New Year, old resolve

  • 2013-01-23
  • By Jonathan Brown

HIGHLIGHT: Andris Dzenitis’ Danka will be one of the most interesting aspects of the festival.

RIGA - Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic, Slavok Zizek, has made outspoken contributions in fields as diverse as psychoanalysis, political-theory and film theory. Senior researcher of sociology and philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, he’s also one of the most sought after visiting lecturers – among others, he has made appearances at Columbia University, NYU, Birkbeck, the University of Chicago and Princeton. His reputation for eccentricity and animation precedes him (he keeps his wardrobe in his kitchen’s cupboards and in a 2008 interview with the Guardian, answered that his earliest memory was, “Seeing his mother naked. Disgusting.” Lacan, Hagel, and Marx frame his persuasive intellectual leanings and he said he believes “Communism will win.” So, news that the Royal Opera House in London will commission four new operas based on Zizek’s writing was met with equal measures of intrigue and excitement.

Although surprising, the Royal Opera House’s New Year’s resolution isn’t unique. It’s one of a few that points the direction of classical music into 2013. In fact, this year is teeming with opportunities for artistic directors to make bold statements, to capture audience’s attention and draw new listeners.But it’s not clear if the Baltic’s opera, orchestras, or ballet are responding to these opportunities.

Even if the Latvian National Opera isn’t holding jolting press conferences, their Opera Festival in June is a sure highlight of 2013.The most interesting aspect of the festival is the contrast between Richard Wagner’s gargantuan Ring Cycle and young Andris Dzenitis’ Dauka. This contrast between big and small, old and new, seems representative of the LNO’s ambitions and it shows their difference to Western European opera. Why the LNO should chose Wagner’s Ring to mark it as a leading opera house of his music is clear - he was music director of the opera theater in Riga and it’s the 200th anniversary of his birth. But while the Royal Opera House in London and others in Europe look to young composers and new works, the LNO is mining the past for audience engagement. The LNO’s lonely exception here is Dzenitis’ Dauka.

Benjamin Britten’s oeuvre spanned genres, but it’s his operas that have left the deepest mark – they are performed more than those of any other 20th century composer. Britten, who nearly studied under atonality’s poster-boy, Alban Berg, befriended and collaborated with the likes of Aaron Copland, W.H Auden, and Dmitri Shostakovich. This year is the centenary of Britten’s birth and it’s proving an important theme in 2013; a Web site created to accompany celebrations includes hundreds of pages noting performance dates of Britten’s music this year throughout the world. The LNO will stage Britten’s Let’s Make an Opera (The Little Sweep), written for a young adult audience (rather like A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) and Philip Moll, at the Latvian Academy of Music, will host a master class in the interpretation of Britten’s chamber music.

There was a near riot in Paris on May 29, 1913 at the Theater des Champs Elysees. It was the premiere of the Ballet Russe’s Rite of Spring. The score composed by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky illustrates “pictures of pagan Russia.” It tells of a young peasant girl, a sacrificial victim, who in the second act dances herself to death. Although it’s impossible to distill an entire century’s worth of music, if the Rite isn’t the most referred to music (and dance for that matter) in the 20th century, it’s one of them. But this landmark will go largely unnoticed in the Baltics.
Music Begins Where Words End is the Philharmonia Orchestra’s 2013 niche. They have developed an accessible but comprehensive Web site to accompany their festival celebrating Wiltold Ludoslawski’s anniversary. The site submits specially commissioned essays and films for audiences to explore the complicated political context throughout which the Pole composed.When London is near capacity of orchestras, Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia’s principal conductor, has found a new and purposeful mode for his orchestra to thrive into the New Year.

In comparison, Latvia’s offering of classical music in 2013 looks set to maintain to the status quo, but with clear and admittedly rich exceptions (Dauka included). Most ripe for dynamic programming and suspenseful moments of brilliance that keep audiences returning to concert halls is the Latvian Academy of Music. Not obligated to provide for entitled audiences or circling critics, the Academy’s wealth of musicians’ hip and full calendar show resolve to pledge new and engaging performances - beginning perhaps with the Moll’s Britten master class.

For more information about events at the Latvian Academy of Music, visit www.jvlma