The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra performs Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, study for 23 solo strings, TrV 290. Artistic director: Terje Tønnesen. The concert was recorded at Astrup Fearnly Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, on April 21, 2015.
Metamorphosen, study for 23 solo strings, is a composition by Richard Strauss, scored for ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three double basses, typically lasting 25 to 30 minutes. It was composed during the closing months of the Second World War, from August 1944 to March 1945. The piece was commissioned by Paul Sacher, the founder and director of the Basler Kammerorchester and Collegium Musicum Zürich, to whom Strauss dedicated it. It was first performed in 25 January 1946 by Sacher and the Collegium Musicum Zürich, with Strauss conducting the final rehearsal.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
♪ Metamorphosen, study for 23 solo strings, TrV 290 (August 1944 - March 1945)
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Artistic director: Terje Tønnesen
Astrup Fearnly Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, April 21, 2015
How should we listen to the "Metamorphosen", and what do we hear in them? Is this last work of an aged and great composer truly a work of summational wisdom? And how do we hear and judge in this music the work of cultural mourning it claims to undergo–the mourning for Munich after its bombardment by the Allied Powers in the Second World War?
In the concluding passage to his recent book Musical Elaborations, Edward Said chose the "Metamorphosen" as the paradigm for enlightened and ethical musical experience, shared by composer and listener:
"In the perspective afforded by such a work as ‘Metamorphosen’, music thus becomes an art not primarily or exclusively about authorial power and social authority, but a mode for thinking through or thinking with the integral variety of human cultural practices, generously, non-coercively, and, yes, in a utopian cast, if by utopian we mean worldly, possible, attainable, knowable."
This laudatory view of the "Metamorphosen" is widely held, though rarely so eloquently expressed. But it was not always so apparent. In November 1947 an article in an Amsterdam newspaper accused Strauss of having written the work as a memorial to Hitler. The Swiss Strauss scholar Willi Schuh quickly responded with the archetypal argument of Strauss' apolitical nature. But the work has its own references. Strauss had written the first sketches for the "Metamorphosen" on the day the Munich Staatstheater was bombed in October 1943, and had given them the name "Mourning for Munich". The final work, completed in a month in March and April of 1945, indeed amounts to a lamentation for German aesthetic culture. To conflate this gesture with Nazi loyalty makes no sense. If in the 1930s Strauss was unable to distinguish between German and National Socialist ideas of culture, it is not to be assumed that he maintained that association. Neither music nor context supports this latter interpretation in any way. But the political references are present, and they are not at all clear.
If Strauss mourns for Munich through music in 1945, what is the moral position and quality of such an act of mourning and memory? Does the unquestionable beauty of the music serve to mystify the complicated associations necessarily invoked by the referent "Munich": the city of Bavarian beauty and art but also, as one musicologist reminds us, "the city of the regime"? We foreclose on too many important issues if we rush to bless the "Metamorphosen" as absolute music. Thus, in an important review of Edward Said's Musical Elaborations, the musicologist Rose Rosengard Subotnik puts this question squarely. "Recalling" she says, "how it was the bombing of an opera house (in the Third Reich) rather than the murder of fellow human beings that drew this expression of grief from Strauss, I remain troubled... by Said's choice of this particular work as the endpiece of his book".
The "Metamorphosen" offers its listeners a moving journey into the sonic representation of mourning and melancholy. In Sigmund Freud's classic essay of 1917 on "Mourning and Melancholia", mourning is defined as a form of psychic work successfully completed when the mourner is able to separate from the object of loss. Melancholy, on the other hand, is a psychic disorder that comes from the inability to work through to this act of leave-taking. What mourning allows, and what melancholy blocks, is the reemergence of a viable and coherent subjectivity. It is this sense of subjectivity which is ultimately missing in the "Metamorphosen". Sound, we might say, does not transform itself into subject. In the work's compositional context, as Subotnik correctly points out, the object of mourning is not historically or morally adequate. This context becomes musically manifest in the sound of the work. For that reason, we are more accurate and more sensitive listeners if we do not claim to find peace, resolution, or spiritual recovery in this work. Strauss' work of mourning is so limited in its scope that we cannot say that the work of mourning has been accomplished through the music in any meaningful way. As for the musical work itself in its unimpeachable beauty, it remains caught in melancholy as it remains imprisoned in history.
Source: Michael Steinberg, Cornell University (americansymphony.org)
Since its formation in 1977 the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra has established itself as one of the foremost chamber orchestras on the international classical music scene today. Renowned for its innovative programming and creativity, the NCO is a project orchestra comprised of Norway's finest instrumentalists. Through integrating experienced musicians with talented young instrumentalists, the Orchestra continuously develops its unique style and innovative culture, thereby greatly contributing to the position Norwegian musicians and ensembles hold internationally.
The artistic directors and guest leaders throughout its history have been Iona Brown, Leif Ove Andsnes, Isabelle van Keulen, Martin Fröst, François Leleux and Steven Isserlis together with our current artistic director Terje Tønnesen who has held this role since the orchestra's formation.
The Orchestra's international tours to Europe, Asia and North America have received outstanding reviews at many of the world's prestigious concert halls and festivals. With nearly 40 recordings to date, the NCO has recorded comprehensive chamber orchestra repertoire with distinguished soloists, including Leif Ove Andsnes, Terje Tønnesen, Iona Brown, Truls Mørk, Lars Anders Tomter and Tine Thing Helseth. Highlights include the Norwegian award "Spellemannpris" winning recordings of Grieg and Nielsen works and Haydn piano concertos with Leif Ove Andsnes.
The Orchestra draws on an enviable roster of Norwegian and international soloists and has always been dedicated to presenting contemporary music as part of its concert repertoire.
The NCO currently presents its own concert series at the University Aula in Oslo and performs in major concert venues in Norway.
Between 2011 and 2016, the NCO served as the resident chamber orchestra at the Risør Chamber Music Festival.
Terje Tønnesen is one of Norway's most revered musicians, with a career spanning over forty years of music-making as violinist and artistic leader. Praised by public and press alike for his virtuosity and artistic individualism, Terje Tønnensen has established a firm place in the Nordic classical music scene through his position as Artistic Director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He held the same position with the Camerata Nordica in Sweden for two decades until 2016.
After his critically acclaimed debut in 1972 which Norway's major newspaper called "a dazzling debut without any parallel", he furthered his studies with Max Rostal in Switzerland. In 1977, he was appointed Artistic Director to the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, a position he shared with Iona Brown in 1981-2002. Tønnesen has also maintained a distinguished career as a soloist by making regular appearances with major orchestras in Scandinavian countries as well as making extensive tours to various parts of Europe, USA, China and Russia.
His recordings as the orchestra's leader have received considerable critical acclaim and have received awards including the Spellemann Prize. Tønnesen has also done a number of recordings as soloist and chamber musician, and recorded several works commissioned for him.
In recent years Tønnesen has composed music for several theatre productions and devoted his time to arranging various chamber and orchestral works. A passionate advocate for finding new ways of presenting classical music, Tønnesen has collaborated with colleagues from across various art forms, including American stage director Bud Beyer and choreographer Ingun Bjørnsgaard.
Terje Tønnesen has won several international awards and recognition such as the Grieg Prize and Lindeman Prize. In September 2015, Terje Tønnesen was appointed Knight First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav. He performs on a 1756 Guadagnini lent to him by Dextra Musica, Sparebankstiftelsen.
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