Simon Rattle's Gurrelieder BBC Proms


Simon Rattle's Gurrelieder

Sir Simon Rattle brings Schoenberg's Gurrelieder to the Royal Albert Hall. An epic love story conceived on a Wagnerian scale, it reaches its climax with a depiction of sunrise.


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Transcript


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Tonight at the Proms, one of the hottest tickets of the season,

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as Sir Simon Rattle, the London Symphony Orchestra, three choirs

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and an outstanding cast perform Schoenberg's colossal Gurrelieder.

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Welcome to the Royal Albert Hall,

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where tonight we're going to hear just one work,

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Schoenberg's masterpiece Gurrelieder.

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And frankly there simply isn't space for anything else

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because this is a cantata of gigantic proportions.

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Hello, I'm Lloyd Coleman.

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Now, if the thought of 100-odd minutes of solid Schoenberg

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has you reaching to change channel immediately,

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then please step away from that remote a second.

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Because I promise you,

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this is not Schoenberg as most of us tend to think of him.

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Forget all that atonal, 12-tone serial stuff that came a bit later,

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this is Schoenberg at his most tuneful and hyper-romantic.

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Think Wagner or Mahler, but with the dial turned right the way up to 11.

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Gurrelieder translates into English as Songs of Gurre,

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and it's based on an extended poem from A Cactus Blooms -

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that's a novella written in 1868

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by the Danish poet and novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen.

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It's an ancient Danish saga involving a tale of illicit love,

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jealousy and murder, all set at the Castle of Gurre in North Zealand.

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Schoenberg splits his setting of the story into three parts.

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In the first, we meet King Waldemar and his mistress Tove.

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But when Queen Helwig discovers the affair she has Tove killed,

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the news of which is delivered by the Wood-Dove

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in the most famous aria of the work.

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In the much shorter second part, Waldemar furiously denounces God

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for having taken Tove from him in a demonic outburst.

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God's reaction is to curse Waldemar and, in part three, we find him

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doomed to ride out every night with the undead on a wild hunt for Tove.

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The whole work ends with a final chorus, Behold The Sun,

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marking the return of spring which banishes all memory

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of the nightmarish passions of Tove's and Waldemar's night.

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I caught up with Sir Simon Rattle

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and some of the cast in rehearsals earlier.

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Gurrelieder is scored for

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an enormous orchestra of over 140 players,

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including 10 horns, seven trombones, four harps and eight flutes.

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Really, everything is twice the size of what we'd normally expect.

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On top of that, the piece calls for three male choirs,

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one huge mixed chorus, five singing soloists and a speaker.

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So, in total, there's going to be

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well over 400 musicians onstage tonight.

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Schoenberg had not written for an orchestra at all before he did this.

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It's like a kid in a sandbox or at a sweet shop.

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"Well, I'm going to have one of all of those!"

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ORCHESTRA REHEARSES

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Singing with an orchestra of that size can be a huge challenge.

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You have to be very powerful.

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You always have the feeling that you are not loud enough.

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You need to... really sing.

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HE REHEARSES

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Although Schoenberg's used a massive apparatus,

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he's often used it in kind of very fine filigree.

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So, as much as it's a massive orchestra, you feel supported,

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rather than fighting against it.

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SHE REHEARSES

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Everyone's opinion of Schoenberg is that it's off the wall

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and very modern in sound.

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Normally you're expecting 12-tone music

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and suddenly you hear completely romantic Wagner-like music.

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SHE REHEARSES

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Everyone thinks, "Oh, you're not going to get any tunes,"

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and there are so many melodies you can sing along.

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SHE REHEARSES

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I think it was very important for him to show that

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everything that Wagner and Strauss had done,

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he could do as well and probably even do better.

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CHOIR REHEARSES

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You know, it is serious German music, this.

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You know, you can't get much more serious than

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late romantic German kunst, you know.

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HE REHEARSES

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Sprechstimme means very simple loud speaking, it's really like singing

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but only with a speaking voice.

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HE REHEARSES

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If I would speak like Sprechstimme at home,

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I think my wife would send me outside to live.

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I'm very, very honoured that he brought me from Berlin to here,

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maybe also as a little symbol that this is a new start here.

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It's a family feeling.

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And to start off this wonderful journey

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with the London Symphony Orchestra like this, is...

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That's really an unforgettable evening for me.

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Sir Simon Rattle there, who begins his inaugural season

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as the LSO's Music Director in just 11 days' time now.

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It's a hugely exciting moment for them and for British classical music

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in general, as Rattle believes that, given the right time and condition,

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the LSO can be the best orchestra in the world.

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And, get this - despite numerous collaborations over the years,

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this is first time Rattle and the LSO

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have ever performed at the Proms together.

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And you have to admit they're starting with a real bang

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because Gurrelieder is the kind of piece that could have been made

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for this enormous space in the Royal Albert Hall.

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The orchestra are joined this evening

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by the London Symphony Chorus, the City of Birmingham Chorus,

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Orfeo Catala, a choir from Barcelona,

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and a stellar cast of soloists.

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APPLAUSE

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Here we go, then.

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Here comes tonight's conductor, Sir Simon Rattle,

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along with the Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, the Tenor Simon O'Neill

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and the Bass Baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

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They'll be onstage for the duration.

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And they'll be joined later by the Mezzo Soprano Karen Cargill,

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the Tenor Peter Hoare and Baritone Christopher Purves

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to perform this highly, highly anticipated performance

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of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

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SUNG:

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APPLAUSE

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SPOKEN:

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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"One of the greatest sunrises in the history of music."

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That's how Sir Simon Rattle described that glorious ending.

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And you can certainly see and hear why he might say that.

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What a cast we were treated to

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in that performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

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With the London Symphony Orchestra

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led by Carmine Lauri this evening.

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And Simon Rattle was telling me earlier today that

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the LSO hasn't performed this piece, Gurrelieder, since 1964.

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But I think it's been worth the wait.

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And, as he takes up his new post as the new Music Director of the LSO

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in just a few days now,

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Simon Rattle will be looking forward to a very busy 2017/18 season.

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As he continues his final season

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as the Music Director at the Berliner Philharmoniker,

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where he's been principal conductor since 2002.

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Much appreciation from the Proms' audience, of course.

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Simon O'Neill playing the role of Waldemar.

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Karen Cargill as the Wood-Dove.

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Thomas Quasthoff as the Speaker at the end there. What a voice he has,

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filling this huge space,

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even though he was half-singing and half-speaking.

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Eva-Maria Westbroek, of course, as Tove in part one.

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Christopher Purves as the Peasant.

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And Peter Hoare as Klaus the Fool.

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All extraordinary performances in their own right.

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And the Chorus Master there, Simon Halsey, taking a well-earned bow.

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He is closely associated with all three choirs here tonight.

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The London Symphony Chorus, the CBSO Chorus -

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he's music director of both of those -

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and Orfeo Catala, a choir from Barcelona.

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Well, that brings us to the end of this concert,

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but do stay with us here on BBC Four

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for a very special late night Prom next,

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marking the 70th Anniversary

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of partition and independence on the Indian subcontinent

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with classical music from India and Pakistan.

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Definitely worth staying up for.

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But from me and the whole team here at the Royal Albert Hall,

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a very good night.

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In one of the highlights of this year's Proms season, Sir Simon Rattle brings Schoenberg's colossal Gurrelieder to the Royal Albert Hall, uniting the London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, CBSO Chorus, Orfeo Catala and a stunning line-up of soloists including Eva-Maria Westbroek, Simon O'Neill and speaker Thomas Quasthoff. An epic love story conceived on a Wagnerian scale, it reaches its climax with a truly unforgettable depiction of sunrise.


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