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Fluss ohne Ufer

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Detlev Glanert
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: James Gaffigan, conductor / Ingrid Fliter, piano, plays Schumann Jan. 19 - 21, 2012
© Paul Horsley

Fluss ohne Ufer (“Shoreless River”) for large orchestra


Born September 6, 1960, in Hamburg, Germany


          Detlev Glanert came to music relatively late, but since the 1990s he has rapidly ascended to the very top of contemporary German music. Born in Hamburg in 1960, he studied trumpet, double bass, and piano as a youth. It was not until his 20s that he sought out significant instruction in composition, first with Diether de la Motte, Günter Friedrichs, and Frank Michael Beyer. Most significantly, he spent four years of study with Hans Werner Henze in Cologne, and in 1986 he worked with Oliver Knussen at the Tanglewood Festival. From Henze he learned a great deal about the theater and about writing for voices, and he would eventually distinguish himself as one of German’s finest and most accessible opera composers. His early works, in particular, show Henze’s influence: “I insisted that I lose my own personality for three years,” he told Guy Rickards in Tempo, “and that’s when he influenced my style absolutely. I wrote like him for the first few years.” As he matured his style became more eclectic, with influences from (as he himself has stated) Mahler (“the simple, the dramatic sense of the music”) and Ravel (for his surface textures, “the artificial masquerade of sounds.”)

           Glanert was first singled out in 1987, when he won Hamburg’s Bach Prize: That would begin a long list of distinctions over the next decades, including the Berlin Senate Fellowship, the Rolf Liebermann Opera Prize Fellowship, the Berlin Senate Composition Grant, the 1999 Villa Aurora fellowship in Los Angeles, the 2001 Bavarian Opera Prize (for the opera Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung) and the Rolf Liebermann Opera Prize (for Der Spiegel des großen Kaisers). He has also written operas about Caligula and about Joseph Süss; the 1999 premiere of the latter in Halle was a huge cultural event. Glanert served as co-organizer and artistic director of the distinguished Cantiere internazionale d’arte in Montepulciano, was a guest of the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome, and is a member of the Freie Akademie der Künste, Hamburg. He has also been composer in residence in Mannheim, Sapporo, and Cologne and this year began a ten-year appointment with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

          Shoreless River, a National Symphony co-commission, is a brooding tone poem evoking images of water. This 18-minute piece is an excerpt from Glanert’s Das Holzschiff (The Wooden Ship), which received its premiere in Nuremberg in 2010—the first in a series of three operas to be based on Hans Henny Jahnn’s sprawling three-part 1937 novel The Ship. The moody tone of the book can be heard in the piece. Shoreless River is marked by an enormous range of colors, dynamics, and textures, and it culminates in a cathartic sort of cadenza for percussion, harps and horns. It was premiered on June 19, 2009, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the WDR-Symphony; the present performances are the U.S. premiere. “Shoreless River seized attention,” wrote The Independent on Sunday of a London performance. “The images of water as something limitless and mysterious loom large in this atmospheric tone-poem, which caught the audience’s imagination right from the start and held on to it.”