Gianandrea Noseda on one of his signature works, Britten’s War Requiem
Merging the Latin Mass for the Dead with anti-war poems by a young officer named Wilfred Owen who was killed just days before the end of World War I, Britten’s War Requiem is an emotional indictment of war as a heroic myth, which Owen called ‘the Old Lie.’ As November marks 100 years since the Armistice of World War I, the NSO will combine forces with some of today’s most gifted voices and choral groups for this epic work. Britten said he wanted the soloists to represent “the three nations that had suffered most during the war,” and in this performance, NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda honors that tradition conducting a Russian soprano Karina Flores, British tenor Ian Bostridge, and German baritone Matthias Goerne.
Maestro Noseda shared some of his thoughts on the piece with us:
Q: This piece has become one of your signature works to perform. What does the piece mean to you and how do you connect with it musically and thematically? What about it moves you and why?
Gianandrea Noseda: War Requiem is one of the great masterpieces written in the 20th century. The unique way Britten could combine the Latin text of the Requiem Mass with the English text of Owen’s poetry makes this piece very powerful both emotionally and dramatically. I’m always moved by his desperation to exorcise the tragedy of war without any kind of moralism. The music is incredibly vivid due to the austerity of the choral parts and the anguish of the male soloist fragments. The ending is a sort of transfiguration aiming for a peaceful world made by respectful relationships between human beings regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Q: The NSO’s upcoming performance will feature three soloists from Russia (Karina Flores, soprano), England (Ian Bostridge, tenor), and Germany (Matthias Goerne, baritone) as Benjamin Britten originally intended when the piece premiered. Why is this important to you and how does it affect your interpretation of the piece?
GN: Britten intended to bring together soloists coming from those countries that brutally fought during the world war. I like to respect Britten’s wish because I strongly believe that differences are a big opportunity to enrich the society and not a problem that leads to tensions and violence.
Q: You have conducted this work several times, but how do you prepare the orchestra, soloists, and choirs for a piece of this size? Has your interpretation of the piece changed over the years?
GN: The most efficient way to proceed is to rehearse all the forces involved separately and then to put everything together. The War Requiem is brought to life by the perfect combination of all these “ingredients.”
GN: I usually suggest to any audience member to be open and ready to be reached and touched by the music. Simply “come and listen”!
Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from the experience? How do you think the piece is relevant today?
GN: The War Requiem is really relevant today because, even if the War seems to be far away from us, if we don’t pay attention to signals like egoism, racism, intolerance, nationalism and lack of respect, war could be back!