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Following his dazzling debut conducting La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and then Idomeneo, the young French conductor Jérémie Rhorer has focused his efforts on the complete version of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a prelude to the concert performance of Fidelio at the end of the season, he continues along the same lines with incidental music written by Beethoven for Egmont de Goethe. Soprano Annette Dasch and pianist Nicolas Angelich are also highlights of the evening.
After exploring the beginnings of Beethoven’s maturity with your ensemble, you are now focusing on the years 1809 and 1810, which witnessed the birth of Piano Concerto No. 5 and the Egmont incidental music pieces, which are on the programme of your concert with La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra.
For Beethoven, the storming of Vienna by the French marked the end of a certain idea of man, in particular through his total and definitive disillusionment with Napoleon. The desire to make truly heroic figures sacred, such as Egmont – who stood up in opposition – therefore became vitally essential. This programme was based on the complete version of Egmont, because it exalts the virtues of the political ideal which Beethoven dreamt of.
What are the connections between the writing of the concerto and Egmont?
They are difficult to establish in so far as the genre of the melodrama is extremely characteristic and leads to other responses than purely instrumental music does. But the two works – as well as Leonore Overture No. 3 – are driven by the exciting rhythmic energy and intensity which are typical of Beethoven. And although he did not invent the sonata, he laid the foundations for the work on thematic duality and its expressive capacity through opposition, conciliation and the way in which this writing may serve a dramatic argument.
How can the unity of incidental music – which is fragmentary by nature – be found in order to make a separate concert piece?
This conviction is probably a little excessive and above all personal, but I’m convinced that the musician is the first dramatist when he achieves what he sets out to do – which is always the case with Beethoven and most of the great composers. The dramatic force and intensity of Egmont are therefore self-sufficient. This programme is part of the prolongation of the complete version of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Peter de Caluwe and I imagined last year. The melodrama is, as it were, the counterpart of opera in the area of concert.
Beethoven’s relationship with theatre is just as problematic: he composed just one opera, which was reworked many times, and a few pieces of incidental music, but most of his projects were never completed. How do you explain this?
Not very well, in as much as all of his attempts seem to be theatrical successes in my opinion. I recently conducted Christ on the Mount of Olives, which is absolutely extraordinary in terms of dramatic aptness and invention. Thanks to the singularity of his rhythmic language, Beethoven finds eminently personal accents to emphasise states of despair, expectation or exaltation, without there being any sort of inappropriateness or barrier between his instrumental writing and his conception of theatre. However, this work is part of the heritage of Haydn and Mozart rather than heralding the future. This is perhaps the source of the misunderstanding as regards this part of his production.
From your point of view as a musician who is knowledgeable about history, what remains to be done with Beethoven?
His instrumental music and symphonies in particular, were soon revisited. There have therefore been many approaches, which are not only different but also well informed. Before the baroque revolution, the great Hungarian masters of rhythm, Georg Solti, Ferenc Fricsay and István Kertész, were closest to Mozart’s dramatic and theatrical truth, which was based on the beat and spirit of dance. In the same way, Beethoven was saved by a form of denaturing. His neglected or secondary works to which a certain type of reflection has not been applied therefore remain to be explored.
Do you approach music differently with your own ensemble and orchestras using modern instruments?
This implies a high level of artistic awareness on the part of musicians from our generation, who would therefore be trained in this new aesthetic approach. One must not end up in a situation whereby nothing may be asked of a modern orchestra. There are of course organological limits, in as much as the text has a close relationship with the instruments which support it. For example, an appoggiatura and its resolution correspond perfectly with the curve and tension of the classical bow. When an orchestra has the flexibility, curiosity and rigour allowing it to have the same ambitions which are possible using ancient instruments, a totally idiomatic interpretation may be achieved, at least in some way. This is the case at La Monnaie.
Interview by Mehdi Mahdavi