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Joana Mallwitz
Joana Mallwitz

Joana Mallwitz Brings Kurt Weill Back Home to Berlin

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06/14/2024

Joana Mallwitz, the first woman to become chief conductor of one of Berlin’s major orchestras, has put the music of Kurt Weill at the heart of her first season with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. Having signed with Deutsche Grammophon in June 2023, she was keen to devote her first DG album to a man whose name is synonymous with the city of Berlin. “Weill is one of the most fascinating composers of all time,” says Mallwitz. “His music is so unique. It has an honesty to it – it’s rough and edgy, but also incredibly beautiful. And as different as his works are, there’s something about his sound that is instantly recognisable. It’s good to be bringing his early music home to Berlin.”

The Kurt Weill Album presents three works that the conductor and her orchestra have also performed live during the 2023–24 season: Symphony No. 1 “Berliner Symphonie”, Symphony No. 2 “Fantaisie symphonique” and Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins). It will be released digitally and on CD on 2 August 2024. The opening movement of Symphony No. 2 will be available to stream from 14 June, followed on 12 July by an excerpt from Symphony No. 1.

Kurt Weill (1900–1950) wrote the “Berliner Symphonie” when he was 21, while studying in Berlin with Busoni. It was based on incidental music planned for a Festspiel by Johannes R. Becher and, for Mallwitz, reveals a young composer who “wants to do and say everything”. As she adds, however, “it’s held together by an idea heard at the beginning, a beautiful melody played by the solo strings. Maybe the search for peace? At the very end, this idea comes back – the piece ends with a deep C minor chord, which seems to offer reassurance that peace is possible if you believe in it.”

“Mallwitz gives Weill’s First Symphony force and expressive power, and lovingly polishes it
to a bright sheen. It could not sound better”
– rbb Kultur

She programmed the symphony in her inaugural performance as chief conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin (available on STAGE+). Weill himself never heard it performed.

He completed his Second Symphony in France in 1934, having fled Nazi Germany in March 1933. Mallwitz sees this, his last orchestral work, as “a window through which you get thrown right into Berlin in the 20s. It was a world full of contradictions – one that was very fast, very modern, but paralysed between the two wars, between trauma and foreboding.” She sums the symphony up as “dangerous music” with “a feeling of melancholic beauty that might explode at any time”.

The Kurt Weill Album also features The Seven Deadly Sins, initially decribed as a “sung ballet”. Setting texts by Brecht, it was first staged in Paris in June 1933, starring Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya. As Mallwitz notes, it tells the story of a young woman effectively broken in two by her greedy, abusive family. Katharine Mehrling plays Anna I & II, with the other roles sung by tenors Michael Porter and Simon Bode, baritone Michael Nagl and bass-baritone Oliver Zwarg.

For the opening concerts of their new season (6 & 7 September), Joana Mallwitz and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin will be joined for the Dvořák Cello Concerto by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, in his first appearance as Artist in Residence at the Konzerthaus. Further highlights of the conductor’s 2024–25 schedule include her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Berlin Philharmonie, in a programme of works by Hindemith, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Ravel (March 2025); performances of music by Marko Nikodijevic, Schubert and Tchaikovsky with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall, LA (later the same month); and her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in a revival of Sir Richard Eyre’s production of Le nozze di Figaro (March/April).

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