Re-Play: Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Live from Carnegie Hall
Jeff Spurgeon: The following Carnegie Hall Live program, featuring the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor, Mariss Jansons, was recorded November 8th, 2019 just a few weeks before the maestro died, December 1st. We bring you now Mariss Jansons's last concert with his beloved orchestra.
Cab driver: Where to?
Annie: Carnegie Hall, please.
Ticket vendor: Here are your tickets. Enjoy the show.
Ticket collector: Your tickets, please.
Jeff: In New York City, there are lots of ways to get to Carnegie Hall, the subway, a taxi, a walk down 57th Street. You've just found another way to get to America's most famous home for classical music. Welcome to Carnegie Hall Live. This broadcast series brings you Carnegie Hall concerts by some of the world's most celebrated artists, and you hear the performances exactly as they happen. You are part of the audience sharing the experience of music-making at Carnegie Hall. I'm Jeff Spurgeon.
Annie Bergen: I'm Annie Bergen. An orchestra often listed among the very best in the entire world is in Carnegie Hall right now. It's the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from Munich, and with them is their chief conductor, Mariss Jansons. They brought with them music by two German masters, Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss.
Jeff: The opening work is a set of orchestral interludes from Strauss's opera Intermezzo, and after intermission comes the Brahms, his fourth and last Symphony.
Annie: Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts on the web at arts.gov. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman Foundation and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the New York City Council.
Jeff: The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of four major symphony orchestras based in Munich, a city of just one-and-a-half million people. The others are the Bavarian State Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, and the Munich Radio Orchestra. The Bavarian Radio Symphony is the youngest of those four founded at the end of World War II. It is regularly named one of the very best ensembles in all of Europe, and as Annie told you earlier, even the world.
Annie: We asked Mariss Jansons about how to continue the legacy of a successful orchestra when the baton is passed to you, and what he said basically is, "If it's not broken, don't fix it."
Mariss Jansons: I think one of the most important things is if you come to such highest class orchestra, that you should not put to the question like this, "What do you want to change?" These orchestras have personalities. They have years long-established as they are feeling of music, how they perform music. For example, our orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony, is incredibly spontaneous orchestra.
Annie: Conductor Mariss Jansons.
Jeff: The opening work is purely instrumental even though it's from a Strauss opera. The Bavarian Radio Symphony will play the four orchestral interludes from Strauss's opera, Intermezzo.
Annie: Intermezzo is about a mix up between a married couple. The wife thinks that her husband is cheating on her, but he's not. What's strange is that it actually happened to Strauss and his wife, and he turned his real-life situation into an opera. Here's what happened. A woman wrote a note that was sent by a mistake to Strauss's address, and Strauss's wife, Pauline, opened it. It said, "Darling, do get me the tickets. Your faithful, Mitzi."
Well, Pauline presumed the worst and she began divorce proceedings against her husband, and it took Strauss a while to get everything straightened out. He thought it would make a funny little domestic tale, kind of a bourgeois comedy, so he wrote both the libretto and the music, and Intermezzo went on stage in Dresden.
Jeff: When the curtain went up at that Dresden Premier, the sets were a recreation of the Strauss's home. The characters in the opera were a composer and a conductor named Robert Storch and his wife, Christine, pretty close to Richard Strauss and Pauline. There was even a Mitzi in the opera, and the maid in the opera had the same name as the Strauss's own name. She was so mortified, they had to beg her to continue to work for them after that night. After the premiere of the opera, someone congratulated Strauss's wife, Pauline, on the lovely operatic gift her husband had given her, and Pauline said, "I don't give a damn."
Annie: A few years after the opera was finished, Strauss took four pieces of orchestral music from it, and he turned them into the suite that we're about to hear tonight. The first movement depicts a flurry of activity as the husband leaves the house after a fight with his wife. She consults herself by going to a party where she meets another man. The second interlude finds the wife by the fireside daydreaming back and forth about that man and her husband, but she keeps coming back to the husband.
It's really a beautiful love song. In the third interlude, the husband is at a card game and you'll actually going to hear cards being shuffled in the music, and that's where he learns all about the mix up with his wife. In the fourth, everything gets straightened back out again. [laughs]
Jeff: That's a little sketch of the opera, Intermezzo, and the interludes that we are going to hear the orchestral interludes.
Annie: We should also mention that Strauss's own marriage did survive that Intermezzo. He was very happily married, and Pauline his wife was a great source of inspiration for him.
Jeff: She was a great singer among the great singers who inspires Strauss throughout his career, but she apparently was also-- you'll forgive me, Annie, because she was a piece of work.
Annie: Supposedly, very cantankerous.
Jeff: Yes, what we are to understand. Well, at any rate, out of that came an opera and these four orchestral interludes that we are about to hear.
The house is quiet. The stage door is closed, with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra onstage, getting ready for a two-part evening here at Carnegie Hall, the first half music by Richard Strauss. In the second half, we're going to explore one of the great orchestral works of Johannes Brahms, his fourth symphony.
Jeff: You are going to hear an orchestra that absolutely loves to play and loves to play with this Maestro as well. Now walking from the stage door to the podium, Maestro Mariss Jansons, shaking the hands of the concertmaster with the orchestra on its seats here at Carnegie Hall, and those cheers are for this great conductor. He steps on to the podium, and we are about to enjoy the four orchestral interludes from Strauss's opera, Intermezzo. The Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Mariss Jansons from Carnegie Hall, live.
Jeff: From Carnegie Hall Live, the four orchestral interludes from the opera, Intermezzo, by Richard Strauss, a performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and their music director, Mariss Jansons. An opera that was pleasing to, well, really the entire world, but it was premiered in 1924 with one enormous exception, Strauss's wife, for the opera depicted a very difficult time in their own marriage. She was not amused after the premiere performance, but that was a long time ago now, and the audiences enjoy it, and especially these orchestral interludes.
Backstage at Carnegie Hall, I'm Jeff Spurgeon, along with Annie Bergen, the orchestra was brought to its feet by the maestro. He stepped off-stage for just a moment, but now is returning for a little bit more applause. Nice extra bow there for some of the members of the orchestra. Maestro Jansons, asking them to stand, and those members of the orchestra are also being applauded by some of their colleagues on stage.
Annie: It's intermission here at Carnegie Hall, and coming up in the second half of the broadcast, we will hear the fourth and final symphony of Johannes Brahms. Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts on the web at arts.gov. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman Foundation and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council. This is Carnegie Hall Live.
We're listening to a concert with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mariss Jansons. This program was recorded live on November 8th of 2019. Maestro Jansons died just a few weeks later on December 1st in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was 76 years old. This was his final performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony. We return now to that special evening.
Jeff: Yes, intermission at the hall, and most of the time, the orchestra members get to go backstage and relax a little bit but not these two tonight before us. We welcome to the Carnegie Hall microphones, Natalie Schwaabe, piccolo and flute player in the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Heather Cottrell, who is a member of the second violin section sub-concertmaster. We'll just start with you, Ms. Cottrell. Can you tell us what that role is in the orchestra? It's an unusual title for us here.
Heather Cottrell: I'd probably translate that myself as associate principal.
Heather: Maybe that helps.
Jeff: That's perfect. Your German accent is not very distinct if I have to say.
Heather: I'm from Sydney originally. I'm a Sydney-sider.
Jeff: There we go. That explains it. That explains it all. How did you find your way to this orchestra from Australia?
Heather: Well, like quite a lot of my countrymen and women, I suppose, I left to study and sort of never went home. I did study in Munich for a couple of years. I did a post-graduate degree there, but I didn't join the orchestra straight away. I had a few jobs in between.
Jeff: Yes, you went to Basel, and also you went to Zürich.
Heather: Yes. In between that, I lived in Holland for a couple of years.
Jeff: A question that I'd like to ask both of you is about the personality of this orchestra. Now, Ms. Schwaabe, you were born in Tokyo, grew up in Hong Kong. You're a flutist, but you have some bit of specialty as a piccolo player.
Natalie Schwaabe: I adore playing the piccolo. I actually feel more like I'm a piccolo player than I'm a flute player.
Heather: Why is that?
Natalie: The instrument just feels more natural to me. In a way, you've got to be a bit of a pioneer if you're playing the piccolo because it's not really that well known. It has a terrible reputation. Everybody's sort of, "Oh God, the piccolo. Here she goes again." I always think it's wonderful if people start enjoying the instrument. I teach in Munich as well. The standard of playing has gone up incredibly over the last 20 years. It's also very inspiring to have different works written for the piccolo. Yes.
Jeff: Tell us about the personality of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Natalie: I would say the orchestra's-- We're not that old yet. We're only 70. Well, we're not 70 [laughs]
Heather: We're not quite there yet [crosstalk]
Jeff: Not the two of you, no. Let's make that distinction just for everyone's clarity.
Natalie: You have to know the orchestra was founded, or when it was-- After the Second World War, when it was put together, it was put together through string quartets and woodwind quintets. It's basically a whole bunch of solo players with a lot of character, a lot of charisma, who've joined together. I think that is a big characteristic of the orchestra, that when we look for new players, we're looking for people who inspire us. Even if it's just a tutti position or just a second player, and we want somebody who's going musically be really interesting. To be able to join-- Of course, it's important that the sound is homogenous, but it's also that they bring their own unique style to the orchestra.
Jeff: Orchestras have personalities.
Jeff: How do those get moved through the course of generations and through the course of players? Can you answer that question?
Heather: That's a really interesting question. An orchestra definitely has a personality of its own, almost irrespective of who's playing and which generation you're talking about.
Jeff: Isn't it an amazing thing?
Heather: Yes. It is. This orchestra definitely-- I would agree with Natalie. I'd also say it's a very enthusiastic orchestra. People really want to play well and perform to a high standard. Yes, it has its own personality, it's own traditions. I think every orchestra does that.
Natalie: I also think when we look for people, of course, we're looking for the best player, but we're looking for the best player in the sense of not just somebody who plays the quickest and can do all of that. Where the character fits, the personality fits. That's why we have a pretty tough trial. You have to do a whole year, a year and a half of playing. Then, the whole orchestra decides and votes on if you get taken. It has to fit personality-wise.
Jeff: You had great success with Maestro Jansons. Tell us about that personality fit.
Heather: It's quite a long-standing relationship. I have to say I'm quite amazed, actually.
Natalie: It's been a long journey so far. Yes.
Heather: It's been a very long journey.
Natalie: What I really love about Mariss Jansons is he's a storyteller. He doesn't come into rehearsals and just say, "Play this quiet. Play this soft. There, we need to hear more of that instrument." He gives you a picture. He says, "This needs to sound like the sun coming up on a misty morning over a lake. This needs to sound like you're passionately in love with somebody." That emotional level is something very unique, I find. You remember things much better if you know you've had that picture set when you're playing a piece.
Heather: There's a very special rapport between the conductor and the orchestra, I think. I guess it comes from knowing each other for so long.
Natalie: It's true. It's also been a big journey of trusting. I remember at the beginning when he came, it was very, "Why did that go wrong?" You're like, "Ooh." Nowadays, if something goes wrong in a dress rehearsal, it's, "Okay. You'll fix that in the concert. You'll be fine."
Heather: Yes. There's a lot of trust there.
Natalie: Yes. It is.
Jeff: That's wonderful. Well, it's clear that he-- Because he says such wonderful things about you and you of him, so it's clear the relationship is an enormous success. Well, you should get a few minutes off because you've got quite a journey to take in the Brahms Fourth in just a few minutes. We're so thankful to you. Natalie Schwaabe and Heather Cotrell, piccolo and flute, and violin. Thank you both for spending a little time with us.
Natalie: Thank you very much.
Heather: Thank you. Enjoy the rest of the concert.
Annie: The second half of our concert by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra comprises one work, the Fourth Symphony of Johannes Brahms. This symphony speaks of profound things, and perhaps inevitably of death. Lots of big symphonies like this one find a hopeful one at the end, but Brahms doesn't change his tune here. He starts in E minor, and he stays in a minor key right to the end.
Jeff: The symphonic form's been around for something, let's say 250 years now. I suppose that you could argue that it can be divided into two periods, BB and AB, before Beethoven. Then, the AB period, after Beethoven. He wrote his mighty nine, and the world's been trying to deal with that ever since. Brahms came along right at the beginning of the AB period, after Beethoven. Beethoven's was a nearly impossible act to follow, and it took Brahms a couple of decades just to figure out how to make a symphonic statement that he felt was strong enough to stand on its own in Beethoven's shadow.
Brahms, all in all, wrote four symphonies. Not only was he in Beethoven's shadow, but he had another issue to deal with at that time. That was Wagner and the revolution in harmony and music that he created. In some sense, the musical world was divided into two camps, the Wagner camp, progress, and the Brahms camp, conservative tradition. With that shaking of art music to its core by Wagner, it made things harder for Brahms. He really struggled to say what he wanted and to say it in the way that he wanted.
Annie: He did it. He persevered, and the general feeling is that the Brahms Fourth is a triumph of form and a piece with enormous depth. You're going to get a great hearing in just moments from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, who told us that he has found new things in this work over the course of the many performances that he has conducted.
Mariss Jansons: What is wonderful sometimes-- After a while, you conduct again the piece, and you came to a new ideas. This I like very much because otherwise, it just starts a routine, "You know Fourth Brahms? I do like this, and you do--" It's very easy, and it's good, but when you can find some interesting new things, I think it makes me very happy.
Annie: Jansons said that he finds his greatest insights from studying the score, and he also listens to recordings of it, except for his own.
Jansons: Only if I want really to find what I did wrong in my opinion. Then I listen to [unintelligible 00:18:13] I should do differently as it gives me more possibility to reduce my mistakes, which I think, perhaps these are not mistakes. This is interpretation.
Annie: Brahms' Symphony No. 4 was completed in 1885. It received its Carnegie Hall premiere in February of 1895 with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Anton Seidl.
Jeff: Now, coming on stage, Maestro Mariss Jansons making his way to the podium for a performance of the Symphony No. 4 of Johannes Brahms. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra rising to its feet. A bow from the maestro to the audience here at Carnegie Hall. It's the Brahms Symphony No. 4 now for you from Carnegie Hall live.
Jeff: From Carnegie Hall live, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the music director Mariss Jansons have just brought you the Fourth Symphony of Brahms. The orchestra on its feet now. The maestro turns to the audience here at Carnegie Hall.
Now, just off stage, a bit of water for Maestro Jansons, and he turns and returns on stage to the sounds of applause in Carnegie Hall.
Annie: Such a powerful and passionate performance. The audience still on its feet.
Jeff: 76-year-old maestro slowly making his way back to the front of the stage-
-asking the orchestra members to stand.
An acknowledgement of the full ensemble. The maestro who has been with this orchestra as chief conductor since the 2003.
Another curtain call.
Now, it's not just the audience applauding maestro Jansons but also the members of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
He is asking various orchestra members to stand now.
It looks like we're going to get an encor.
An encore from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and maestro Mariss Jansons.
A Brahms Hungarian Dance, the fifth of those are familiar melodies. Just a little nightcap for the Carnegie Hall audience tonight after a performance from Brahms' fourth symphony.
Once again the orchestra on its feet. Maestro Jansons turning to the crowd.
You heard that tremendous ovation from this audience who very much appreciate an extra few minutes of music.
Maestro Jansons once again on the stage to the cheers of this audience at Carnegie Hall.
Annie: Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. On the web at arts.gov. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gilman Foundation and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.
Jeff: With the applause continuing here at Carnegie Hall for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and maestro Mariss Jansons, we say thanks to all the people who helped make this concert happen, Clive Gillinson and the staff of Carnegie Hall.
WQXR's recording crew including George Wellington, Noriko Okabe, Rick Kwan, and Edward Haber. Social media and stage manager tonight is Max Fine. WQXR's production team includes Christine Herskovits, Matt Abramovitz, and Eileen Delahunty. I'm Jeff Spurgeon.
Annie: I'm Annie Bergen. Thank you so much for listening. Carnegie Hall Live is a production of WQXR in New York.
Jeff: That was the end of our broadcast from Carnegie Hall with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Mariss Jansons. Maestro Jansons died just a few weeks after the broadcast.
It was his last concert with the orchestra that he conducted for nearly 16 years. With some time still left in this program, we'll listen now to something from an upcoming Carnegie Hall program.
England may be known for its royal family. This young brother and sister are part of a family that is quickly becoming musical royalty in the United Kingdom. Cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, make their Carnegie Hall debuts this season in the intimate wild reciteful hall of Carnegie.
We'll hear them apiece from their concert now Beethoven's 12 variations on the theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute. Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason coming up at Carnegie Hall Live program.
Beethoven's Ein Mädchen. His 12 variations on the theme from the Magic Flute performed by the brother and sister duo, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason on piano.
That performance is part of an upcoming concert from this Carnegie Hall Live series.
To complete this broadcast, let's hear something from Carnegie Hall's season-opening concert with the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Franz Welser-Möst. It's more Beethoven.
A bit of his Triple Concerto with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Yefim Bronfman with the Cleveland Orchestra from Carnegie Hall Live.
There you have a portion of Beethoven's Triple Concerto performed as part of Carnegie Hall's Opening Night Gala Concert with the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Franz Welser-Möst and the soloist, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, cellist Lynn Harrell, and pianist Yefim Bronfman all part of our Carnegie Hall Live series this year.
I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Thank you for listening. Carnegie Hall Live is a production of WQXR in New York.
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