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Zurich's Tonhalle is filled with music again

2021-09-16T13:22:14.838Z

The historic Swiss concert hall reopens its doors after a thorough renovation that has lasted five years and has made it recover much of its original appearance



The last three decades of the 19th century saw the birth of what, even today, are considered the most architecturally relevant historical concert halls and with the best acoustics in Europe: this is the case of the Musikverein in Vienna (1870), the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam ( 1888) and the Tonhalle in Zurich (1895), all of them rectangular in shape and with Greek-inspired facades. The second building of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig (1884), destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and a model in which the Dutch and Swiss rooms were looked at, could also be part of the list. In turn, the last three are so closely linked to their resident orchestras that it is the building itself that gives them their name.

Like the modern KKL concert hall in Lucerne, the Tonhalle also stands on the shore of a lake. But, unlike her, the adjoining congress hall was a much later addition that almost completely enveloped it in 1938, which ended up substantially altering its original appearance. Rafael Moneo won an international competition for the reform of the architectural complex in 2005, but a citizen vote prevented his project from being carried out by opposing the acquisition of the additional land that would have meant carrying it out. The new competition was won by a Swiss studio, Boesch Diener, which is the one that has carried out a substantial restoration of both buildings, gaining light and a clear visibility of the lake from the main entrance hall to the room, with the Alps in the background ,and with the recovery of many of the original elements that had been hidden or disguised by the desire that both buildings had a more unified and not so divergent appearance from 1938: this is the case of lamps or the sgraffito of the walls, recovered with manual techniques meter by meter. The profuse decoration of the interior of the room, generous in gold, also recovers all its former splendor and the gaze cannot help but rise to the ceiling frescoes, whose center is occupied by the so-called “Heaven of the composers”, in which they are portrayed, from left to right, Beethoven, Wagner, Gluck, Haydn, Bach, Mozart and Handel. On the far left, almost like a last minute guest, you can also see the unmistakable face and beard of Johannes Brahms, who was precisely in charge of inaugurating the room,in which he directed his

Triumphlied

on October 19, 1895. We do not know whether the German composer, who died in Vienna in 1897, realized that the Swiss were sending him to heaven ahead of time.

The so-called 'Composers Heaven' painted on the ceiling of the Tonhalle in Zurich, after its restoration.Frederic Meyer

Above all these composers is an image of a majestic Apollo, the god of music, surrounded by angels and instrumentalists. On one side, Santa Cecilia, his patron in the Christian tradition, playing the organ with a choir of angels in a concert of religious music, and, on the other, an image of various folk musicians playing traditional instruments in the middle of the field, among they, of course, an alpine trunk. On the sides, on the stage, the names of Haydn and Mozart are engraved in gold; at the back of the room, those of Beethoven and Schumann. On the façade, under the architrave, the names of Bach and Handel escort, in the center, Beethoven, omnipresent inside and out, enjoying that privileged status conferred on him by the 19th century.Tonhalle literally means Hall of Sounds (in German it was also common to refer to a composer as a

Tonkünstler

, a sound artist), but the only ones that have been heard since 2017 have been those produced by the workers in charge of the restoration of the building. September 15 has been the day chosen for the music to play again inside, justly famous for its magnificent acoustics, which has now been even improved as both the musicians themselves and the regulars of the room before the reform testify .

During these five years of work, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra has played in a concert hall built as a large wooden box inserted into the existing structure of an old factory located to the west of the city. Now he is finally returning to his home, in which a newly built organ has been installed, and its titular director since 2019, the Estonian Paavo Järvi, has not chosen for this D-Day the most symbolic work of this type of reopening, the

Symphony Second

Mahler, which closes with a text of popular poems collection

Des Knaben Wunderhorn

and the ode

Resurrection

by Friedrich Klopstock, but with the one immediately after, which also uses two of its six movements from a poem from the same collection (“

Es sungen drei Engel einen süssen Gesang

”, that is, “Three angels sang a sweet song”) preceded by a short text by Nietzsche, graphically composed as the eleven chimes that mark the arrival of midnight, included in

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

. Perhaps something had to do with the choice of this work (and, if not, it is a happy coincidence) the fact that Mahler began to compose his

Third Symphony

in 1895, which is exactly the year the Zurich Tonhalle was opened.

The composer himself would not conduct its premiere until 1902 and only two years later would he arrive in Zurich, with the Tonhalle Orchestra and its then chief conductor, Volkmar Andreae.

The Tonhalle in Zurich has recovered all the splendor of its original decoration with the restoration.Georg Aerni

In this room they also listened to concerts during the time they lived in the city Elias Canetti (with his mother: he tells it in his autobiography) and James Joyce (with his friend Ottocaro Weiss: his biographer Richard Ellmann remembers him), united after his death , very close to each other, in the Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich. During a performance of

Ferruccio Busoni's

Indianisches Tagebuch

, with the composer present at the Tonhalle, the Irish writer joked with his friend by making obscene associations with the various instruments, a pastime vaguely imitated by Leopold Bloom in the

Sirens

chapter

of

Ulysses.

: “Delineating plastas scratching violins, with his gaze on the end of the bow, sawing the cello, they remind you of a toothache.

(...) Downstairs, the trombone blowing like a killer whale, in the intermissions another metal guy, unscrewing, emptying the drool ”.

The Tonhalle and his orchestra therefore also have his literary pedigree.

The

Third Symphony

Mahler's is also a good choice because, for more than an hour and a half, its staves contain virtually all kinds of music, from the most delicate to the most vociferous, from birdsong to thunderous bass, from earth dances to angelic songs, written for a gigantic orchestra in permanent metamorphosis, joined by a contralto and a children's and feminine choir in the philosophical fourth movement and in the very brief and naive fifth. Mahler's ambition when composing it was to create a work “of such magnitude that it truly reflects the whole world”, of which he himself was, of course, the creator. Already the first movement, which opens with no less than eight horns in unison, reaches unusual dimensions, unknown until then, with numerous solos for various instruments,trombone or violin included. The irruption of life, the splendor of nature, after the winter parenthesis, and a kind of pantheist that heralds that of

The song of the land

is translated, without abandoning the sonata form, with primordial sounds, often poured with those characteristic Mahler marching rhythms and with the presence of what Deryck Cooke called “monstrous prehistoric voices”.

In a country with which nature has been as generous as Switzerland, this music is also heard with different ears.

Final chord of Mahler's imposing Third Symphony, the work chosen for the reopening of the Tonhalle in Zurich.Gaëtan Bally

Playing this work is also a litmus test to calibrate both the acoustics of a room and the state of form of an orchestra. Returning to their headquarters, to their home, which is now wearing its best clothes, must have been a boost of morale for some instrumentalists who, as has happened in much of the world, have been forced until not long ago to suspend all their performances. public activities. Crowded on a not-too-large stage (Mahler prescribes flutes, oboes and bassoons for four, five clarinets, eight horns, trumpets and trombones for four, contrabass tuba, five percussionists, two harps and a wide string section to balance such a display), The Tonhalle Orchestra proved to be the great orchestra it has always been, with truly exceptional metal,that except for some slight imbalances in a couple of entries of the fourth movement, exceeded with note all the tremendous demands - individual and collective - that the composer reserves for them. The wood may not look so homogeneous (the clarinets scratch at a clearly higher level) and the string is of a very high level. The more than exposed solos of trumpet, trombone, English horn, horn or violin were all surpassed with a note, not to mention the extraordinary and extensive solo, in the second movement, entrusted to the horn, which Järvi decided to place with very good effect in what high from the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.he exceeded with note all the tremendous demands –individual and collective– that the composer reserves for them. The wood may not look so homogeneous (the clarinets scratch at a clearly higher level) and the string is of a very high level. The more than exposed solos of trumpet, trombone, English horn, horn or violin were all surpassed with a note, not to mention the extraordinary and extensive solo, in the second movement, entrusted to the horn, which Järvi decided to place with very good effect in what high from the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.he exceeded with note all the tremendous demands –individual and collective– that the composer reserves for them. The wood may not look so homogeneous (the clarinets scratch at a clearly higher level) and the string is of a very high level. The more than exposed solos of trumpet, trombone, English horn, horn or violin were all surpassed with a note, not to mention the extraordinary and extensive solo, in the second movement, entrusted to the horn, which Järvi decided to place with very good effect in what high from the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.The wood may not look so homogeneous (the clarinets scratch at a clearly higher level) and the string is of a very high level. The more than exposed solos of trumpet, trombone, English horn, horn or violin were all surpassed with a note, not to mention the extraordinary and extensive solo, in the second movement, entrusted to the horn, which Järvi decided to place with very good effect in what high from the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.The wood may not look so homogeneous (the clarinets scratch at a clearly higher level) and the string is of a very high level. The more than exposed solos of trumpet, trombone, English horn, horn or violin were all surpassed with a note, not to mention the extraordinary and extensive solo, in the second movement, entrusted to the horn, which Järvi decided to place with very good effect in what high from the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.which Järvi decided to place to very good effect high up in the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.which Järvi decided to place to very good effect high up in the back of the room. In Zurich, how could it be otherwise given their standard of living, very good salaries are paid, here and at the Opera, and the money inevitably attracts the best instrumentalists.

Paavo Järvi is, above all, a reliable director. The indication Mahler writes at the beginning of the first movement seems intended for him: “The

initial

tempo

has to be preserved, for the most part, throughout the entire movement, and the strictest continuity of

tempo has

to be maintained despite changes momentary in the pulse or of modifications ”. The funny thing is that Mahler does not indicate

tempo

nor any metronomic indication, but rather it is limited to describing the character of this half hour long of music with only two adjectives: “Robusto. Decided". And the Estonian director followed them to the letter, translating this injection of vitality as if he were drawing it with a single stroke. He does not make an extra gesture, but neither does he miss, and the musicians must feel very comfortable playing with such a solid and precise baton, so not capricious or exhibitionist, although in some moments a little less security and more unforeseen details would be appreciated. of creativity. Järvi gigs admirably, with a very powerful technique, but he rarely leaves phrases to be remembered. or it gives us a sudden feeling of surprise: it offers the reliability of a Swiss watch or bank, it is true,but you run the risk of seeming excessively detached from the music you are performing. One would say that moderation is the first commandment in his Decalogue, dominated by sobriety and in which there is no place for outbursts of subjectivity.

Final applause for orchestra, choirs, soloist and conductor from the crowd that filled the Tonhalle in Zurich.Gaëtan Bally

Wiebke Lehmkuhl was a good soloist, although not exceptional, in the mysterious and transcendent fourth movement, for which Mahler devised one of the most static pieces of music in his catalog.

Well the female choir of the Sing-Akademie and the Children Singing of Zurich in their modest intervention, and content again Järvi in ​​the music of divine overtones of the last movement, in which the string showed its filling and its sound quality, the horns again gave a lesson in how to play unison and the flute finally scratched to a great level.

Up to three cymbals he decided to use Järvi in ​​the great chord in D major of the final coda, which bears some resemblance to the conclusion of the

“Resurrection” Symphony.

. If anyone could fear that the acoustics of the Tonhalle had been adversely affected by the works, this powerful

Third

Mahler's will have dispelled any fear. He absorbed the volume produced by the orchestra in all its possible gradations, always with just the right reverb and clarity. It is undoubtedly still among the best European rooms and now, after the renovation, it is also one of the most aesthetically attractive. For once, and deservedly, the stars have not been the orchestra, nor the conductor, nor the soloist, not even the work performed. The one that has shone above all is the room: space has imposed itself on time. And, with excellent judgment on the part of the architects responsible for the renovation, the famous phrase of Lady Macbeth has been contradicted: what was done (badly) in 1938 has finally come undone.



Source: elparis

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