Currentzis and contemporary music | Music | DW | 13.03.2020
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Currentzis and contemporary music

For the conductor Teodor Currentzis, music is all about communication, as you'll experience in this concert of pieces by Russian composers — from Rachmaninoff to a world premiere.

Listen to audio 54:59

Currentzis goes contemporary in Cologne, part one

Your ticket to the German classical music festival scene: Concert Hour has the picks of the season — from the Schwetzingen Festival to the Bayreuth Festival, the Bachfest in Leipzig and the Beethovenfest in Bonn, two hours of music, updated regularly.

Along with host Rick Fulker, the musicians themselves are on hand to give their insights into the events and the music.

This time we visit Eight Bridges in Cologne, a festival of modern and contemporary music, to hear the work of one of the most exciting conductors around these days: Teodor Currentzis.

Listen to audio 54:59

Currentzis goes contemporary in Cologne, part two

Part one:

Conductor Teodor Currentzis is a standout figure on the European music scene. Born in Greece in 1972, he studied in St. Petersburg, Russia. Going on to a career in Perm and Novosibirsk, he was soon known in all the major Russian cities, and before long, in western Europe too. Finding a second musical home in Stuttgart, he's led the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra since September 2018. 

This concert includes "Riot of Spring" by the composer Dmitri Kourliandski. It dates from 2013, when street protests in Russia temporarily awakened hopes of political change. The title also references Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," written 100 years earlier, in 1913.

Teodor Currentzis conducts at the Salzburg Festival 2017 - (Astrid Ackermann)

Painstaking and passionate: Teodor Currentzis

Described as a "ballet for orchestra and audience," the piece has an unusual performance routine. First, the conductor appears onstage: Theodor Currentzis, playing the first note on a violin. Reinforced by pre-recorded electronic sounds and real instruments, the piece gradually builds in volume and intensity. Then some of the orchestral musicians get up, carry their instruments into the auditorium and invite audience members to play along — and most do in fact take up the offer. At the end, only about half of the orchestra is still onstage, and music emanates from the lowest point in the hall up to the balcony. 

There's another contemporary music work up this hour, for which the composer himself, Sergei Nevsky, provides a description: "The piece is called 18 Episodes for orchestra. In one scene you hear sounds of a big city as recorded on the balcony of my apartment in Moscow. Added to that, a live jazz trio. In a different episode, the orchestra includes various noise instruments. And there's a canon, played by seven groups of strings — repeated twice but with alterations, like in a movie, when something is shown from two perspectives." 

Teodor Currentzis in black with a gold embroidered vest (DW)

A conductor with more than a touch of extravagance

Dmitry Kourliandski
Riot of Spring for orchestra (2013) 

Sergei Nevsky
18 Episodes for Orchestra (world premiere)  

performed by: 
Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Teodor Currentzis, conductor 
Recorded by West German Radio (WDR) in the Cologne Philharmonie on May 17, 2019 

Dmitri Shostakovich
Concerto No. 1 for piano, trumpet and string orchestra, second movement 

performed by: 
Alexander Melnikov, piano
Jeroen Berwaerts, trumpet 
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Teodor Currentzis, conductor
on harmonia mundi HMC 902104 


Part two:

With its dark, melancholy melodies and a power that seems to grow out of the depths of Russian soil, the Symphony Number Two by Sergei Rachmaninoff has iconic status. We'll hear it this hour.

Sergei Rachmaninov (imago/Itar-Tass)

Sergei Rachmaninov

Rachmaninoff's Second is is often rendered with wide and sweeping emotionality, but the conductor Teodor Currentzis declines to take that approach.  

Composer Sergei Nevsky, in the hall for the rehearsals, explained to DW the secret of Currentzis' success: "On one hand, he has incredible intuition," says Nevsky. "On the other, he painstakingly penetrates deep into the meaning of the music he's performing. Before this concert for example, he invested endless energy in re-educating a German orchestra and teaching them how to play Rachmaninoff. He told them that this is existential, fateful music and that you can't play it as though it were the accompaniment to a Hollywood film, as is so often done. He sought feeling in every single melodic line. I really enjoyed watching him pick the score apart with individual voices and instrumental groups and then put it all back together again. It's the most exquisite detail work."

Expecting utter dedication from every instrumentalist, Currentzis describes the final product as "waves of intensity" that flow over the entire orchestra, and from there, on to the conductor and outward to the audience. And by extension in this audio production, over the airwaves or the internet to you. 

Teodor Currentzis (Alexandra Muravyova/Sony Classical)

Currentzis picks the music apart only to put it back together again, always searching for the truth behind the notes

Sergei Rachmaninov     
Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 (excerpt) 

performed by: 
Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Teodor Currentzis, conductor 
Recorded by West German Radio (WDR) in the Cologne Philharmonie on May 17, 2019

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