Special webpage for the show
Symphony plays The Ring, showcases Wagner's greatness without the commitment
It took two men 30 years each to create their versions of The Ring, but it will take Houston Symphony fans only 70 minutes to experience it. The Symphony takes on the monumental work in Wagner's "Ring" Without Words,which has Jones Hall performances Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
In the nineteenth century, Richard Wagner spent the better part of three decades writing music and libretto for the four-part opera saga, with an epic story born out of Norse mythology and the medieval German epic poem "Nibelungenlied," culminating in a work that can swell to 19 hours over four nights.
A century later, conductor Lorin Maazel was conducting a rehearsal for the orchestral accompaniment to Wagner’s Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1960 Berlin when he was inspired by a discussion with Wagner's grandson Wieland, who argued that all the orchestral leitmotifs and thematic swells formed a plot in and of themselves.
"The Orchestra — that's where it all is — the text behind the text, the universal subconscious that binds Wagner's personae one to the other and to the proto-ego of legend..." was how Maazel described his words.
Maazel (a mentor of Houston Symphony conductor Hans Graf) began to fully understand the meaning of those words five years later, while conducting a full production of The Ring Cycle in Berlin. Over the next 22 years, he put together an orchestral concert suite of themes from the Ring Cycle that tell the story by presenting the events of the opera chronologically while working with the leitmotifs and adding in brief orchstral and vocal pieces to tie together some of Wagner's most enduring music in a symphonic poem — Entry of the Gods into Valhalla, the Ride of the Valkyries,Forest Murmurs, Siegfried's Death and Funeral March and Siegfried's Rhine Journey.
This became what audiences now know as "The Ring Without Words."
"It's so gloriously written for orchestra, a wonderful workout, it's great for the musicians to play such a wonderful piece in a slightly different way, not sitting in pit," says Aurelie Desmarais, Houston Symphony senior director of artistic planning. "You don't get to hear Ring music very often, so this is a fabulous way to become introduced to this great music, kind of a manageable sampler in one chunk.
"There are lots of orchestral excerpts you can do from The Ring, but Maazel took not only the orchestral moments but made it possible for orchestras to play some of those well-known sections, hear some of those melodic lines and leitmotifs that are usually sung here put into orchestra, in a symphonic imagining, if you will."
To enhance The Ring experience, the side screens will include cues on the action, plus the programs will have extensive notes and there's a special landing page on the symphony website with information on characters and videos.
"You can just experience it as a piece of music and have the drama explained in synopsis form without bringing anything to it," Desmarais says. "Or frankly you can just experience it as a piece of music and not look, it works with all different levels of engagement."