Rosen aus dem Paradies
27.04.2021 – 01.06.2021
Every year on the 6th of February, my father would tell me the story of Saint Dorothy, who did not want to marry the governor due to her religious faith and was therefore tortured and finally beheaded by him. On her way to be beheaded, she walked calmly, for she was already looking forward to the garden in paradise. On her way, a scribe taunted her that she should bring him roses and apples from paradise once she arrived. At the very moment the blade struck down, a child carried a basket full of roses and apples to him through the deep snow. This made the scribe collapse and he was immediately converted to the faith.
When I was 22 years old, I painted the over seven-meter-long painting Rosen aus dem Paradies (Roses from Paradise). Now, ten years later, Gregor Hildebrandt is exhibiting it in his space Grzegorzki Shows during Berlin’s “Gallery Weekend”.
I would be delighted if you came!
Roses from South Paradise
For Dorothee Diebold.
As a way of introducing the exhibition by Dorothee Diebold, I would like to get to the bottom of the question of why the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert is recorded with a different conductor every year and re-released as a CD? Especially considering that the orchestra plays the same Strauss waltzes and polkas every year. Who buys these CDs? Has everyone collected 30 different versions of the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, the Radetzky March or Rosen aus dem Süden (“Roses from the South”) on their CD shelf over the years? Does anyone sit down with a glass of wine at the end of the day and think to themselves, now I’m going to listen to the Fledermaus Overture from A to Z in all 30 versions? Indeed, that might possibly be the case. Let me elaborate a little.
One day, as a young lad, I learned a thing or two about style and dress codes. Back in 2003, I remember when the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt was conducting the concert and it was broadcast on ZDF at 11:15 a.m. on the 1st of January (or Jänner, as they would say in Austrian), just like every other year. Harnoncourt stepped onto the stage in a grey suit that was hanging off him in a bit of a limp way. I was very militant at the time and detested this attire, because I thought he ought to be wearing a tailcoat. My mother thought I was silly, called me a snob and shook her head. How could I expect any old man on TV to wear a tailcoat?! What I didn’t know then, but I’ve naturally known for a long time now, is that you’re not supposed to wear a tailcoat in the morning. In the orchestra, tails may only be worn to an evening event or on stage at the premiere. Harnoncourt, being the old pro that he is, was right, of course! I still found the suit’s greyness awkward for the occasion, it looked like a worker’s suit in this setting. It looked all the stranger because the concert was interspersed with the ballet company dancing as if in Swan Lake, through some baroque castle, and later the Spanish Riding School joined in, performing a stiff choreography with their horses with pearls in their manes. The whole TV broadcast is, in my opinion, one of the most absurd and boring things you can imagine. It’s the same old story over and over again. Waltzing up and down. The most glorious part always comes at the end, when the audience is allowed to clap along to the Radetzky March. Audiences love clapping along! First the little drummer plays what is known as a “Locke”, a march-like drum motif, and then the orchestra starts banging away. Traditionally, from measure 5 with the double bar in the score, the conductor turns around to face the hall and starts clapping the people in like some kind of Mallorcan party promoter. At first people are shy clappers, so they have to be really cheered on. But nobody has to be told twice, and the audience quickly erupts into a roar. But because the clapping section is followed by a quiet section, the conductor then has to blink his eyes frantically and shush the audience again, only to cheer them on again 12 bars or so later. The audience, who at this concert are either particularly white-haired or have travelled especially from Japan, clatter their teeth, whoop with delight at the conductor’s saucy skirmishes and are completely entranced. You sit in front of the television and feel a little embarrassed.
What’s interesting is that the Vienna Philharmonic has been playing this concert every year for 81 years, and it’s always roughly the same, but with a different guest conductor each year. There is always a big fuss about who it will be next time. The fee is several million euros or dollars. The average conductor from the classical music scene will probably never conduct Strauss waltzes as part of their day-to-day, because only Bruckner, Wagner, Brahms and Co. are considered important. Not the “low-brow” popular music like that of Strauss (son) or Strauss (father). There are two of them and you always have to indicate who you are talking about in brackets. In other words, the orchestra knows a thousand times better how to play this music, and has done so for 81 years. On closer inspection, therefore, you can see that the conducting stars simply let the orchestra “do it”, they don’t interfere much, they do a bit of show conducting and in a few significant places they conduct a bit slower or faster. That’s where you can hear the difference between the Karajan recording and the Barenboim recording. As a little background information, I should probably mention that in addition to my work as a painter, I am also a conductor. And now I’m about to get into the nitty-gritty, because I’m slowly approaching the subject, namely the work Rosen aus dem Süden (Roses from the South). For some years now, I have also conducted a New Year’s concert every year on New Year’s morning. Not in tails, of course, because as you know, that would be ridiculous. I usually wear a tuxedo. You can’t go wrong with that. When I perform the Radetzky March, I naturally turn to the audience and get them really clapping along. I give a cheeky wink and make the shush gesture when it has to be quiet again. Just like on television. Afterwards I blow kisses into the audience, because the grannies in particular have fallen for my mother-in-law charm and they immediately get tickets for next year. Which is good for business, of course!
My orchestra hates Rosen aus dem Süden. It’s an endless, plodding piece that can be stretched even further. Karajan added a few more repetitions, making the piece stretch to infinity. The horn players are the ones who complain the most, because they have to only play repetitions for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the version. Like a brass band. But horns consider themselves to be a supreme class of brass instruments, which has to do with their large range that extends into the wood register. This is why they would never call themselves brass band players. They are artists. Unlike trombonists, for example, who think it’s great, you don’t have to think so much, and it doesn’t hurt if you’ve had a beer beforehand. So the horns roll their eyes in annoyance, but it’s no use, they have to get through it, the trombones say cheers to each other. And off we go!
As for conducting, Rosen aus dem Süden is a bit of a challenge. The tempos have to be chosen in such a way that theoretically one should be able to dance a slow Viennese waltz to it. The beginning is written in 6/8 time, you conduct that as if it were “in 2”, so two beats per measure. You could also conduct six faster beats, but that would involve some rather messy flailing. The point is that it has to be felt as 6/8 time, while being in a slow tempo. Now the introduction is reeeeeally slow, so you have to conduct big slow gestures. What I would call big rowing movements. You do that for 10 bars and it gets tricky. The violins play a choppy staccato eighth-note motif. The upbeat eighth note is virtually impossible to catch with the large oar movements, but here the orchestra could get out of control, it needs a clear lead. Therefore, a slightly awkward intermediate beat is necessary within the large movement. Not pretty, but useful. I don’t want to bore you now, but there are dozens of decisions to be made in the sequence, whether to go for the larger conducting mode, or to beat it out in small bursts, constantly having to delay, or pick up the tempo again slightly. If you conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the best orchestras in the world, it doesn’t matter, because they know exactly how the traditional tempo units work – after all, Mr. Strauss (son) wrote it especially for them. So, as a conductor, you don’t have any problems. With a normal orchestra, which is not trained for waltzes, you have to work it all out. Which is super exhausting. Nevertheless, I can say that I personally like the Roses from the South very much, it is so beautifully indulgent and also quite a challenge from a conducting point of view. If you can get through it elegantly, you’ve done a good job.
So why have I written all this down? Because it all reminds me of Dorothee Diebold’s painting Rosen aus dem Süden. An approximately seven-meter-long whopper, which she painted in 2011 as a student in Offenbach. Almost as wide as the piece of music is long, a couple of dreamy hippie girls are lolling between pink roses, pumped full of designer drugs, which they probably bought at the Robert Johnson Club or at the Offenbach market square. Which is the epitome of an ugly West German city center. There used to be concrete bridges over it like in a dystopian sci-fi movie, but they blew them up at some point. I was there. The girls in the middle part of the painting are still in a positive state of intoxication, while the two figures at the edge are already going nuts. The ones in the middle are still being all sexy, looking over their shoulders and covering their breasts slightly bashfully but provocatively, while the ones on the edge are already bawling vulgarly and acting like porn stars. Freud would have been delighted with the picture, since it really reveals the human being with the id and the superego and the urges. Everything under a cover of roses. A mean picture. But so Viennese. So all in all, it’s really identical to Rosen aus dem Süden. Oh crap, I’ve just noticed, the picture is called Rosen aus dem Paradies (Roses from Paradise). Sorry, I totally missed the point. Dorothee’s picture is still top notch, though, and I’d seriously consider listening to Roses from the South to go with it if I were you!
(Text: Henning Strassburger)