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Kluxen – Brahms, Britten, and Brown

April 28 @ 2:30 pm

“What harbor shelters peace, away from tidal waves, away from storms?” Starting with a misty sunrise on a Suffolk seascape, the tempest-tossed drama of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes is neatly condensed into his moving instrumental suite. Tragedy is also addressed in Stacey Brown’s new song cycle, drawing on texts by Danish author and poet Naja Marie Aidt. Aware of his own mortality, Brahms penned a cornerstone of the symphonic repertoire, his Symphony No. 4, a work of profound depth that many consider his finest.

Concert underwritten by Sara Neely
Mireille Lebel underwritten by George Lovick

Christian Kluxen, conductor

Now in his seventh season as Music Director of the Victoria Symphony, sixth season as Chief Conductor of the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic, and first season as the Principal Guest Conductor of the Turku Philharmonic, Christian Kluxen is regarded as one of the most exciting conductors to emerge from Scandinavia. Born in Copenhagen in 1981 to Danish-German parents, Kluxen has a natural affinity towards the Germanic and Scandinavian repertoire, particularly the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Nielsen, and Sibelius.

In the press he has been described as “a dynamic, charismatic figure” who “forms the music with an impressive vertical power of emotion and a focus on the grand form”, conducting “with exemplary clarity and a heavenly warmth.” From Canada, to Finland, and Norway, Maestro Kluxen has been recognized for his sincere and transparent leadership, innovative programming, and his bold, imaginative, and energetic interpretations.

Alongside his many and varied commitments with APO, Turku Philharmonic, and Victoria Symphony, recent and forthcoming guest engagements include Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Odense Symphony, and Norrköping Symphony. On the operatic stage, Kluxen has conducted extensive tours of Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly with the Danish National Opera, followed by his Berlin conducting debut with Die Zauberflöte at Komische Oper. In 2017, he led highly successful performances of Die Fledermaus with Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, and Ariadne auf Naxos with Arctic Opera and Philharmonic. In 2019, he led two full productions of Bizet’s Carmen; in Denmark at Opera Hedeland and in Norway with Arctic Opera and Philharmonic.

Kluxen’s concerts have been broadcast live in Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Norway and Canada. He has received several prestigious awards and prizes, and in 2016 he was nominated by the International Opera Awards as “Young Conductor of the Year.”

 

Mireille Lebel, mezzo-soprano

Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel grew up in Vancouver and is based in Berlin. She sings leading roles for lyric mezzo in opera houses internationally. While continuing to add roles to her core repertoire, she produces and creates musical projects. In 2020 she co-founded the artistic collective Crown The Muse in Berlin with frequent collaborator, the soprano/pianist Rachel Fenlon. They were awarded a Canada Council Grant for their first collaboration, a staged two woman opera directed by Bruno Ravella.

Mireille graduated with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Toronto and a Master of Music from the University of Montreal and is the recipient of grants from the Canada Council and the Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation. Following her tenure as a young artist at the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montreal, a grant from the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques sent her on an audition tour to Germany. She was engaged at Theater Erfurt where she became a member of the ensemble for 5 years singing roles such as Sesto (Clemenza di Tito), Orlovsky (Die Fledermaus), Haensel (Haensel und Gretel), and Idamante (Idomeneo).

Once the fest contract in Erfurt was complete, Berlin captured her imagination and Mireille relocated there as a freelance artist. Since then, she has worked in opera and concert with theatres in Europe and North America including Opera Atelier, Narodni Divadlo Praha, Theater Basel, Opera Theatre de Metz, Opera de Nancy, Opera de Nice, Vancouver Opera, Schwetzingen SWR Festspiele, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival, Les Violons du Roy, Collegium 1704, and the Houston Symphony. Her roles include Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (recorded for BR Klassik and conducted by Joana Mallwitz) Elle in La Voix Humaine (recorded for Vancouver Opera’s digital season 2020), Charlotte in Werther (recorded for Culture Box and French television), the title role in Carmen, Penelope in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, Nerone in L’incoronazione di Poppea, the title role in Gluck’s Orfeo, Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Siébel in Faust, and Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro. She has worked as a soloist with conductors Christoph Eschenbach, Bernard Labadie, Hervé Niquet, Jonathan Darlington, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Rodolfo Richter, Jacques Lacombe, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, and regularly performs the music of composer Samy Moussa.

She has recorded 6 opera discs with the Boston Early Music Festival on the CPO label, including the 2015 Grammy Winner La descente d’Orphée aux enfers, and continues to collaborate with them on live and recorded baroque opera projects.

APRIL 28, 2024

BRAHMS, BRITTEN, AND BROWN

You have not yet heard Stacey Brown’s When death takes something from you give it back, and neither have we: the piece is a commission from the Victoria Symphony, and will be premiered in April by the orchestra and mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel. But a large body of commentary has already accumulated around the text that the Newfoundland-based, Kamloops-born Brown has chosen to set, excerpted from the Danish poet Naja Marie Aidt’s When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s Book.

“Aidt’s memoir is like broken glass, the shattered pieces singular in their form but each glistening, ready to cut,” said Nathan Scott McNamara, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Kirkus Reviews considers Aidt’s book “a stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.” And the author herself, speaking to World Literature Today’s Kathryn Savage, has been unusually frank about her quest to express her grief and anger over the death of her 25-year-old son, Carl, who leaped from a fifth-floor window while suffering from psilocybin-induced psychosis.

“When you experience a very sudden shock and get extremely traumatized, within minutes it feels like you fall out of the world somehow, fall out of time,” Aidt told Savage. “It feels like time stops, and at the same time is so painful, every minute is pure torture, and as everyone else is still in normal time it is a very lonely feeling. I remember it felt like being excluded from everything I would consider normal before Carl’s death; nothing was normal.

“I remember waking up in the morning and for a second I was unaware of what happened, and then had to face the new reality once again, try to understand it,” she continued. “Much later, the heaviness came. The exhaustion, the depression. The rage would come in waves, being a desperate way to try to cope. There is the deep despair, and there is rage. Sometimes, I just screamed. Sometimes I hated every person I saw in the street, smiling and laughing, carefree and enjoying themselves. Sometimes, I couldn’t cry anymore, and the crying would then turn into anger. The anger is necessary, I think. Anger is powerful, and I remember thinking that if I could get that angry and hate life so much, there was still hope—that I hadn’t lost my power completely.”

With such an elemental source feeding into Brown’s gift for rich and complex orchestration, one can expect an emotional, even transformative concert experience, especially if one is nursing some grief of one’s own. And who isn’t, given the state of the world?

But what else can stand up to a work of such probable power?

For Victoria Symphony music director Christian Kluxen, one option was obvious: Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. Although written as incidental music for the composer’s powerful and controversial opera Peter Grimes, and expressing some of that work’s concerns in purely orchestral form, they stand remarkably well on their own. Death, anger, and regret all run through this music, along with a sense of the inhuman fury of a raging sea and the consoling beauty of a tranquil one.

Thinking further about the score for Peter Grimes, Kluxen saw a possible link to Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor in Britten’s use of passacaglia form in a separate interlude, from Act II. “Britten and [Dmitri] Shostakovich had this small game with each other where they would compete about who could write the most important passacaglia,” he points out. “A passacaglia is a piece where the same bass line or chord structure is repeated throughout the piece. It is the most relentless musical structure; it can make you meditative, or drive you mad. It’s an obsessive thought that won’t leave your mind.”

“The last movement of Brahms 4 is also a passacaglia. At that time, it was maybe the greatest written since Bach. Britten uses it as a dramatic tool to focus the haunting relentlessness that goes through Peter Grimes, which is equally present in the interludes. It would be overkill to include Britten’s passacaglia, though. In this instance, Brahms’s should stand alone.”

Kluxen was also reminded of an anecdote concerning the great 20th-century conductor Carlos Kleiber, the Symphony No. 4, and the very prominent flute solo woven into that work’s fourth movement. “I think it was Kleiber who said to the musicians that this flute solo represents a mother looking into the grave of her child,” Kluxen recalled. “That is just his interpretation, of course.” But given that Kleiber’s 1980 recording of the Symphony No. 4 with the Wiener Philharmoniker is a landmark for many connoisseurs, that interpretation is worth paying attention to.

“This is one of those programs,” Kluxen adds, “where I would say that when you’ve heard it, you’ll understand. Before that, it can be difficult to understand what the connections are, but I would say that they are very, very deep, and very dark.”

Notes by Alex Varty

Benjamin Britten (1913—1976)
Peter Grimes: Four Sea Interludes, Op. 33a
Dawn: Lento e tranquillo
Sunday Morning: Allegro spiritoso
Moonlight: Andante comodo e rubato
Storm: Presto con fuoco

Stacey Brown (1976—) 
“When death takes something from you give it back”  
Commissioned by the VS with the support of the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation.

Johannes Brahms (1833—1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Allegro non troppo
Andante moderato
Allegro giocoso
Allegro energico e passionato

Details

Date:
April 28
Time:
starts at 2:30 pm

Organizer

Victoria Symphony

Venue

Farquhar at UVic
University Farquhar Auditorium, Ring Road
Victoria, BC V8P 5C2 Canada
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Phone
250.721.8480

Concert Programme

  • Brahms
    Symphony No. 4 in E minor
  • Britten
    Four Sea Interludes
  • Stacey Brown
    “When death takes something from you give it back”
  • Commissioned by the VS with the support of the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation.