Calliope Tsoupaki/Nieuw Ensemble
location Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ
date Thu 5.6.2008
starting time 8.30 pm
language Greek with Dutch subtitles
time 2 hours, including one interval
world premiere Amsterdam, 5.6.2008
composer Calliope Tsoupaki
performed by Nieuw Ensemble
conductor Ed Spanjaard
mise-en-espace Pierre Audi
lighting design Tiedo Wilschut
byzantine singer Yannis Arvanitis
eastern singer Raneen Hanna
tenor Marcel Beekman
men’s choir members of the Egidius Kwartet:
Marcel van de Klundert (tenor)
Hans Wijers (baritone)
Donald Bentvelsen (bass)
byzantine choir Konstantinos Grampas
ney Harris Labrakis
kemençe Neva Özgen
qanun Bassem Alkhouri
musicians Margreet Niks, flute
Ernest Rombout, oboe
Arjan Kappers, clarinet
Hans Wesseling, mandoline
Helenus de Rijke, guitar
Ernestine Stoop, harp
John Snijders, piano
Herman Halewijn, drums
Angel Gimeno, violin
Frank Brakkee, viola
Robert Putowski, cello
Rozemarie Heggen, double bass
production Holland Festival
stage manager Pieter Loman
The Lucas Passie (St. Luke Passion) by Calliope Tsoupaki is an icon. That assertion must be taken very literally: this Passion is the auditory equivalent of a Christ Pantocrator icon that inspired Tsoupaki to write it. Christ’s asymmetrical face is a reference to His double nature, to the Christian belief that He is the divine incarnate, both God and man.
His right hand is raised in a gesture that is simultaneously a warning and a blessing. These dualities are reflected in very many ways in this oratorio. In Tsoupaki’s original idea, the composition whose world premiere you are hearing tonight had only one part, but it ultimately developed into two parts: the two eyes of the icon, one stern, the other loving.
Calliope Tsoupaki was born on 27 May 1963 in Piraeus, Greece and grew up listening to both traditional music and the Beatles. She studied piano and music theory at the Hellinikon Conservatory in Athens, later taking lessons in composition from Yannis Ioanithis. She also followed summer courses with Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez, and in 1984 and 1986 participated in the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, where she met Morton Feldman, among others. Dissatisfied with the new-music climate in Greece, in the late 1980s she sent a letter to Louis Andriessen, whose music circulated amongst her friends on cassette tapes, and to her surprise, she received an invitation to come to The Hague. There, at the Royal Conservatoire, she studied composition with Louis Andriessen and electronic music with Gilius van Bergeijk, from 1988 to 1992. Like her teacher Andriessen, she is fascinated with the field of tension between modality and chromaticism. By now, Tsoupaki has built up an oeuvre of more than 70 compositions and her work is performed throughout the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York to Moscow and from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam to Japan.
Tsoupaki has based her Passion on the Gospel according to St. Luke, traditionally considered the evangelist who addressed the Greek community. This is a religious work, presented in a semi-staged, full-evening programme. Although people in her immediate circles had for some time been urging her to write a Passion, Tsoupaki herself initially refused to commit herself, saying, ‘I just so happen to be caught up in the fact that I am religious, but that is a private matter, not something I express outwardly.’
She had, however, been toying with the thought of writing something for a psaltis, a Byzantine cantor, and at a certain point these two factors came together, albeit in an unusual fashion. ‘I decided to write a piece in which I could show the whole person of Jesus Christ, including the light and cheerful sides of the story, not just His suffering. My Passion is not a liturgical work, but rather a personal expression; it is a piece of fiction.’ Her musical setting of St. Luke’s version of the Gospel is also somewhat reminiscent of the free way in which she dealt with Dante’s youthful work Vita Nova in her chamber opera of the same name. She started out with a ‘global idea’ of how the work should sound and the lyrics gradually took shape in an organic manner, working toward that initial idea.
A central theme of this St. Luke Passion is the convergence of opposites. There is an oxymoron in Greek, charmolipi, meaning ‘sweet sorrow’, which precisely defines the spirit of the work; charmolipi’s inviting contradictions are fairly often flirted with, but Tsoupaki has tried to express them in a sincere and deeply thought-out manner: she is concerned with the inherent duality of a vital experience, with the darkness and the light, the gravity and the mirth which are united in the person of Jesus, just as sorrow and calmness and joy are expressed through the icon.
Between east and west
There is also a meeting of opposites in the musical sense. Playing with the boundaries between two music cultures, the Western and the Byzantine, has been an important characteristic of Tsoupaki’s idiom throughout her entire oeuvre, but in this composition she has taken extra advantage of the field of tension between her two styles. Knowing that the Nieuw Ensemble, with its tradition of working at the crossroads of Western and non-Western music, would be performing her work, she also composed parts for the ney (Turkish flute), kemençe (Turkish violin) and qanun (a zither-like instrument from the Middle East). For the psaltis Yannis Arvanitis, Tsoupaki has written music that goes straight back to the Byzantine liturgy of the seventh and eighth century; his deep baritone seems to immediately draw the listener into an atmosphere of holiness and ceremony. The part of Jesus, by contrast, is sung by the tenor Marcel Beekman, with his broad experience in both baroque and classical music in the contemporary concert and opera repertoire. ‘It is important for this work that Jesus comes across as strong but not distant,’ says Tsoupaki. ‘That’s why I wanted to use a voice that could also sing Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, a warm voice that feels intimate.’ The third soloist, the Palestinian Raneen Hanna, has no text: she sings only melismatic vocal parts. With her full and yet very lightly-edged voice, Hanna represents the female elements in the life of Jesus, not in a sacral manner, but in an expressly sensual one.
The parallel with Orpheus, whose lyre had the same magical attraction as the words of Jesus and who was similarly worshiped, was deliberately sought out by Tsoupaki. The idea is nothing new, for we have evidence of amulets of a crucified Orpheus dating from the first centuries of our own era. The other way around, in a Passion, and certainly in this St. Luke Passion, the voice of Christ is first of all musical, giving shape to the story of suffering and salvation in the form of music. The idea of Orpheus’s irresistible power being revived in the figure of Jesus is primarily expressed in the second part.
A catastrophic beginning
The first part begins ‘catastrophically’, in Tsoupaki’s words. As supplementation to the Gospel according to St. Luke, she uses a number of hymns by Romanos, the sixth-century Byzantine hymnographer who, among other things, was a sacristan (sexton) in the Hagia Sophia, the ‘Great Church’ in Constantinople.
Tsoupaki employs the poetry of Romanos to accentuate important moments in the dramatic line of the Passion narrative, just as the chorus in classical tragedy interrupts the story every now and then to underscore the inevitability of the facts. Although she actually was looking for hymns that are traditionally used during Holy Week, to her surprise Tsoupaki ended up with a hymn about 10 virgins that speaks of ‘the bridegroom who comes in the middle of the night’. By starting out with this metaphor of the Second Coming of Christ and the promise of ‘a candle that never goes out’, coupled
with apocalyptic images of a burning heaven, the music begins at the point when everything has already happened. This is a very deliberate choice. ‘Nowadays, this story no longer needs to be told in a linear fashion,’ says Tsoupaki. ‘I begin with these intense images in order to pave the way for the next part: we are going to be speaking of a God, so ceremony is appropriate.
But at the same time, the entire occurrence is already contained in the beginning. The Passion is predestined fate, the will of God; its working is not in human hands.’
The centres of gravity in Tsoupaki’s St. Luke Passion are two long Jesus arias, one in each part. The first aria comprises the middle of the first part and consists of important passages from the Gospel: predictions of the crucifixion, the catastrophe of Jerusalem, and also of the Second Coming. A description of the Stations of the Cross, the actual theme of a Passion, however, is lacking: ‘If you believe in Jesus,’ says Tsoupaki, ‘you believe in the whole, and the fact that it was predestined. He told how it would occur; it was already determined before Holy Week. In order to make this clear, I present everything to the listener before it actually happens – through the music: Judas’s betrayal, the crucifixion, the grief, it’s all there in the score.’
After the stately, ‘catastrophic’ opening and the aria, Tsoupaki closes the first part with a lamentation of Jesus and Judas, who, after all, are part of the same divine plan. Together this forms the solemn, serious pillar of the Passion; the pillar of the Pantocrator, the Almighty God who commands justice with His stern eye.
The eye of love
After the intermission, the light breaks through. In the music of part two, the loving eye of the icon, the events of the Passion occur very symbolically. This part begins with an aria of the Lord’s Prayer sung by Jesus, not stern and righteous as in the first aria, but instead very intimate. After that, the narrative concentrates on the Last Supper, where, just as in the first part, the events of Good Friday can already be heard in the music. It is wonderfully clever to use music’s potential of simultaneity in this manner, which culminates in the moment of the establishment of Holy Communion and Jesus’
death on the cross. The drama has reached its highpoint; the instrumentation grows lighter, soaring: ‘After that, Orpheus/Jesus no longer sings; He now has become the icon we know.’
Editor: Joep Stapel
A Comparison of the Passions
The Holland Festival is presenting two Passions this year, one in the first week of its programme, the other at the very end: the world premiere of Calliope Tsoupaki’s Lucas Passie (St. Luke Passion) on 5 June in the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, and La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion), composed by Osvaldo Golijov in 2000, on 22 June in Carré. Musically, there is a world of difference between the two: the St. Luke Passion unfolds in a well-thought-out personal idiom, the hybrid fruit of 20th-century modernism and the Byzantine song tradition of the first millennium; the St. Mark Passion draws upon various folk music traditions, from flamenco to Son Cubano, and as a result is more exuberant in tone. What’s more, both creators took an extremely personal approach in working on their compositions: the Greek-Dutch Tsoupaki aimed at translating her own perception of the Jesus story into music; the Argentinean Golijov sought a better understanding of his youth as a Jew in a predominantly Catholic country. Actually, the only similarity between the two Passions lies in their subject matter, in the fact that they are Passions.
The musical passion
As a musical work, the Passion, derived from Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi (The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ), was originally unison Gregorian chant in the Latin liturgy on the suffering of Jesus leading up the crucifixion, as described in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Starting in the ninth century, a number of innovations (changes in tempo, more singers, dramaturgical interventions) led to the earliest known polyphonic recitative of the Passion text, around 1450, and in the following century, to staged Passions.
The St. Matthew Passion (1550) by Johann Walter made use of Luther’s German translation of the New Testament (1522), a choice in favour of the vernacular which since then has often been followed. In the 17th century, an increase of scale inspired by opera resulted in the so-called oratorio Passion, in which chorales, recitatives, arias and instrumental ensemble pieces also gained a place; this is the genre to which the works of Schütz, Handel and J. S. Bach belong.
The libretto of a Passion is usually less simply put together than its name might suggest. For his St. John Passion, for example, Bach not only used chapters 18 and 19 from the Gospel of St. John, but also a number of verses from Matthew, chorale texts, excerpts from the Passion poem Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus by Barthold Brockes, and an interpolation or revision of his own here and there. It is clear that with the transition to the vernacular, there grew a greater distance between the libretto and the Latin text of the Vulgate, which still had been sung literally in the early liturgy; at two steps removed from the original Greek, the Passion gained more textual freedom in relation to the narrative of the Gospel from which it took its name, as the example of Bach shows. The name with which a Passion declares itself indebted to one of the Gospels is nevertheless significant, seeing as the story of Jesus’ suffering is told in the New Testament in four books that differ from one another in all sorts of aspects.
From gospel to four gospels
The word ‘gospel’ derives from the old English ‘god-spell’, meaning ‘good news’. It is a direct translation of the Greek eu-aggelion, ‘good message’, which is also the source of the word ‘evangelist’. The Apostle Paul used the word ‘gospel’ to refer to the (orally transmitted) teachings and resurrection of Jesus, which replaced the old law of the thora with a new one. When Mark wrote his Gospel, generally considered nowadays to be the oldest of the four (around 70-80 A.D.), it was this verbal preaching that he wanted to record. A decade after Mark, and partly on the basis of his text, Matthew and Luke wrote their versions of the ‘good news’, and in the same period but largely independently of the other three, John wrote his. In the second century of our era, these books, together with a large collection of letters, were added to the Bible as the New Testament. This canonization was reflected in the language surrounding the new doctrine: people no longer spoke about ‘the Gospel’, but ‘the Gospels’; the suffering of Jesus had become literature, and as readers became further and further removed in time from the historical event, it lived on in four different books. From then on, the good message was spread through the word of four good messengers.
The discrepancies between the four Gospels that received canonical status are considerable and were noticed early on, but for a long time were simply accepted as given and no emphasis was placed on them. Not until the end of the 18th century did the German scribe Griesbach create a synopsis in which he set Matthew, Mark and Luke side-by-side in columns in order to better study their differences and mutual dependencies; since then, these three have been called the ‘synoptic Gospels’. The fourth Gospel, written by John, presents a very different picture and has a separate status. Some of the discrepancies between the synoptics pose no problem, such as placing the beginning of the story at an earlier point in time: Mark begins when Jesus is an adult, Matthew starts with His birth, and Luke begins with the parents of John the Baptist, the one who will recognize Jesus as the Messiah, at a time when their son has not yet been born. In other cases, the Gospels contradict each other, such as the story of the Temptation in the Desert: John omits it, and the three synoptic Evangelists each tell it differently.
Four passion stories
The four narratives of Jesus’ suffering, presented in the last chapter of each Gospel, follow the same broad outlines, but here again there are important variations. It is unclear what the sources were for this narrative, whether they were only oral or perhaps also written, and whether the four canonical writers had access to the same sources. In The literary guide to the Bible, Frank Kermode suggests that precisely because of the shared scenario of events, which makes comparison easier, and because of the fact that this occurrence formed the climax of the story for each of the Evangelists, the chapter whose importance and veracity must be irrefutably demonstrated, the Passion Story most clearly reveals the characteristic aspects of the four Evangelists: each does his best to say that it happened like this, that this is how the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled; but each has his own way of proclaiming that truth, his own style. John, ever the odd man out, pauses at length for the interrogation scene during the trial, putting famous philosophical words into the mouth of Pontius Pilate, such as ‘Ecce homo’ (Behold the Man) and ‘Quod scripsi scripsi’ (What I have written, I have written). He is also the only one to place Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist before the Last Supper. The synoptics agree with each other broadly, but differ on important points in their treatises, such as the way in which Judas is accused of betrayal, or the attitude that the two thieves, who were also crucified, take toward Jesus. Such discrepancies can have a great influence on how a Passion is composed. Jesus’ cry on the cross, ‘My God!’, which plays a structural role in Golijov’s St. Mark’s Passion, is missing in the text of the Gospel according to St. Luke; on the other hand, Luke is the only one who puts the Ascension of Jesus at the end; and although his text does not literally appear in her work, Tsoupaki says that it is this image full of light, this joyful ending in which the suffering is over, that she wants to express with her St. Luke Passion.
Editor: Joep Stapel
Ed Spanjaard was born in 1948 and studied piano and conducting in London and Amsterdam. Spanjaard has been assistant to Haitink, Von Karajan and Solti. His repertoire covers a broad spectrum of opera, orchestral and chamber music. As a pianist he has worked with Elisabeth Söderström, Frederica von Stade and Charlotte Margiono. In the Netherlands he has worked with all the major orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In June 2000 he was appointed principal conductor of the Limburg Symphony Orchestra. In recent years Ed Spanjaard has led new productions of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Britten’s Peter Grimes, Verdi’s La Traviata in Rotterdam’s Ahoy Hall, Rigoletto at De Nederlandse Opera and Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande in Lyon. As chief conductor of the Nieuw Ensemble since 1982 he can be credited for countless world premieres such as Donatoni’s opera Alfred, Alfred in Strassbourg, Elliott Carter’s Luimen and Tan Dun’s Circle with four trio’s, conductor and audience. Ed Spanjaard is regularly invited by Ensemble InterContemporain, Klangforum Wien and Ensemble Modern. He has recorded extensively and received various awards for his compact discs.
The Nieuw Ensemble was founded in 1980 in Amsterdam. It has a unique instrumental structure, using plucked instruments. Ed Spanjaard has been the ensemble’s chief conductor since 1982. The Nieuw Ensemble has build its own repertoire which consists more than four hundred pieces. Many successful programmes have been dedicated to the work of a single composer, such as Ton de Leeuw, Theo Loevendie, Pierre Boulez, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti. The ensemble has been widely praised for its innovative programming. It initiated festivals such as Complexity? (1990), Rules & Games (1995), Improvisations (1996), the multicultural Festival of Plucked Instruments (1998) and The Refined Ear (2003). Since 1991, programmes featuring new works
written especially for the ensemble by Chinese composers. In 1997, the group toured for the first time in China. The Nieuw Ensemble also participates in the Atlas Ensemble, a unique chamber orchestra uniting thirty brilliant musicians from the East, the Near East and Europe. The Atlas Ensemble was ‘ensemble in residence’ at the Holland Festival in 2004. In 1998 the Nieuw Ensemble and its artistic director Joël Bons were awarded the Prince Bernhard Fund Music Prize for their ‘markedly lively and adventurous programming, which can be described as groundbreaking, both in the literal and figurative senses of the word’. The Amsterdam Foundation for the Arts granted artistic director Joël Bons the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts 2005 for his leading role in the Atlas Ensemble. The Nieuw Ensemble now enjoys a firm international standing. It has performed at festivals such as the Venice Biennale, Settembre Musica, Ars Musica in Brussels, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Musica Strasbourg, Holland Festival, Warsaw Autumn, Huddersfield Festival, Agora, Stockholm New Music, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Lincoln Center Festival and Sadlers Wells in London.