Thursday, November 10, 2011

Music Interview: Mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager Returns

Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist

Works by Brahms and Liszt

November 12, 2011
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York NY

Since Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is seen and heard too infrequently in New York--with a teenage son in Vienna, she prefers to stay near her hometown and performs far more often on European stages than American ones--it’s imperative to catch her whenever she appears on a local concert stage.

For her Saturday evening performance at Zankel Hall, the always elegant singer teams with a long-time collaborator, the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, for a program of songs by composers whose vocal works are also not often heard: Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. Kirchschlager--whose recent recordings include the exquisite songs of Hugo Wolf and Joseph Marx--is sure to invest Brahms and Liszt with the same emotional directness that marks her vocal artistry.

She recently spoke by phone from--where else?--Vienna to discuss her recital program and what she has coming up onstage and in the studio.

Q: Why are you doing this program of Brahms and Liszt songs, which we don’t hear too often?
A: Performing Liszt is very obvious because it’s the Liszt Year: he was born 200 years ago. I’ve been singing Liszt for many years, and even though hardly anybody knows the songs, they’re really fantastic. When people finally do get to hear them, they also think they’re marvelous. And I felt that the Brahms songs go along nicely with Liszt.

Q: Talk about your relationship with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
A: We’ve known each other for 16 or 17 years now: we actually met in New York for the first time when I stepped in for Brigitte Fassbaender at a concert in Alice Tully Hall in 1994 or something like that. Since we did that concert, we’ve performed together and gone on tour many times. To perform concerts with him is one of the best things for me: he’s a great musician and a very dear friend, so it’s the best thing to make music and travel together. He’s so kind, so open to ideas: I more or less came up with Brahms and Liszt, and he loved the program. He will play a Brahms intermezzo and a Liszt solo piece. It’s really nice to have a little interlude between the songs without any words.

Q: Is this your first time singing in Zankel Hall, which is more intimate than the larger Carnegie Hall stage?
A: Yes it is. I’ve been in Carnegie Hall once to sing: the amazing thing about Carnegie is that even though it is such a huge hall, it feels kind of intimate to me. Jean-Yves says that Zankel is an even more intimate hall, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q: In Europe, you’ll be singing two great 20th century heroines: Claude Debussy’s Mélisande (Pelleas et Mélisande) and Kurt Weill’s Jenny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). Are these new roles for you, and why don't you sing them in America?
A: I have sung Mélisande in Salzburg at the Easter festival and I’ll be singing it at Covent Garden. It’s a part that I love very much. I’ve never sung Jenny before, so I’m looking forward to doing this in Vienna. I’ve always been known for Mozart, which I’ve done in America, but I don’t know why I don’t sing other roles there. A lot of it is timing and coincidence: I’ve always been very relaxed about what roles I sing and curious about what’s coming up next.

Q: Do you have any recordings on the horizon, either CDs or DVDs?
A: I have been recording a lot, including a Liszt CD recently, and a Schubert-Brahms-Mahler CD that I did with a Viennese group which made transcriptions for very non-traditional instrumentation. I have not done any DVDs recently: I live very much in the present, so I’m not a fan of recording a specific performance, although I was happy that Sophie’s Choice (Nicolas Maw’s opera) was recorded on DVD. It was very special to me and I thought it was a wonderful production.

(photo by Johannes Ifkovits)

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