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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Tonight at the Proms, one of the hottest tickets of the season,
as Sir Simon Rattle, the London Symphony Orchestra, three choirs
and an outstanding cast perform Schoenberg's colossal Gurrelieder.
Welcome to the Royal Albert Hall,
where tonight we're going to hear just one work,
Schoenberg's masterpiece Gurrelieder.
And frankly there simply isn't space for anything else
because this is a cantata of gigantic proportions.
Hello, I'm Lloyd Coleman.
Now, if the thought of 100-odd minutes of solid Schoenberg
has you reaching to change channel immediately,
then please step away from that remote a second.
Because I promise you,
this is not Schoenberg as most of us tend to think of him.
Forget all that atonal, 12-tone serial stuff that came a bit later,
this is Schoenberg at his most tuneful and hyper-romantic.
Think Wagner or Mahler, but with the dial turned right the way up to 11.
Gurrelieder translates into English as Songs of Gurre,
and it's based on an extended poem from A Cactus Blooms -
that's a novella written in 1868
by the Danish poet and novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen.
It's an ancient Danish saga involving a tale of illicit love,
jealousy and murder, all set at the Castle of Gurre in North Zealand.
Schoenberg splits his setting of the story into three parts.
In the first, we meet King Waldemar and his mistress Tove.
But when Queen Helwig discovers the affair she has Tove killed,
the news of which is delivered by the Wood-Dove
in the most famous aria of the work.
In the much shorter second part, Waldemar furiously denounces God
for having taken Tove from him in a demonic outburst.
God's reaction is to curse Waldemar and, in part three, we find him
doomed to ride out every night with the undead on a wild hunt for Tove.
The whole work ends with a final chorus, Behold The Sun,
marking the return of spring which banishes all memory
of the nightmarish passions of Tove's and Waldemar's night.
I caught up with Sir Simon Rattle
and some of the cast in rehearsals earlier.
Gurrelieder is scored for
an enormous orchestra of over 140 players,
including 10 horns, seven trombones, four harps and eight flutes.
Really, everything is twice the size of what we'd normally expect.
On top of that, the piece calls for three male choirs,
one huge mixed chorus, five singing soloists and a speaker.
So, in total, there's going to be
well over 400 musicians onstage tonight.
Schoenberg had not written for an orchestra at all before he did this.
It's like a kid in a sandbox or at a sweet shop.
"Well, I'm going to have one of all of those!"
Singing with an orchestra of that size can be a huge challenge.
You have to be very powerful.
You always have the feeling that you are not loud enough.
You need to... really sing.
Although Schoenberg's used a massive apparatus,
he's often used it in kind of very fine filigree.
So, as much as it's a massive orchestra, you feel supported,
rather than fighting against it.
Everyone's opinion of Schoenberg is that it's off the wall
and very modern in sound.
Normally you're expecting 12-tone music
and suddenly you hear completely romantic Wagner-like music.
Everyone thinks, "Oh, you're not going to get any tunes,"
and there are so many melodies you can sing along.
I think it was very important for him to show that
everything that Wagner and Strauss had done,
he could do as well and probably even do better.
You know, it is serious German music, this.
You know, you can't get much more serious than
late romantic German kunst, you know.
Sprechstimme means very simple loud speaking, it's really like singing
but only with a speaking voice.
If I would speak like Sprechstimme at home,
I think my wife would send me outside to live.
I'm very, very honoured that he brought me from Berlin to here,
maybe also as a little symbol that this is a new start here.
It's a family feeling.
And to start off this wonderful journey
with the London Symphony Orchestra like this, is...
That's really an unforgettable evening for me.
Sir Simon Rattle there, who begins his inaugural season
as the LSO's Music Director in just 11 days' time now.
It's a hugely exciting moment for them and for British classical music
in general, as Rattle believes that, given the right time and condition,
the LSO can be the best orchestra in the world.
And, get this - despite numerous collaborations over the years,
this is first time Rattle and the LSO
have ever performed at the Proms together.
And you have to admit they're starting with a real bang
because Gurrelieder is the kind of piece that could have been made
for this enormous space in the Royal Albert Hall.
The orchestra are joined this evening
by the London Symphony Chorus, the City of Birmingham Chorus,
Orfeo Catala, a choir from Barcelona,
and a stellar cast of soloists.
Here we go, then.
Here comes tonight's conductor, Sir Simon Rattle,
along with the Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, the Tenor Simon O'Neill
and the Bass Baritone Thomas Quasthoff.
They'll be onstage for the duration.
And they'll be joined later by the Mezzo Soprano Karen Cargill,
the Tenor Peter Hoare and Baritone Christopher Purves
to perform this highly, highly anticipated performance
of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
"One of the greatest sunrises in the history of music."
That's how Sir Simon Rattle described that glorious ending.
And you can certainly see and hear why he might say that.
What a cast we were treated to
in that performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.
With the London Symphony Orchestra
led by Carmine Lauri this evening.
And Simon Rattle was telling me earlier today that
the LSO hasn't performed this piece, Gurrelieder, since 1964.
But I think it's been worth the wait.
And, as he takes up his new post as the new Music Director of the LSO
in just a few days now,
Simon Rattle will be looking forward to a very busy 2017/18 season.
As he continues his final season
as the Music Director at the Berliner Philharmoniker,
where he's been principal conductor since 2002.
Much appreciation from the Proms' audience, of course.
Simon O'Neill playing the role of Waldemar.
Karen Cargill as the Wood-Dove.
Thomas Quasthoff as the Speaker at the end there. What a voice he has,
filling this huge space,
even though he was half-singing and half-speaking.
Eva-Maria Westbroek, of course, as Tove in part one.
Christopher Purves as the Peasant.
And Peter Hoare as Klaus the Fool.
All extraordinary performances in their own right.
And the Chorus Master there, Simon Halsey, taking a well-earned bow.
He is closely associated with all three choirs here tonight.
The London Symphony Chorus, the CBSO Chorus -
he's music director of both of those -
and Orfeo Catala, a choir from Barcelona.
Well, that brings us to the end of this concert,
but do stay with us here on BBC Four
for a very special late night Prom next,
marking the 70th Anniversary
of partition and independence on the Indian subcontinent
with classical music from India and Pakistan.
Definitely worth staying up for.
But from me and the whole team here at the Royal Albert Hall,
a very good night.
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.