Magazine article Czech Music

Czech Weekend at the Styriarte Festival

Magazine article Czech Music

Czech Weekend at the Styriarte Festival

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1990s, Austria's prominent music festival Styriarte, whose twenty-seventh edition took place from 22 June to 22 July 2012, has not primarily reflected composers' anniversaries but revolved around carefully selected and thoroughly implemented dramaturgic themes. This year, the motif of family, family relationships and family people (Familien Menschen) was chosen.

Accordingly, the festival concerts thematically focused on distinguished musical families and their members (the Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Dvorak, Strauss, as well as the Harnoncourt, Sava11 and Kopatchinsky families), families significantly supporting musical culture (the Borgias, Medicis, Habsburgs, Eggenbergs), and also metaphysical transformations of family relationships, be it in the form of the Holy Trinity, Jesus' family, or "relatives" of Jews, Christians and Muslims, descendants of Abraham. As has been a matter of course at the festival over the years of its existence, the pivotal motto was ingeniously fleshed out in chamber and vocal recitals, vocal-orchestral concerts, open-air projects, stage readings and a new format, called soriarteSOAPs, combining vocal and chamber music with stage readings, usually in two one-hour blocks taking the form of theatre performances or television programmes (fictitious texts, together with original texts from composers' diaries and correspondence, were created and compiled by the festival's director Mathis Huber, and Karl Bohmer and Thomas Heft). The festival's guru is the erstwhile Graz resident Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the resident choir and orchestra are the Arnold Schonberg Choir and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and regular festival guests include leading European singers and instrumentalists. In addition to regional folk music, Styriarte has also been a platform for distinguished early-music ensembles and artists specialising in informed interpretation, headed by Jordi Savall and Harnoncourt's companions from the Concentus Musicus Wien ensemble.

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A chamber monument

One of this year's key projects was the exploration of Dvorak's oratorio Stabat Mater, op. 58, B. 71, which together with the Arnold Schonberg Choir (choir master: Erwin Ortner) and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was undertaken by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who also participated in another two programmes: Mozart auf Reisen, within the styriarteSOAPs concert series, and Mozart in Stainz (the opera project was skipped this year). Harnouncourt first conducted concerts of Dvofak's sacred music back in 2004, the year marking the centenary of the composer's death, when he performed Ti Deurn and, on several occasions, the Biblical Songs (Thomas Hampson, Christian Gerhaher). Three years later, he and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir explored Stabat Mater, to which he returned this year at the Stefaniensaal at Graz's Casino, a cosier version of Vienna's Musikverein (my review is of the last of the three performances, on 30 June). The limited space necessitated the conductor's choosing a markedly smaller orchestra to play the oratorio, which on Czech stages is usually performed by a full orchestra and choir formation, and is thus many a time unduly opulent. The chamber conception not only manifested itself in the sound but also resulted in a finer gradation of essentially identical tempos (Andante) and a dynamically more restrained performance of the collective ensembles, only attaining expressive sonic apices in the oratorio's first and final parts, immediately broken up by Harnoncourt's signature decrescendos. Sharp brass accents then lucidly framed the inner architecture of the 90-minute performance by carefully emphasising the motifs from which the work is constructed. Sturdy buttresses of Harnoncourt's at times risky execution (the conclusion of the 10th part with perilous general rests in the a capella finale) were the ideally selected soloists: L'ubica Orgonagova, Elisabeth Kulman, Saimir Pirgu and Ruben Drole. …

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