Jörg Widmann

Program Note

Jörg Widmann is one of the most versatile and intriguing artists of his generation. As a clarinetist, Widmann studied with Gerd Starke in Munich and Charles Neidich at the Juilliard School in New York. He performs regularly with leading world orchestras, such as Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Orchestra National de France, National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He collaborates with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev, Kent Nagano, Sylvain Cambreling, Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph von Dohnányi. Several clarinet concerti have been dedicated to and written for him, including Wolfgang Rihm’s Musik für Klarinette und Orchester (1999) and Aribert Reimann’s Cantus (2006).

Jörg gave the world premiere of Mark Andre’s new Clarinet Concerto at the 2015 Donauerschinger Musiktage. Amongst his regular chamber music partners are renowned soloists and ensembles such as Sir András Schiff, Daniel Barenboim, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Mitsuko Uchida, and the Hagen and Arcanto quartets. 

Jörg’s compositions are performed regularly by conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Andris Nelsons and Simon Rattle, and premiered by orchestras such as the Wiener and Berliner Philharmoniker, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and many others. Widmann has been Artist in Residence at leading orchestras and festivals such as Lucerne and Heidelberger Frühling, and has been featured in artist portraits at Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Cologne’s Philharmonie and New York’s Carnegie Hall, where his music was featured for an entire season under the motto, “Making Music: Jörg Widmann.”

Most recently, Jörg was commissioned to write a full-length oratorio for the opening of the Elbphilharmonie, an acoustically groundbreaking concert hall in Hamburg. The oratorio, ARCHE, received its world premiere on January 13, 2017 to great acclaim. Widmann’s connection with the Elbphilharmonie continues with a concert series entitled “Portrait Jörg Widmann” which continues through June 2017. Jörg was Composer in Residence at Yellow Barn in 2015, and in April 2017 his song cycle Das heisse Herz was the focus of his Yellow Barn Artist Residency with William Sharp and Seth Knopp.

“This is my first song cycle. I waited for a long time to write it, which is strange because I have been in love with poetry since I was a child. This song cycle would not exist without my profound love for the Schumann song cycles, especially Dichterliebe.

Das Heisse Herz has a great variety of texts, which you would not expect; Normally, if you write a song cycle you use one poet’s work. I tried to create a story all throughout these different poems, which is strange because there is no story, because these poems were written at their own times, in different centuries, by different authors.

I want to point out that there are two poems that fall out of context. One of them is called “Jealousy”, by Klabund. This song is like an opera within the song cycle. The poem is about a man who is incredibly jealous and catches his beloved with another man, and kills them both with a knife. The song ends with a hymn to jealousy, a feeling which we all are embarrassed by. The great thing about this poem is that the narrator is proud of it.

The last song, which is by Clemens Brentano, one of the wonderful German writers of the 19th Century, is truly romantic. Brentano, along with another poet, wrote the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn)—a source of beautiful poetry for musicians that is eternal. (It is famous from the Mahler songs of the same name, but there are brutal texts in it that the romantic composers did not set to music.) In “Alone I wish to perish”, the last two lines of one verse are the first lines of the next, so you have the impression that it has been sounding for a thousand years already and it will for the next thousand years. Thus the song cycle ends in a very lonely way.

I have been looking forward for a long time to have this song cycle played at Yellow Barn, because I have the impression my own voice speaks out. What I find in this poetry is something fragile, especially in the first song. It’s very simple—I was, I will be, I am. It’s so elementary. Why are we here? Where are we going? What changes when we are hit by falling in love? It changes your whole life; It’s an open heart operation. The Klaben poem cycle was called Das Heisse Herz—when I read this tile, I thought ‘Yes, of course, this song cycle is called Das Heisse Herz. What else?’ It was very obvious to me.”

—Jörg Widmann