Conductor Julian Kuerti visits NEC to conduct a concert with the NEC Philharmonia on October 23. His program places Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 8 at its "heart." A former Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor, Kuerti is aware that he has programmed a work with a BSO history. In this note, he explains this choice of repertoire as well as his choices of music to surround it.
A Conductor’s Perspective
The heart of the first half of tonight’s concert is Hans Werner Henze’s Symphony No. 8. Why choose Henze? To me, his use of the orchestra as an instrument is fascinating: his sound-world is sometimes thick and rich, other times transparent and almost brittle; his use of instrumental colour creative and even unexpected. I came upon this particular piece because in a way it belongs to Boston: it was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and had its premiere under Seiji Ozawa in 1993. Each movement takes its inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in a very loose and non-programmatic way.
Oberon, the king of the fairies, sends his servant Puck in search of a magic herb with which he intends to cause his wife, Titania, to fall in love with some horrible creature. Before he sets out on his quest, Puck says he “… will put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.” In the first movement of his symphony, Henze composes this flight around the world, but it takes him only about seven minutes.
The second movement is the composer’s depiction of a dance or love-scene between Titania, queen of the fairies, and Bottom—a simple weaver who has been enchanted by Puck and wears the head of an ass. The strings portray the beauty and finery of Titania, while the bumbling Bottom is played by the brass—most notably the trombone. The third and final movement takes its inspiration from Puck’s final monologue which begins “If we shadows have offended…” In this movement, Henze said that he sought to make peace with the listener—to shake hands as it were. After building to a final climax, the music dissipates and evaporates, ending with an imitation of sounds of nature. I love the way Henze conjures the fairy world, his sense of comedy in the second movement, his rhythmic playfulness.
Well, what else to preface all this than Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Here we have the chance to hear how Mendelssohn evokes his own fairy world, the atmosphere of the introduction to Shakespeare’s play—and even his own interpretation of Bottom, the donkey (listen for that in the violins!).
Hans Werner Henze found his native Germany too repressive in the 1950s, both socially and politically, and so he moved to Italy and stayed there for the rest of his life. For the second half of our program, we too move to Italy—specifically to Rome. Here we give two different impressions of the eternal city: Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, which he composed using music from his earlier opera Benvenuto Cellini, and Respighi’s most famous tone-poem, The Pines of Rome. In the Berlioz, we first hear a love song starting in the English horn, which leads to a depiction of a Roman street festival full of life and energy.
As its name implies, Respighi’s piece gives us Rome from the perspective of some of the famous pine trees that line the parks, the streets, the hills. In the first movement, we hear the games of children as they play among the trees in the Villa Borghese. The second movement begins very mysteriously and grows louder as we hear ritual chanting coming out of some catacomb, as the pines stand still by the edge of the cave. In the third movement, we hear a depiction of the pines of the Janiculum at dusk; the score calls for the recording of a nightingale as the music comes to a close. The final movement is inspired by the pines lining the Appian Way, and begins with a far-away march which grows ever louder as Respighi imagines the pomp and splendour of an imperial Roman army marching in full dress.