When the idea of performing all nine Beethoven symphonies in Salzburg arose, he briefly hesitated, says Teodor Currentzis. “Each of the symphonies is its very own world. It is not a series; every symphony has its own identity, its own sound. It is difficult to switch from one to the other in one evening,” the conductor explains. It was Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser’s idea to perform an entire cycle. And since his trust in the Artistic Director is considerable, he agreed to undertake the journey.
“Extreme tempi,” “super-fast” – thus the judgment of many reviewers. The horn player Christian Binde, who shares the stage with Currentzis and moderates the Terrace Talk, defends these tempi – as Beethoven’s own. “As a matter of fact, these markings can be found in the score, so we are going back to the source and origins,” he says. The problem, Teodor Currentzis adds, is that we all view the works with historical knowledge. He cites the example of Notre Dame in Paris: “Before the restoration, its stones were covered with patina, almost black, and one had a certain image of this masterwork. – To be honest, I no longer liked the church after it had been restored! At the first moment, I felt that a masterpiece had been destroyed here.” Yet all that had really been destroyed was the image we had learned to accept over centuries. People, he explains, usually like things the way they know them. Therefore, he suggests taking the time to get back in touch with the original, and being tolerant towards the original aesthetic.
Christian Binde even describes the conductor – who is often called a “classical rebel” – as “super-conservative”, for in addition to the original tempi, he uses historical instruments. That is another way of getting rid of patina, Teodor Currentzis says. To him, authenticity means knowing history, yet using one’s own instinct. He adds that he often asks himself what the composer’s intention for any given piece was – and to learn to esteem its unknown elements.
Christian Binde then asks about the sense of irritation his conducting style often produces. “It is never my intention to provoke. Yet some people find what I do extreme. – I think that is a question of psychology,” he answers. “My goal is not for people to attend a concert, to find it pretty and then be unable to remember it the very next day,” the conductor says. He tries to open doors, and considers concerts an attempt to find the right key to these doors. He wants to delve into the work and explore the limitations of human possibility with his conducting. He also expects his musicians to go to the very limits of their abilities – anything else is merely decorative art. “I am deeply convinced that the role of the musician is to pose ever-new questions to the audience,” Teodor Currentzis says. He dismisses an attitude which likes some kinds of music, but not others. Rather, the real question is: why do I dislike this music, but like this other kind? That question has nothing to do with Teodor Currentzis, he adds; it is an individual issue for each listener.
He explains that the music of each individual Beethoven symphony is entirely engrossing, which makes it difficult to play two of them in one concert evening. On the other hand, however, the concept allows musicians and listeners to discover unexpected parallels, musical ideas which Beethoven sketched in his first symphonies and ultimately drove home in his last ones. Today, Sunday [19th], the Second and Fifth Symphonies are performed, followed by the Sixth and Fourth Symphonies on 22 August and the Eighth and Seventh Symphonies on 23 August. Teodor Currentzis conducts his orchestra musicAeterna of Perm Opera.