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HK Gruber is centre-stage at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria this summer, with performances including the world premiere of Northwind Pictures, which travels to Bucharest, Tallinn and Manchester over the coming season.

This year’s Grafenegg Festival, in the province of Lower Austria, is celebrating HK Gruber, the music and the man, in multiple guises as composer, chansonnier and conductor (13 August – 4 September).

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Gruber’s Frankenstein!! on 13 August with the European Union Youth Orchestra and the composer-in-residence as chansonnier. The final concert on 4 September, conducted by Gruber, includes the world premiere of his festival commission Northwind Pictures, Dancing in the Dark and Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with a starry line-up of singers including Angelika Kirchschlager and Ian Bostridge. Gruber also conducts a programme of Weill, Eisler, Krenek and Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers with Bostridge as soloist, leads a workshop for young composers writing new works for the Tonkünstler Orchestra and hosts a family concert.

Northwind Pictures draws upon music from Gruber’s modern fairy-tale opera der herr nordwind, setting a text by HC Artmann and premiered with great success at the Zürich Opera in 2005. Rather than being an operatic suite, the composer describes the 25-minute single-movement work as “closer in spirit to a symphonic poem, as Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol is related to his opera The Nightingale”. Gruber’s selection of music focuses on the most illustrative sections of the opera, hence the ‘pictures’ of the title, including the stormy entrance of Mr North Wind, dance sequences, the preparation of the feast at the monastery and the battle of the baseball thugs.

The orchestral scoring matches that of the opera, based around the classical orchestra with notable additions of saxophone, harp, piano and percussion. The orchestral interludes remain intact, while Gruber has adapted a number of aria sections with brass taking over the roles of the vocal soloists, so for instance the final duet between Mr North Wind and his wife Holla finds their vocal lines allotted to trombone and trumpet. The composer notes that “the listener doesn’t need to know the story of opera, but should hopefully discover plenty of attractive orchestral music that can be enjoyed in its own right”.

Following its premiere at Grafenegg, the Tonkünstler Orchestra tours Northwind Pictures to Bucharest on 6 September in a concert at the George Enescu Festival, coupled with Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins and Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers. Northwind Pictures receives its Estonian premiere in Tallinn on 28 October as part of an all-Gruber programme by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra with Dancing in the Dark and Rough Music with percussion soloist Colin Currie. The UK premiere of Northwind Pictures is scheduled in Manchester on 3 February 2012 within Gruber’s Composer/Conductor series with the BBC Philharmonic, together with works by Britten, Goehr and Cerha.

Other forthcoming Gruber highlights include the Australian premiere tour of his miniature violin concerto Nebelsteinmusik by the Australian Chamber Orchestra (12-25 Sep) and a BBC Philhamonic concert in Manchester focusing on music by Gottfried von Einem (2 Dec). Gruber is completing a percussion concerto, into the open…, and his 70th birthday is celebrated in 2013.

>  Further information on Work: Northwind Pictures

Photo: Johnny Volcano

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