Thursday 19 May 2022

Classical music meets video art

Micro-concerts - Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, conducted by Kent Nagano

Micro concerts - an initiative of Kent Nagano in cooperation with the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg and Staatsoper Hamburg. Tony Cooper reports

A series of micro concerts by the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, conducted by Kent Nagano, explored new ways and methods of listening to music at the time of the world pandemic through video technology. Therefore, in cooperation with a team of international video artists, a cycle of five audio-visual concerts responded to the times of the crisis. Originally streamed by Radio France, the videos have now become available for on-line viewing on the channels of the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg and Staatsoper Hamburg.

Classical concert music and video art usually have few points of contact as visual broadcasts of orchestral concerts usually opt for a documentary format, the camera following the flow of the music showing performers, instruments and so forth in stark contrast to video technology in pop music which has enjoyed decades of evolution producing its own aesthetic forms. Therefore, in five compact micro concerts, each one lasting about 30 minutes, Kent Nagano, in association with Georges Delnon and the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, have fused classical music and contemporary video art corresponding to the phases of the world pandemic over the past couple of years.

A formidable team of international video artists, chosen by Georges Delnon (artistic director of the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg and Staatsoper Hamburg) undertook the detailed task of visualising the programmes. The artists comprised Luis August Krawen, Jonas Englert, Zbig Rybczyński & Dorota Zglobicka, Kamila B. Richter & Michael Bielicky and Virgil Widrich. ‘We didn’t want to produce the nth streamed concerts,’ said Kent Nagano, ‘but offer viewers new images, leaving space for associative imagination’ while Georges Delnon, describing the project’s visual concept, had this to say: ‘Elements include avatars such as an animated Kent Nagano, distorted footage of the orchestra, webcam recordings and ‘‘found footage’’ thereby lending some of the music a completely new horizon for listeners and viewers alike.’

For Kent Nagano, the project was (and remains) close to his heart and it offered a chance to emphasise how important, relevant and necessary music can be in times of crisis: ‘The micro concerts are a kind of musical UFO,’ explained Maestro Nagano, ‘not resembling any known project. Each concert transports a message and tells a story showing how deeply music is rooted in society today, a special project, modern in structure and form, that could only have happened during the pandemic. In fact, the visualisation makes each micro concert a real creation.’

Overall, there was a total of 25 works recorded including music by Widmann, Schumann, Beethoven, Bach, Villa-Lobos, Dutilleux and Xenakis. Kent Nagano and the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg were joined by such international performers as Klaus Florian Vogt who sang Mahler’s ‘Von der Jugend’ while Katharina Konradi, Jana Kurucová and Georg Nigl interpreted Ligeti’s avant-garde work ‘Nouvelles aventures’. Members of Staatsoper Hamburg comprised Hellen Kwon, Gabriele Rossmanith, Kristina Stanek, Kady Evanyshyn and Bernhard Hansky sang works by Bartók and Schoenberg while invited ensembles - Harvestehuder Kammerchor Hamburg and Rundfunkchor Berlin - were heard in pieces by Brahms and Schoenberg.

The micro concerts are available on-line (on demand) to 22 October 2022 via the orchestra's website, their YouTube channel, and the France Musique website.

Micro concerts overview

Why? (34:14) [YouTube]
Visuals: Luis August Krawen
Music by Jörg Widmann, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, György Ligeti
Performers: Kent Nagano, Rupert Burleigh, Bernhard Hansky, Volker Krafft, Katharina Konradi, Jana Kurucová, Georg Nigl, Harvestehuder Kammerchor, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

A New World (35:49) [YouTube]
Visuals: Jonas Englert
Music: Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Webern, Claude Debussy, Toshio Hosokawa
Performers: Kent Nagano, Rupert Burleigh, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

Songs of the Earth (26:42) [YouTube]
Visuals: Zbig Rybczyński / Dorota Zglobicka
Music: Gustav Mahler, Leoš Janáček, Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg
Performers: Kent Nagano, Klaus Florian Vogt, Hellen Kwon, Gabriele Rossmanith, Kristina Stanek, Kady Evanyshyn, Rupert Burleigh, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

Time and Memory (25:51) [YouTube]
Visuals: Kamila B. Richter / Michael Bielicky
Music: Claude Debussy, Pierre Boulez, Johann Sebastian Bach, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen
Performers: Kent Nagano, Manuela Tyllack, Rupert Burleigh, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

Rejoice (31:43) [YouTube]
Visuals: Virgil Widrich
Music: Federico Mompou, Darius Milhaud, Hans Werner Henze, Paul Hindemith, Iannis Xenakis
Performers: Kent Nagano, Rupert Burleigh, Fabian Otten, Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg

Crisis and Renewal
Accompanying the project, the musicologist, William Kinderman, has written an essay offering insights on the dramaturgical ideas behind each concert: He says: ‘Every crisis offers a possibility for renewal. Our music - an answer to our present times, memory of the past, vision of a possible future - can console or warn us; it can also celebrate our powers of resistance.’ Kinderman traces the dramaturgical idea behind the five programmes describing the ‘history of questioning, reflection, painful realisation, overcoming and arrival in a restored, but changed, new reality’. The complete essay is available on the websites of the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg and Staatsoper Hamburg.

Video artists profiles
Luis August Krawen grew up in Berlin and was a long-standing member of P14 at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. He studied applied theatre studies in Gießen and now works as a freelance video artist. In 2020, he was appointed artist-in-residence at the Münchner Kammerspiele. His first collaboration with Georges Delnon and Kent Nagano at Staatsoper Hamburg was Pierrot Lunaire / La Voix Humaine in 2020.

Jonas Englert is a German-born video artist. His works form part of the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Ivo Wessel Collection as well as private collections. Furthermore, he has created a host of works for the theatre at such prestigious German theatres as the National Theater Mannheim, State Theater Dresden, Hannover State Theater, Theater Bonn and the Berliner Ensemble. Herr Englert is represented by Gallery Anita Beckers and lives in Frankfurt (Main).

Zbig Rybczynski and Dorota Zglobicka are award-winning filmmakers. Zbig Rybczynski has won numerous prestigious awards including an Oscar, Emmy, three MTV awards and a Silver Palm at Cannes and has created music videos for the likes of Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono and Lou Reed. Dorota Zglobicka has been working with various film forms ranging from video art to documentaries featuring critical social issues such as corruption in politics and social injustice.

Kamila B. Richter and Michael Bielicky, born in the Czech Republic, closely examine the relationship between reality and simulation, perception and experience. They experiment with data visualisation technologies in the spirit of InfoArt. In their installations they reduce the content of the news industry to recurrent headlines and tags which they translate into a dynamic pictogram language to identify the patterns of information that today seemingly connect us with reality.

Virgil Widrich, born 1967 in Salzburg, works on numerous multimedia and film productions. He’s one of the founders of the multimedia company, checkpointmedia GmbH, University Professor of Art & Science at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and owner and managing director of Virgil Widrich Film- und Multimediaproduktions GmbH.

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