Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Beat Furrer Begehren (Desire)

Libretto by the composer with Christine Huber and Wolfgang Hofer, with a collage of texts from Ovid and Virgil, Hermann Broch, Cesare Pavese and Günter Eich

Petra Hoffmann (soprano) - She (Eurydice)
Johann Leutgeb (speaker) - He (Orpheus)

Vokalensemble NOVA (Colin Mason, director)
ensemble recherche
Beat Furrer and Nassir Heidarian (conductors)
Reinhild Hoffmann (director/choreographer)
Zaha Hadid with Patrick Schumacher (staging)

World premiere at Graz (European Cultural Capital of 2003)

Kairos 0012792KAI [January 2003; 94 + 16 mins]

Here is another complex music theatre exploration of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, on many levels and in several languages (text translations not supplied).

It comes from Graz and was previously released on CD. That probably had similar content in the insert notes as does this new DVD, with the libretto (no subtitles) distracting from watching the screen. Perhaps it needs to be taken twice to get nearer to the concept, as the words are often spoken so quietly as to be near inaudible. At first viewing you will be riveted (for a time, at least) by the unique stage goings on, with modern dance movements, mostly in slow motion, and elusive, gestural music for orchestra and choir.

The "story"of Begehren focuses upon Orpheus looking back at his beloved and his killing by the Bacchantes. The two protagonists are shadowed by dancer alter egos and the choreography creates a mood which, hopefully, will hold you for the opera's hour and a half. There are several interviews to help you into this unique world of the mind.

Beat Furrer (b. 1954) is highly persuasive that the complexities of his concept are meaningful - his German is overlaid with an optional English translation for those who prefer that (subtitles would have made it easier for me and my German speaking wife to enjoy it simultaneously). Architect Zaha Hadid expresses her delight in being invited into this collaboration; she creates some remarkable machinery with a representation of the river Styx, bridged between the two worlds, and with a ramp (see above left) up which She begins to ascend at the end - to nowhere... The evocative music comprises telling, fragmentary gestures from the orchestra and contributions from the chorus who sing from music scores, sometimes on large translucent trapezoids which become props in the stately dance.

The additonal sleeve note provided (in English) isn't a great help, but one is used to that with offerings on continental avant-garde labels. There is a synopsis to follow (in English and other languages) which, however is listed as Scenes I to X, those numbers out of kilter with the Chapters 1 to 12. The best and most helpful account of it we have found in English is by Larry Lash, in a review of the previously released CD. He describes the full range of vocal sounds produced by the performers who 'sing and speak, but they are also required to hiss, click, intone, whisper and drone'. But, he adds, 'comprehension isn't helped by an opaque sleeve note that might or might not have suffered in translation - "This parable on the dialectic of isolation is also a double monodrama, set in a no-man's land of placelessness" '.

We will be returning to this frustrating yet haunting production, which is well filmed and recorded so as to give you a real feel of being there, in an emotionally draining scenario of loss and isolation, without catharsis.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The CD previously released is reviewed by Andrew Clements in The Guardian but the DVD is infinitely preferable (Editor)

Alexa Woolf adds:

Beat Furrer has created a most extraordinary piece of music theatre, ground-breaking in its slow-moving vibrant complexity. Begehren is a work of stunning beauty and tantalising psychological depth, exploring feelings of striving and loss, delving close to the abyss of knowingness, the "Styx" of separation from comprehension and the unknowable, the unreachable. It is open ended yet held in balance between form and content by the movements, orchestrated and integrated upon Hadid's set, which alludes to a here and nowhere, a perceived and intimated world...

This DVD is a major landmark which should be considered seriously by anyone interested in the meaningful possibilities of contemporary music theatre.

Beat Furrer

Concerto per pianoforte e orchestra (2007);
Invocation VI (2007) per soprano e flauto basso;
Spur (1998) per pianoforte e quartetto d’archi;
FAMA VI (2005) per voce e flauto contrabbasso;
Retour an dich (1984) per trio con pianoforte;
Lotófagos I (2006) per soprano e contrabbasso.

Nicolas Hodges (pianoforte), WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Peter Rundel (direzione), Petra Hoffmann (soprano), Eva Furrer (flauto basso, flauto contrabbasso), Kammerensemble neue musik berlin, Isabelle Menke (voce), Tora Augestad (soprano), Uli Fussenegger (contrabbasso)

Beat Furrer (b. 1954) is a prominent Swiss-born composer of new music active in Vienna, Cologne etc and is a real explorer prepared to go where others don't.

For a second time recently his music has struck us forcibly, whereas many composers of the extreme avant-guard leave us bewildered and unengaged. There is often difficulty too with some Kairos liner notes, which seem designed to alienate ordinary music lovers as outsiders. Those here are better, if still quite hard work. Searching for Pathways deals with most of the instrumental pieces, but it takes a lot of effort to find which where; highlighting in BOLD would make it much easier.

There are three works with piano; a concerto, a piano quintet and a piano trio, all apparently with different pianists, and each of them riveting.

The concerto explores piano sound, especially its "resonances, overtone spectra and pedalizations". Yes, that makes sense as you listen. The large orchestra amplifies the sound qualities and articulations "from metallic to glassy", from low to high and with hammered sextuplets becoming the overriding dynamic pulling into the vortex of motoric movement, finishing with fortissimo martaletto in the highest register..." Exciting stuff. No less interesting are the chamber works, two with piano, other duos with voice, bass & contrabass flute, and double bass.

Marie Maintz's Physiognomy of the Scream deals at length with FAMA VI, to a German text from Schnitzler's Fraulein Else, about the horror of forced prostitution. The woman, a speaking narrator, moves from self absorption to awareness of the world outside herself, with elements of non-verbal expression shared with the lowest flute in a tight speech/instrumental conjunction. Invocation VI is a poetic, mystical lamentation (Juan de la Cruz) with an emotional eruption, "Why have You wounded this heart?". Furrer sets its multiple meanings in a virtuoso aria for soprano and bass flute. In Lotófagos I (José Angel Valente) the composer characterises lost memory as "a floating state of unendingness in pulsing sighs".

An important compilation, with illustrative pages of the scores, and articles supplied trilingually; but the German and Spanish performed texts not given in English translation. Nonetheless, this important disc is seriously recommended for something well outside the British contemporary music scene, approachable taken on its own terms and enjoyably invigorating.



Helmut-List-Halle, Graz (photos © Rocio Paz)
Photo of Beat Furrer © UE - Frank Helmrich