19 February 2021 would have seen the inauguration of the biennial »Elbphilharmonie Visions« – a festival of electrifying contemporary music, presented by first-class German radio orchestras. In the end, »Visions« was postponed until 2023 due to the coronavirus pandemic; in its place, festival initiator Alan Gilbert and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra put on a concert of a rather different kind: they present Magnus Lindberg’s much-acclaimed orchestral work »Tempus fugit« as a large-scale video production, followed by the trumpet concerto »... miramondo multiplo ...« by Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth featuring the fantastic Håkan Hardenberger as soloist.
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet
conductor Alan Gilbert
Magnus Lindberg (*1958)
Tempus fugit (2017)
Olga Neuwirth (*1968)
... miramondo multiplo ... (2006)
Into the limelight :About the programme
In their joint video production, Alan Gilbert and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra perform music solely written in the 21st century. »I believe strongly that we should not only appreciate the works of the old masters, but also the music being written by our contemporaries,« says Gilbert. »After all, it reflects the here and now. We can be a part of music history as it happens!«
»Magnus Linderg’s music covers all the bases: it is intellectually satisfying, it is emotionally profound, and it is really human.«
Time flies :Magnus Lindberg’s »Tempus fugit«
People have been talking a lot about our sense of time since the coronavirus pandemic broke out. It sometimes feels as if time were almost standing still with shops, cinemas and restaurants closed and all manner of social restrictions in place. But then there are times when time seems to be running through our fingers. It’s a platitude that time is subjective – an hour, a day or a week can seem short or long, depending on the circumstances. But it’s equally true that the linear progress of time cannot be halted. And it is precisely this awareness of the discrepancy between actual duration and duration as subjectively experienced that music has always made use of.
»We experience every (musical) moment as a combination of current events, memories and premonitions.«
»Tempus fugit« is the title given by composer Magnus Lindberg to his orchestral work, which was first performed in 2017. The Latin saying translates simply as »time flies«, and the composer knows all too well how true that is: it is his profession to lay out an entire musical world within a clearly defined space of time (in this case, some 30 minutes).
But the title of his work doesn’t only refer to music as the art of time par excellence. Lindberg was also interested in the second dimension that exists alongside physically measurable time, making us experience every (musical) moment as a combination of current events, memories and premonitions, as described by another modern composer, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, in his image of the »spherical shape of time«. In concrete terms, this caused Lindberg to take a critical look at his own history as part of the composition process.
After university in Helsinki, Lindberg evolved into a figurehead for the Finnish avant-garde in the 1980s. His 1985 work »Kraft«, inspired by electronic music and by the Berlin punk-rock scene, produced literally too mighty a sound for it to be accommodated in a classic concert hall.
His used a computer program to help him organise his mighty barrages of sound. Commenting on the extremes of experimental modern music, from which he gradually distanced himself in the 1990s, Lindberg once said that the only thing missing was »the felling of trees in the middle of the piece«. Lindberg’s own music became more moderate in approach, with tradition in particular starting to play an increasing role.
»A tonal language that fluctuates constantly between melodious and dissonant sounds«
In »Tempus fugit«, Lindberg united his different phases as a composer in a »sphere of time«: he created the harmonies using 1980s computers which supplied him with possible chord progressions on the basis of predefined parameters. The outcome was a tonal language that fluctuates constantly between melodious and dissonant sounds, with conspicuous nods to the giant of modern French music, Olivier Messiaen, and to his countryman, Finnish Romantic composer Jean Sibelius.
Thus one of the recurring themes of the five-part work is a descending and ascending scale motif that could well be at home in Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony. In the second part, there is even a brief piano section with string ensemble that is reminiscent of Mozart or Haydn, while the tremendous climax at the end of part 5 deliberately takes its cue from Mussorgsky’s »Great Gate of Kiev«. What lies behind this gate? – »Tempus fugit« closes with an open sound that looks to the future full of presentiment. The passage of time cannot be stopped.
»The piece is about the elapsing of time, about overlapping time levels and the alternation between familiar musical material and innovative sounds. This description could also be applied to the architecture of the Elbphilharmonie: the combination of old material and new forms, the sense of flow to be found in many interior details, the dissolution of clear spatial planes. This gave me the idea of integrating pictures of the Elbphilharmonie into the piece, so that the architecture is an integral part of the composition.«
Producer Alexander Radulescu about his film of »Tempus fugit«
»Admiring the world from different angles« :Olga Neuwirth’s Trumpet Concerto »… miramondo multiplo…«
The subjects that Magnus Lindberg focuses on in »Tempus fugit« also preoccupy Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth. Memories, personal reflections on her own (musical) origins and their place in the cosmos of past, present and future play a central role in her works.
Neuwirth’s music leads the listener through an iridescent musical labyrinth of allusions and illusions. Each of her compositions »observes and admires the world from different angles« - and in her Trumpet Concerto »… miramondo multiplo …« (first performance: 2006) she even captures this idea in the title. Like in the Lindberg, five movements take us to different emotional realms and paint a complex picture of the world with its »sphere of time«.
»The trumpet: an extension of human breath«
The choice of solo instrument references the composer’s own background – Neuwirth originally wanted to be a jazz trumpeter. As an »extension of human breath« (Neuwirth), the trumpet breathes life into images of her past in five »arias«.
At some points in the score – first and foremost in the fourth movement – we hear reminiscences of Handel, which evoke associations of security and history. Then the trumpet strikes up the opening fanfare from Mahler’s Fifth, as in the »Aria della memoria«, or jazz phrases à la Miles Davis, thus reflecting Neuwirth’s own musical socialisation. The third movement features the pounding rhythms from Stravinsky’s »Sacre du printemps«, the key work in all of modern music. But at the end of the concerto the trumpet liberates itself from the orchestra and stands, to quote the composer, »alone in infinite space«. As if everything could start over. For time never stands still.
Text: Julius Heile, last updated: 2 Mar 2021
Translation: Clive Williams