Saturday 21 April 2018

Classical: An auspicious date for a magical musical evening

Picking up the baton: principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Valery Gergiev.
Picking up the baton: principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Valery Gergiev.

George Hamilton

I may very well be in a minority of one, but I have to confess to a liking for this date. I know that for many it's the first day of the working year. That it falls on a Saturday this year is slim consolation. The inevitable awaits on Monday with the resumption of normal service, and no respite until St Patrick's Day. But January 2 is special for me. Like the blonde in that TV advert for the spreadable cheese all those years ago, I can smile and say, "It is my birthday!"

Encouraged by the ads in the Sunday magazines, I also like looking forward to where the wheels of fortune might propel me over the coming months. Given that Germany's top football team is in residence there, there's every chance I'll get another trip to Munich.

The Bavarian metropolis is one of my very favourite places, ticking so many boxes for me. Never mind the sport, it's steeped in music too.

The city describes itself as "Germany's secret cultural capital", home to world-class musicians who perform in some of the most spectacular venues around.

The Gasteig centre, home to the Richard Strauss conservatory, is the base of the Munich Philharmonic, one of four orchestras in town. Currently directed by Valery Gergiev, past principal conductors read like a who's who of global greats - Kempe, Celibidache, Levine, Thielemann, Maazel.

The Residenz - the palace that was home to the Bavarian dukes - houses the Hercules Hall, home to one of the other Munich orchestras, the Bavarian Radio Symphony.

The Nymphenburg Palace, a summer residence now in the western suburbs, is a dazzling venue where you can combine the delights of Mozart, Vivaldi, or a selection of operatic arias with a sumptuous dinner.

And speaking of opera, there is of course the Munich Opera - the Staatsoper - once directed by Richard Strauss, spearheaded since 2013 by Kirill Petrenko, who'll be taking over the Berlin Philharmonic in three years' time.

The first operas in Munich were performed in the Hercules Hall before a dedicated opera house was built by the Elector Maximilian I in an old grain store.

One of his successor electors, Maximilian III, decided the burgeoning success of the art form demanded a home more in keeping with its place in the city's cultural life and built the Residenz Theatre.

Max IV, who would ascend the Bavarian throne when it became a monarchy to become King Max I, began the construction of a grand National Theatre.

The building wasn't even five years old when it was destroyed. In January 1823, during a performance, the scenery caught fire. Fighting it proved next to impossible as the water supply was frozen.

On this day in 1825, the theatre reopened, and that incarnation survived until an allied air raid in 1943. Twenty years passed before it opened again as the wonderful neoclassical opera house you'll see on Max-Joseph-Platz, right in the heart of the city.

In Munich tonight, it's Mozart's Magic Flute. I'll be spending my birthday in Wexford Opera House, enjoying a New Year Celebration in the company of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, its conductor David Brophy, and the Dublin soprano Claudia Boyle.

It starts at 7.30pm. Maybe I'll see you there.

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