Veronika Eberle

Veronika Eberle & Kent Nagano

2021 festival: The famous violinist and the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra present the world premiere of a work by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa together with Brahms’s Third Symphony.

The first performance of Toshio Hosokawa’s violin concerto »Genesis« is one of the highlights of this year’s Hamburg International Music Festival. Hosokawa is the best-known living composer of his native Japan, with his works being performed in many major concert halls and opera houses. He is known to Hamburg music lovers as well – his impressive opera »Silent Sea« about the Fukushima meltdown was also given its world premiere in Hamburg in 2016. In his compositions, Hosokawa combines traditional Japanese music with contemporary Western idioms: »Music that embraces vanishing time and is at one with the transience of life,« as he describes it himself. Star violinist Veronika Eberle returns to the Elbphilharmonie for the world premiere of his new violin concerto.

After the interval, Johannes Brahms is on the programme. After all, what would a Hamburg music festival be without one of the city’s most famous composers? »I am filled with longing when I think of Hamburg,« the Hamburg-born composer wrote from Vienna, where he later settled, »and I always feel especially happy when I am there.« How apt, then, that the Philharmonic State Orchestra – the city's longest-standing orchestra – should perform a Brahms cycle under their principal conductor Kent Nagano. After their resounding success with Brahms’s First Symphony at the city hall’s open-air concerts in 2019, the musicians now play the Romantic composer’s Third Symphony – a work, as his colleague Antonín Dvořák once enthused, »that speaks to the heart«.

Note: All Hamburg International Music Festival 2021 concerts are available to stream free of charge. Once premiered, each concert stream can be accessed for the whole festival period.

The stream of Toshio Hosokawa’s violin concerto »Genesis« is available until 2.6.2021.

An overview of all 2021 festival concerts.

Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra © Claudia Höhne
Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra © Claudia Höhne
Kent Nagano Kent Nagano © Claudia Höhne
Veronika Eberle Veronika Eberle © Hannes Rathjen
Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra © Claudia Höhne


Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra
Veronika Eberle violin
conductor Kent Nagano


Toshio Hosokawa
Genesis / Concerto for violin and orchestra (world premiere) / comissioned by Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, NHK Symphony Orchestra, iroshima Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (SOČR) and Grafenegg Festival

Johannes Brahms
Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90

total duration: approx. 60 minutes


Kent Nagano – Conductor

Kent Nagano
Kent Nagano © Felix Broede

Veronika Eberle – Violin

Veronika Eberle
Veronika Eberle © Felix Broede

The music

A personal gift :Toshio Hosokawa’s violin concerto »Genesis«

»I have a very personal connection with the subject. While I was rehearsing it, I experienced many emotions and memories. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t limit the work to that: it is so much more.«

Veronika Eberle


»I am looking for a new form of Japanese music, a form where I can remain faithful to myself and my roots. Western culture plays an important role here if we really want to get to know one another.« Thus Toshio Hosokawa once defined his own artistic intention – a plan with which he was to have great success: the reserved musician is one of his native country’s leading composers and is known around the world for his style, where he combines ideas of the European avant-garde with forms and sounds from traditional Japanese music.

With a glance at this intercultural symbiosis, his biography is unsurprising: Hosokawa, born in Hiroshima, enrolled at university in Tokyo, but relocated to Germany soon after, where he continued his musical training first in Berlin, then later in Freiburg. From there, the creative composer attended major festivals like the Darmstadt Summer Course for Contemporary Music, which gave him the opportunity to present his own works and become established as a regular teacher. In the following years, his reputation on the international modern-music scene grew and he found himself showered with composition commissions from all quarters. Among these have featured works for the Salzburg Festival, the Berlin Philharmonic and the festival in the French town of Aix-en-Provence. He also left a lasting impression in Hamburg with his opera »Stilles Meer« about the Fukushima disaster, which was given its first performance under the baton of Kent Nagano at the Hamburg State Opera.

Toshio Hosokawa
Toshio Hosokawa © Kazlshikawa

In 1989, ever true to his roots, Hosokawa set up the Akiyoshidai International Contemporary Music Seminar and Festival in Yamagushi, Japan’s first important festival for contemporary music. In addition, he has been musical director of the Takefu International Music Festival in Fukuj since 2001. In short, Hosokawa derives his success from the constant exchange between Japanese and European culture, and to this day the award-winning composer has homes in Nagano / Japan and in Mainz / Germany.

For Hosokawa, whose oeuvre covers orchestral works, solo concertos, chamber music and film scores as well as pieces for traditional Japanese instruments, the composition process is linked to the ideas of Zen Buddhism and its interpretation of Man and nature. Thus he says about his new violin concerto as well: »In the concerto the soloist stands for Man, while the orchestra represents nature and the universe that surround him.« The composer dedicated the atmospheric concerto with the symbolic title »Genesis« to Veronika Eberle and her son Maxime, who was born in 2019. The violinist says that the first copy of the score that Hosokawa sent her contained comments like »Singing for Maxime«. »Of course that really touched my heart«, she admits: »It moved me deeply to be part of the creation process.«

Veronika Eberle
Veronika Eberle © Felix Broede

Hosokawa represents the »genesis« of a new human being by the creation and development of a violin melody. He explains this as follows: »At the outset, the orchestra repeats undulating movements as a reminiscence of the amniotic fluid. From these emerges a melody on the solo violin which at first imitates the orchestral motifs, but gradually becomes increasingly independent. Only towards the end of the concerto does this »melody of life« find its way back to a state of harmony with the orchestra, in which it finally dissolves.«

Text: Julika von Werder

Brahms in love :Brahms’s Third Symphony in F major

The cheerful underlying tone of the Third Symphony, which Brahms wrote in the summer of 1883, was described by his protegé Antonín Dvořák in the following words: »I am not exaggerating when I say that this work surpasses his first two symphonies – perhaps not in terms of size and mighty concept, but certainly in beauty! What marvellous tunes are to be found here! The music is full of love, and speaks straight to the heart.«

Without knowing it, Dvořák had hit the nail firmly on the head: Brahms was in love. In spring 1883 he got to know the 26-year-old alto Hermine Spies at a concert in Krefeld, and invited her to visit him at his summer home in Wiesbaden. She called him her »St John Passion«, and he wrote her lyrical love letters and dedicated two song cycles to her, of which his friend Theodor Billroth wrote teasingly: »If the songs really are new, then you must still have a healthy virility, as befits your resilient nature.« In the end, the romance came to nothing – the composer was twice as old as the singer, after all. But this apparently did not spoil his boisterous frame of mind. He wrote to another friend: »Did I never tell you of my fine principles? No opera and no more marriage.«

Hermine Spiess 1886
Hermine Spiess 1886 © Wikimedia Commons

The score is certainly substantially lighter in mood than Brahms’s First. The opening movement in waltz time has a dance-like character from the start. The music takes off straight away driven by the strings, whose parts interlock in syncopation, thus cancelling out the heavy emphases of the metre. In the second subject, Brahms fits the graceful woodwind tunes into the metre so imprecisely that the melody constantly has to shift. The playful element is to the fore.

Clara Schumann’s description of the second movement is very much in this spirit as well: »Here I find myself listening to the worshippers at the little forest chapel, the babbling brook and the sounds of beetles and gnats – there is such a buzzing and whispering around you, you feel coccooned by all nature’s delights.« It is first and foremost the woodwind section that is responsible for depicting this idyll of nature, while the horn and the strings give the third movement the character of an elegiac »valse triste«.

Johannes Brahms 1866
Johannes Brahms 1866 © Wikimedia Commons

Even in this happy and productive time, Brahms did not churn out music en gros; this fact was due to his complex method of composition. He had a deep mistrust in the principle of a »lovely idea« and its contribution to the work as a whole: »What people refer to as invention is actually a higher sort of inspiration; in other words, it is something out of my control. From that moment on, I cannot despise this ›gift‹ enough; I need to turn it into my legitimate property through constant hard work.« For Brahms, the basic craft of composing stood in the foreground, not the genius. This clearly sets Brahms apart from composers like Mozart, who string together catchy tunes in some works without paying so much attention to a sophisticated treatment of the ideas.

This approach of Brahms’s is reflected in a large number of motivic cross-references, such as permeate the entire Third Symphony as well. Nearly every theme and every accompaniment figure goes back to one basic figure, in this case to the three notes F-A flat-F. These three notes are already hidden in the mighty chords that open the symphony, and from that point they accompany us throughout the work – a real treasure trove for the musicologist. We are not trying to overtax your analytical listening abilities here, but if you memorise this motif, you will recognise it in many passages. The inner connection is particularly prominent in the last movement, which takes up many figures already heard. The note-for-note quotation of the main theme from the opening movement in the symphony’s closing bars is so obvious, it cannot be ignored. These affinities ensure that the listener perceives the work as a unified whole.

Text: Clemens Matuschek

Supported by the Kühne Foundation, the Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media, Stiftung Elbphilharmonie and the Förderkreis Internationales Musikfest Hamburg

last updated: 12.05.2021

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