Two concerts of London Philharmonic orchestra in November 2018 were part of their «Changing faces: Stravinsky’s journey» programme that would come to an end in December 2018. According to his initial vision, Jurowski surrounds a work by Stravinsky by a very inventive programme:thus, the concert on 10th November featured one of the last works by composer ‘Requiem Canticles’ for two soloists, chorus and orchestra and was accompanied by two other choral works: ‘The eternal gospel’ by Janáček and ‘Triump to Exist’ by a modern Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. On 3rd November Jurowski dedicated the full evening to the composer by making a semi-staged version of Stravinsky’s opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’.
‘The Rake’s Progress’, a story of a decline of a young man based on 18th century engravings by William Hogarth in fact could remind us of Mann’s ‘Confessions of Felix Krull’, and a gradual decline of an individual in a world full of temptations is very much 20th century, however parodic the form of the story’s presentation could be. The libretto was written by W.H.Auden and Chester Kallman, and they also don’t lose an opportunity to inject a lot of irony and parody into verses, giving Stravinsky room for exploring comedy in his composition, while avoiding excesses of pathos and keeping the desired coolness of approach. In ‘The Rake’s Progress’ a poor Tom becomes rich after his uncle leaves him a fortune, leaves his fiancée Anna and explores all what London has to offer: is he a new Dorian Gray or Eugene Onegin? Anna, however, follows him and loves from a distance, even forgiving his strange marriage to a bearded Turkish woman Baba, but finds him insane in a Bedlam after demonic revelations of his servant Nick Shadow, and leaves him there.
Jurowski and his team decided to highlight inventiveness and irony of Stravinsky’s opera, where even the recitatives accompanied by harpsichord seemed part of a strangely modern, evocative stylistic design. The singers were also exploring the border between earnestness and parody, with countertenor Andrew Watts remarkably excelling in his female exotic role. The protagonists – Toby Spence as Tom Rakewell and a young Sophia Burgos (a beautiful, lyrical soprano who reminded me of Micaëla from ‘Carmen’ in her impersonation of sincere, unconditional and modest love) as Anne Trulove – were taking their acting very seriously, while always exploring the additional lightness and a sense of distance needed for the score. A definite success of an evening with that ever-present mix of seriousness, exploration and fun that Vladimir Jurowski brings to his programmes.
Another evening was completely different and, leaving any attempts at stylisation, plunged itself into modernity on the day of 100th anniversary of the armistice ending the World War I. Jurowski and LPO explored the anxieties of a modern individual similar to the way Stravinsky explored an individual path of ‘everyman’ Tom Rakewell in his opera. Jurowski started the night by a hugely anticipated premiere by a renowned Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg who has been a composer-in-residence with LPO since 2014/2015 season. Lindberg took poems of a Swedish poet Edith Södergran who lived and died in St Petersburg and in its suburb Roshchino. While in 1916 the First World War was raging, young Edith, though already diagnosed with tuberculosis, writes a series of metaphysical modernist poems where she finds her place among planets, under the sun and beneath the stars, and imagines the doors opening for the train of future. As Lindberg writes, in this poetry ‘every syllable cries out to be set to music’. For the composer, who is driven by exploration of new harmonic combinations, the challenge was to find stylistic equivalents for moods and music of the beginning of the century, and to find melodic interpretation for this poetry so as to enpower the text and explore its cosmic scale. The choir and orchestra led by Jurowski followed the climaxes suggested by the composer’s score (the fourth text – ‘The planets’ and the final one, ‘The train of the future), only to reinstate the first text again, now with a sense of introspection, as if this choral work was somehow asking famous Gaughin questions: ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’.
The feeling of being positioned somewhere between between present and future, earth and the sky, was upheld by music explored in the second part of the concert. ‘The eternal gospel’ by Janáček is a cantata scored for chorus, soloists and orchestra is telling an almost fantastical story where a Christian monk Joachim of Rore (sung by a tenor Vsevolod Grivnov) envisions a Kingdom of the Spirit through an epiphany coming from an Angel (soprano Andrea Danková). A person challenging the world wins – in music and legend, if not in life. Another piece in this part was the last finished work by Igor Stravinsky – ‘Requiem Canticles’, composed in 1966 and performed at his funeral five years later. The application of serial technique to writing of this work results in a general feeling of fragile search for peace and harmony, as this piece takes the listener out of his comfort zones. Somehow the overall requiem and latin text gives the sense of formal grandeur and structure and balances our oral experience into a newly perceived and found harmony. An exceptional, unusual and very thoughtful programme from Vladimir Jurowski and LPO, where through combination of three works marking the passing of the century since WWI, from 1917 to 2018, we were allowed to reconsider the position of the individual facing the challenges that world presents and diminish our fears of the future.