The GEnesis of "Coro I"

30 March 2017

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s current tour features two programmes centred around Luciano Berio’s Coro, which is being performed with Artistic Partner Teodor Currentzis and his MusicAeterna Choir. 

How does this seldom-heard piece find its way into the programme? How does it correspond with the profile of the MCO? The MCO’s Directors of Artistic Planning Maggie Coe (MC) and Aglaja Thiesen (AT) provide insight into the tour, sharing some of their thoughts on the different protagonists along the way. 

Berio’s Coro isn’t performed very often. How did the MCO come to know this piece? 

AT: Two of our musicians heard the Lucerne Festival Academy perform this piece under Simon Rattle in the summer of 2014. I remember one of them telling me: “The piece is pure MCO. It captures the essence of how we work: each musician assumes responsibility for the greater whole. It’s a great piece. We have to do it.” He was utterly convinced! 

MC: A few months later, in the spring, we approached Teodor Currentzis about possibly working on this piece together after he had conducted a concert in Berlin. It only took him a few days to go through the score before he said “yes”.  

What aspects of the MCO does a piece like Coro bring out?

MC: Folk music plays an important role in Berio’s music. In fact, we just performed Berio’s Folk Songs on our most recent tour with Rafael Payare and Magdalena Kozena. Whereas Berio cites actual folk songs in his other works, you only hear elements and techniques of folk music – and not actual quotations – in Coro. In the same way, musicians of different cultures and traditions come together in the MCO. Our musicians don’t follow one single musical tradition; they re-invent a new identity which includes elements of all of their individual identities. 

AT: Coro showcases the MCO’s chamber music way of music making. This “individual responsibility” that I mentioned earlier – that’s what Coro is about. It approaches orchestral playing in a different way. The musicians aren’t hiding behind a group; they can’t. Each of their voices can be heard. 

The MCO appears in Munich under the auspices of this year’s räsonanz-Founder’s Concert. 

AT: The räsonanz initiative, a joint collaboration among the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, Lucerne Festival and Bayerischer Rundfunk’s musica viva, provides a platform for lesser-known works of the 20th century. This initiative is in its second year. We are very honoured not only to be a part of it this year – but to also have the opportunity to perform Coro in this context.

What is the significance of the MCO performing as part of the räsonanz initiative? 

MC: There are quite a few values that the MCO and the räsonanz initiative share: curiosity and openness, for example. räsonanz is committed to giving a voice to music of the present day, and MCO is a good partner for this because our structure allows us to stay flexible. We don’t just perform music that fits neatly into clear categories; instead, we are always looking to play all music that is worth being played. In the same way, the räsonanz initiative strives to make contemporary music more accessible to audiences by giving these lesser-performed works an opportunity to be heard. 

What are some challenges that the MCO might face while working on Coro

MC: Coro is a demanding piece, the rehearsal schedule is tight, and we are working with the MusicAeterna Choir for the first time. But we – along with Teodor Currentzis and the MusicAeterna Choir – are in a good position to take on this challenge! 

What are you looking forward to the most?

AT: this project brings together Teodor Currentzis’ two worlds: the MCO, of which he is Artistic Partner, and his MusicAeterna Choir, which he founded and which is one of the most exciting choirs of today. This project stands for all of the things that we want to do with Teodor: he is someone who is not scared of doing something different. 

Luciano Berio’s Coro will be performed in both programmes of the Coro I tour. In the first programme, which can be heard in Ferrara (30 March) and Cologne (2 April), Coro is complemented by a selection of Bach motets. The second programme, performed in this year’s räsonanz-Founder’s Concert in Munich (1 April), features Berio’s Call, György Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Claude Vivier’s Lonely Child, and Coro

Both programmes will be repeated on the Coro II tour: the programme featuring Berio, Ligeti and Vivier will be performed in Hamburg (29 May), and the programme featuring Bach and Berio will be performed in Saint-Denis (30 May).