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An introduction by Stefan Fricke
Translation Greg Bond

Edgard Varèse was born in 1883 in Paris and grew up there, and it was exactly 100 years ago that he met Claude Debussy in the French capital. A few weeks later he moved to Berlin. He met Ferruccio Busoni, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Romain Rolland, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky and many more of the most important artists of his time. In 1909 he founded the Symphonic Choir in Berlin, directing it for eighteen months and performing mainly ancient music, which was certainly not fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century. But throughout his whole life, Varèse – the composer, conductor, and researcher of music – remained singularly unimpressed by fashion. He was more interested in the complex process of the “liberation of sound”. In 1915 he moved to New York and began a life of continuous travel to and from the “new” and the “old” worlds; as a conductor he freed up the old repertories, and as a composer he embarked on aesthetic journeys that are still pioneering today. Examples are his remarkable composition Ionisation for 13 percussion instruments, and his dazzling orchestral pieces Ameriques and Arcana. Varèse was also a great networker – as we might put it today.

Together with the composers Claude Debussy (1862–1918) and Charles Ives (1874–1954), whose works are closely related to his, Varèse forms the mainstay of the festival. Nearly all the works that will be heard at this year’s musikfest berlin can be directly or indirectly linked to these three composers and their musical work and thoughts. The musikfest berlin is taking place in cooperation with the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker and understands itself as a major international orchestral festival with topclass ensembles. The impressive list of guests includes: the Boston Symphony Orchestra with James Levine, the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam with Bernard Haitink and the ladies of the RIAS Kammerchor, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mariss Jansons, the San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas, the Philharmonia Orchestra London with Charles Dutoit, and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden with Fabio Luisi. The host city of Berlin is also presenting itself as a centre of music, with its important orchestras: the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester with its director Ingo Metzmacher and the Konzerthausorchester with Lothar Zagrosek and the Ernst-Senff-Chor, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester with Marek Janowski, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Sir Simon Rattle and the Rundfunkchor, the Staatskapelle with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and his own musical director on the piano – Daniel Barenboim will play the solo in Bartók’s first piano concerto. This piece was written in 1926 in Hungary, but also creates a link in our programme to New York, as Bartók emigrated there in 1940 in open opposition to the Nazis, and died there in 1945.

Alongside the three main composers Debussy (including precursors of Richard Wagner’s music), Varèse (with contemporary positions from Rihm, Nunes and Feldman), and Ives (with parallels to Mahler and Dvoƙák’s New World) it is the three great metropolises of Paris, Berlin and New York that feature prominently in the festival programme. Many composers lived and worked in these cities, whether for long periods or just temporarily, and these cities witnessed ground-breaking premières and momentous encounters. Paris, Berlin and New York saw the beginnings of trans-continental international cultural exchange, which has become such a matter of course all over the globe some 60 years later. These cities were the great centres for twentieth-century music. Of course Vienna, with Arnold Schönberg and his circle, should not be forgotten, but Schönberg himself taught in Berlin from 1926 to 1933, before he had to flee from the Nazis. To this day these three cities have remained significant centres in the international music scene. This will be the case in future too – and in Berlin not least due to such special events as the musikfest. This festival combines great variety and sophistication, with close thematic coherence and intelligent artistic links; there are local and global points of reference and frameworks, and innovative programming, where well-known and popular works are heard together and can be fruitfully compared with often equally well-known but seldom heard pieces; there is the opportunity to hear the most distinguished soloists – the bass Sergej Leiferkus and the soprano Véronique Gens, the virtuoso violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, pianist Hélène Grimaud and her colleagues Pierre-Laurent Aimard and András Schiff. The festival visitor has the rare chance to hear a large number of symphonic works by Charles Ives, the first “real” American composer, and to experience the longest string quartet written to date. In Radialsystem, our new and already trendy venue, directly by Berlin’s Ostbahnhof rail station, there will be a Summer’s Night Lounge on 31 August with the second string quartet by the New York composer Morton Feldman (1926–1987). The performance of this piece, which was composed in 1983, lasts five and a half hours. This is a highly sensitive work, with subtle nuances and overarching cross-references, which the “tough” and “concentrated” Pellegrini Quartet plays to perfection. With this opening, the musikfest also looks forward to two further events that test the pulse of our time. The first of these is the world première of the concert opera Phaedra by Hans Werner Henze, in the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, staged by Peter Mussbach and Olafur Eliasson, who is responsible for the space and light concept, performed with the Ensemble Modern from Frankfurt under Michael Boder. The second is a concert for a long evening with the Cologne musikFabrik, conducted by Peter Rundel. Here Varèse’s pioneering works Intégrales and Déserts enter into a double dialogue: with Wolfgang Rihm’s ensemble composition Form/Zwei Formen and with the three-part work Lichtung by the Portuguese composer Emmanuel Nunes. These concerts, and all the others at musikfest berlin 07, are sure to provide their share of “atmospheric disturbances.” As Edgard Varèse said in conversation with shortly before his death on 6 November 1965 in New York, “sound is only an atmospheric disturbance.”

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