Suite from Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande arranged by Alain Altinoglu
The conductor, Alain Altinoglu will be presenting his world premiere Suite from Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande on Thursday 21st September at the Berlin Philharmonie. With this concert, the conductor will be making his debut as the head of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Meet Alain Altinoglu.
Orchestral Suites based on lyrical works, often conceived by a conductor, were very popular arrangements in the 19th and 20th centuries. What are your thoughts on this genre ?
In general, orchestral suites were arrangements of sections from longer pieces chosen to be played in concert. A great number of opera and ballet masterpieces were popularised in this manner, such as Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Prokofiev’s ballets and Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane. I find it fascinating to study the choices made by the composers (or those tasked with arranging the suite) and what they kept from the original work; it allows us to imagine which passages they found most important and perhaps even their satisfaction in reusing them.
How did you go about selecting these excerpts and “sewing” them together ?
Claude Debussy had to compose the orchestral interludes in Pelléas et Mélisande with great speed… Some time before the debut performance it became clear that the music as it stood wasn’t long enough for the multiple set changes. Almost 150 bars of music had to be added. I used these interludes as the foundation for my suite. I wanted to preserve the staging of the work, and proceeded in chronological order from the opera’s slow and sombre introduction to the brilliance of the final C-sharp major following the death of Mélisande.
Is it important to see (and hear) the death of Mélisande in the concert ?
I think it was crucial to keep the ending of Pelléas. All great operas finish with a magnificent (and often deeply moving) scene, like in Carmen or Salomé. I chose not to have the vocal parts played by an instrument, but instead to keep the orchestral mood. Oddly enough, most of the excerpts transition from one to the next like magic, and the harmonic construction preserves a classically
“Debussy-esque” feeling: there’s barely a perfect cadence to be found in Pelléas !
You have directed Debussy’s only opera in some of the greatest houses. What is your connection to this particular work, which revolutionised opera ?
I began playing piano pieces by Debussy as a child and they brought me great joy. I discovered Pelléas when I was 13 or 14 years old, I think. I had borrowed the score from the library at my conservatory. Later, a singer friend of mine asked me to accompany him as he learned the part of Golaud, one he had dreamed of singing (as fate would have it, he would later become one of the greatest in the role of Pelléas!). Then, at the Conservatoire de Paris, I took a class on vocal accompaniment and had the opportunity to attend a master class on Pelléas taught by Irène Aïtoff. I watched awestruck as she played and sang the entire opera by heart! It was as if she was letting us in on some of Pelléas’ secrets. I have also read a great deal about Debussy and studied numerous manuscripts. I wanted to study this work at length, and didn’t direct my first production of Pelléas until much later, in 2016.
The world premiere of this Orchestral Suite will be on the occasion of your debut performance conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker. Pierre Boulez lauded the aesthetic that this prestigious training brings to French music. What are you expecting from this unison?
I’m eager to meet this fabled orchestra and its musicians. Even though I already know certain soloists from the Berliner, I haven’t yet had the chance to conduct for them. They have the fundamental qualities for playing Debussy’s music: colours, elasticity and poetry.
Performances on 21 - 22 - 23 September 2017 at the Berlin Philarmonie - Information and reservation