considered to be unattractive among students compared to a solo or orchestral career, in the meantime however the new generation of top-calibre young ensembles can no longer be counted on the fingers of two hands – it is the generation that is following in the footsteps of the Artemis Quartett, who are still setting the tone.

It is however not just German ensembles that are profiting from all the classical music festivals – there are as many festivals in Germany as there are days in the year.

In 2012 the Irene Wilsing Foundation in Berlin also started to give grants to young musicians. It exclusively sponsors string quartets and has awarded grants amounting to 22,000 euros to three formations from Poland and Germany.

Taking leave of Fischer-Dieskau and Henze

Last year Germany had to say goodbye to two of its most important musicians. Both of them died at the age of 87. As the most famous baritone in the world, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, born in Berlin on 28th May 1925, paved the way for the "classical art song" to move on from small groups of listeners to larger audiences. In the 4,800 recordings of his work he not only set new standards in performing song cycles like Franz Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey), but also brought composers like Hugo Wolf out of the shadows and inspired contemporaries like Aribert Reimann. He died on 18th May last year.

On 27th October he was followed by Hans Werner Henze, who was born in Gütersloh on 1st July 1926, but at a relatively early age left the Federal Republic of Germany for Italy.

There was no genre in which he would not have given rein to his particular style – a style that was influenced by both Melos and literary thought.

For example, his colourfully indulgent König Hirsch (The Stag King) or the frugal stringency of his last important opera Phädra (Phaedra). Unperturbed by the dogmatic avant-garde of the 1950s Henze took a path through the present that always reflected the history of music and, from the 1960s onwards, that was accompanied by political involvement.

His festival still takes place today in the little town of Montepulciano in Italy – a festival in which the local people take part along with renowned professionals. Henze, who lived with his partner on an estate near Rome, was for the Germans the embodiment of their classic yearning for the countries of the south and the Mediterranean and of their self-determined departure from the restorative fug of post-war Germany.