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A Word From Maestro...

Posted May 1st, 2023



“That is beautiful which is produced by the inner vision, which springs from the soul.” ― Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art 


Art Music has always straddled the divide between two fundamental forces - the Apollonian and Dionysian. To Apollonian composers, music can only express itself. But the Dionysians find inspiration within themselves: their inner visions. 

In 2023 your orchestra presents an extraordinary snapshot of these Dionysian composers. Inner Visions features works of genius composed between 1759 and today. They’re linked by the composers’ need to express their deepest emotions, seeking what Kandinsky called “the spiritual in art”.

Inner Visions features works of genius composed between 1759 and today, including masterpieces  by your composer in residence, John Psathas. They’re linked by the composers’ need to express their deepest emotions, searching the beyond and touching the listener in profound ways. 

Following the church and modal styles of Renaissance and the tonal systems of the Baroque, a powerful new musical form emerged that had immense repercussions to the history of music: Opera

Operatic composers strove to enhance the text through new emotional conventions. The story existed on two levels - one which the characters experienced, and another which only the audience heard, its dramatic truth revealed by the music.

This new theatrical approach quickly influenced instrumental music, creating a new aesthetic, the “Sensitive style” or Empfindsamer Stil. Using operatic conventions, it strove to convey how people really felt -  to portray their inner visions.

“Play (and compose) from the soul, not like a trained bird!” said CPE Bach, this style’s most famous composer. Bach’s 1759 E minor symphony is a wonderful example of the Empfindamer Stil. Its range of deeply felt emotional content was new for instrumental music, and the three part structure Bach borrowed from opera overtures laid the groundwork for the modern symphony.

CPE Bach influence on later generations was immense. Both Haydn and Beethoven collected his scores, and when Mozart claimed, “Bach is the father, we are the kids”, he was not referring to JS Bach, but rather his second son.

Bach’s literary friends connected his style with the Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) movement in literature. Its aspiration to spontaneous expression countered the Enlightenment’s Apollonian ideals.

 Haydn’s debt to Bach is evident in his minor key symphonies. We present one of Haydn’s earliest  Sturm und Drang symphonies - his 39th, of 1769, “Tempesta di mare”. This tempestuous, fanatically concentrated work disorientates the listener by bizarre silences and far-ranging harmonies. 

Mozart's 1776 incidental music for Thamos, King of Egypt abounds in Sturm und Drang conventions including restless harmonies, chromaticism, and contrasting rhythms. For its New Zealand premiere, I am excited to share the stage with our closest friends, The Orpheus Choir!

Richard Strauss’s musical lineage descends from the Empfindsamer Stil, through Sturm und Drang, Beethoven, and Wagner and Liszt’s New German School.

Strauss’ Burleske of 1886, written when he was 20, is a brilliant example of his precocious talent. We are honoured to invite our wonderful friend, Jian Liu, to perform the fearsomely virtuosic piano part!

But for the sake of our story, we also present the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss’s extraordinarily influential opera Salome, premiered in 1905.

What a story of transformation in the 19 years that separates these two vibrant works! It is the birth of Modernism!

Strauss’s theatrical instinct guaranteed the kind of scandal that sells out seasons, and the lurid nature of the libretto is fully matched by the expressionist nature of the music! As Thomas Beecham observed, “Salome served the useful purpose of filling the house every night it was played.”

From Salome onwards, we see how Sigmund Freud influenced the arts. Both psychoanalysis and art explored the unconscious. The composers’ “sensitive style” morphed into a form of confession, expressing inner visions that might not even be conscious to the composers themselves.

The Freudian connections run even deeper. Anton Webern stated, “all of my works from the Passacaglia on relate to the death of my mother.” This 1908 masterpiece is indebted to Mahler’s lush orchestrations and clarity of texture, but sharing Brahms’ interest in older musical forms, the work is based on an archaic musical form that was developed in Spain in the 17th century. Webern’s Opus 1 also pays homage to Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, with its passacaglia finale.

Mahler himself was famously analysed by Freud (mother fixations, regression, you name it!). We perform his exquisite Das Lied von der Erde from 1909. Described by Mahler as “the most personal thing I have created, this is as moving an example of a composer's inner vision, his deepest longings, as can be imagined.

In the same year,Arnold Schoenberg wrote his haunting Five Pieces, Op.16. He called them, “… a bright, uninterrupted interchange of colours, rhythms and moods”.  Schoenberg idolised Mahler, and he shared Mahler’s inward approach to expression. As Schoenberg exclaimed to Kandinsky, “Art belongs to the subconscious!”

Not just German composers observed how CPE Bach’s inward looking Sensitive Style morphed into the early modernist period and its extraordinary flowering of expressionism. Bartok and Prokofiev fused expressionism with their national folk music. 

Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite was commissioned in 1915 by the impresario Diaghilev for the Ballet Russes. We present a rare opportunity to hear this most spectacular and colourful score! 

Collaborating with New Zealand’s very own Ballet Collective, we present the New Zealand premiere of Bartok’s 1926 expressionist masterpiece, the Miraculous Mandarin. This gritty, urban tale begins with a depiction of the concrete jungle and, like Salome, depicts a story of lust and depravity. Bartok’s expressionist techniques comment on society’s corruption and moral vacuum while delving into inner visions.

We welcome Amalia Hall to perform Britten’s 1939 Violin Concerto.  Britten was inspired by Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, which he found “just shattering - very simply touching, sublime, vital & so intellectually emotional”. Like Webern, Britten featured the passacaglia as a structural device.

We feature two other British works. First, the New Zealand premiere of Thomas Ades’ “…but all shall be well”, whose orchestration echoes both Britten’s War Requiem and Gustav Mahler’s exquisite sound world. 

William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast from 1931 also reflects the sound world of the late romantics and early modernist expressionists. Our cast of thousands (well hundreds!) includes the Wellington and Hutt Valley Brass Bands as well as the Orpheus Choir!

Our season examines the dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses - rational enlightenment thought versus subjective emotion. Thus we place Stravinsky’s 1931 neo-classical violin concerto, played by Natalia Lomeiko, alongside Haydn and CPE Bach.

Stravinsky later noted that the concerto’s “texture is almost always more characteristic of chamber music than of orchestral music”. In a concert based on the genesis of inner visions, we look to a giant of the 20th century to allude to the father of CPE Bach in this masterpiece.

We finish with a truly grand finale - the New Zealand premiere of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck! It will be a tour-de-force multi-media performance.

Wozzeck is the Ulysses of music. Like Joyce’s novel, the narrative is underpinned by a level of technical virtuosity that is breathtaking,  but as TS Eliot noted, “this method was a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history”.

Wozzeck fuses the language of Mahler (Berg dedicated the work to Mahler’s widow, Alma), while structuring the work on a variety of instrumental musical forms, including yet another passacaglia!

I love the symmetry of a season that begins with the early empfindsamer still process of using operatic convention to express inner visions, while in Wozzeck, Berg uses forms associated with instrumental music to structure opera.

Wozzeck is that rarest of things - a supreme masterpiece of formidable complexity that is also populist and a great night out at the theatre!

#InnerVisions marks our final season with John Psathas as our Composer in Residence. I treasure the fact that you have followed his artistry with great interest and pleasure. His music stands at the very forefront of the art music of today. 

In addition our performances of his work, he will again present  “The Psathas Sessions”, focusing on gorgeous works by Samuel Barber and Georgs Pelecis, and featuring the National Concerto Competition winning pianist Otis Prescott Mason.

John’s advocacy on the behalf of contemporary art music has been inspiring, and extends to introducing two brilliant young composers to share their inner visions with us: Briar Prastiti and Arjuna Oakes.

Inner visions is a celebration of 264 years of music that speaks our deepest truths.  We invite you - the interpreter of what you hear - to bring your unique inner visions to the performance. 

The relationship between the composer, performer, and listener is why live music is so powerful. It’s why the relationship between Orchestra Wellington and you, our cherished audience, is so special. We do not take your support and generosity for granted!

Presenting these masterpieces for you in the beautiful Michael Fowler Centre is our honour, and I warmly invite you to join us in experiencing these extraordinary programmes, which will entertain as much as they will touch our own inner visions. #INNERVISIONS

- Marc Taddei, Music Director Orchestra Wellington