Renee Fleming—Vienna: Window to Modernity
May 4, 2013
Spring for Music—Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
May 8, 2013
7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York, NY
Carnegie Hall’s current season winds down, with soprano Renee Fleming’s illuminating four-concert Perspectives ending as the Spring for Music festival begins.
Perspectives artists from David Byrne to the Kronos Quartet curate their own programs, often with music not usually performed (although some simply regurgitate their usual repertoire). For her Perspectives, Fleming (at right) performed a joint recital with Susan Graham, sang Blanche Dubois in the first New York performance of Andre Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire (she also sang the 1998 premiere) and last week sang a new work by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.
Her final Perspectives concert, Vienna: Window to Modernity, gives Fleming the chance to sing chamber works she doesn’t often perform: with a focus on early 20th century music, she will sing her beloved Strauss but also Brahms, Wagner and Schoenberg. Along for the ride are pianist Jeremy Denk and the Emerson String Quartet—in one of its final appearances with original cellist David Finckel.
Fleming spoke recently about her Perspectives concerts.
Kevin Filipski: How did the Vienna concert take shape?
Renee Fleming: I’ve been exploring this period for a number of years, starting with Strauss and Korngold. This late romantic music fits with me vocally, I speak German fluently, and early in my Decca career I worked with producer Michael Haas, who wanted me to record Korngold’s operas. I would have loved to have done them, but the orchestrations are too heavy for my voice—but I have sung them in concerts. When I saw a Korngold exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Vienna along with a fantastic Mahler exhibit, this era really hit home. The influence that these composers had on American composers also interested me. It was also the heyday of the singer: the cultural importance of the opera composers and singers in this period was beyond anything in Hollywood today.
KF: How did you decide which songs you would include?
RF: The Emerson Quartet and Jeremy Denk collaborations originally came from Carnegie, but it was challenging to find appropriate music: we wanted to find music composed for soprano and quartet, but there isn’t that much. So that was our first challenge: the Strauss songs are rarely performed and Brahms’ songs are fragments, and quite different than we are used to. The Weigl, Webern and Zeisl songs are not known—and they’re really just tastes of them, since they come from larger works. So this’ll be fun for us to do.
KF: What will you take away from your Perspectives season?
RF: It’s been wonderful—each project has been so different, so completely unique. Performing Hillborg’s new work with the New York Philharmonic is a good example. It’s a substantial work, its words and imagery are immediate and musical in their own right. I think it’s a beautiful piece. And to finally bring Streetcar to New York—it was only one performance, but we brought it to New York! I didn’t have any luck getting it done at the Met, so this seemed like a good way to do it, no huge sets to construct. And what a special pleasure to sing this opera in what’s considered the best acoustic hall in the world. This was a fun way to do music I don’t perform very often.
The Spring for Music festival—comprising a week of performances by American orchestras which usually don’t play on Carnegie Hall’s vaunted stage—begins May 6 with Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, continues with Albany (May 7), Buffalo (May 8), Detroit (May 9 and 10) and concludes with the National Symphony Orchestra (May 11).
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) music director JoAnn Falletta (at left)—who has led the ensemble since 1999—spoke about what distinguishes Spring for Music: programs of exciting and rarely heard works, like the Russian pair, both pre-revolutionary (Gliere’s massive 3rd symphony, Ilya Muromets) and post-Soviet (Giya Kancheli’s Morning Prayers), which the BPO will play.
Kevin Filipski: How did the BPO get involved with Spring for Music?
Joann Falletta: They have a really different concept and they make it a very special event. They invite orchestras to apply based on what they’re doing in terms of repertoire, and they want very unusual programming. They liked what we are programming—especially the Gliere symphony, which is almost like a cult piece with a lot of fans and not played very often. Our orchestra does romantic music very well, because the acoustics in Kleinhans Music Hall lend themselves to that. We also have a reputation for doing new music, because of our past music directors from Lukas Foss to Michael Tilson Thomas, which is why I chose the Kancheli work: that comes from the end of the Soviet regime, while Gliere comes from the beginning.
KF: What distinguishes these two works?
JF: Both pieces seem to me mystical—the Kancheli is very spiritual in a non-sectarian way, but it’s also quite tragic, it’s about life in the Soviet Union. And the Gliere symphony is also mystical—a composer looking back at this 9th or 10th century Hercules figure whom everyone in Russia knows about. The Gliere uses a huge, lush orchestra, while Kancheli has a very minimal but powerful language. I thought to tie these two mystics together, and it works. No one in the orchestra has played these works before—but the whole Spring for Music concept is to take risks, and I’m thrilled that we’re taking a chance on these works, especially the Gliere, a long, demanding workout for the orchestra. But that’s how we grow as musicians. And we’re recording the Gliere symphony for Naxos: they wanted us to record it for awhile, and it worked out perfectly that we are recording it before we perform it at Carnegie Hall.
7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York, NY