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Music Essentials: ATTHIS

Our quick guide to this mixed programme featuring a song cycle based on the poetry of Sappho, from major contemporary composer Georg Friedrich Haas.

By Rachel Beaumont (Product Manager)

16 April 2015 at 11.22am | Comment on this article

A Vital Composer
The Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas is one of the most important composers working today. His influences are diverse, but he most strikingly draws on the compositional techniques of microtonality and spectralism to create a mesmerizing sound world. He is perhaps best known for his orchestral work in vain (2000), described by Simon Rattle as ‘already [an] acknowledged masterpiece of the 21st century’. This new production of ATTHIS for The Royal Opera and London Sinfonietta brings together two important works. It is the first time Haas has been performed at the Royal Opera House, ahead of his main-stage commission Morgen und Abend, which will have its world premiere in the 2015/16 Season.

The Derangement of Darkness
The interplay of light and dark has become crucial to Haas’s work. He describes the quality of dark in his music: ‘I do not see night-time as a romantic concept of sweet dreams, but more a continuation of the concept of being surrounded by darkness, in the sense of being mentally deranged – as a moment of grief, hopelessness, darkness. The “night side” of things is essential to my music. This concept describes something that plays a major role in my spiritual consciousness.’

Tradition and Innovation: the Second String Quartet
Haas wrote his Second String Quartet in 1998 for the Hagen Quartet. The work is part of Haas’s continuing interest in finding ways to extend and reinvent the tradition of Austro-German music. Haas describes the work’s combination of ‘tonal, apparently historicizing sound elements with microtonal adjustments, temporal expansions and compressions and a sometimes virtuoso, flickering sound picture. Tradition shines through again and again, but it appears as something lost, distant, clouded.’

Poetry of the Ancients: ATTHIS
Haas’s 2009 song cycle for soprano and eight instrumentalists takes its name from a lover mentioned in the poetry of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Only fragments of Sappho’s lyric love poetry survive, but the intensity and vibrant imagery of her work has inspired countless artists over the nearly 2,500 years since her death. Haas mingles the Ancient Greek with German translations, here realized into English by Ruth Padel. For Haas, the song cycle is his ‘modern Winterreise, with a happy ending’.

Immersive Artwork for the 21st Century
British director, designer and video designer Netia Jones creates this new production of ATTHIS and the Second String Quartet. Jones has been acclaimed as ‘the most imaginative director of opera working in Britain today’ (Observer) and has won renown for her highly immersive productions. Jones began her career in baroque opera but has recently specialized in 20th-century and contemporary music, finding inspiration in its experiment and invention – most recently in her staging of Unsuk Chin’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

ATTHIS runs 23–5 April 2015. Tickets are still available.

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