Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor
Lester Lynch, bass-baritone

Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor
Lester Lynch, bass-baritone

Sir Simon Rattle makes his first visit to Washington, D.C., in more than 20 years as chief conductor of Germany’s acclaimed Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO). Known throughout the world for his deep musical insight, and charismatic presence as an educator and communicator, Rattle leads the Grammy-winning BRSO in a performance of orchestral showpieces. Experience Richard Wagner’s “Prelude und Liebestod” from the heart-wrenching opera Tristan und Isolde; Beethoven’s nature-inspired “Pastoral” Symphony; and Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Symphony Gesänge, performed with charismatic baritone Lester Lynch, a vocalist “with nuance and satisfying dramatic variety” (Bachtrack), who is well-known to D.C.-area audiences. Do not miss the opportunity to experience this one of only four U.S. performances by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2024.

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Program Details

Richard Wagner – “Prelude und Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde
Alexander von Zemlinsky – Symphonische Gesänge, op. 20
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (“Pastorale”)

More About the Artists

Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor

Convincing charisma, a love for experimentation, commitment to contemporary music, great social and pedagogical engagement, and unreserved artistic seriousness makes the Liverpool-native Sir Simon Rattle one of the most fascinating conducting personalities of our time. Since the start of this season, Sir Simon Rattle has been the new Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) and Choir.

Rattle gained international reputation during his time with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1980-1998), which he led to world fame. He was the Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic from 2002 to 2018 and Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) from 2017 to 2023. As Conductor Emeritus, the 69-year-old Briton with a German passport will remain associated with the LSO. He also works closely with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, of which he is Principal Artist.

Rattle regularly tours throughout Europe and Asia and maintains long-standing relationships with leading orchestras worldwide, including the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Staatskapelle, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and the Czech Philharmonic.

Together with the BRSO, Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried, Mahler’s Lied von der Erde and Ninth Symphony, and the musica viva-CD with works by Ondřej Adámek have been released on CD. The Ninth Symphony was awarded a Diapason d’or, a Supersonic Pizzicato, and Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

Lester Lynch, bass-baritone

Lester Lynch has become recognized for his charismatic portrayals and commanding voice in some of Verdi’s most important characters with rave reviews, including his signature role of Conte di Luna in Il Trovatore, Nabucco, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Falstaff, and Simon Boccanegra. In contemporary repertoire he is known for his portrayals in pieces such as Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero, Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and Nico Muhly’s The Glitch, garnering many accolades.

Lynch made his debut at the renowned Teatro alla Scala singing the role of Crown in Porgy and Bess and at the Royal Opera House as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Other appearances on major stages and with major orchestras include Lyric Opera of Chicago, Semperoper Dresden, Bergen National Opera, Seattle Opera, Vienna Volksoper, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.

Recent performances include Escamillo in Carmen with Edmonton Opera and Bluebeard in a new production of Bluebeard’s Castle with both the Edinburgh Festival and New Zealand Opera. He made his film debut in November 2021 as Merrivale in Gordon Getty’s opera, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, based on the popular 1934 novella by James Hilton.

Lynch’s recording work is featured on Pentatone, including his 2017 debut solo album, “On My Journey Now.” His new recording featuring Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances and Death and Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge will be released in October.

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO)

With the 2023-2024 season, the BRSO welcomes Sir Simon Rattle as its new principal conductor. He is the sixth in a line of distinguished orchestra conductors after Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelík, Sir Colin Davis, Lorin Maazel, and Mariss Jansons. Soon after its foundation in 1949, the BRSO developed into an internationally renowned orchestra. In addition to cultivating the classical-romantic repertoire and classical modernism, contemporary music is one of the central tasks of musica viva, which was founded by Karl Amadeus Hartmann in 1945. Renowned guest conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini, and Wolfgang Sawallisch have left their mark on the orchestra. Today, Herbert Blomstedt, Franz Welser-Möst, Daniel Harding, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Andris Nelsons, Jakub Hrůša, and Iván Fischer are important partners.

The BRSO has received many awards for its extensive recording activities, including the GRAMMY Award (2006). Even before taking office, Simon Rattle had already added important milestones to the discography, including works by Mahler and Wagner, many of them have already received international awards. Further CD recordings will accompany the collaboration, as will intensive promotion of young talents and tours and performances in the world’s most important music centers.

In a ranking of the ten best orchestras in the world published 2023 by the online magazine Bachtrack and compiled by the world’s leading music journalists, the BRSO took the third place.

Harps provided by Lyon & Healy Harps, Chicago.

“Here is an orchestra that is not only very brilliant – it doesn’t have any weaknesses at all. They are enormously spontaneous and emotional performers, playing every concert like it could be their last. They give everything, more than a hundred percent.” 

Take Note

Take Note!

Before the orchestra takes the stage, learn about the orchestra’s riveting program in a free educational session held at George Washington University from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Perfect for both first time and experienced symphony goers. Complimentary appetizers and drinks will be served. RSVP required.

Program Notes

Wagner – “Prelude und Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde


During the 1850s Wagner was at work on the operas that would make up The Ring of the Nibelungen. He completed Das Rheingold in 1854 and Die Walküre in 1856 and immediately set to work on Siegfried. Partway through Act I of Siegfried, however, Wagner’s plans took an unexpected detour when he became fascinated by the ancient Irish legend of Tristan and Iseult, lovers who find fulfillment only in death. He laid aside his work on Siegfried for three years and composed Tristan und Isolde between 1856 and 1859.

Even before the opera was premiered in Munich in 1865 Wagner had led orchestral excerpts from it in concerts, and the most important of these involves a remarkable piece of compositional surgery: Wagner took the very beginning of the opera–its opening prelude–and the very ending–Isolde’s farewell to life–and fused them in an orchestral work he called Prelude and Love-Death. This reduces the four-hour opera to a 16-minute distillation that moves directly from its yearning beginning to Isolde’s ecstatic fulfillment in death at the very end, and it has remained one of the most popular orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s operas.

It is also one of the most remarkable works in the orchestral repertoire, so remarkable that many feel that modern music (whatever that is) begins with the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde. The Prelude opens this tale of unfulfilled love with music that is itself the very embodiment of unfulfilled longing–a falling cello line intersects dissonantly with a rising oboe line, and that harmonic clash does not resolve. That same pattern repeats in a new key, again without resolution. It will never resolve. The music’s failure ever to find harmonic stasis mirrors the lovers’s failure to find fulfillment in life, and–despite the beauty of the music–its effect is intentionally unsettling. Berlioz confessed that he was “completely baffled” when he heard Wagner conduct the Prelude in Paris in 1859, and he was quite right to feel assaulted. This music annihilated the conception of a tonal center decades before those other two works that have seemed to launch modern music–Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring–were conceived (and before either of those two composers had even been born).

The Prelude–built on a series of longing, surging phrases–comes to a quiet close on two deep pizzicato strokes, and the music continues directly into the concluding Liebestod, or Love-Death. It was Wagner himself who invented that name, though he considered calling this concluding excerpt Verklärung, or Transformation. Tristan has died, and Isolde–dying herself–clings to his body and finds in death the union that the two could never achieve in life. The Liebestod is built on a quite different orchestral sonority than the Prelude, full of shimmering sounds–string tremolos, harp arpeggios, and long crescendos– that mirror Isolde’s transfiguration. Isolde has now become oblivious to this world and this life, and–over the glowing sound of the orchestra–her gentle final words soar ever higher as she escapes into death and eternal union with Tristan.


Program notes by Eric Bromberger

Zemlinsky – Symphonische Gesänge, op. 20

Text and Translation

Alexander Zemlinsky’s career spanned several musical worlds. Born and trained in the Vienna of Brahms, who as an old man admired Zemlinsky’s works, he died–almost forgotten–in a suburb of New York City during World War II. Early in his life, Zemlinsky became close friends with Schoenberg (who married his sister) and with him formed a new-music society in Vienna; Mahler conducted the premiere of Zemlinsky’s opera Es war einmal at the Staatsoper and hired him as a conductor there. Zemlinsky made his own career largely as a conductor, first in Prague and later at the Kroll Opera in Berlin, where he was an assistant to Otto Klemperer. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Zemlinsky fled first to Vienna and then to the US in 1938. Like many composers at the turn of the century, Zemlinsky found himself caught between the heritage of Viennese classicism and the new directions Schoenberg and his followers were taking in the first decades of this century. Zemlinsky struggled with this conflict–he could be attracted by the new ideas in music, but his own music remained firmly anchored in tonality. His output is small: only 27 opus numbers.

Early in 1929 Zemlinsky read a book titled Afrika Singt (“Africa Sings”), a collection of poems by writers of the Harlem Renaissance in America, here published in a German translation by Jean Forman. Like many European Jews, Zemlinsky felt a bond with African-Americans, particularly in their oppression and suffering at the hands of the larger society around them. Zemlinsky chose seven of these poems and set them for baritone and orchestra, giving them the title Symphonische Gesänge: “Symphonic Songs.” The premiere–on a radio broadcast from Brno–did not take place until April 8, 1935, shortly before Zemlinsky fled to the United States.

Zemlinsky made some specific choices as he set out to compose these songs, and those choices give the Symphonische Gesänge a very particular cross-cultural character. Rather than tracking down the poems in their original English, Zemlinsky chose to set them in the German translations in Afrika Singt. And rather than writing in a style that would incorporate the musical idioms the Harlem Renaissance writers would have known (jazz, blues, ragtime, spirituals), Zemlinsky wrote in his own style, a late-romantic expressionistic style descended from both Mahler and Schoenberg. Some note that Zemlinsky included a mandolin in his orchestra and claim to hear subtle jazz influences, but audiences will more readily hear the idiom of early 20th-century European music.

Of the seven poems Zemlinsky chose, four are by Langston Hughes, with one each by Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, and Frank Horne (uncle of Lena Horne). All seven songs are short, and Zemlinsky accompanies the singer with an orchestra that often plays in its lower registers–the predominant sound of cellos, basses, and bassoons gives these songs a subdued cast. Certain themes run through the texts: suffering, loss, violence, anger. The Symphonische Gesänge are framed by two songs– Lied aus Dixieland and Arabesque–about lynchings. Several of the songs are violent (Lied der Baumwollpacker, Über Bursche, Afrikanischer Tanz), and the music that sets them is suitably brusque and violent. And there are interludes of quiet beauty here too, such as Erkenntnis, with its loving but ambivalent tribute to Harlem.


Program notes by Eric Bromberger.

Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 “Pastorale”

After making sketches for several years, Beethoven composed his Sixth Symphony during the summer of 1808, and it was first performed at the Theater an der Wien on December 22 of that year. The Sixth is unique among Beethoven’s symphonies because it appears to be program music. Beethoven himself gave it the nickname Pastoral and further headed each movement with a descriptive title that seems to tell a “story:” the arrival in the country, impressions beside a brook, a peasants’s dance that is interrupted by a thunderstorm, and a concluding hymn of thanksgiving once the storm has passed. Some have claimed that romantic music begins with the Pastoral Symphony–they see it as a precursor of such examples of musical painting as Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Mendelssohn’s fairyland scenes, and Liszt’s tone poems–while others have tried to stage this music, complete with characters, costumes, and scenery.

Beethoven would have been astonished. He had no use for program music or musical portraiture, which he considered cheap trickery. His Sixth Symphony is in classical symphonic forms throughout; even its “extra” movement, the famous thunderstorm, can be understood as a brief transition between the scherzo and the rondo-finale. And while this symphony refers to something outside the music itself, Beethoven wanted it understood as “an expression of feelings rather than painting.” The Sixth may lack the stark drama and tension of such predecessors as the Eroica or the Fifth, but it depends on the same use of sonata form for its musical argument, and finally it aims for the same feeling of transcendence those earlier works achieved, even if–as Joseph Kerman has wryly noted–all that is being transcended here is the weather.

Beethoven liked to get out of Vienna during the stifling summer months and would take rooms in a rural village, where he could combine composing with long walks through the fields and woods. A journal entry from 1815, seven years after the Pastoral, suggests his feelings about these walks: “The Almighty in the woods! I am happy, blessed in the forests.” This symphony seems similarly blessed. Its first movement (“Cheerful impressions on arriving in the country”) is built on two completely relaxed themes; these do not offer the contrast that lies at the heart of sonata form, but instead create two complementary “Cheerful impressions.” One of the other unusual features of this movement is Beethoven’s use of the second measure of the opening theme in so many ways: as theme. as accompaniment or as motor rhythm, this simple falling figure saturates the movement, and over its ostinato-like repetitions Beethoven works some wonderful harmonic progressions, all aimed at preserving this movement’s sense of calm.

The second movement–“Scene by the Brook”–is also in a sonata form built on two themes. The title “Scene” may imply dramatic action, but there is none here. Over murmuring lower strings, with their suggestion of bubbling water, the two themes sing gracefully. The movement concludes with three brief bird calls, which Beethoven names specifically in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).
Despite the composer’s protests to the contrary, the third and fourth movements do offer pictorial representations in sound. The scherzo (“Peasants’ merrymaking”) is a portrait of a rural festival; its vigorous trio echoes the heavy stamping of a peasant dance. Beethoven offers a da capo repeat of both scherzo and trio, yet just as the scherzo is about to resume the music suddenly veers off in a new direction. Tremulous strings and distant murmurings lead to the wonderful storm, which remains–two centuries after its composition–the best musical depiction ever of a thunderstorm, with great crashes of thunder in the timpani and lightning flashing downward in the violins (one desperately literal-minded early critic complained that this was the only storm he had ever heard of where the thunder came before the lightning).

Gradually the storm moves off, and the music proceeds directly into the last movement, where solo clarinet and horn outline the tentative call of a shepherd’s pipe in the aftermath of the storm. Beethoven then magically transforms this call into his serene main theme, given out by the violins. If ever there has been music that deserved to be called radiant, it is this singing theme, which unfolds like a rainbow spread across the still-glistening heavens. The finale is a moderately-paced rondo (Beethoven’s marking is Allegretto). Along the way appear secondary themes that once again complement rather than conflict with the mood of the rondo theme, and at the end a muted French horn sings this noble melody one last time.

The petulant young Debussy, enemy of all things German, once sneered that one could learn more about nature from watching the sun rise than from listening to the Pastoral Symphony. This is strange criticism from the man who would go on to write La Mer, which sets out to do exactly the same thing as the Pastoral: to evoke the emotions generated by nature rather than trying to depict that same nature literally. Beethoven did not set out to teach or to show his audience anything. Rather, he wrote a symphony in classical form, which he wanted understood as music: “It is left to the listener to discover the situations for himself … Anyone with a notion of country life can imagine the composer’s intentions without the help of titles or headings.”

Program notes by Eric Bromberger.


Our Partners

This performance is made possible through the generous support of the following sponsors: Lucia and Fred Hill, Drs. Elliot and Lily Gardner Feldman, Dallas Morse Coors Foundation for the Performing Arts, and Kenneth R. Feinberg and Diane Feinberg.

Washington Performing Arts’s classical music performances this season are made possible in part through the generous support of Betsy and Robert Feinberg.

His Excellency Andreas Michaelis, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Her Excellency Dame Karen Pierce DCMG, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the U.S. British Embassy Washington, are the honorary patrons of this engagement.

This is one of fourteen 2023-2024 season performances included in Washington Performing Arts’s The World in Our City initiative, which promotes cross-cultural understanding and cultural diplomacy via the presentation of international visiting artists, globally inspired local programming, and the award-winning Embassy Adoption Program, a partnership with D.C. Public Schools. Support for The World in Our City is provided by The Boeing Company.

Special thanks to the following lead supporters of Washington Performing Arts’s mission-driven work: Jacqueline Badger Mars and Mars, Incorporated; D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities;the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs Program and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts; and The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.

This performance is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

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