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Volume 13 - Issue 4 - December 2007

Recently in townHelmuth

Recently in townHelmuth Rilling1NnRv1Ewm BY PAMELA MARGLEsI met with Helmuth Rilling in October when hewas in town for the Toronto Bach Festival. Rillingis one of the busiest conductors in the world,leading orchestras and choirs, lecturing, anddirecting festivals. He started his own choir, theGachinger Kantorei Stuttgart, when he was still astudent in 1954, and later added his own orchestra,the Bach Collegium Stuttgart. With them hehas recorded all Bach's choral and orchestralworks, including all two hundred of the cantatas,and he oversaw the recording of every remainingnote that Bach wrote. The complete set wasissued by Hanssler on 172 CDs.At the Toronto Bach Festival Rilling led aweek of open rehearsals and lecture-concerts atthe University of Toronto Faculty of Music,where he worked closely with student conductors,a student choir from the University of Torontoled by festival artistic director Doreen Rao, andan orchestra made up mainly of students. Afterconducting a series of weekend concerts, he thenled the Toronto Symphony and Rao's choir, theToronto Bach Festival Singers in this year'sfeatured work, Bach's St. John Passion.You've have a major festival in North Americasince 1970, the Oregon Bach Festival. TheToronto Bach Festival is just four years old.But it's another huge project for you. Is itongoing?We are already planning next year with the St.Matthew Passion. At three hours, it is Bach'slongest work. It also has the largest forces whichhe ever employed, with two orchestras and twochoruses, in addition to the soloists. In two yearswe are planning the B Minor Mass, which isBach's last work, where he is summing up all theexperience he has gained during his lifetime.lthy did you choose Toronto for another Bachfestival?I have known and co-operated with Doreen Raofor many years. As she is teaching here at theUniversity of Toronto, she can start musicalpreparations a long time before I come. So sheintroduces the young musicians to the spirit of aBach Festival. Then, when I come, I can buildupon that base. Experience shows that withoutsuch a preparation, it is much more difficult toachieve the results which we achieved last week.You have been involved in some unusual andextraordinary projects, but one of the mostfascinating is the discovery of the Messa perRossini, with Verdi in 1869 inviting twelvefeJlow composers to each contribute a movementfor a mass to honour the death of Rossini.lthat has happened with that work in thetwenty years since you gave its first performanceever?I'm still very interested myself in that piece. Ithink it's a very important work. Also, it showsthe level of culture of that time in Italy. Thesewere good composers who deserve to be betterknown today. But the only one who is reallyknown is Verdi himself. We have performed itseveral times, always in connection with the Verdi58Requiem. And it has also been performed byother groups.Those composers involved, including Verdi ofcourse, were mainly opera composers. Doyou conduct opera?I've conducted some opera. It's not my mainfield, but for some time I conducted at the HamburgState Opera. Otherwise, I have done manyoperas in concert performances - for example, Irecently did Beethoven's Fidelio. I especiallylike to do some of the earlier Mozart operas inconcert. I recently did Boito's Mefistofele,which is a strange but wonderful piece. Wefound a new Mendelssohn opera three years agoin the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, among Mendelssohn's early compositions. It had never beenperformed publicly before, just in his familyhome. Der Onkel aus Boston is the title, TheUncle from Boston. It is a complete two-houropera, with beautiful music -some of it excellent.You can hear things from Rossini and Mozart,and Weber especially, but still it's original Mendelssohn.lthat do you think about staging Bach?I'm not interested in that. I don't like operas withBach's music. It's done quite often now, but Ithink the music of Bach doesn't needvisualizing.It is so complex. It's wonderful just to concentrateon the music. When you are conducting youhave to be true to the spirit of the music, so youhave to find out what the composer wanted to dowith it. If that piece has a sacred text, then youhave to get the message of that text to the audiencethrough the voice of the composer. Thetext of a Bach passion is an important part of thefaith of many people. As a conductor, you arealways responsible for the truth of the musicwhich you perform.Is staging Handel oratorios different?It is different, yes. I think that some of Handel'soratorios are actually sacred operas. Take oratorioslike Saul, Jeptha, and Israel in Egypt,which are real operas. Handel very often writesin these scores what people have to do at givenmoments, which shows that he is always thinkingin an operatic way.WWW. THEWHOLENOTE,COMYou commissioned and premiered RobertLevin's completions of the Mozart Requiemand the C Minor Mass - many of usheard you conduct the Mass with theToronto Symphony here last year. Do youspend much time researching and workingwith musicologists like Levin andDavid Rosen, who uncovered the Messaper Rossini?I have always tried to be as close as possibleto the sources of the music I am performing,and to know as much as I possiblycan about the the composers at the time thatthey wrote that music. All the while I am inconstant touch with scholars -like ChristophWolff, Hans Schulze and Martin Geck.When I recorded all the works of Bach thiswas very important, because with manypieces, you don· t know whether they are original.Ifnot, what was the original version? For example,with a piano or harpsichord concerto, was itperhaps originally a concerto for a string or windinstrument? There the experience and advice ofmusicologists can be very helpful.You perform quite a lot of contemporary choralmusic, and have commissioned a numberof significant new choral works. Are you especiallyinterested in works with religious texts?I cannot say this in a general way. When I havegiven commissions of larger work, like the Credoof Penderecki, then I wanted to commissionreligious pieces. This was the very idea. Forexample, the year 2000 was a Bach year, so wewanted to honour his two important passions, theSt. John and the St. Matthew. So we - when Isay "we" I mean my institution in Germany, theInternational Bach Academy in Stuttgart - commissionedfour new passions, Sofia Gubaidulina 'sSt. John Passion, Wolfgang Rihm's St. LukePassion [Deus Passus], Osvaldo Golijov's St.Mark Passion and Tan Dun's St. MatthewPassion [ Water Passion] .How do you see your role as a conductor?You certainly don't fit the traditional image ofthe authoritarian teutonic maestro. The strongrapport you develop with musicians is evident.And with audiences, you talk to them directlyYou seem to want to, I hate to use the word,educate the musicians and the audience.Don't hate the word "educate" - it's a centralword. A conductor in some ways is always aneducator. If a conductor is not doing those thingsyou mentioned, then he is just telling people whatto do. But ifhe is a good conductor, then he willalso explain why. This is, of course, education.In a broader sense, what we do here in the festivalis provide young people with one week of realteaching. We show them performance techniques,but, especially, we show them how tounderstand the music and shape it - how loudshould it be, what the articulation should be, whatthe tempo should be, how the diction of the singersshould be, and so on. To teach that is veryimportant.D ECE MB ER 1 2007 - F EB RUA RY 7 2008

But during the rehearsals of the St. John PassionI attended at the University of Toronto,you didn 't really spend much time on technicaldiscussions about attacks and articulation.You went straight to the meaning of the texts.Of course, the meaning of the text is always thekey for making an interpretation of music whichhas a text. Many things come from there. Youcan talk about articulation if you start from thetext. You can say this text needs to be expressedforte or mezzo forte or piano, given the situationof the music. The same goes for tempos. But ofcourse as the conductor, you can also shapemany things by the way you conduct. You canshow how loud or how fast it should be. And youalso can show the articulation.Even though the St. John Passion is so tragic,in rehearsal you talked about playfulness andjoy. especially with dance rhythms.Dance is a very important part of music. A lot ofmusic by very important composers is dancemusic. For example, Bach's music has a lot ofdance movements in it. You need to discover it,and deduce from there certain aspects of therhythm, the articulation and the mood.I found that the orchestra at the University ofToronto, which was mostly students, played ina more convincing baroque style than theToronto Symphony. where there were manystring players who were, for instance, using aJot of vibrato.They were not supposed to play with a lot ofvibrato -if they did, they forgot [he smiles] . Youcan say basically you want baroque music writtenbefore 1750 without vibrato. But then all of asudden comes a melodic line, and it just soundsugly if you do not use any vibrato, so you tell theinstruments, "Here you could use some vibrato. "Also, the soloists' voices have a natural vibrato.Why should the accompanying string instrumentsplay without anyvibrato when the voice hasvibrato. This is I think a contradiction. You haveto make decisions from the music.Your orchestra in Stuttgart doesn't perform onperiod instruments, but you do often workwith period orchestras. Do you approachthem differently?I would like to see a situation where these differencesare not that important. We would not have'The good thing is this" and "The bad thing isthat". You always would take your decisionsfrom the music which you are performing. I thinkit's wonderful that nowadays we have musicianswho are informed enough to know about the stylethey are doing.What would be the bad things to do in playingbaroque music?Certainly the bad things would be play with muchvibrato, especially when you have long heldchords. You need them to be clean, and withvibrato they are not clean. A chord is neverespressivo. A musical line can be espressivo buta chord has to function and be in tune, and therevibrato is bad. And then of course in regards todynamics, bad things in baroque music would beD ECEMBER 1 2007 - F EB RUARY 7 2008diminuendos and crescendos all the time. Theydid not exist then. The dynamic ideal in baroquethinking is terraced dynamics. In regards toarticulation, ongoing legato is boring. Constantstaccato is also boring, and so you need to reallythink about how to use articulation in a waywhich is appropriate for the music.You have worked with so many of the greatestsingers of our time. What do you look for in asinger?Of course, you always need a soloist who has abeautiful voice which carries in all registers - lowand high. You look for a musical singer who hasgood intonation, good rhythm, and good diction.What you then are looking for beyond the technicalquality is the intelligence ofa singer. That is,how well is he or she capable of understandingthe music. It makes a big difference if you havean evangelist who understands the details of thestory and can shape them, or if you have someonewho has no idea what it means. So I amalways looking for singers who are capable ofunderstanding in depth what they are singing.Then you have to know which singer can singwhich style well. It is very important that youhave someone else for a big romantic piece thanfor a St. John Passion of Bach. This will never bethe same singer. There are only very few peoplewho can sing different styles equally well.Usually you'll find that someone who is an excellentMozart singer can also sing Bach very well.We had in the past a very wonderful soprano,Arleen Auger. She recorded nearly half of ourBach cantata productions. She was an outstandingsinger -very musical, and stylistically very,very clear. But someone who sings Italian operaand baroque music beautifully, you will find veiyrarely. There are always exceptions, but. ....You had a countertenor in the University ofToronto performances, and a contralto withthe Toronto Symphony Do you have a preference?I used to have a preference, but I liked DanielTaylor's St. John Passion very much. Very often,what the counters do with these parts soundsartificial, but he has a very natural and clear wayof doing it. He did it in a believable way. Asinger must be able to say what he says so thatit's believable. Ifnot, then you should not ask himto sing that part.That was the first time I did that work with acounter - I have always used female voices inthat part. With the Toronto Symphony concerts,for example, we have a very promising youngRomanian mezzo, Roxana Constantinescu. Shesings that aria completely differently, but alsobelievably. Daniel Taylor has done other roleswith us, but always where he sings young maleroles, like David in Handel's Saul.I am sure Bach did not have countertenors.But also he did not have females. Mulier taceatin ecclesia - women should be silent in church -was a rule of that time. Only a generation laterwith Mozart's ExultateJubilate, could womensing in church.You have worked with so many Canadiansingers over the years - like Nathan Berg,WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COMwho's here with you in the Toronto Symphonyperformances, Donna Brown and MichaelSchade. We Canadians like to think that weproduce a remarkable number of good singers.Yes, that is absolutely right - there are manywonderful singers here. In our youth chorus inGermany which we bring together in the summerfrom about thirty nations, the Canadian choristersare always especially welcome because they areso well-educated, and they have such good voices.Our people who audition the singers alwayscome back and say that the Canadians were byfar the best.You started out as an organist as well as choralconductor. Do you get a chance to playthe organ very much?I have a beautiful organ in my house in Germany.Years ago I used to practise on this organ everyday. But now, when I am home, I have no time. Ihave to prepare my scores. I personally thinkyou cannot do both -you cannot be an outstandinginstrumentalist and an outstanding conductor.And I choose to be a conductor.The 2008 Toronto Bach Festival will take placeat the University ofToronto from October 20to27, followed by a series of concerts at variousvenues and performances of the St. MatthewPassion with the Toronto Symphony at RoyThomson Hall. For details, check the web site atwww.torontobachfestival.caRECORDINGSThe works listed here have all been recordedwith the Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart and theBach Collegium Stuttgart, and are all issuedon Hanssler.Bach: Complete Set Of Works(Edition Bachakademie Gesamtset)Also released in smaller sets, and individually:Complete CantatasSt. John PassionSt. Matthew PassionMass in B MinorMendelssohn-Bartholdy: Der Onkel aus BostonMozart: Requiem, Robert Levin editionMozart: Mass in C MinorPenderecki: CredoRihm: Deus PassusAlso available: early recordings of three volumesof "Das Orgelbiichlein" with Rilling onorgan, reissued by Cantate.DVDMessa per RossiniA video of the world premiere at the 1988 EuropeanMusic Festival plus a documentary featuringRilling.Kultur 04166BOOKSRilling: Master Class LecturesVolume 1: 1979-1981Volume 2: 1982-1983Volume3: 1983 - 1984Three volumes of transcriptions oflectures givenby Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival, withmusical examples.Roger Dean Publishing59

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