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Robin Ticciati on our first concert series

Alexandra Coghlan talks to Music Director Robin Ticciati about the Festival’s first concert series, which he has intricately planned.

Music Director Robin Ticciati tells us about the Festival’s first concert series, which he has intricately planned.
Composer Brett Dean once compared the experience of hearing music in the Glyndebourne opera house to sitting inside a giant cello: seeing the curved wood on every side, feeling the resonance surround you, hearing every detail in absolute clarity. It’s a perfect acoustic not just for opera, but also orchestral music, and this summer we’ll be performing four great symphonies on our stage for the very first time.

Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’, Brahms 1, Dvořák 8 and Mahler 4 will each be at the centre of a different concert programme from the Festival’s two resident orchestras: the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The word ‘symphony’ has its origins in the idea of voices ‘sounding together’, and it’s this togetherness – a return to shared music-making and listening after so much time in silence and isolation – that Glyndebourne’s Music Director Robin Ticciati is keen to celebrate in these performances.

The first programme – Schools of the Romantic Heart – puts the 19th-century preoccupation with love ‘under the microscope’, says Ticciati. Brahms’ 1st Symphony may be absolute music, but running right through the work and its history is Clara Schumann, to whom the composer once wrote, ‘I can do nothing but think of you’. Mathilde Wesendonck, wife of Wagner’s patron and inspiration for Tristan und Isolde, sits similarly in the background of the composer’s sensuous Wesendonck Lieder, with their echoes of the opera’s rapturous love music. In Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette – a work whose musical passion, and poison, runs directly into the veins of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – and in Weber’s Der Freischütz we see love in the opera house in all its drama and intensity.

Schools of the Romantic Heart offers a rare opportunity to hear this 19th-century music performed on period instruments. ‘It’s a totally different soundworld,’ says Ticciati. ‘As instruments get more technically assured, safer, louder and more practical, you could question whether they lose something of that human spirit, that fragility, that really brings you close to nature.’

Rites of Passage teases out the connections between orchestral music and opera in a musical exploration of rituals and rites. Lighting and spatial choreography will be used to bring Purcell’s sombre March from the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary together in a dramatic sequence. Birtwistle’s virtuosic Cortege, a work led from a ceremonial bass drum, sees each player step to the front of the stage to offer ‘their own flower’ – virtuosic, wildly improvised musical gestures upon a tomb. It will lead directly into the musical consolation of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and the programme reaches its climax in Mahler’s 4th Symphony – a work in which the hellish devil-dance of the re-tuned violin in the second movement ultimately gives way to a vision of heaven, seen through the eyes of an innocent. As Ticciati explains, it’s a work that feels like a microcosm of the whole concert series.

‘There’s this journey from the total, scream-like abyss out into the heavens that’s mirrored again and again through the Festival – in the blazing light at the end of Brahms 1, the fanfares that close Dvořák 8, and Mozart’s fugal fireworks in the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony. I think there’s a little echo of all of our experiences over the past year and our arrival at this point. I love the idea of music opening up new horizons of hopefulness for us.’

Out of Chaos opens with one of the most extraordinary beginnings in all of music – an 18th-century representation of chaos Ticciati describes as ‘shattering’, but which soon opens out into dance and birdsong. Rebel’s Les Élémens is the overture to a programme drawing on nature and natural forces – a musical echo of Glyndebourne’s own gardens and the Sussex Downs all around.

Nature is at its darkest and most brutal in Adámek’s Sinuous Voices, a piece shot through with wailing prayers and gentle lullabies, before the landscape opens out in the sumptuous nature-music of Dvořák’s 8th Symphony and the rough-hewn traveller’s songs of Mahler’s autobiographical Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

The final programme Ceremonies and the Quest for Light takes Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony – the last he would write – as its focus. Building outwards from the symphony’s bold architectural lines, the concert also includes the Overture to Die Zauberflöte, with its sonic symbolism and strong sense of classical order, as well as concert arias by the composer and the graceful Symphony No 17 in G major – embodiment of youthful elegance. Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music offers a less familiar interlude: four minutes of what Ticciati describes as ‘intense darkness’ drawing on Gregorian chant, scored for unusually low forces including three evocative basset horns and a contrabassoon.

Written by Alexandra Coghlan, Glyndebourne’s opera content specialist

Our concert series is on stage from 27 May – 26 August

Image credits: Robin Ticciati, photo by James Bellorini

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