Anna Karenina – a night at the ballet

Ballet

I am not a regular Ballet go-er, but since becoming close friends with a Ballerina I have had the opportunity to get to know this world more and more. It is true that sometimes this art form can seem a little mannered.  All the tutus, the men in tights, the pantomimic gestures, the point shoes… But on an evening such as this one at the Bayerische Staatsballet, I am reminded that thinking in this way is being totally unfair to this art form. A story such as Anna Karenina‘s can be very movingly and clearly told in a non-kitsch way, with pointed shoes and wonderful dancing.

I had read the Tolstoi novel years ago and only recalled vaguely bits of it. So I did not really know what to expect. I found myself going down memory lane: the train, the balls, the winter, the summer heat in the fields and of course the love affair and its consequences leading to Anna Karenina’s delirious state. They all came back to me! That Russian fin de siècle atmosphere in all its opulence, how wonderful!

Curtain up

No big red curtain when coming in. It starts with a steam engine soundtrack, the train is rolling on, the dancers set in a freeze with a black and white video of a close up of the train. The atmosphere is set! We are at the train station. The place where Anna Karenina and the Count Alexej Wronski first meet. The choreography, by Christian Spuck, allows all scenes to be so clearly recognisable with the only help of a curtain in the back and the dancers’ costumes and props ( set by Jörg Zielinski and Christian Spuck).

For me, there are two major aspects which make this evening magical: the scenic and atmospheric changes, with just a few movements and the music!

A new scene is set

Just a few moves and we are at the horse’s races. This staging reminded me of a very similar scene in the film “My Fair Lady”. The whole atmosphere and stage changed in a couple of seconds, suddenly the public is on the tribunes. It is watching the races through binoculars. i.e. hands. I just love this kind of magic! One knows what is happening and yet one doesn’t have everything so obviously pointed out. The men working on the rail tracks is just another such scene. One can feel the heat, the sweat.

The imagination is allowed to take over and to make its own associations just through movement. It’s an open stage, nothing more. The love scene between Karenina and Wronski is two dancers… Just dance, with an incredibly intense and passionate, but also destructive and violent love act. The desperation of Karenina to see her son, her undecisive husband who then gives in to the overhand of the Countess Lidija Iwanowna is beautifully told without any unnecessary prop or set. Wonderful!

The music

The second factor making this evening magical is the music. A fabulous sound landscape, a mixture between tracks of steam engines and hammering, orchestral sections with or without piano, solo piano pieces or even piano and voice songs. A mixture of romantic Russian music at its best, modern music and soundtracks. Sergej Rachmaninov, Witold Lutislawski, Sulkhan Tsintzadze and Josef Bardanashvili are the composers. The piano has a leading role with Adrian Oetiker giving strong renditions of Rachmaninov’s third concerto among others. Such a wonderful choice and use of music. It is an incredible wide scope of sound images all enhancing the atmosphere and the story. I am thrilled!

The dancers

Of course, all this would be of no use without the dancers, and they are superb! Ksenia Rhyzhkova just is Anna Karenina, Matthew Golding the Count Wronski, Jonah Cook, and Lauretta Summerscales are the so charming and sweet couple Kitty and Kostya, and the couple Dolly and Stiwa are danced by Javier Amo -whose presence I truly enjoy- and Elvina Ibraimova. Making the evening complete and perfect are the costumes by Emma Ryott.

I have to say, this was a truly fabulous evening! It reminds me of what theatre, is about: getting the public’s imagination going, never getting boring, keeping one involved with what is happening on stage and bringing up emotions! Bravo!

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String quartets in the Allerheiligen Hofkirche

Allerheiligen Hofkirche

On a grey November Sunday morning I followed an invitation to hear a chamber music matinee in the Allerheiligen Hofkirche in Munich. It has been absolute ages since I have been to a string quartet concert. Coming from a musical family, with a cellist as a sister I enjoy chamber music, especially having played the violin as a teenager. So my knowledge of the repertoire is pretty good, even though I am no expert. The program, however, offered a new hearing for me: Béla Bartók‘s String quartet Nr.5, Sz 102. That got my interest going.

The venue: Allerheiligen Hofkirche

This is such a wonderful venue, that I must write a bit about it. The Allerheiligen Hofkirche was a Catholic church and it was built between 1826 and 1837. Following a visit to Palermo and the admiration of inner frescoes there, the then crown prince Ludwig decided to have a church built in a similar style as part of his Residenz. Leo von Klenze, the architect followed the crown prince’s wishes, extending his inspiration to the Marcus Dome in Venice. The interior with its vaults covered coloured frescoes was built in a Romanesque style while the facade was more gothic. This was the first church built in Bavaria after the secularization in 1803, hence its name “All Saints”.

During the Second World War, the church, the Residenz and the National Theater were very heavily damaged. Unlike the Residenz, it was left to deteriorate for years before a decision was taken. First wanting to tear it down, the city then decided to renovate it following a huge uproar by the citizens of Munich. The renovations started in 1972 under the leadership of Hans Döllgast. After his death in the 1980s, restorations continued with new cupolas and work on the facade. Then from 2000 to 2003 work on the interior was taken over by the Architects Buro Guggenbichler und Netzer before it was finally opened to the public.

The damages made to the church are visible as a testimony. The frescoes are left in their spare segments, the pillars have lines where they were put back together. All this was done very respectfully and beautifully. This gives the hall a wonderful atmosphere, which is enhanced through the warm and indirect lighting and through the red bricks. And so it is that the Allerheilgen Hofkirche became a Hall. It is no longer used as a church but as a concert venue, it’s acoustic being excellent, and as a venue for special events.

The performance

Beginning this program is Dvorák’s string quartet Nr. 14 in A flat Major op.105. The cello starts with a slow introduction. It is leading the others before moving on to an allegro appassionato movement. Dvoràk started writing this quartet when leaving the United States after 3 years there to move back to his beloved Prag. This is his last string quartet. Wonderful piani, colours, interaction, all played sensitively and beautifully by the musicians. The quartet players are members of the Bayerische Staatsorchester: Johanna Beisinghoff, Julia Pfister, Monika Hettinger and Anja Fabricius. It is a pleasure to watch them play.

The second half is Bartók’s string quartet Nr. 5 Sz 102, and this for me is a discovery. I never really thought of Bartók’s music as being full of humour. This piece changed my mind fully. I just love the pastiche classical section in the last movement, the playing with “out” of tune effects, the glissandi and jazzy rhythm in the cello pizzicati. Bartók only needed a month to compose this piece in the summer of 1934. The first performance was then on 8th April 1935 in the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington. This work has all that is so typical of Bartók, the accented rhythms, the complex harmonies. It is also so playfully modern experimenting with sound effects, sound landscapes. A wonderful work.

Postlude

Walking out in the grey November mist with the afternoon ahead of me, I couldn’t help but smile. The impressions of the morning were going through my mind… the discovery of Bartók’s quartet, the excellent playing of the musicians, the so wonderful atmosphere of the Allerheiligen Hofkirche… All this made it a wonderful start to that Sunday.

 

 

 

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Death in Trieste – A Tribute to Winckelmann in Munich

Tribute Winckelmann Munich

A little while ago I had some time to spend in Munich before catching the train back home. As a Greek who loves the ancient Greek element in Munich‘s buildings and museums, I was planning to go see the Greek landscapes in the Neue Pinakothek. King Ludwig I. commissioned them when his son Otto became the first King of Greece in the 1830s.

But then I happened to scroll through a cultural magazine and discover the announcement of an anniversary exhibition commemorating the 250th anniversary of Johann Joachim Winckelmann‘s death. The German Hellenist, who many consider as the founder of Art history and modern archaeology, was murdered in Trieste in 1768. I changed my plans and instead paid Munich’s Collection of Classical Antiquities (Antikensammlung) a visit.

The Antikensammlung in Munich

The State Collection of Antiquities on Munich‘s Königsplatz contains an exquisite collection of Greek, Etruscan and Roman works of art and everyday objects. It provides a good overview of ancient art, from the Cycladic Culture of the Aegean region in the third century BC up to the late antiquity in the fifth century AD. Together with the Glyptothek, which is situated opposite the Antikensammlung and presents sculptures from the same period (currently closed for refurbishment), it showcases King Ludwig‘s I. passion for classical antiquity.

The Bavarian King‘s wish to turn Munich into a city of the arts was inspired by Winckelmann‘s guiding principle: „The only way for us to become great, or even inimitable if it is possible, is to imitate the ancients.“ When Ludwig I., not yet King, commissioned his art dealer in Rome to acquire works of art as to enlarge the collection of his family in the early 19th century, he listed 21 pieces that Winckelmann had discussed in his major work, “History of the Art of Antiquity”, written in 1764.

Winckelmann had developed a new historical structure of Ancient art from its beginnings to its decline, based on the chronological sequence of various styles. In Ancient Greek art, he saw the fulfillment of the task art should have in his opinion: the depiction of ideal beauty. He was the first to rely more on his own perception of ancient objects rather than the study of ancient sources as well as the first to view and interpret Ancient art through the eyes of Greek mythology instead of Roman history.

“Noble simplicity and quiet greatness” – Tracing Johann Joachim Winkelmann

An exhibition on somebody who, by profession, writes about art rather than creating works of art, obviously consists mostly of information around his person and his writings.  In the two halls of the Antikensammlung currently dedicated to the famous 18th-century German scholar, well written, informative texts are used to emphasize on Winckelmann’s importance for the reception of Ancient art in Central Europe and his influence on the future King Ludwig I. of Bavaria. A few sculptures or copies illustrate the works of art which became known to a wider audience through Winckelmann’s writings. Period furniture and chinaware inspired by Greek art complete the presentation.

Winckelmann’s sensory reception of ancient objects and belief in the liberal ancient Greek spirit had a big impact on Western writers, philosophers, sculptors, and painters. One of them was Swiss painter Angelika Kauffmann who became sought after as a portraitist after having portrayed Winckelmann in 1764.

Angelika Kauffmann – A female view of the ancient world

The presentation sets a second focus on the Neoclassical artist who specialized in historical paintings, finding her inspiration in Ancient mythology and participating in the reception of Homer. Influenced by Winckelmann’s less philological approach to Ancient art she chose her topics so as to evoke a higher empathy in her viewers. She thus broke with the tradition of the strong ancient hero. This, as well as her fascination for strong ancient women, display a notably female view on the Ancient world.

My thoughts on J. J. Winckelmann and Modern Greece

The visit to this exhibition awakened my interest in Winckelmann and his writings, which were perceived as a revelation by his contemporaries. The German scholar became the spiritual father of German Neoclassicism by insisting that Contemporary art should imitate Ancient art. His work on Greek art nourished the upcoming Philhellenism and thus contributed to the Greeks‘ uprising after 400 years of Ottoman rule.

But as proud as one might feel about the achievements of one’s ancestors and the interest later generations showed in them, I can’t get rid of the thought that Winckelmann’s approach also contributed to a strongly idealized view of Greece by Central Europeans, a picture that today’s Greece has trouble corresponding to.

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