CD-Review: Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen – Der Wind bläset wo er will (DACAPO 8.226586)
Wenn ich mich dafür entscheide, über eine Aufnahme zu schreiben, dann liegen dem oft Charakteristika der beteiligten Künstler/innen zugrunde. Im Fall der vorliegenden Produktion – der Aufnahme zweier Orchesterwerke des dänischen Komponisten Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen mit dem Danish National Symphony Orchestra unter Otto Tausk, sowie dem Cellisten Johannes Moser – waren es die besonderen Eigenschaften der Musik des Komponisten, die mich sofort angesprochen haben. In der Diskussion über seine Werke wird oft von Räumen oder Räumlichkeit gesprochen, die mich aus sich heraus auch interessiert hat.
Gerade das Titelwerk “Der Wind bläset wo er will”, Olesens bisher größtes Orchesterwerk, lässt in sich immer wieder eigene, kleine Sphären entstehen. Und das Danish National Symphony Orchestra präsentiert das Werk mit viel Gestaltungsliebe. Olesen hatte beim Komponieren einen Besuch im Wald im Kopf, bei dem so mancher ja die arbiträren, nicht vom Menschen gestaltbaren Eigenschaften der Natur nicht wahrnimmt, sondern nur ein von sich selbst vorgefertigtes Bild des Naturerlebnisses zulässt. Der Komponist wollte dem etwas entgegensetzen, und mit ungewöhnlichen und überraschenden Räumlichkeiten und Harmonien das Unerwartbare in der Natur betonen. Das Orchester setzt das sehr bildlich erzählend um, indem die Musiker/innen die vielen impulsstarken Gestaltungselemente unter anderem des reich besetzten Schlagwerks eindringlich, ernsthaft, zugleich aber auch mit Witz und Ironie gestalten.
Ungewöhnliche Harmonien? Damit wären wir beim für mich zweiten, großen Attribut dieser Musik. Olesens geschriebene Mischung aus überraschenden Akkorden und Akkordverläufen, und Referenzen auf frühere Epochen lähmt den zuckenden Finger auf der Skip-Taste des Musikplayers effektiv. Zeigt das Ensemble hier doch eine fast atemberaubende Interpretationssicherheit in der tief ins Werk verwobenen Mikrotonalität. Fehlende Klarheit wirkt da ja schnell mal so gar nicht gut. Aber nicht nur im Kleinen, auch die großen Erzählungen hat das Orchester raus, und blättert mit genau der richtigen Geschwindigkeit und Variabilität durch die vielen Seiten dieser reizvollen Wald-Geschichte, wird bei den Chopin-Verweisen im letzten Satz dann sogar etwas symphonisch.
Als Hörer schon reich beschenkt mit diesem ersten Teil, folgt dann das Cellokonzert, wobei Johannes Moser den Solopart übernimmt. Und da bekommt diese CD nochmal eine weitere Dimension an Attraktivität. Olesen, selbst ausgebildeter Cellist, komponierte hier vielleicht genau wegen des eigenen Hintergrundes ungewöhnlich und frisch. Die lange Kadenz am Anfang besteht fast komplett aus einer lebhaften Mixtur von modalen Skalen, die spielerisch, mit fast kindlicher Unruhe angelegt sind.
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen und das Werk
Und das Kindliche findet sich öfter in diesem Werk. Olesen schrieb das Konzert während seine Mutter im Sterben lag, die für ihn in bewegten Lebensphasen ein sicherer Hafen war. Während ihrer Pflege durch die Familie flossen viele Emotionen in das neue Werk ein, die der Komponist mit Strukturen zu bändigen versuchte. Strukturen, an die er sich jedoch heute nicht mehr genau erinnert. Diesem sehr persönlichen und intimen Hintergrund werden alle an der Aufnahme beteiligten Musiker/innen so vortrefflich gerecht, dass man beim Hören sehr leicht Geist und Herz mitfühlen lassen kann.
Johannes Moser, über alle technischen Anforderungen erhaben, geht so warmherzig die Zusammenarbeit mit dem Orchester ein, nimmt deren Stimmungen auf, fügt sich nahtlos ein wenn erforderlich. Mit seinem eigenen, charakteristisch im Vibrato gestalteten Ton ist er der perfekte Interpret für dieses Konzert, um die vielen flehenden Melodien ausdrucksstark zu gestalten, und damit Einblick in die wilde Gefühlswelt des Komponisten zu geben. Seine große Erfahrung in der Neuen Musik wird eindrucksvoll hörbar, wenn er wieder und wieder mit traumwandlerischer Sicherheit anspruchsvolle Harmonieverläufe gemeinsam mit dem Orchester zu einem musikalischen Gesamtbild formt, wodurch die Hörer/innen die Musik unverstellt als Verbildlichung von Gefühlen erleben können. Gerade im letzten Satz steigert Moser Hand in Hand mit den Bläsern, und lässt dann am Schluss zusammen mit den Streichern die Musik verschwinden.
Weiterhin fällt auch Olesens Lust auf Instrumentierung auf. Während im ersten Werk unter anderem eine singende Säge zu hören ist, wirkt im Cellokonzert erfreulicherweise die in größeren klassischen Ensembles leider selten anzutreffende Konzertgitarre mit.
In dieser Aufnahme treffen verschiedene Charaktere aufeinander, und kombinieren ihre Stärken zu einem Hörerlebnis mit großer Tiefe. Ein weiteres Beispiel dafür, wieviel man verpassen kann, wenn man an Neuer Musik „vorbeihört“.
Stefan Pillhofer, Orchestergraben, 2.2. 2021
Thomas Agerfeldt OLESEN (b. 1969)
Der Wind bläset wo er will (The Wind Blows Wherever It Pleases)
This is the second portrait disc Dacapo have dedicated to the work of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen although the first, Tonkraftwerk (8.226509) was released way back in 2004. That issue’s title track is a quirky and memorable piece for chamber orchestra which subtly and at times humorously evokes industrial machinery. Whilst I enjoyed that disc, I haven’t thus far encountered Dacapo’s 2016 DVD of Olesen’s ‘choreographic opera’ treatment of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey (2.110415) although it seems to have garnered a sheaf of positive reviews. I hope the present issue is equally successful; it pairs a couple of Olesen’s big orchestral works from the last decade. Whilst they strike me as very different beasts both are colourful, accessible and eloquent. The concerto especially has left an indelible impression.
In a most lucid booklet note, Lasse Laursen reveals that Olesen originally conceived Der Wind bläset wo er will as a graphic drawing which he duly converted into an orchestral score. The title alludes to the unknown, unpredictable provenance and direction of the wind, a spontaneous quality which is immediately recognisable in the delicate threads of Olesen’s piece. Der Wind incorporates a single span of orchestral sound divided into five identifiable sections which Dacapo have helpfully tracked seperately. A jazzy double-bass figure seems to haunt the loose fusillade of spiralling woodwind arabesques, ethereally stratospheric strings and percussive emissions which comprise the work’s deftly atmospheric opening. Laursen mentions a pervading French influence and it’s palpable in the weave of the music even if it’s not altogether obvious in its pitches, intervals and harmony. Olesen’s playful experimentation is detectable throughout the piece. A modal, sinister melody in the strings from 5:30 seems to prefigure a transition into briefer, more clearly differentiated passages which are touched by repetition. The blasts of wind (imaginatively produced by a range of extended instrumental techniques) at the centre of this second panel is succeeded by a long unison melody. This persists and splinters, eventually morphing into a vaguely Messiaenic sounding central spread (marked meno mosso) which mutates into billowing, virile brass chords and sharp blasts of timpani and bass-drum (vividly captured by the Dacapo engineers). Peculiar dripping, twanging noises predominate at the outset of the fourth section before an eerie descending figure intervenes and threatens to rise, only to be dissuaded by the tappings and watery manifestations of Der Wind’s initial swirling gestures. During the final recapitulation Olesen revisits and re-orders some of the earlier material as the piece becomes increasingly immersive, eliciting a kind of vocal texture, one strand of a lush neo-romanticism which is frankly gorgeous. Straussian chamber textures pre-empt a conclusion which projects an unexpected sense of nostalgia. In the final reckoning Der Wind bläset wo er will is as unpredictable as it is compelling. Both playing and recording are stupendous.
Olesen originally trained as a cellist and his Cello Concerto of 2014 (revised a couple of years later) is an achingly personal essay. It’s dedicated to the memory of his mother and was composed in part as she endured her final illness. He is quoted in the booklet as perceiving the entire concerto as ‘a kind of rondo’, something that encapsulates the idea of ‘returning’, just as the composer was always able to return to his mother throughout his life, not least during times of crisis. The single movement design is again demarcated into four separately tracked sections. The opening seems to evoke the composer practising scales as a child – it’s familiar yet fresh, open-hearted and extremely attractive. The orchestral commentary begins to intensify after a minute and a half, accompaniment that wavers between tact and drama. The second idea (marked più mosso) is more varied but idiomatically and energetically conceived for the soloist (in this case the outstanding Johannes Moser) and the argument glides toward the initial opening scalar ideas with pleasing inevitability. En route there’s an abundance of colourful detail, most notably the spiky but apposite percussion and lots of pungent muted brass. At 4:40 the soloist emotes a pronounced, not-quite-resigned descending scale which leads again to a reprise of the initial theme. A denser, chordal passage for the cello acts as a bridge into the third panel. This is gentler initially, the orchestral accompaniment more chamber-like and luminous. At the core of this is a passionate yet somehow detached passage in which the soloist seems to be swimming against the orchestral backcloth, but at 3:45 their paths collide. I detect hints of Olesen’s compatriot Per Nørgård’s ‘infinity series’ in the regular, rapid pulse of this material. As this section subsides the dissonance and textural variety in the cello part seems to expand. A trombone fanfare heralds the beginning of the end. A reflective cello phrase is mirrored by mourning strings which stoically strive to remain upbeat. This extended closing section thus takes on the role of a threnody, albeit one not drenched in overt sadness. It’s an extremely strange and powerfully affecting farewell, not least when a stray, gentle guitar (of all things) seems to stumble into the room, joining in as it gradually gets the hang of the music. The initial theme is beautifully shoehorned into the conclusion. If this is the end, it’s a most agreeable one.
Olesen’s Cello Concerto is a wonderful find and worth the price of the disc on its own. Johannes Moser is completely inside it and it’s difficult to imagine a more emotionally powerful rendition. The Dutch conductor Otto Tausk is equally attuned to the essence of this singular piece and ensures world-class accompaniment from the DNSO. Dacapo’s teriffic recording exudes clarity – the balance between soloist and orchestra seems ideal.
These two substantial works add up to just under 50 minutes of exceptional contemporary music, but frankly who’s counting? In each case the sounds Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen has devised are utterly absorbing. He writes with tremendous sophistication and wit in the first piece and with an emotional directness in the second which is as daring as it is affecting. To echo the translation of the title of the first piece, both works last as long as they do. Each will amply reward any curious, sympathetic listener. That is surely enough.
Richard Hanlon, MusicWeb International , Feb. 2021
Agerfeldt and Bach on Bach
Sentimental and impressive dogma-Christmas oratorio by Århusian composer
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen: Christmas Oratorio. Peter Lodahl (tenor), Århus Sinfonietta, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Concert Clemens, String-players from The Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus, conductor: Carsten Seyer-Hansen. Holmens Church, Copenhagen, 11th December 2017
When one today reviews Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the performance of the work is assessed, not the work itself. What, then, does one do when the composer is alive and has written a Christmas oratorio which in many ways sounds like Bach, but even so has never been heard before? The work or the performance? Can they be separated? Of course they cannot, but I am going to try, even so. At its third performance in Holmens Church in Copenhagen Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s “Christmas Oratorio” was a great and beautiful artistic manifestation of fine musicianship by the chorus, orchestral musicians, soloist and conductor. Their thorough-going knowledge of Bach’s underlying work gave a moving assurance in communicating what Agerfeldt Olesen himself calls a being, which lives and breathes through music, of a work which is completely necessary. It was enthralling to follow the performers’ work tangibly expressing and communicating everything new in an area of consciousness filled with all that was long-standing. A high level of professionalism, intensity and emotional depth in the expression, affectionate regards as well to the sentimental carrier wave from the original work’s narration and exultation: a great experience, a great performance. As a composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen is a great player in the sentimental field. In his works he often allows the sentimental to play an important part. He masters the art of not descending to exaggerated confabulation or transparent emphasis, and the emotional expression in his music is the result of compositional work which scrupulously plays through the technical, rhythmical and harmonic demands he aims for.
A vision in sound
In the case of Bach, Olesen’s music sounds like a reminiscence, a vision in sound, but never a parody. The controversial is not his mission. It can be seen in his choice of German texts from Bach’s original work which become a threefold Bible story about the child, the shepherds and the heavenly ruler. It can be heard in a number of underlying and traditional, meaningful musical expressions and conventions which are present the whole way through.
Only in one case does Agerfeldt Olesen go beyond the limit, as it were. In the chorale “Er ist auf Erden kommen arm” the melody sung by women’s voices is suddenly accompanied by angrily shouting men’s voices. The text was heard at various Pegida demonstrations in Germany directed at the Muslim refugees and immigrants. A present-day happening. Unpleasantness. Heard as a tumult, rage, powerlessness among the people. In a Christmas oratorio! The fact that in the musical expression as a whole it is soon over, that the accompanying, thundering orchestra disappears again, does not alter the fact that the composer here jeopardizes the audience’s appraisal of his judgement and raises the question of whether there are other agendas than revealing a being which breathes and lives through music. It does not bother me that in the garden of the Christmas Oratorio there are also thistles of fury and powerlessness, but it could also be expressed in other ways. But the work, Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s work? For me it hangs together convincingly – in spite of the reservations mentioned above. The so-called dogma-like demands the composer works with create a number of aspects of Bach which make the work into a great experience taken as a whole. The interplay between the many greetings to what is well-known and the newly-composed elucidation of great beauty in among other things the soloist part ought to ensure that the work will performed again when the time comes for performing Christmas oratorios.
Ole Straarup, Aarhus Stiftstidende Wednesday 13th December 2017
Johannes Moser (cello) with The Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Otto Tausk. DR Koncerthuset. Thursday 9th November 2017
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s Cello Concerto received its first performance in the Koncerthus on Thursday in its new – elegant and dreamlike – version. It seemed to be life itself the German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser mimed with his constant up-and-down scales on the beautifully sounding instrument. Small, rapid movements without a beginning, without a centre, without a purpose. It was reminiscent of something we know, and even so it was new the whole time. Life – and death – are the theme for the Aarhusian composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s Cello Concerto, which was performed for the first time in the Koncerthus on Thursday in its new version. Sharing a programme with Beethoven’s hard-hitting overture to the play “Coriolan” and Schumann’s wild 4th Symphony. Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen wrote the first version of the Cello Concerto in 2014 at a difficult time, when he and his family were looking after the composer’s dying mother, for this reason the music is closely linked to this time. It is not a funeral hymn or a dirge, but a solo concerto, which elegantly and dreamily creates musical sound pictures of activity, transitions, presence and absence – and conclusion. All of it in an unsentimental and stylistically inventive way, which on Thursday beautifully struck the balance between relating symbolically and creating abstract sound pictures. Quite concretely it was Johannes Moser’s cello part – a kind of sequence of scales constructed out of small figures which sounded like quotations from the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – which evolved in the space of the 25 minutes. In confrontation or concord with the orchestral music, which, for example, surrounded the sound of the solo instrument with angular rhythms, extremely delicate, blurred notes or ear-splitting crashes. Towards the end there was only a fragment of the melodies left for the cello, which quite simply circled round in its own little slow, perpetual motion machine, while the intensity rose and rose, finally completely ebbing out on a single, crystal-clear high note. (Translation: Gwynn Hodgson)
Henrik Friis, Politiken 10th November 2017
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Olesen (DVD)
Singers consigned to the orchestra pit, the stage given over entirely to dancers: it’s hardly a surprise that The Picture of Dorian Gray, the first opera written by the Danish composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen, has come to be spoken of as one of Den Jyske Opera’s ‘bravest ventures’. But it’s so much more than that. The release of the DVD, recorded live during the 2013 premiere run, reveals this to be a work of quite remarkable musical freshness, originality and operatic imagination. Although dance has of course been closely associated with opera since the 17th century, seldom has its role been as radical as here. Perhaps the production’s nearest forerunner was the acclaimed version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by the Mark Morris Dance Group, staged in 1989 and released on DVD in 1995. There, as here, the singers were sometimes visible in the film but never set foot on the stage; instead, the drama was danced throughout. Olesen’s score lays out the ‘basic concept’ that informed his setting of Alasdair Middleton’s English-language libretto of Oscar Wilde’s only novel. Each (invisible) singer must have a corresponding ‘dancer, commedia dell arte performer or mime on stage’; also on stage should be two (dancing or miming) ‘groups of angels or supernatural beings’. The choreographer Marie Brolin-Tani’s interpretation of these minimal directions was to realize the piece as a ‘choreographic opera’ for 18 dancers, understood as ‘physical extensions of the voices of the opera singers’. To help achieve this, she required the dancers to be present at voice rehearsals, where they had to stand facing ‘their’ singers, so as ‘to read off and learn the individual singer’s attack, pauses, breathing and way of singing’.
Olesen’s score offers transports of many different kinds. Fluent and lavish in its mixing of idioms – Richard Strauss, ragtime, the musical, and others tend to burst through the pervasive Modernist idiom – it is an endless source of surprise and delight. Often the music inhabits a space close to rapture, its lyricism unfolding, sometimes explosively, in big, rolling swoops, its intoxicating sonorities evoking a fantastic realm entirely appropriate to the drama, its ultimate climax finely wrought and powerfully moving. In principle, Olesen’s decision to keep the singers out of sight and replace them with dancers would seem to be problematic, not least because direct visual connection with the singing protagonists is lost. But the gain, in this realization at least, is that the visual arena is hugely enriched by the dancing bodies occupying it, bodies given over to highly stylized, expressively unconstrained movement, consummately executed. Quite properly, the set has no truck with realism: its sumptuous, exquisite designs are abstract, and depend entirely upon lighting and digital projections.The performances are superb. Suggestively, Dorian Gray is a countertenor; expansive of voice and expressive, Andrew Radley excels in the role. Jonathan Best’s performance as Lord Henry Wotton is deeply affecting, despite what seems to me to be a need for greater variation of timbre and better control of an over-insistent bass vibrato. James Bobby, his baritone clear-toned and strong, is a persuasive James Vane. As Sybil Vane, Jenny Thiele is a real find. Singing gorgeously, her timbre honed in the German popular-music background from which she was plucked, she makes wonderful sense of some of the most striking music in the opera.
Christopher Ballantine, Opera Magazine March 2017
The bright sides of life
…this applies especially to the German première of the Danish composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s Cello Concerto. The Duisburger Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned the work together with the Symphony Orchestra in Aarhus, where it received its first performance on 24th September.
Although the composer has processed the death of his mother in the work, this tragic background is scarcely apparent, so bright and clear are the sounds which Olesen has composed. The beginning is characterized by swiftly flowing scales which are reminiscent of a Bach prelude.
The German-French cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, incidentally the brother of the former concertmaster of the Rhine Opera Christoph Altstaedt, gave the first performance of the work in Aarhus and indeed played it effortlessly in the Theater am Marientor. His tone is lean, but the cello is the music’s motor which is almost constantly on the move.
In the third section are there also aggressive and painful moments which lead into a sensitive epilogue, where the cello is accompanied by a guitar, which was here played with sympathetic insight by Mirko van Stiphaut. Altstaedt acknowledged the applause with a Bach encore.
The Cello Concerto corresponds really well with both symphonies which surrounded the work. Schubert’s 3rd Symphony and Antonin Dvorak’s 8th Symphony are both optimistic and positive pieces of music which supplement the Cello Concerto’s atmosphere and euphony admirably.
Rudolf Hermes, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 27th November 2015
A circling of scales
beautiful and exciting cello concert premièred by Aarhus Symphony Orchestra
Scale passages in the major. Is he warming up, the soloist? No, Nicolas Altstaedt is in full swing while the conductor and orchestra wait.
It could sound like warming-up exercises, up and down the fingerboard, which, as it were, show off professional skill, but this is not the case.
It is the scales – as it will turn out – which in a way bind Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s cello concerto together, encircle it, begin and finish it.
The opening of the concerto displays a kind of idyll, something well-known – also when the orchestra begins. But other colours and rhythms slowly come into the picture. Not as a deconstruction of or irony over euphonious familiarity, but more as both elegiac and ambiguous comments and elucidations of a beautiful life. To the memory of a mother.
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen has an affectionate relationship with the favourites and glories of popular music.
It can be a bit much, but the references to them and the finely attuned re-arrangement and use of them occurs without any kind of discredit.
One hears it in the accompanimental figures, which rhythmically can play on the Latin claves figures and dynamically on the brass crescendi used in film music. One hears it in minimalistic passages, where control of the repetitive lies in both the dynamic and the almost imperceptible changes in the accompanimental figures. He is himself a cellist, Olesen, and he can write for the instrument. An orchestral musician too – and he can write for the orchestra. It is beautiful and thought-provoking, and the question as to whether it is modern enough blows away in the wind.
Ole Straarup, Aarhus Stiftstidende 26th September 2015
Quote of the day:”I believe that a composer should give up composing feelings and instead focus on substance. Then the feelings will find expression in the substance”. The composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen in the music periodical Klassisk’s September-October number.
The French chief conductor Marc Soustrot of Aarhus Symphony Orchestra had his second concert after having been appointed head of the Aarhus orchestra. I am normally accustomed to hearing the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in the Symphonic Hall, which is splendid for classical music. This time I sat at home in front of the radio loudspeakers. It gives one the opportunity to listen in another way and in reality under the same conditions as when I mostly listen to music.
The main attraction was the first performance of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s concerto for cello and symphony orchestra, which was commissioned by Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with Duisburg Philharmoniker and supported by the Arts Council. The concerto was expressly written for the French-German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt. Agerfeldt Olesen found him while searching on Youtube for the most ideal performance of the Polish composer Lutoslawski’s cello concerto, which is one of Agerfeldt Olesen’s favourite works. And in Aarhus it seemed as though the internationally already highly esteemed Altstaedt had indeed got to the heart of the matter in the new cello concerto. His performance was an experience. One hopes that he will come back. In the same breath it should be mentioned that the composer is himself a cellist, or used to be, as he said on the radio. But it was much more than just cello music.
Personal, but not a mishmash of feelings
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s concerto is indeed personal, for it is dedicated to the memory of his mother, but as is evident from the following quotation from the composer and from the one above, it was not conceived as a piece of music specifically in the minor key, but as a multifariously rich musical world.
“The concerto here is full of a mass of technicalities and structure which I have now unfortunately completely forgotten. But without them it would have been a mishmash of feelings, since I wrote the piece while I and my family were looking after my mother when she was dying. I see that the work has become a kind of rondo. The music would like to have somewhere to return to – perhaps because my mother was always someone I could return to when everything around me exploded. At the end the rondo dies and goes somewhere else, as all mothers do.”
The concerto begins somewhat unusually with a cadenza for the cello in D major, but so does the forerunner, Lutoslawski’s cello concerto. In Agerfeldt Olesen’s work this gambit developed rapidly and moved on to more excitement while, however, one felt that it was a repeated structural foundation leading to a pleasing, natural conclusion. This is a concerto with strength, edges even, and beauty. After more robustness it ends with the return of a chorale-like song, breathing freely, as only a cello can. Read the quotation above once more. Feelings found expression in the substance.
This is a cello concerto that ought to be taken up again and again. An “average” classical audience can identify with it too. It would be good if it could be issued on a CD and other media, which have perhaps become more “trendy”.
John Christiansen, JCKlassisk, 25th September 2015
"Daring danes deliver"
University of Chicago kicked off its 2014-15 season with a remarkable performance at Mandel Hall by the Danish String Quartet... Before Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s String Quartet No. 7, “The Extinguishable” (a little joke on Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony which bears the title “The Inextinguishable”), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola) explained that the work had been written for them and that this was only the second performance of the new piece and the first performance outside Denmark. He said that Olesen “builds a prison for us” and suggested that while the work is both difficult to play and at times even to hear, that it offers many insights.
The quartet’s performance was clearly committed and they revealed the score’s intense moments. The piece moves easily from periods with no tonal center to moments of traditional tonal melodies. The work was unusual and exciting containing a few moments of uncommon beauty as the four voices created a luminous sort of hum.
M.L.Rantala, Hyde Park Herald 16th October 2014
Danish String Quartet opens UC Presents season with intense premiere
The Danish players brought a welcome bit of adventurous programming to Hyde Park Friday night with the String Quartet No. 7 of their compatriot Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen, a work being heard in its U.S. premiere.
The work is titled “The Extinguishable,” a mordant riff on Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony (“The Inextinguishable”), reflecting the fact that both Olesen and the Danish Quartet won the Carl Nielsen Prize. But it also points to Olesen’s starkly differing life philosophy than that of their country’s most celebrated composer, as pointed out in the verbal introduction by violist Asbjørn Nørgaard (more user-friendly than Olesen’s rather impenetrable program note).
It was Carl Nielsen’s credo that “Music, like life, is inextinguishable”; yet for the more pessimistic Olesen, all temporal things have a short shelf life and both music and life are all too extinguishable.
The Danish composer’s Seventh Quartet, cast in a single movement of 23 minutes, has a manifest sense of raging at the fading light. The work is launched with a march-like two-note cello theme, a kind of fatum motif that recurs at key points in the music. The other instruments play quiet, unsettled high harmonics. As the cello motif grows more insistent, the other players segue into agitated fragments, conveying a violent sense of struggle against dark, implacable forces.
The malign theme returns as if quelled, and a innocent folk-like tune is played softly as if heard from a distance. A passage of crunched harmonics and edgy music ensues with the innocent theme emerging strange and distorted in portamento slides. The cello theme returns and the violins entwine around it in very high notes like ethereal sonic tenrdrills leading to a somewhat abrupt coda.
Olesen’s quartet is an intense ride and shows a confident and distinctive voice, though I feel the composer loses the thread somewhat in the final third of this work with too much repetition of his material. Still, this is difficult and demanding music to tackle and was played to the hilt by the Danish quartet members who were warmly applauded by the adventurous Mandel Hall audience.
Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review 11th October 2014
Der Wind bläset wo er will
Schumann’s Violin Concerto was a long, pale whisper after the first performance of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s effective piece about the wind at the concert Friday night by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. Never have the guitar play right after the trombone. This was the doctrine at the conservatory when the concert programmes were made for the different recitals. Ears, which have adjusted to a loud sound volume, cannot switch acutely to soft nuances. This was obvious at the concert with the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday, where the first performance of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s spectacular work ”Der Wind bläset wo er will” (”The Wind bloweth where it listeth”) was first played. Agerfeldt Olesen (born 1969) illustrates everything unexpected with a gigantic orchestral machinery.
He surprises and frightens with inventive effects and layers which at first grate against each other, then sound fairylike – like in a Disney movie.
Work of surprises
The mighty Mahler-hammer was crashing, the clarinets were making hissing noises when the musicians blowed into the holes of the instruments, the low strings chanted dark sounds, and the solo cellist insistingly knocked with the bow on the instrument. Like time itself, running out. There were chromatic cascades in the strings and violins shrieking in the high registers. And sudden ideas like the meditative sound of the one-stringed indian instrument and champagne bottles popping. And the wind in many forms of instrumentation before it all sounded melodic at the end. In the front, Finnish John Storgårds was in control with free and beautifully modelled motions. Not all entries were accurate though. Young Latvian Baiba Skride then flounced onto the stage like a blue angel with her violin. She played all the right notes in Schumann's difficult and virtuoso Violin Concerto, and made the violin whisper and the orchestra follow her like a big, chamber-musical organism.
Still, I was kind of bored, because Agerfeldt Olesen's stormy soundscape automatically made the romantic notes seem pale and anonymous. Neither the Latvian nor the orchestra was to blame – only the unfortunate constellation of stormy sounds being followed by quietness.
After the break Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony in D major with Storgårds in front had élan and energy. There were joyfull melodies, beautiful wind solos and shining string sculptures. But also there were too many inaccuracies and too much stumbling. As if the orchestra didn’t prepare the Symphony well enough.
From this evening, the piece by Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen will stay in our minds. If only the Danish Radio in the future would focus on the dramaturgy and on the succession, suiting the works and the ears best. Put f.ex. Schumann before the stormy bit. This evening, the combination of works was as the wind bloweth.
Christine Christiansen, Jyllands Posten, 30th April 2011
Benieth our own skies
The world premiere on a new piece about the wind and the weather swept everybody off their feets – and the saw had its debut as instrument in DR Koncerthuset.
And the weather: at first rough, then it will clear up and keep dry.
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesens new piece ”Der Wind bläset wo er will” (”The Wind bloweth where it listeth”) is a wonderful walk through wind and weather. The fortunate listeners took the tour in DR Koncerthuset friday night. One was blown away in every sense of the word.
Where the classics like simple beginnings and then turn more complicated, Agerfeldt's new piece does the opposite: the orchestra takes off in an avantgardistic storm and then slowly finds more sentimental echoes of Chopin and more.
The strings whirl like leaves on a forest floor. The winds blow and rattle – sometimes entirely without tone. And the gentlemen at the percussion literally work at high pressure: you hear bottle corks popping and egg slicers from the back wall.
The concert hall’s most beautiful sound
Not to forget the man with the saw! The melody is fragile like a long forgotten beauty. Like a proletarian refugee. Saying the saw was the hall’s most beautiful sound up to this date would of course be noughty. Yet it was, nevertheless.
What else to look forward to on Monday's repeat in the radio? Not really to Schumann's Violin Concerto. It had stayed unpublished for over a century and quickly slides into oblivion again. But the Latvian Baiba Skride sounds more and more promising on the violin of her fellow countryman Gidon Kremer. She plays the center of the music overwhelmingly quiet and poetic, so that the ears almost have to search for the music. Beethovens 2nd Symphony shows the house orchestra in fine shape. The Finnish John Storgårds is a string player himself, and this rubbed off onto the collegues on stage. It was long since music was so much alive on stage.
But Agerfeldt was shining particularly this evening. He is far from being a......windbag.
Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende, 30th April 2011
The music bloweth where it listeth
Once again The Danish National Symphony Orchestra presented itself as a magnificant orchestra for playing modern music. As it did when it performed Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s 25 minute piece ”Der Wind bläset wo er will” (The Wind bloweth where it listeth).
The 41 year old Danish composer has done a composition which awakes curiosity and wonder, caused by the many musical collisions. His intention with the piece is indeed to tear down preoccupied views on music by means of many surprising sound constellations. Which proved succesful.
The music whirled arround in the string section, it was blown back and forth by the woodwinds, the percussion made the bottle corks pop and a saw suddenly made everything freeze in meditation. One has to search a long time for such instrumentation! It will hardly become a standard repertoire piece, but nonetheless it is wonderful to listen to modern music when it is done as intelligently and examinative as in this piece.
Jakob Holm, Kristeligt Dagblad, 3rd of May, 2011
String Quartet no 5, "Plappergeister"
Quartetto di Cremonas ability to take command over chaos was convincing; it was a feature which also found its use in the first performance of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s String Quartet no. 5 with the name ”Plappergeister”. In this piece, the audience is guided through a very varied sound scape, f.ex. a great passage inspired by cool folk music with an almost medieval touch. Suddenly paperthin trills were heard, and it felt like floating in the great nothingness of the universe. It felt like almost anything could happen, which made the audience listen intensely.
The composer describes the piece as a sort of tunnel with emergency exits all along its sides. Each emergency exit leads to a space of the past and in the tunnel, there is a constant fear of collapse. Like Sjostakovich, Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen changes between the emotional and the hectic, and the at times aggressive energy gives the piece a good drive.
It must be said to be a great honour to have ones music performed by such splendid musicians. At the end, the four Italians played a piece by Haydn. They dedicated the piece to Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen, who was present at the concert, and the tribute to both musicians and composer was fully deserved.
Rachel Einarsson, Jyllands Posten 30th November 2010
Liebesbriefe for sinfonietta and three soloists
Then a short break, then Late Night Contemporary with Århus Sinfonietta. The focus was especially on this evenings first performance of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesens ”Liebesbriefe” for sinfonietta and three soloists (voice, trombone and trumpet). The text of this very interesting piece is fragments of a letter correspondance, and part of the ”text” has to be imagined by the audience by means of musical associations. In this way, the piece is demanding for both musicians and audience. Because who is ”he”, the chattering trombonist in the background (a very well playing Niels-Ole Bo Johansen), who is the trompeter up front, who is the female singer, who is almost only talking? During different passages of the piece, one feels different types of hints for a deeper understanding from the composer: a free metrum, a more controlled metrum, a more nature-like metrum, a more ”cultivated”, a more aggressive-modern. An electronic layer enhances perhaps a more sinister aspect? Much to consume in such a short amount of time – please let’s hear it again!
Ole Straarup, Århus Stiftstidende 24th September 2010
Search for beauty
A pianist, a violinist, an orchestra. In Theaterhaus one experienced a kind of rebirth of the romantic, virtuoso concerto. Many elements such as dialogue, cadence, lyricism and dramatic passagework, themes and counter-themes, development and coda, were brought into play in Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s ”Steinfeld” in four movements and in Chen-Hui Jen’s programatic ”The Mind of the Cresent Moon”. A horn refrain, repeated six times and answered by a short staccato from the pianist Rolf Hind begins an easy-on-the-ears piece that, after that its sensitive start, develops its own powerful drive. Croaking brass, full tutti, loud cluster connect together into a filmic whole that after its bubbling virtuosity is able to find a surprising end: with delicate harmonica and accordian tones it clarifies a split landscape previously dominated by tritonus in its search for beauty.
Dietholt Zerweck, Esslinger Zeitung 25th July 2006
Danish primeval field
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s piano concert “Steinfeld” is somewhat less nice and therefore more exciting – a highly energized piece where the piano works towards an empathetic communication with the string tutti. Powerful moments, most of all harmonic clashes and tensions remain in my memory.
Susanne Benda, Stuttgarter Nachrichten 25th July 2006
A pianist, with cluster chords and energy paves the way through extremes of orchestral colour. A violinist with the scenery of momentary glass-tones swarms around the silvery light of the moon. And a rapper that blasts such powerful interjections that a whole orchestra begins to simmer and boil. These are three moments from RSO Stuttgart’s concert in Theaterhaus with Jonathon Stockhammer on the podium.
A tri-tonal core cell marks the begining of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s disguised piano concert entitled ”Steinfeldt”. Tritonus as a pattern for contrast and tense multi-layered work. Different idioms - pianoed, jazzy, harmonica-like criss-cross their way in relation to each other. A refined sense of muscular bodies of sound and sharply cut changes. Pianist Rolf Hind works with a virtuoso decisiveness at the centre of the marbled sound-whole, accompanied by aids such as cluster boards without being engulfed by the orchestestral mass. A struggle for contour in the border areas of heterogene formations.
Stefan Kister, Stuttgarter Zeitung 25th July 2006
There is so much energi in the new orchestra piece ”Königswinter” by 36 year old composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen [...] After the concert on Sunday in the Danish Radio Concert Hall, he is likely to be one of Denmarks most thrilling composers. This evenings few listeners got everything the heart and brain could wish for: Rhythms that kept going for a suitable amount of time. Melodies that stopped in time. And so on. The fact that the Five Danish Chamber Ensembles repeated the performance was almost marvellous. On the other hand, it didn’t get substantially better the second time. You felt the weakness of the constellation of ensembles, which usually don’t play together. But my sincere gratitude to all of the involved. My gratitude for “Königswinter”.
Søren H. Schauser, Berlingske Tidende 31th May 2005
“She asks questions that make him feel unsure, Afterwards, in bed, she makes him feel sure again.” This is the tragic story of Marlis and Viktor, She has recently been in mortal danger. He saved her. Now they are driving round in the south of France – Aix en Provence, Antibes, Avignon .. to make love and be cultural so to say. But the illusions slowly fall. And one day it goes so badly that we only hear Viktor’s version of events. It is his memories that are projected up on the hall’s enormous thought-screen. It is his thoughts that poet Thomas Krogsbøl recites. And it is his feelings that Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen has set to music. The latter is the best – these dreamy glasslike tones, umba rhythms that cut into your heart. You could go on and on (….). The women in the audience laugh and they laugh aloud at all of us men and our need for small, stupid affirmations.
Søren Hallundbæk Schauser, Berlingske Tidende 21th April 2004
A well-polished bombardment of the senses
Viktors Golgotha is a different kind of theatre experience where recital, film, music and scenography melt together sharply and seductively.
”Viktors Golgotha” at Den Anden Opera in Copehhagen is a fine example of a complete Gesamtkunstwerk where speech, film and music together become greater than the sum of their parts. On the other hand the piece based on Max Frisch’s novel demands the full attention of the public because its bombardment of the senses is massive. For that reason the performance isn’t suited for first-time-theatre-goers but rather for the more seasoned users of velvet seats. The work is based on a reading of the novel ”Sketch of an accident” from the collection ”Tagebuch 1966-71” whilst the film and music sway in and out of the story like a kind of commentary framework.
The work is recited by Thomas Krogsbøl, one the authors from the lyrical workshop ”Øverste Kirugiske”. Krogsbøl quite consciously places emphasis on presenting rather than acting Viktor - the only person we effectively hear talk.
Krogsbøl’s priest-like vocal quality means that the other art forms are able to act as a commentary expression, not least Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s exciting, newly composed music. Together with the recital the Poul Ruders inspired music forms a seductive, finely woven mosaic even if the experience as a whole is rather comprimised. Led by Thomas Søndergaard, Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen are responsible for the music and in this regard one can speak of a positive experience, even though Signe Krogh’s simple and interesting scenography consciously works with a minimal view to both the conductor and the orchestra, despite them all being on the stage.
All of them, including the reader are hidden behind an enormous, partly destroyed shell that acts as a screen for Anders Elberling’s film. It confronts the audience visually with Viktor’s (the main protaganist) memories of a fatal car accident in France that left his girlfriend dead. From that perspective the whole piece is a long love story that slowly but decisively develops into a tragedy. The form of the scenography underlines that the whole piece plays itself out as memories in Viktor’s head, a storm of pictures acting as a fine expression of multi-layered and fragmentary pictures that often allows memories to flow in over each other. Viktors Golgotha is quite simply the avant garde of the civilised theatre within its noble and aesthetic borders, a different kind of theatrical experience where recital, film, music and scenography become one and together something different. On the other hand the final product has become so well polished that it has lost a little of its danger even though its raw, sensing aspects are more than apparent. If you have the taste for trend-setting within the realms of the respectable this is a must.
Lars Wredstrøm, Børsen 20th April 2004
Sketch of a fate
Viktors Golgotha at Den Anden Opera is both relevant in its subject and innovative in its form. In classical Freudian analysis the patient should lie on a couch whilst the psychologist sits discreetly behind the head section in order to sharpen the therapist’s ability to listen to the patient talking about his or her inner life. This structure can be compared to Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s new music drama ”Viktors Golgotha”, based on Max Frisch’s novel ”Sketch of an accident”. This so called ”collage of memory” was premiered at Den Anden Opera in Copenhagen. In ”Viktors Golgotha” both the lead male and the members of Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen are placed behind a fragmented film screen. The audience are placed in the figurative position of being the therapist listening to a thriller of a story taking place between the dreamy scenes on the screen and what the actors are doing behind it.
It isn’t a traditional form of opera Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen has written but is rather a spoken monologue created in close co-operation with the ensemble, made up of strings and a small amount of percussion. It is an understandable choice that comes with a better understanding of Max Frisch’s surrealistic, fascinatingly sensitive and erotically charged works. Frisch is best known for the novel ”Homo Faber” but also in the writing that forms the basis for the piece one finds a superlative representation of the crises of a modern man’s life. All the small mental movements and moments of doubt are so precisely formulated that they don’t need to be sung at all. A small pause, a special emphasis says it all.
In Viktors Golgotha a pair of lovers travel by car through Europe. The story of the narrator and the lead male melt together in Thomas Krogsbøl’s spoken monologue. The pair should really turn back but the journey leads them further and further through France. Viktor becomes evermore unsure about the whole project and the girlfriend’s constant commenting ”are you sure?”. The woman in Max Frisch’s novel plays an important but more passive role. She is both innocent and the indirect cause of all the accidents. On the stage of Den Anden Opera she is silent, fashionably dressed on the screen with long light hair and sunglasses. Legally the man at the wheel when the accident happened carries no blame but Viktor has to live with a hidden sense of guilt for the rest of his life. Martyrdom in the couple also plays a role.
Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen has made beautiful and very present musical drama. Musically the instrumental part stays consciously minimalistic. Krogh’s scenography and Buadayia del Klaxon’s picture and film production are beautiful, effective and well thought out. It could be that the spoken role, woven together with the score could get better with time but all in all it is a very present thriller, innovative in its form and deeply relevant in its psychological/existential theme. "Viktor’s Golgotha" at Den Anden Opera is well worth the money.
Ida Hvidt, Kristeligt Dagblad 21th April 2004