Teodor Currentzis himself gives the best description of this undertaking after the concert. Utopia is “like a youth orchestra with adults”. As far as euphoria goes, that’s certainly true about youth. And in terms of quality, with the adults. The first concert of Currentzis’ Utopia Orchestra in the Philharmonic of Luxembourg is outstanding.
In the summer of this year Teodor Currentzis announced that he wanted to found a new orchestra, which brings together the best musicians from all over the world (as Claudio Abbado once did in Lucerne) and is financially and organizationally independent. At that point it seemed like a reaction to the discussions about his ensemble MusicAeterna (choir and orchestra), which is based in St. Petersburg, is supported by the Russian VTB bank and is therefore not well liked in the West at the moment. Stephan Gehmacher, director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic, would have a bad stomach if MusicAeterna wanted to perform in his house. However, he has no problem with Utopia. On the contrary: he gave the orchestra a home for rehearsals.
One understands: This person is at home in another world
Currentzis had the idea for this back in 2018, well before any discussions about the Russian connections of his ensemble or his person. Some still want him to make a clear statement against Putin, from whom he received Russian citizenship in 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea. Although such a statement is still missing, Currentzis has made no statements whatsoever pro-Putin, and he has condemned the war. And when you experience Currentzis that evening in the Luxembourg Philharmonic, you also understand that this person is at home in another world. Among other things, he uses his acceptance speech after the concert to discuss the intricacies of conducting.
But things about himself are not as easy as Currentzis imagines diving into purely artistic worlds. The Cologne Philharmonic has just canceled the concert in January 2023 with him and the SWR Symphony Orchestra, his boss Currentzis until 2024 is. “More than half a year after the outbreak of war, an attitude towards the political situation should be discernible. The activities and financing of his ensembles MusicAeterna and also Utopia suggest that he is very close to the Russian regime,” says Philharmonie director Louwrens Langevoort, explaining the cancellation.
Utopia, which does not have a fixed location but will continue to work on projects in the future (planned two to three times a year), is financed by various patrons and primarily by the “Art and Culture DM” foundation: one of the three board members is Dietrich Mateschitz, Inventor and owner of red bullwho is also Managing Director of Red Bull Media House GmbH, which owns Servus TV. An almost hagiographic interview with Currentzis was shown on the station in the summer, which Ioan Holender, ex-director of the Vienna State Opera, conducted and in which he heartily embarrassed himself with political statements. Servus TV will also broadcast the Utopia concert in Vienna.
One thing is clear: in the future it must offer more than a very good concert
Of course: A multinational orchestra alone could be seen as a statement, if it were really extraordinary, but all the big top orchestras are international. The genesis is particularly unusual. Currentzis chose the musicians completely freely. 116 from almost 30 countries, exposed instrumentalists from orchestras from the Camerata Salzburg to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, from German State Operas or the BR Symphony Orchestra. Some have already played with him, some finally wanted to do so, the concertmaster comes from MusicAeterna, Olga Volkova.
It remains to be seen whether Utopia will take off. For the concerts Tickets are still available in Hamburg (Laeiszhalle), Vienna and Berlin. And if this orchestra really wants to provide a contrast to the prevailing concert business, it has to offer more than a very good concert. Currentzis knows that. He means that when he started, he was still in government. As a result, it should become a community that tries out new formats. However, the upcoming project series – Mahler’s third symphony in June 2023 – is as standard as the opening concert.
Stravinsky’s “Firebird”, “Daphnis et Chloé”, “La Valse” and the “Bolero” (as an encore) by Ravel, four pieces with which one can demonstrate orchestral brilliance. That works fabulously. In four days and intensive rehearsals, super specialists came together to form an amazingly homogeneous organism. Everything that is solo works out great anyway, but the string sound is amazing, especially in the silvery, bright, always enchanting pianissimo. It’s very rare to see that.