Full of new concepts and ideas, the orchestra is readying itself for the future, even outside the concert hall. By Tobias Hell
New beginnings are always a challenge. Especially when a long-term partner suddenly breaks away. That’s what happened to the Munich Symphony Orchestra, which – since the start of the current season – has been organizing its traditional subscription concerts in house. According to director Annette Josef, parting ways with its former partner MünchenMusik was a necessity due to bureaucratic EU directives that mandate new invitations to tender should be initiated every four years to receive funding. This would have left little opportunity for long-term planning and, above all, would have been to the detriment of subscribers. So the orchestra took a self-confident leap into cold water. It’s presented both new organizational challenges to the team behind the scenes as well as opportunities to refine the orchestra’s character with its own ideas.
All this quickly becomes evident on a stroll through Munich, which is splashed with eye-catching posters for the orchestra. The agency Blackspace is responsible for giving the symphony orchestra a fresh cell therapy treatment. Those who want to reach a new, young audience in addition to regular patrons cannot close their eyes to digital communication channels. That’s why the orchestra is extremely active in social media on visual and auditory levels. Moreover, along with the Theater und Konzerthaus Dortmund, they are also among the first in Germany to allow concert-goers to upgrade their concert visit by using a new app called Wolfgang. It allows them to access additional information on their smartphone that parallels what they are listening to. Already eagerly used by our Dutch neighbors, this kind of program 2.0 is a valuable addition to the continuing popular artist talks that seek to establish a closeness with the audience and provide insights into the stories behind the music. However, good stories also need good storytellers, as every artistic director knows. Not only the composition itself is responsible for how we experience a evening concert, but also the protagonists on stage who tell well-known stories and conquer new musical territory.
No fairy tales
First and foremost, of course, is chief conductor Kevin John Edusei whose engagement was a real stroke of luck in 2014. A maestro of the new generation, he’s not satisfied by simply maintaining the status quo, but seeks to lure the orchestra, founded in 1945, out of its comfort zone and challenge it. Instead of playing works by the house gods Beethoven and Schubert, a great Mahler or Bruckner is sometimes put on the program. And when the last note fades away, the musicians, who had been fully concentrating on their notes, wipe off beads of sweat and are thanked with an appreciative nod of the head. Edusei is aware of the ensemble’s potential, and the audience in Munich has quickly learned to view the orchestra in a new light.
A healthy interaction between tradition and modernity has always been part of the symphony orchestra. Music of the 20th and 21st centuries, however, is by no means just a fig leaf but part of a highly sophisticated concept. Soon, for example, Dvorak’s symphony “From the New World” will enter into a dialog with music by Duke Ellington. Stravinsky’s “Firebird” will meet a commissioned work called “Les Couleurs du Feu”, which will be realized with the border crossers of the radio.sting.quartet.
Edusei sees this new independence and the team’s personal responsibility above all as an opportunity for his orchestra. “Of course, this is all new. But it also releases a lot of energy from the musicians and the team. After all, we are an orchestra that lives from ideas, ” he said. And there is no shortage of them, especially when it comes to the program they will play. To date, many composers in the season preview are only familiar to insiders. Such as Swedish composer Elfrida André who became a pioneer of the women’s movement in her home country. Or Jospeh Bologna Chevalier de Saint-Georges, born in Guadeloupe as the son of a slave, and later celebrated in 18th century France as Black Mozart. Their compositions are just two exciting splashes of color in an ambitious program that provides curious music fans with plenty to talk about in the coming months.
The original article was published in the Rondo magazine (5/2018).