login | register
EN  |  DE


Kent Nagano: Guaranteeing the Extraordinary

6 MAY 2018

published in: Opera, Concert, Whitsun, General

Kent Nagano © Felix Broede
On 20 July 2018 he opens the Ouverture spirituelle with his Orchestra Symphonique de Montréal, performing Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion. In mid-August, Kent Nagano returns to the Felsenreitschule, where Hans Werner Henze’s opera The Bassarids, which had its world premiere in Salzburg in 1966, will be staged. 

He conducted Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex / Symphony of Psalms in Salzburg in 1994, four years before Olivier Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise, a production that made Festival history. In 1999 this was followed by Doktor Faust by Ferruccio Busoni and one year later by the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin, which proved a world success. He conducted Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der König Kandaules and Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten in 2002 and 2005. This past summer, Kent Nagano led performances of György Ligeti’s Lux aeterna and Olivier Messiaen’s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ in Salzburg.

You are opening the concert series Ouverture spirituelle of the 2018 Salzburg Festival with a performance of Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion. Could you describe this work for us?

The St. Luke Passion of Penderecki premiered 1966 in Münster and I recall  that we in America considered this an important musical event. This work opened new perspectives for what was then called "new music". The modern, expressive idiom is combined with a narrative within the formal structure of the oratorio. To this day, this great work has lost none of its intensity, power and profoundly moving aesthetic.

Why is the OSM a special orchestra? What makes it unique?

Like so many North American orchestras, the OSM also has an exceptional technical capability with the capacity to realize whatever the conductor and most living composers have in their imagination. The orchestra reflects the most provocative and progressive aspects of the "New World" performance tradition. The major difference to other North American orchestras is the fact that the OSM was born in and embodies the culture of Quebec, the region of North America that was first settled by Europeans. Quebec is, at least anthropologically speaking, the beginning of European cultural tradition and language in North America. Importantly, in Quebec, there has never been a psychological or historical rupture or separation from Europe throughout its entire history and the result is culture with a rich heritage of European sensibilities and tradition, both of which continue to be current and relevant in the 21st century. It is also the only region in North America whose residents are fluent in several languages. Perhaps this is why when the Montreal Symphony performs one can appreciate that it is a truly unique ensemble, one which simultaneously reflects the aesthetic and cultural sensibilities of Europe and North America.

What makes the music of Henze special to you?

Henze's artistic achievements and prolific output are great and remain something very special today. They reveal a completely different aesthetic from the musical avant-garde of the time represented by such  leading composers as Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono. Henze’s compositional aesthetic was immersed within the musical traditions of Europe. He composed in a wide range of forms including symphonies, chamber music, solo instruments, and opera as he developed a deeply personal musical language independent of prevailing trends. He remained true to his aesthetic values in spite of some controversy.
Perhaps at the center of his work is his social commentary on the grievances in the world and the ideologies of Western capitalist society, in particular through his operas and dance plays. This has resulted in remarkable works such as The Raft of the Medusa, Tristan or We come to the River, to name only a few, but also through his lasting initiatives, such as the “Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte" in Montepulciano and later, the "Munich Biennale" established for new music theatre.

The opera The Bassarids after Euripides was created in the mid-1960s as a commission for the Salzburg Festival and was first performed in the summer of 1966. The late 1960s were a time of monumental changes in social structures, cultural trends, and societal consciousness. It was a time of social upheaval, international conflict, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam conflict, and the international student movement. The plot of The Bassarids (Kallman and Auden) reflects changes in social conditions in Germany, Europe and beyond. Henze's musical design shows a furious passion for movement, revealing a tense existentially-induced driving force that emotionally touches as much as it overwhelms. In retrospect, Henze's Bassarids is one of the most important and remarkable music theatre works of the 20th century.

Krzysztof Warlikowski – What ideas do you have when you hear his name? What kind of collaboration do you most appreciate with a stage director?

Although I have long appreciated Mr Warlikowski’s work, until now, we have only worked together once. This was a collaboration in Munich with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. However, I have seen his work and regard him as a courageous, imaginative, analytical director who seeks profound content in the operas he brings to the stage.

The Felsenreitschule is a unique venue. What associations do you have with this venue?

For everyone who knows the Salzburg Festival, the Felsenreitschule is a very special space for theatre, dance, opera, and concert. Because it is built into the Mönchsberg itself, it reverberates with nature and allows the public different perspectives and heightened engagement with the spectacle. The Felsenreitschule creates a special atmosphere and tension between the public and performer resulting in an aura of a fluid, "imaginary theatre", forming a counterpoint to the potential brittleness of modern times.

Can you see changes in the audience’s perception of the music of the 20th and 21stcenturies nowadays?

Though we are only 18 years into the 21st century, it is fascinating to see how quickly our perspective on the 20th century has formed. For today’s audience, the 20th century, once associated with avant-garde, difficult, revolutionary and experimental departures, is now clearly regarded as the last century. As such, we realize that, far from being what some have called an end to or a rupture with the great music tradition of the preceding centuries, history will regard the 20th century as one of the richest and most creative periods in composition. Today, our standard repertoire now includes a vast catalogue of recognized masterworks of the 20th century, many of which were controversial only 50 years ago. It gives one optimism, hope and underlines our faith in the creativity of the human genius.

What do you appreciate most about the Vienna Philharmonic?

For me, the sound and playing culture of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is unique in the world and should be an example for every musician and every orchestra. In my view, this comes from a long and deep musical tradition rooted in the "classical" music of the great composers who found their creative home in Vienna. The musical expression of this orchestra is boundless since it is associated with the many composers and artists with whom it has collaborated throughout its formidable history. 

What do Salzburg and the Festival mean to you?

The invitation to the Salzburg Festival first came from the Intendant, Gerard Mortier. He gave me the opportunity as a young conductor to work intimately and intensively with many great directors, artists and orchestras associated with Salzburg’s great performance tradition. Our first collaboration was a production that combined Symphony of Psalms and Oedipus Rex. Salzburg was undergoing a period of renaissance following the rich, flourishing artistic era under the leadership of Herbert von Karajan. The decade that followed during which I was closely involved offered the chance to experience several phases of evolution of the Festival under different intendants. These experiences have had a profound impact upon my development as a performing artist and musician and I am honored to be a part of the new era of Markus Hinterhäuser, which to me feels as if it will be an important opening towards the future.

My experience with the Salzburg Festival points to the relevance of the Mozartian creativity and the farsighted perspective of the founding fathers, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt and Richard Strauss, among others, all of whom were committed to raise the spiritual and cultural values of our world. This ethos has now become an integral part of the Salzburg Festival spirit and is what makes this festival so special for me and the many generations of artists who have been privileged to be a part of this tradition.  

Tickets and information:
St Luke Passion – Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal · Nagano
The Bassarids