Even though in the Christmas season, our last project of the year starts everything else but idyllically: our solo violist Béatrice Muthelet is down with influenza and it quickly becomes clear that she will need to drop out of the entire tour.
That is unlucky enough (especially for poor Béatrice!) But particularly in this programme, where orchestral pieces are closely intertwined with chamber music, we celebrate not only different facets of Artistic Partner Isabelle Faust, but as much of our leaders: besides leading the section, Béatrice was planned to play in Bach’s The Art of Fugue and in Schumann’s String Quartet op. 41 no. 1.
Luckily it turns out quickly, that even in this extreme situation the viola group of MCO stands together and offers a sustainable solution almost on the spot: Delphine Tissot offers to lead the section and play Bach, while daredevil Julia Neher steps in to play Schumann. With nerves of steel she sight-reads the piece in the first rehearsal!
With many orchestras this emergency state would have led to a quick and sudden end before the actual beginning. Instead, our musicians absorb the shock on highest artistic standard. Last not least due to the flexibility and trust on the side of Isabelle and the other quartet musicians Julia-Maria Kretz and Jens-Peter Maintz, because also for them this sudden change means: more rehearsals, more strain but – this is obvious right away in the first concert – undiminished joy in playing together. I am proud! And once more touched by our musicians’ motivation and readiness to take risks, whenever the music – or the circumstances – demand it.
And so the programme can remain unchanged in all its finesse, with which Isabelle has turned the quartet into the hub of the concert. The concept, developed by Isabelle for and with us, reveals its beauty not only in the music itself but also in the multiple threads connecting its elements, in its cross references and in surprising reminiscences.
Schumann was a novice in the field of quartet composition and was obviously directly encouraged by the example of the recent triple series of string quartets by Mendelssohn: “in inniger Verehrung” dedicated to his friend. And even if they define an own world within the cosmos of quartet literature, not really comparable to anything else in romantic music, there are plenty of connecting points.
One of the most beautiful things here for me here is how the coming together of different individual components brings out their characteristics. For example, Bach’s Contrapunctus 3 from The Art of Fugue highlights one of Schumann’s trademarks in the first movement of the quartet that immediately follows: with Bach’s counterpoint in mind, the audience is easily struck by how Schumann composes the individual voices in a canon.
At the same time, the Scherzo of the second moment, with its lightness and liveliness, brings us back to Mendelssohn and his “fairy” music.
Another example: the bourdon bass in the cello in the fourth movement suddenly produces an almost Scottish sound in the quartet, which reminds us immediately of the Hebrides Overture with which we started the programme.
The combination of the individual works becomes a useful tool in active listening, a joy for insiders but also just as tangible for any other listener. And all of this, without becoming too didactic or having to read the programme notes. One of the most important dramaturgical tasks is to come up with a concept, and here, the concept doesn’t only exist in writing; Isabelle succeeds in enabling the listener to also hear the concept.
And this works. During the tour, regardless of whether it is at the first concert in Essen’s Philharmonie, with the wonderful audience of the Neumarkter Konzertfreunde or naturally in Landshut, the founding residence of the MCO, you could feel how closely and attentively the audiences followed this thread.
Of course, their overwhelmingly enthusiastic response also comes from the versatility and the sheer perseverance with which Isabelle performs in concert: in an almost superhuman way.
I am, along with the orchestra, already looking forward to our next project with Isabelle Faust: in November, she will be performing Berg’s Violin Concerto with us in Essen, Dortmund and Cologne with one of our other Artistic Partners, Teodor Currentzis.