Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
Give Bruckner a Break! Staatskapelle Dresden Champions Disputed Composer
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 04:00 PM
Anton Bruckner divides audiences. For admirers, his sprawling, stately symphonies – with their great pauses and timeless repetitions – are the summit of the pure, 19th century Viennese symphonic tradition. For skeptics, the symphonies are exercises in lumpy piety, plagued with bombastic sonorities and numbingly long-winded development sections.
Yet, in a hyperkinetic, over-stimulated world, Bruckner’s symphonies may not fit in either extreme. In recent years, some conductors have sought to demonstrate that his music works on deeper, almost mystical terms. They've programmed it alongside contemporary minimalists like Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki, or they've encouraged listeners to think of his writing as a kind of heavyweight answer to Gregorian chant.
The message: Bruckner is a composer that rewards patience and contemplation.
When the Dresden Staatskapelle brings Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 to Carnegie Hall on April 19 – broadcast live on WQXR – listeners will hear an orchestra that has had plenty of experience working through Bruckner’s quirks and thrills. Founded in 1548 as an ensemble of trumpets and timpani, and considered one of the world's oldest orchestras, the Staatskapelle has recorded the stately Eighth Symphony many times over, most recently in 2009 under Christian Thielemann,
Thielemann became the Staatskapelle's principal conductor this year, and by many accounts it's a strong match. Both orchestra and maestro are steeped in 19th-century Germanic repertoire. The orchestra's previous chief conductors included Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner. Richard Strauss also had a close association with the ensemble for some 60 years, both as a stand-alone orchestra and as part of the Sächsische Staatsoper, or Saxon State Opera.
In modern times, the Staatskapelle has risen to international prominence through the recordings and tours led by Giuseppe Sinopoli, its chief conductor from 1992 until his sudden death in 2001. The past decade has seen greater turnover on the podium; conductors Bernard Haitink and Fabio Luisi each had brief and tumultuous tenures with the orchestra.
But unlike his predecessors, the Berlin-born Thielemann has spent most of his career in the major opera houses and orchestras of Germany, and knows the inner politics. While Thielemann’s tenure in Dresden is just getting started, critics have been optimistic about the results. Donald Rosenberg in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer called a recent performance of Bruckner’s Eighth a “mesmerizing experience.” LA Times classical music critic Mark Swed wrote that a “rapturous live performance of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony indicates that Dresden could be in for yet another golden age of German Romanticism.”
Below: Listen to the fourth movement of the Eighth Symphony: