Renée Fleming, soprano
Daniel Harding, conductor
Stravinsky | Messiaen | Debussy
The Concertgebouworkest kicks off the series of concerts dedicated to Igor Stravinsky at the Musikfest Berlin with his 1957 ballet “Agon”. In this late work, one can hear distinct traces of all of Stravinsky’s creative phases. It is complemented by works composed by his contemporaries Olivier Messiaen and Claude Debussy – major influences and at the same time the greatest possible stylistic contrasts.
A decades-long collaboration between the Musikfest Berlin and the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam has brought many highlights to the city's musical life. The Amsterdam orchestra will open the concert series devoted to the festival's main focus: Igor Stravinsky, and in particular his neglected late work. “Agon”, written for the New York City Ballet, marks this Russian cosmopolitan´s transition into his final creative period. During five years of its creation, from the first draft to the completion of the work, the composer accomplished the metamorphosis to serial composition as a method of particular transparency and clarity. The ballet does not tell a story; it was conceived as a series of dance movements, which Stravinsky borrowed from a 17th-century French textbook. The musical form therefore resembles a suite, framed and structured by preludes and interludes; it is therefore well suited for use in concert.
“Agon” – competition, confrontation – may be seen as a central theme for this programme. Stravinsky, for whom France was the most important and most influential stage since emigrating from Russia, is confronted with composers whom he respected and who respected him, and who nevertheless insisted on decisively different aesthetics. This divergence may be found in the approach to expressivity and rhythm. In Olivier Messiaen's “Poèmes pour Mi” (the pet name for his first wife, the composer and violinist Claire Delbos) one can already find the mixture of spirituality and eroticism that later determined such large-scale works as the “Turangalîla Symphony”. The flow of time in the nine songs is organised by rhythmic patterns that are intended, as it were, to force the moment to linger. Debussy’s Symphonic Sketches, however, are the precedent of a rhythmic style that Messiaen described thus: “By contemplating nature, Debussy grasped the moveable quality, the ceaseless undulation, which he transferred to his music, and for this reason he was one of the greatest rhythmicians of all time.”