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The Klimt-inspired Phantasma by Bernd Richard Deutsch receives its UK premiere by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on 4 May, conducted by Vasily Petrenko. This follows performances by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bamberg Symphony, with a future date planned by the Cleveland Orchestra.

Liverpool plays host to the UK premiere of Bernd Richard Deutsch’s recent orchestral score Phantasma at Philharmonic Hall on 4 May, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko. The new 13-minute work, inspired by the art of Gustav Klimt and his Beethoven Frieze in Vienna, was co-commissioned by the RLPO and the concert will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast on 19 May. To conclude the evening at Philharmonic Hall, Vasily Petrenko will take part in a Post-Concert Question Time.

> Visit the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic website

Now in his 40s, Bernd Richard Deutsch is established as the leading Austrian composer of his generation, with a wide international calendar of performances by prestigious orchestras. Conductors who have championed his music include Stefan Asbury, Baldur Brönnimann, Alan Gilbert, HK Gruber, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hruša, Johannes Kalitzke, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, François-Xavier Roth, Peter Rundel and Franz Welser-Möst.

Phantasma was originally scheduled to be unveiled by the Cleveland Orchestra, where Deutsch was Composer Fellow between 2018 and 2020, but the planned sequence of international premieres by co-commissioners was disrupted by the pandemic. The delayed first performances took place with the Bamberg Symphony under Jakub Hruša last October in Bamberg and Frankfurt, followed the same month by the Dutch premiere by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Gianandrea Noseda in Amsterdam, and by the coming UK premiere in Liverpool on 4 May. The US premiere is planned for a future season by the Cleveland Orchestra.

Deutsch describes how the composition of Phantasma grew from a fascination with the artworks of the famed Viennese Secessionist artist Gustav Klimt: “During an intensive occupation with Klimt’s work, the contemplation of several of his paintings directly evoked musical ideas and tonal concepts in me. The abundance of figures and ornaments that partially led him to the threshold of abstraction seems to have predestined his visual imagery for musical associations.”

“The famous tripartite Beethoven Frieze, one of the most important works of his ‘golden’ period, is representative of Klimt’s philosophy of art, and it contains a number of motifs that appear frequently in his works. Thus, for example, the hovering female figures in the Water Serpents, which exist in two versions, and the motif of the kiss, which Klimt depicted several times, appears here, too.”

Deutsch’s 13-minute orchestral work consists of three movements which reflect the panels of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, adopting themes from the artist’s own programme for the triptych which drew, in turn, upon Wagner’s 1846 programme note for Beethoven’s Symphony No.9. The first movement, headed The yearning for happiness, is hovering and lyrical, building to a passionate outburst. The central movement, The hostile forces, is a dramatic depiction of the mythical monsters painted by Klimt, and the final movement, …into the ideal realm, develops an ecstatic-eruptive character before reprising the outburst and returning to the dreamlike mood of the opening.

Explaining the title Phantasma, Deutsch comments: “In a biography of Gustav Klimt, I read that, in order to attain admission to his atelier, one had to knock on the door in a specific, previously agreed rhythm. I immediately had the idea for the beginning of the piece: it opens with a kind of knocking signal in the claves over slow string chords… Everyone has probably experienced that shortly before waking up in the morning, sounds from the surroundings can become part of a dream. In analogy to this phenomenon, the piece ultimately shows itself, through the recurring knocking motif at the end, to be a dream vision or illusion – a Phantasma.”

“As in Klimt's work, figurines and ornaments swirl around, the scraps of motifs that wander about are ready to fight and quarrel, before everything is distilled once again into silence ... Deutsch is not only concerned with concrete contemplation, but also with the atmospheric resonance of an epoch in which fashion and tradition, new perspectives and old certainties wrestled with each other with particular intensity. This is presented, however, not as a historical reminiscence, but as a sound and image space for us today.”
Das Orchester

“…a 15-minute, colourful, intelligently worked-through sound drama ... a phenomenal balance between concentrated eruptions of sound and long, wonderfully formulated lyrically sounding lines.”
Frankfurter Rundschau

Recent works by Bernd Richard Deutsch include a Cello Concerto (2016-19) written for Johannes Moser, Phaenomena (2018) available in twin versions for either sheng or accordion and orchestra, and Intensity (2019-20), premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst. Deutsch’s organ concerto Okeanos (2014-15), performed to date in Vienna, Cleveland, Stavanger and Stockholm, has just received its second recording with soloist Iveta Apkalna and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra under Andris Poga, released by Berlin Classics on 28 April.

>  Further information on Work: Phantasma

Images: Klimt Beethoven Frieze (Wikimedia Commons); Deutsch (Stefanie Luger)

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