Eteri Gvazava, Anna Larsson, Orfeón Donostiarra, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
Tiempo total de reproducción 1:00:30
Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra A memoir of the summer of 2003
Expectations ran high in the concert hall of Lucerne's Cultural and Congress Centre on the evening of 14 August 2003. Here, finally, was the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that had been talked about so often during the previous weeks and days. Here, too, was Claudio Abbado, who had first appeared at the Lucerne International Music Festival - since 2001 known simply as the Lucerne Festival - in August 1966 and who had gone on to make musical history. There is no doubt that this combination of orchestra and conductor lent the event its special atmosphere. The concentration on the platform was as exceptional as that in the audience - and at the end the tension erupted in a frenzy of applause unlike anything seen or heard in the hall since it had opened in the summer of 1998.
The evening ended with Debussy's La mer. Yes, said the conductor a few days after the concert, they had really flown. Throughout the performance listeners felt that never before had they heard such detail, never before had the work been played with such infectious verve. English horn and cello blended together with wonderful inwardness, while flute and oboe sometimes seemed to have become a single instrument. But it was not only on the level of tone colour that the orchestra gave the impression of a single body of sound: its musical gestures and movements created the same sensation. When had the opening movement's climactic outbursts, the joy of the middle movement and the ecstasy of the finale been more vividly felt? No one who was present will ever forget the performance.
Much the same emotions were in evidence at the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's second concert, a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony. With its overt emotionalism and magnificent monomania, this work by a self-confident and ambitious thirty-year-old is not without its problems, but in the present performance everything seemed convincingly well proportioned, building in a single unbroken line from the savage onslaught of the cellos and basses in the symphony's opening bars to the powerful apotheosis of the final movement. Abbado succeeded in bringing out the beauties of the score, while keeping its element of kitsch under firm control, allowing the music to tell its story and at the same time ensuring that the discursiveness of the narrative was held in check with an unforgettable blend of vitality and precision. Above all, the orchestra's ability to envelop the listener set standards that others will strive in vain to surpass, an achievement helped in no small way by the design of Jean Nouvel's concert hall and by the crystal-clear translucency of Russell Johnson's acoustics.
An orchestra of soloists
This was all possible because the Lucerne Festival Orchestra represents a highly fruitful synthesis of two related ideas. One is the idea of an élite orchestra. On 25 August 1938, fifty-five years before the Lucerne Festival Orchestra first appeared in public, a concert was given outside Wagner's villa at Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, when Toscanini conducted an orchestra specially convened for the purpose. The bulk of its players came from the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which its founder, the conductor Ernest Ansermet, had wanted to see used during the summer months. There were also sectional leaders from other Swiss symphony orchestras and a number of local chamber groups. The front desks of the strings were occupied by the violinist Adolf Busch and his string quartet. This élite orchestra formed the nucleus of the Swiss Festival Orchestra that was established in 1943 and which remained the Lucerne Festival's resident orchestra until 1993.
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra represents a continuation of this tradition. Each summer the world's leading orchestras meet on the shores of Lake Lucerne. If the festival wants to call on its own orchestra for special projects, it needs to have a world-class body of players at its disposal. In short, it is an élite orchestra as before, except that it is no longer made up exclusively of Swiss musicians. Rather, it draws on the finest players, from wherever they happen to come. As an institution it is intended to be a permanent affair, while at the same time being continuously reconstituted. This, then, was the starting point for Claudio Abbado and the festival's director, Michael Haefliger. The core of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is provided by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, itself an élite body of players made up of all those former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra who are now too old to play in this last-named ensemble and who have distinguished themselves by their particular achievements within this group of highly gifted individuals.
During the summer of 2003 the Lucerne Festival Orchestra was joined by a number of chamber ensembles, just as had been the case with Toscanini's élite orchestra: these included the Hagen Quartet (only its viola player Veronika Hagen was missing) and the clarinettist Sabine Meyer's Wind Ensemble. But the orchestra also boasted a whole series of well-known soloists and section leaders of major orchestras, including the violinist Kolja Blacher, the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, who performed the same function in Lausanne; Natalia Gutman as principal cellist; the trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich and the recorder player Michala Petri; the double bass player Alois Posch from the Vienna Philharmonic; and several members of the Berlin Philharmonic. The list of names read like a veritable who's who of music, while members of the audience who glanced into the orchestra were sure to recognize one familiar face after another.
Music-making in a spirit of friendship
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra's decisive involvement in the project is bound up with the second idea on which the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is based, an idea that is rooted in turn in Claudio Abbado's long years of experience with youth orchestras. At an early date in his career - at Parma in 1962/3 - Abbado taught chamber music to comparatively large ensembles. His main aim was to encourage the young musicians to listen to each other, as this can have a decisive impact on their ensemble playing. Later Abbado wanted to bring this approach to bear on symphony orchestras, but his aims proved unrealizable within the framework of the fixed working practices and structures of existing orchestras, and so he set up the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1978. From this the Chamber Orchestra of Europe emerged in 1981. Five years later came the idea of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, which was additionally intended to be open to players from outside the European Union. In turn this produced the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in 1997.
Behind these activities lies Claudio Abbado's conviction that an orchestra is neither a company of soldiers commanded by a colonel nor a group of employees taking its orders from some super-manager. True, the conductor beats time and decides on the tempo and other details. But far more important for Abbado - and in this he has decisively changed the professional image of the conductor - is that he regards orchestral music-making as a form of chamber music on a larger scale (hence the need for a conductor). Orchestral players are not subordinates but partners, and their work together proceeds on the basis of friendship, not on the strength of commands. As a result, much of the preparatory work is left to the players themselves. In the case of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, the various sections worked together for two weeks under the guidance of their section leaders, and it was only in the final phase that the orchestra came together to rehearse with Abbado. This also explains why the two programmes on which the orchestra worked at the 2003 Lucerne Festival were complemented by a wide range of chamber music events.
If many concert- and opera-goers see orchestral musicians as employees with plenty of free time and the mentality of trades union members, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's appearances at the 2003 festival were able to correct this view. Here the players were participants, rather than subordinates, producing the best possible results. This could be seen in the faces of the players, who exuded a degree of good spirits rarely found on these occasions. And it was no less clear from the enthusiasm of their conductor. Although Abbado was seventy and only recently recovered from a serious illness, he gave his all to the orchestra on a physical and emotional level. The mental energy that he is uniquely able to mobilize when the actual concert comes round, the intensity of his emotional response to the music and his ability to listen to the players and shape the music in the here and now - all this he radiated without holding back in the slightest. As a result listeners were able to hear an orchestra quite literally surpassing itself.
(Translation: Stewart Spencer)
Symphony No.2 in C minor - "Resurrection" - 3. Scherzo: In ruhig fliessender Bewegung