Our former weekly diarist, now occasional contributor, Anthea Kreston, has been unexxpectedly immersed in Max Reger.
It was a great three weeks in our little town in the lush Willamette Valley of Oregon. The girls are settling into school, we have found a crazy/amazing house built into the side of a hill – views from each window, every room on a different level, connected by stairs like a real-life treehouse. Grandparents comfortably and elatedly installed as Jason and I turned around and headed for a week with our Humboldt Streichtrio (and now KlavierQuartett as well), to rehearse and perform three concerts in the sleepy, picturesque Bavarian town of Weiden. The birthplace of Max Reger – that enigmatic, excessive, hard-drinking and puzzling composer who in turn crams a million seemingly unrelated notes down your gullet, then lifts you up with moments of pure beauty and clarity.
Volker Jacobsen (original violist of the Artemis Quartet) Markus Becker (pianist – equally dynamic with classical or jazz), Jason and I made quick, detailed work of the programs, first in Hannover, where they are Professors at the Hochschule, then in the Rathhaus of Weiden – the council chambers would be the venue for the next three nights. Walls and ceiling of dark, solid wide-planked wood, cracked oil paintings of royalty and town elders lining the walls, chandeliers which look as if they could double as lethal weapons in a pinch – the room held onto the lower registers, turning them every bit as dark and rich as the wood which surrounded us.
The things that always astound me about Germany – the quiet dedication of the audience, the deep, personal connections to the composers and performers – attending concerts seems to be just a regular part of regular lives. These things were evident in spades in that festival – three weeks, every year, dedicated to Max Reger – a composer who elicits strong reactions, and is considered fringe, at best, in North America, but who is embraced whole-heartedly in Germany – his enigmatic qualities – both as a composer and human – only enhance their love for this quirky man. His pouty, chubby countenance – lower jaw jutting forward and thick, fleshy lips pursed – he isn’t one of the “top-50” composers that lined our books as students – his bust is probably not even considered a back-order item. But one would never know it in Weiden. The concerts were packed every day – and many of the same people were there for every performance. We were followed into our post-concert pub on the first evening by a banker who began to explain to us, in detail, how the recapitulation in the first movement of the piano quartet diverted from the standard form.
Today’s final concert was a mixed affair – the beloved German actor Udo Wachtveitl (from the crime series Tatort) interspersed the Op. 133 piano quartet movements with readings by and about Max Reger – his correspondences with his imaginary friend Ludwig (he would write letters to himself from Ludwig, posting them to himself from other cities – topics included an impassioned speech on the distracting big toe of a principal ballerina in an imaginary ballet), his crazed, self-imposed work schedule – the audience was in turns laughing at the sheer, exuberant personality of this strange man, and marveling at his copious musical output. It was my first Reger – and, learning it from/with musicians who have grown up with him, who know the language and the secret keys to the funky musical structure, it was a treat to be expand into that world, and be embraced by all of the people who keep him as a living, active member of their culture and community.