"My Life With Wagner " , by German Conductor Christian Thielemann - A Fascinating Book
I've just read an absorbing new book by the distinguished German conductor Christian Thielemann ( Tee-leh-mahn ) , who is currently chief conductor of the renowned Saxon State opera of Dresden and its equally renowned resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden . "My Life With Wagner " is the story of a lifelong devotion to the music of Richard Wagner , the most controversial composer in the history of classical music and opera . Born in Berlin in 1959 , Christian Thielemann grew up there as the son of musical parents who took him to opera performances and concerts of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic when he was still a child and who encouraged his study of music . Young Christian became fascinated with the music of Wagner from an early age while also diligently studying the music of other great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others .
He became an accomplished pianist as a teenager and also studied the viola . But he aspired to become a conductor , and his talents brought him to the attention of no less than the legendary Austrianmaestro Herbert Von Karajan , the powerful and influential chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , who took him under his wing and made him an assistant . Karajan was also a world famous Wagner conductor and this opened doors to the talented and ambitious young Berliner . But he took the traditional path toward becoming a conductor in Germany , working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor in the opera companies of the smaller German cities and working his way up toward leading larger opera companies as well as conducting orchestral concerts allover Germany and Europe . Soon he made his debut at the legendary Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany , conducting most of the 10 extant Wagner operas which are performed there every Summer .
By the 1990s he had become music director of the German Opera in Berlin, the opera company of what used to be West Berlin , the one in East Berlin being the Berlin State opera . He then became chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic , and was appearing regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic and other prestigious European orchestras, as well as making U.S. debut leading the top American orchestras and making his Metropolitan opera debut . Thielemann became renowned as one of the most important interpreters of the great German masters such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner , Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner , without neglecting new music altogether as well as conducting music by non-german composers everywhere .
Thielemann began to make recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone record label of the symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner , Schumann and the orchestral works Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Philharmonia orchestra of London , and the Munich Philharmonic .
His performances of Wagner's monumental " were Ring of the Nibelungen " at Bayreuth were issued both on CD and DVD . Thielemann came to be seen as the successor to Karajan as a master interpreter of the great German and Austrian composers , although he was passed over by the Berlin Philharmonic to become chief conductor there recently to succeed the renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle , losing out to the surprise choice, the Russian Kiril Petrenko . One reason appears to have been his relatively limited repertoire . Rattle has a very wide repertoire and has always been a staunch champion on contemporary music . However, Thielemann retains his highly prestigious position in Dresden , where he has conducted both opera and orchestral concerts with enormous success as well as touring internationally his Dresden forces .
"My life With Wagner " contains a wealth of fascinating information about Thielemann's formation as a conductor as well as his penetrating comments on Wagner and his immortal operas . You learn what it is like to conduct Wagner operas in the theater , which is a task of daunting complexity and formidable challenges both technical and interpretive . The maestro's description of what it is like to conduct in the famous sunken orchestra pit at the Bayreuth festival opera house , out of sigh of the audience and visible only to the singers , which is no easy task , is fascinating . This is unlike the orchestra put of any other opera house and makes it very difficult for the conductor to keep everything together . However, the acoustics of the famous festival theater are world famous for their sonic splendor , and the sunken orchestra, with the powerful brass instruments 17 feet beneath the stage make it impossible for the orchestra to drown the singers out , which is something very difficult to avoid in other opera houses with Wagner's large and powerful orchestra .
Thielemann learned so much from the advice and influence of Karajan and other leading Austrian and German conductors and observing them in action at rehearsals and performances . For those who may not be very familiar with the great Wagner operas, Thielemann provides the synopses of the operas and describes how Wagner composed them and how the works are constructed both musically and dramatically . Wagner wrote the librettos of all his operas , unlike most other opera composers .
The book is published by Pegasus books and I cannot recommend it too highly .