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"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 .


Posted: May 30 2016, 10:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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