Haydn / Strauss, Markus Stenz
Few contemporary conductors can rival the intimate understanding and keen sensibility of Markus Stenz when it comes to German orchestral music. As the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal conductor and at his various guest stations, such as the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra or the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, he has honed his craft and left indelible impressions thanks to his masterful interpretations. At Gran Teatro La Fenice, Stenz conducts the house orchestra for two classics: the Symphony No 94 in G Major by Joseph Haydn and Ein Heldenleben, Op 40 by Richard Strauss. Both works stand out by their intricate and technical horn melodies, which Markus Stenz skilfully brings out.
Joseph Haydn composed his Symphony No 94 in 1791, during his first visit to London, many of which would follow. The premiere took place on 23 March 1792 at the Hanover Square Rooms. Popularly known as Haydn’s ‘Surprise Symphony’, it features a prominent fortissimo chord in the midst of its quiet second movement, which explains the work’s nickname. When asked about this musical joke decades later, Haydn mused about how important it was to deliver something new to audiences and to keep them engaged, not only with beautiful melodies but also with unexpected musical decisions. Naturally, this was a principle that many composers since Haydn’s time would adopt happily. Aside from its trademark ‘Paukenschlag’ (or ‘drumstroke’ in English), the ‘Surprise Symphony’ has catchy melodies and intricate horn and woodwind parts that surely keep the audience’s keen attention.
Ein Heldenleben, or ‘A Hero’s Life’ in English, is a tone poem by Richard Strauss with strong autobiographical leanings. The premiere performance took place on 3 March 1899 in Frankfurt. The work is subdivided into six parts, detailing the hero himself, his adversaries, his life partner, his battles and achievements in times of peace, and his eventual taking a step back from active duty. Strauss matched the autobiography feel of Ein Heldenleben with a number of self-quotations from previous works, like Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, or Death and Transfiguration. Critics were revolted, particularly because they recognised themselves as the hero’s adversaries, but the piece gained popular momentum. In performance by the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice and under Markus Stenz’s baton, Haydn and Strauss sound as epic and lively as ever.