The joy of playing Strauss

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The rapturous lyricism, vocal virtuosity and catchy comic turns of Strauss’s score for Ariadne auf Naxos have made the opera a firm favourite at Glyndebourne.

We spoke to Simon Carrington, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Timpanist, who will be performing in Ariadne auf Naxos, about his passion for Strauss.

Simon Carrington, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Timpanist.

What do you enjoy about playing Strauss’s music?

Musicians are, of course, very particular about the music they like and I know of no composer whose music is better loved and admired by orchestral players than Richard Strauss. Even though he makes enormous technical demands of his players people feel that their efforts are more than rewarded with such wonderful and sumptuous music – he is a musician’s musician.

You also performed Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in Festival 2014, what are the similarities and differences between the two operas?

The obvious difference between Ariadne and Rosenkavalier is the size of the orchestra Strauss employs; in Rosenkavalier he uses a large orchestra equivalent to the one he uses for some of his dramatic tone poems but with Ariadne it is much smaller, creating a much more intimate feeling akin to salon music. However, he still orchestrates very colourfully, using celeste, harmonium, harps and an array of percussion that is used very sparingly.

From my point of view as the orchestra’s timpanist I use the same instruments in Ariadne as I do for Rosenkavalier but aim to make a smaller, more compact sound that matches the size of the orchestra. This does not necessarily mean using different sticks but there is moment in the score where a snooker cue comes in handy.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Festival 2014. Photo: Bill Cooper.

What are the distinguishing musical features of Ariadne auf Naxos?

As in the related music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme [Strauss’s 1917 orchestral suite] the distinguishing feature is the piano; mostly, he uses this in a recitative style to punctuate the dialogue, but he also uses it to fill out the orchestral sound for the richly romantic music in the final scene.

What is your favourite musical moment in Ariadne auf Naxos? What should audiences listen out for?

Appropriately, my favourite music in the opera is towards the end when a trumpet call indicates the arrival of Bacchus! Strauss describes this with some wonderfully vivid, fantastical music including a quote from [Wagner’s] Tristan and Isolde that indicates that love is in the air – blink and you’ll miss it!

The Festival 2013 production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Photo: Alastair Muir

A taste of Ariadne auf Naxos

You can enjoy the music of Aridane auf Naxos in the aria Es gibt ein Reich from the 2013 production:

You can discover more about the production in our new video Designing Ariadne auf Naxos.

Ariadne auf Naxos is on stage from 25 June – 27 July.

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