I spent Sunday with Benjamin Britten. Two very different concerts, the first with the inspirational Jan Bjøranger´s marvellous 1B1 ensemble, a mix of high level conservatoire students from Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen, mentored by players from those cities´ symphony orchestras (and frequently by top-level European players). Now, the initiative is expanding to include 1B1 ’junior’ – younger players who are developing fast. The core group played Britten´s Lachrymae with violist Lars Anders Tomter as lyrical, sensitive soloist – the viola surely is the string instrument most like the human voice – and a beautiful, thoughtful accompaniment. What characterises 1B1 is, perhaps, the quality of the players´ listening. This music-making is not about bravura or soloistic pzazz, more about true ensemble, emulsified sound and detailed attack.
Then to Collegium Musicum´s concert of Britten choral music, with the brilliant Frank Bridge Variations thrown into the mix, and smartly played. The two Hymns – to St Cecilia, and to the Virgin – were sung with delicacy and lucid sound, followed by Britten´s early work originally written for radio, The Company of Heaven. It´s a strange piece, with somewhat over-the-top texts for speaker and two soloists, but the singing was terrific. All credit, too to conductor Håkon Matti Skrede for a really elegantly designed programme.
Last weekend and the preceding days meant the Opera Europa conference in Vienna, the principal schmoozing event for opera leaders and also a fierce marketplace for production trading. In fact, it turned out to be fun. I missed the introductory speeches – from Jose Manuel Barroso, and by the four Viennese opera house directors whose formidable temples sit decently distanced from each other round the Ringstrasse. Barroso was said to have been terrific, the others alarmingly dusty on new work, and initiatives for children – but on consequent days there were some great interventions on the conference´s weighty theme ’citizenship’. Whether we emerged committed to nobler endeavours is doubtful, but there were some splendid conversations and inspiring meetings. Welsh National Opera/Bregenz Festival director David Pountney and I did get into somewhat of a brawl over the respective influences of Pierre Boulez and Philip Glass (Pountney was directing Glass´s new opera, which opened Linz´s new opera house last Monday) but order was restored by Musiektheater Transparant´s artistic director Guy Coolen.
Back on the plane on Tuesday night for a meeting at Lithuanian National Opera re possible co-production, and a showing of the set model for our new Fidelio by Vilnius-born director Oskaras Korsunovas, which we open at the start of November. The model is superb, a structure of bars and columns on three tiers, with the orchestra enclosed on the stage, and broad steps running down into the pit, where Florestan lies in chains. Oskaras´s concept looks at freedom in the widest sense, and it is clear that his thinking goes far beyond his own personal experience of growing up in an occupied country. It´s good, too, to meet all the LNO team in their astonishing canteen, which looks like the dining room in a small 60s cruise ship – and also to eat outrageous chocolate cake with Audra, Oskaras´s touring manager and a long-time friend and colleague.
In Bergen, another director, designer and set model are waiting – the team for this September´s All about my Family. This is altogether another story. Teenage librettist Astrid Louisa Niebuhr has taken the ’perfect’ Bergen family and lifted the lid on their orderly life. The emerging chaos is both chilling and entertaining. We will work in tiny Logen, and the issues are all about placing the musical ensemble, making the set effective yet uncluttered, and clothing the family in question – particularly the teenagers – in believable garb. How to predict what H&M will be showcasing this autumn?
April 15, 3013