It was announced in San Sebastian on 3 November that Jun Märkl becomes Principal Conductor of the Basque National Orchestra (Orquestra de Euskadi), effective immediately, for the remainder of 14/15 and until the end of 15/16, with possible further renewal. He has been Artistic Advisor since June, and had already conducted the orchestra on several occasions. He succeeds Andres Orozco Estrada, who left two seasons ago to take up positions in Frankfurt and Houston. Andrey Boreyko remains as Principal Guest Conductor. The orchestra celebrates Maerkl’s appointment at concerts this week in San Sebastian and Bilbao, when Maerkl conducts Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and works by Saint-Saens, with cello soloist Johannes Moser.
Jun Märkl returns to Spain this November for three concerts with the Orquestra Sinfónica de Euskadi in San Sebastian (5 and 6 November) and Bilbao (8 November). The concerts will feature a programme that includes three Saint-Saëns works and culminates with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra alongside cellist Johannes Moser, a piece that Märkl has previously conducted to critical acclaim:
“This Bartók is delicately spun despite the large canvass, and so suits Märkl’s approach perfectly. Taking their lead from his wise and reflective direction, the orchestra took a measured approach and expressed Bartók’s restrained jubilation and beautifully subdued melancholy.”
Leipziger Volkszeitung, February 2012
Märkl will then travel to Missouri, where he will conduct the St Louis Symphony on 15 and 16 November at Powell Hall. The all-Beethoven programme focusses on the composer’s early works and also features soloists Orli Shaham, Helen Kim and Xiaoxiao Qiang.
Jun Märkl has several engagements in Europe in October, beginning with the NDR Philharmonie Hanover on 16 and 17 October. For both concerts he conducts a programme of Mendelssohn and Liszt.
He follows this with two concerts with the RTVE Madrid on 23 and 24 October, conducting Brahms Piano Quartet arranged by Schoenberg. This is a key piece for Märkl, and one which he recorded with MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra on its own label.
Finally, on 31 October, he leads the Copenhagen Philharmonic in an all-Bartók programme.
Jun Märkl conducts a new production of Idomeneo at Tokyo’s Nikikai Opera opening on 12 September and with further performances on 13,14 and 15 September at Toyko’s New National Theatre. The production is directed by Damiano Michieletto in a co-production Theater an der Wien, and features an all-Japanese cast with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in the pit.
Märkl return to Nikikai Opera next season for a new Strauss production. His next visit to Tokyo will be in January 2015 for his first appearance with Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, in concerts at Suntory Hall and Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre.
September also sees the release on Naxos of Märkl’s Toshio Hosokawa Orchestral Works Vol.II with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Read the reviews of Vol.I, released earlier in 2014:
“Beautifully crafted with hints of romantic grandeur…What is impressive, though, is the quality of the performances under Jun Märkl.”
Guardian, April 2014
“Stunningly recorded, the Scottish players respond with alacrity to the ever-scrupulous Märkl…”
New Zealand Herald, June 2014
Jun Märkl was recently honoured with the title Visiting Professor of the Kunitachi Conservatoire in Tokyo. He returns to Kunitachi this month for his annual visit, coaching the student orchestra for a week and then leading them in a concert at Tokyo Opera City on 14 July, bringing his expertise to bear on Strauss Don Juanand Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.
Märkl has also undertaken several private initiatives to support young musicians in Japan, notably his Mito Violin Project which he started several years ago. He has donated several string instruments for the Mito College to loan out to selected young players, so that they can develop not only their technical skills but also build their sound imagination and personal style. So far he has donated four violins and two violas, with more to follow – especially cellos, for which further sponsorship is needed to cover the transport the instruments from Germany to Japan. Would-be recipients have to audition for the privilege, and successful candidates are each lent an instrument for one or two years free of charge, on condition that they give at least two concerts a year for the local people in the Mito area.
This year a viola has been lent to Ayaka Kubota (living in Mito, but a student of the Tokyo College of Music). Ayaka has played violin since she was three years old, and since beginning at the conservatoire she has started on the viola too, but until now did not have her own instrument. With this loan she is well-equipped to deepen her musical studies with the aim of joining the profession. The other viola has been lent to the Mito Junior Orchestra, which was founded in 1977 and is the only youth string orchestra in Mito. The loan will allow them to lend their students a viola of vastly superior quality.
Jun Märkl returns to Asia this month for concerts with Hong Kong Philharmonic, Osaka Philharmonic and Kunitachi College of Music, where he holds the position of Invited Professor.
Märkl will lead two concerts with the HKPO on 25 and 26 June with a program of Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms, alongside nine-year-old soloist Johnson Li, before travelling to Japan to conduct Saint-Saëns and Beethoven with Osaka Philharmonic on 6 July, finishing his tour of the Far East in Kunitachi for a concert of Strauss, Liszt and Berlioz on 14 July at the esteemed music school.
This period follows two performances of Strauss Der Rosenkavalier with Hungarian State Opera, which were critically praised:
“an inspired and very precise interpretation. The musicians show off their talents admirably, encouraged by the attentive conducting, with an exceptional level of detail… superb.”
Anaclase, June 2014
Jun Märkl travels to Budapest this month to lead the Hungarian State Opera in two performances of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier on 5 and 10 June, as part of the Strauss150 Festival commemorating the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Märkl, who has conducted the work many times in the past, conducts the orchestra at the Hungarian Opera House, as directed by Adrejs Zagars.
An acclaimed conductor of Strauss, Märkl’s symphonic programmes this Spring have also featured Strauss songs with Meanne Mueller, with Netherlands Radio Philharmonic at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and a critically praised performance with Beethoven Orchester Bonn of an entirely Strauss programme:
“Jun Märkl gave each piece its own distinctive character… Strauss’s chronicle of Till Eulenspiegel’s pranks was depicted with glorious light-heartedness, without relinquishing any of the music’s clarity.
The whole performance emanated grace and wit, as one tonal effect followed another: the large orchestra was put to full use with both charm and sophistication.”
General-Anzeiger Bonn, February 2014
Märkl’s collaboration with Hungarian State Opera continues a successful season of opera, following on from his well-received performance with Hamburg Opera earlier this year, and next season seeing him return to Tokyo to conduct new productions of Mozart’s Idomeneo and Strauss’s rarely performed Die Liebe der Danae with Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation.
Jun Märkl returns to Austria this month for two concerts with the Tonkünstler Orchestra at Vienna’s celebrated Musikverein on 25 and 27 May, followed by a third concert in St Polten on 26 May.
Märkl, who critics have called a “Debussy expert…audibly oriented towards the French ideal of clarity”, will perform a programme based on adaptations of Maurice Maeterlinck’s tragic play Pelléas and Mélisande, with excerpts from Debussy’s opera and Schoenberg’s symphonic poem, both of the same name.
The concerts feature soloists Stella Doufexis (mezzo-soprano), Nikolay Borchev (baritone) and Cornelius Obonya (recitation).
Jun Märkl returns to the US for three concerts of Shostakovich and Wagner on 27, 29 and 30 March with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and violinist Midori. Midori performs as soloist in Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1, and this is followed by a performance of Wagner Orchestral Suite from The Ring.
Märkl’s last trip to Cincinatti, where he led the orchestra in programme of Wagner, Liszt and Brahms, was a resounding success:
“Märkl pulled out all the stops in the Allegro giocoso (joyous), before launching into the great variations finale, where each statement of the eight-bar theme was distinctly and beautifully shaped…. In response to another standing ovation, the CSO players showed their regard for Märkl by affording him a solo bow (i.e. refusing to stand when signalled).”
Northern Kentucky News, January 2012
Jun Märkl, who conducts in Tokyo every season, joins the New Japan Philharmonic for the first time this month beginning with a performance on 6 March at Suntory Hall, Toyko. The programme includes two signature works – Debussy’s Jeux and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. He then conducts the orchestra in their regular series at Sumida Symphony Hall on 9, 14 and 15 March in two varied programmes, which range from Beethoven and Schumann to Messiaen and Schoenberg.
Opening on 8 February, Jun Märkl conducts Hans Neuenfels’ production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Hamburg State Opera. He will conduct the Hamburg Philharmonic in a further four performances of Fidelio on 13, 16, 19 and 22 February, with singers Stephen Gould and Katja Piewick performing the lead roles of Florestan and Leonore.
These performances are the start of a busy year of opera for Märkl, who travels to Budapest in June to conduct Rosenkavalier with Hungarian State Opera, and Tokyo for four performances of Idomeneo with Tokyo Nikikai Opera in September.
Märkl has conducted for many years at the state operas of Vienna and Munich, and Semper Oper Dresden, and was until 2006 Permanent Conductor of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He made his Royal Opera House debut withGötterdämmerung in 1996 and at the Metropolitan Opera with Il Trovatore. In 1998, he conducted the complete Ring Cycle at the Deutsche Oper and at the New National Theatre in Tokyo, and toured Japan in 2007 with the Semper Oper Dresden (Tannhäuser).
Maerkl conducts Messaien’s Turangalila on 7 December at Bozar Brussels, with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra. After his first encounter with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at last Summer’s Cardiff Singer of the World competition, Maerkl was invited back at the first available opportunity for a symphonic programme with the orchestra – works by Debussy, Ibert, Mozart and Toshio Hosokawa in Hoddinott Hall on 20 December.
Jun Märkl returns to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for performances between 22 and 26 October this month, followed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on 18 – 24 November, where he is a regular visitor.
Click here to hear him conduct Dvorak’s tone poem “In Nature’s Realm” with the Indianapolis Symphony on Telarc on his last visit, described by Gramophone as “an unforgettable performance” (April 2012).
His last visit to Baltimore was equally memorable:
“Maerkl’s reading of Schumann’s “Rhenish” symphony proved just as individual, with lyrical passages taking on an autumnal glow and big moments filled with bustling energy. This is a conductor who isn’t afraid to mold phrases and play with tempos for expressive effect. His attention to the score’s atmosphere — letting troubling inner voices dart up through the music’s grand surface, or spinning a legato line through shifting brass chords to create an almost regal flavor — made Schumann’s oft-maligned orchestration sound ingeniously fresh.”
Washington Post, May 2012
He also conducts Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with Nicola Benedetti at the Vancouver Symphony at the end of October, coupled with Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony and Debussy’s Marche Ecossaise.
On 26 April, Jun Märkl conducts Mahler’s Symphony No.6 with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra at the Forbidden City Concert Hall.
This is his second visit to China after a triumphant performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.10 at Beijing’s NCPA in autumn 2011 as part of their international Mahler festival.
After a very successful return to the NHK Symphony last month conducting a complete concert performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé at the NHK Hall, Jun Märkl continues his travels this time to America, to conduct the Colorado (6-10 March), Atlanta (14-16 March) and Oregon (22-24 March) Symphony Orchestras.
With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Märkl conducts soloist Augustin Hadelich in a performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major as well as Strauss’ symphonic tone poem Ein Heldenleben. In Atlanta, the concert will feature Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, Schnittke’s Viola Concerto and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No.6. Finally with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at the end of the month, Märkl conducts three performances of Liszt’s Prometheus, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.1 in F-sharp minor and Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 in G.
Jun Märkl opened 2013 with performances of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 on a return visit to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
In February, Märkl will return to conduct the NHK Symphony Orchestra for several programmes including a complete concert performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé at the NHK Hall (15-16 February) and Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony at the Suntory Hall (20-21 February), the Minato Mirai Hall (23 February) and the Aichi Prefectural Art Theatre (24 February).
Märkl will also conduct his own orchestral version of Wagner’s Ring with the Osaka Philharmonic on 28 February and 1 March.
Between Hong Kong and Japan, Märkl will also be conducting the Seattle, Indianapolis and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras as well as returning to Europe to conduct the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra on 1 February in a concert featuring works by Ravel, Schoenberg and Schat.
November and December will see Jun Märkl undertake a busy schedule of conducting concerts across the world.
On 1, 2 and 3 November, Märkl conducted the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Messiaen, Berlioz and Korngold with soloist Stefan Jackiw on the violin at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville.
On 9, 10 and 11 November, Märkl will take the baton to conduct the St Louis Symphony at the Powell Hall in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem featuring mezzo-soprano Kai Rüütel, as well as works by Schoenberg and Haydn.
Märkl will then travel to Europe to conduct the Hamburgische Staatsorchester on 18-19 November in a programme of Dvorak, Debussy and Ravel; the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra on 23 November in a programme of Debussy and Tchaikovsky; the Residentieorkest in The Hague and Antwerp on 30 November and 2-3 December in a programme of Dvorak and Prokofiev; and finally the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ on 12-13 December.
Between Antwerp and Bergen, Märkl will also be returning to the US to conduct the Utah Symphony on 7-8 December in a programme of Debussy and Ravel with soloist Pascal Rogé on the piano.
Jun Märkl returns to the Czech Philharmonic on 20 September for Brahms Symphony No.1 in the Prague Autumn Festival. The Altus label recently released all four symphonies with the MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig, recorded live in the Gewandhaus.
Later this month Märkl travels to Cologne for three concerts in the Philharmonie, where he is a regular guest, with the Gurzenich Orchestra (the opera orchestra) in a programme devised to showcase his ability to create a subtle palette of orchestral colours: Debussy Nocturnes, Takemitsu Quotation of Dream, Debussy Clair de Lune, Hosokawa Woven Dreams and Debussy La Mer (from which the Takemitsu quotation is taken).
Earlier in the September he conducted the Orquesta de Euskadi, the excellent orchestra based in San Sebastian, as part of the St Jean de Luz Basque festival.
Jun Märkl returns to Japan for his regular week with the Mito Chamber Orchestra, conducting concerts on 6,7 and 8 July. Founded by Seiji Ozawa in 1990, the orchestra is made up of leading Japanese musicians from across the globe, who get together three times a year to make music at the highest level. He then spends a week coaching the students of the prestigious Kunitachi Conservatoire orchestra in Tokyo, culminating in a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.
He returns to Europe to renew his acquaintance with the Vienna Tonkünstlerorchestra, appearing with them for the first time at the Grafenegg Festival on 21 July in a programme of Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly.
He crosses the globe again to conduct Beethoven Symphony No.5 on 27 July with the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago (made up of leading players from many top US orchestras) and stays on for a week at the Aspen Music Festival with Stephen Hough.
Jun Märkl will open the MDR Musiksommer on 23 June with a televised performance in Magdeburg Cathedral of Mendelssohn’s ‘Lobgesang’ Symphony with the MDR Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
His recording of the same work was released to critical acclaim on Naxos in spring 2011: “This new Leipzig performance, finely played and sung, and spaciously recorded, could win over many doubters to Mendelssohn’s splendid symphony-cum-cantata.”
Gramophone, March 2011
“Märkl blows away any Victorian cobwebs with a reading that keeps Mendelssohn’s precision scoring firmly on its toes. This approach reaches its zenith in the glorious chorus Die Nacht ist vergangen (‘The night is departed’), which pushes forward with an elatory zeal guaranteed to activate the goose flesh. He negotiates the tricky Allegretto second movement – halfway between a scherzo and song without words – with remarkable assuredness, and captures the ‘religioso’ spirit of the slow movement without the slightest tinge of bogus piety.”
Classic FM Magazine, March 2011
This concert marks the end of his five-year tenure as Principal Conductor. Highlights have included tours to Spain and the Baltics, regular appearances in the Berlin Konzerthaus and Cologne Philharmonie, and a performance of Schumann’s rarely-heard opera Genoveva at the Rotterdam Opera Festival.
Earlier in June Märkl will make his first visit to Hong Kong, conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in a French programme with regular collaborator Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Jun Märkl received the prestigious honour, the Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres awarded by the French government for his contribution to French culture, both in France and worldwide.
Jun Märkl is special guest at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Naxos label in Paris this month, when his nine-disc boxed set of the complete Debussy orchestral cycle with the Orchestre National de Lyon will be featured. The latest disc and indeed the whole set continue to reap spectacular reviews worldwide:
“Each of these performances is filled with rapture and excitement. In the Fantasy Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s constant arpeggios swell and ebb with fluid articulation as he picks out just right treble notes to underline Märkl’s filigreed orchestral lines… Märkl creates a luminous impressionist sound bed… Märkl and his orchestra are simply superb” (American Record Guide, March 2012).
Märkl also made a brief diversion with TelArc recently, accompanying American cellist Zuill Bailey on a Dvořák disc with the Indianapolis Symphony. The disc also included two Dvořák tone poems.
“Märkl shows himself a masterful Dvořákian throughout this disc, eliciting performances that are vital and idiomatic, yet sensitive and full of Bohemian color. Full symphony cycles are not common in these economically trying times, but perhaps some enterprising label might enlist Märkl for a complete Dvořák set. Based on these performances, it would likely prove a worthy addition to the catalogue” (Classical Review).
Also in May, Märkl returns to the NHK Symphony where he is an annual guest, for a subscription week and to conduct the orchestra’s annual composer composium – this year Hosokawa, with whom Märkl already has a strong association, having performed his works in Lyon and at the BBC Proms, and also recorded his Circulating Ocean for Naxos with the Orchestre National de Lyon.
During the first half of the year 2012 I had the chance to see many orchestras in North America: Cincinnati in January, Utah in February and Milwaukee and Vancouver in March. I will be going soon to Indianapolis and Baltimore, in summer I will visit Chicago Grant Parks and Aspen.
All these weeks so far have been very pleasant, as well from the artistic point of view as also in my personal experience. Compared to Mid Europe the idea of teamwork is so much stronger on this continent, much to the profit of quality and efficiency. So after having sorted out a few technical details I could work right away on the music, sound and interpretation.
Cincinnati is a fascinating orchestra, with such a long history and a pretty good hall. Since I have worked with them for the first time I was also surprised that this is an extremely friendly orchestra, easy to work with and with a very high sense of excellence and a strong will to achieve the best possible result. They played the almost all German repertoire, Wagner, Liszt Piano concerto with Lang Lang and Brahms, very well and inspired. And to play with Lang Lang is always a real pleasure!
A very nice surprise had been the week of my debut in Salt Lake City with the Utah Symphony Orchestra: a good orchestra, very nice hall and highflying spirits in the administration and on the podium. It seems that Music Director Thierry Fischer has done some extraordinary great work during his years and I am sure, this orchestra will continue to improve further: the whole set up and the environment here feels very healthy and promising!
From Salt Lake City I drove by car to Milwaukee some 2500 miles though Utah, the plains of Wyoming, Kentucky and Iowa to Wisconsin. I had been working with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra before, so I knew that they are good. But this time I was even more impressed. Edo de Waart is a great Music Director! His orchestra is extremely precise, good to work with and very fast. I also had the privilege to see the St. Patrick procession in the all-green flagged streets around the channels and the beautiful Arts Museum.
The around 3500 miles from Milwaukee to Vancouver took me almost 4 days to drive, through sun and clouds in Minnesota and North Dakota, and snowstorms in Idaho and Washington: what a huge country!
Vancouver is very different from other cities I had seen on this continent: in some ways it is much more „focused“ than Midwest cities, downtown is quite easy to explore by foot. A lot of high rise buildings, perhaps less spectacular than in Seattle, but still some good architecture. The Asian color, especially Japanese and Chinese, is very prominent, not only in the thousands of good restaurants. The surroundings are stunningly beautiful! So I have decided to come back in summer to spend my vacations here with my family.
I was wondering what kind of orchestra would play here. And again it had been a positive surprise: an orchestra of good quality, with high motivation not only in their regular symphonic concerts, but also in community work, teaching music to young people. This might even be the most remarkable recent addition to the „normal work“ of the symphony orchestra: the brand new Music School with beautiful facilities and a small recital hall, is run by the orchestra and the musicians are part of the faculty. Maybe this is also one of the reasons why the audience of the symphony concerts is quite young and enthusiastic. Here it seems, classical music is a very important part of the city.
My next weeks with Indianapolis and Baltimore will surely be very pleasant, since I know both orchestras for a long tie and I really love them. With Indianapolis I had recorded a CD of Music by Dvorak last year, the Cello concerto with Zuill Bailey and the tone poem The Water Goblin and In Nature’s Realm, which just this week became Gramophone choice of the month (May) by the UK magazine. The orchestra had been playing really excellently during the concerts, and I am really forward to working with them this time on a French program.
Baltimore will lead me to a more German repertoire with Schumann , Weber and Beethoven. And the concert will be also performed in Strathmore. This orchestra is so good at a wide range of repertoire, and it belongs to my very favorite orchestras to work with.
A highlight of this spring will be the Hosokawa Festival in Tokyo and the concerts with the NHK in Suntory Hall in May. In my opinion the NHK orchestra is one of the leading ensembles in the world, and it is always a pure joy performing with them.
In Leipzig I will perfom two weeks with the MDR Sinfonieorchester, one in may with my selections from Wagner’s Ring cycle together with the Saint-Saëns Cello concerto played by Gautier Capuçon. The opener will be the Six Epigraphes Antiques by Claude Debussy, arranged by Ansermet: I really think this is a great work, although very mysterious and delicate. The second concert will take place for the opening of the MDR Musiksommerfestival in late June: Mendelssohn Lobgesang will be played in the live televised concert from the Dom of Magdeburg.
This will be the last concert of my tenure with the MDR. Five years of work in the history-loaded region of Mitteldeutschland with the MDR Sinfonieorchester and the MDR Rundfunkchor will find its conclusion with Mendelssohn, one of the many great composers who lived and composed here so many great works. I really wish the very best for their future to both ensembles, and I will keep nice memories of some inspired performances.
Debussy: Complete Orchestral Works
Emmanuel Ceysson, Alexandre Doisy, Paul Meyer,
Leipzig MDR Radio Choir
Orchestre National de Lyon
This collection contains all Debussy’s works for orchestra as well as many orchestral arrangements of his piano music. Together these display a rich panorama of Debussian sound and a remarkable insight into the composer. Established arrangements by Debussy’s contemporaries, including Ravel and Caplet, are complemented by more recent arrangements from composers such as Colin Matthews and Robin Holloway. The conductor Jun Märkl believes that Debussy ‘set up a model of orchestration for the rest of the twentieth century’ and it is with this conviction that he draws from the Orchestre National de Lyon such ‘world-class playing’ (American Record Guide).
“Debussy created a completely new set of colours for the orchestra – very different from what had come before. The refinement of colours, the blend of different instruments, the transparent sound – these are things which are very remarkable and typical in Debussy’s music. He redefined French music in the 20th century. The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is all about creating a feeling, an atmosphere. We do not get the fact of Saint Sebastian’s story from the text – rather like in Pelléas et Mélisande – but instead we get indications and then the spirit of the saint in the music. So we have a lot of freedom to be creative.”
Jun Märkl, BBC Music Magazine, February 2012
Jun Märkl on Debussy:
Interview with Jeremy Siepmann
This interview is taken, with kind permission from Naxos Rights International, from the booklet for the 9 CD box-set Debussy: The Complete Orchestral Works (Naxos 8.509002). For more details, please visit naxos.com.
Märkl has developed a particularly close relationship with the Orchestre National de Lyon and their collaboration on the complete Debussy cycle has won plaudits for all concerned around the world. Was it, for Märkl, the fulfilment of a lifelong love?
‘Yes. You could say that. I started really quite early with Children’s Corner, and then I played a lot of the Debussy Préludes, both volumes, so I was very busy discovering Debussy, but then it changed a lot when I went from the piano to the orchestral repertoire. And I was just amazed at the richness of his colours, and that was for me the ideal of Impressionist music. When I went to Lyon, to work with this orchestra, Debussy was absolutely at the top of my priorities, and I was very glad that I could mount a big project, over six years, exploring him from all different sides, different angles; to watch him, to see where he came from, what came after him. And I now believe firmly that he is the most important French composer of the twentieth century.’
He is perhaps also one of the most misunderstood, the most commonly misrepresented.
‘Yes, I believe that too. Usually people are much more drawn to Ravel, many of whose works are showpieces for the orchestra. Debussy seems, on the whole, more uncomfortable. His structures are more complicated. And it was he who changed the language of French music completely. He was the one who overturned Wagnerism in France, indeed Germanic influences generally; who redefined the French musical aesthetic, both through his composition and his writings about it. Without Debussy, Messiaen and Boulez and those who came afterwards would not have been possible. The extent and power of his influence is still underrated, I think, in the minds of most music-lovers. His example was ground-breaking, and it shook up the musical world. I think one common misconception is that Debussy is primarily an Impressionist composer – that colour and atmosphere, and a certain vagueness, a certain fogginess, are more important than structure in his music. My impression is that the exact opposite is true. He was very keen to make the rhythmical structure of his music clear. The rhythmical structure of Debussy’s music is much greater than we tend to think. He was very much a sonic architect. And a very demanding one too. I would like the listener’s attention to be focussed on the clarity of the structure, the clarity of the sound, so that they really can hear everything that’s happening, all the inner voices etc. Debussy is extremely clear about what he wants – almost every note has some indication of how to play it, and the colour it should have. The performance of his music must reflect this. It must be extremely precise.’
Few would dispute that Debussy wrote great music for orchestra. But was he a great orchestral writer? If so, what were some of his greatest contributions to the art of orchestration?
‘In the beginning, though he had some very good ideas, he was not yet really a master of instrumentation. But he learned a lot, especially from the Russian composers, and from Wagner too, and he developed into a virtuoso orchestrator, whose example influenced Ravel. He redefined the whole French approach to writing for the woodwinds, for instance. The woodwind often dominate the structure, with the strings providing a very sophisticated, finespun aural net, if I can put it that way. The trumpets and horns are generally very melodic, the equal of the woodwind, and the writing is often much more like what we imagine from the winds than from the brass. He set up a model of orchestration for the rest of the twentieth century.’
Wagner’s influence was pervasive. Not even Debussy could resist him in his youth, though he later scorned him. How much is this early interest detectable in his orchestral works?
‘Oh quite a bit, I think, in his early works, and even up to Pelléas et Mélisande, where in one orchestral interlude you can hear the bells of Parsifal – which he was clearly re-introducing there on purpose. He had a very deep knowledge of this repertoire – especially Parsifal and Tristan. But after that he found Wagner’s influence so overwhelming that he had to pull back, and find something new. So Pelléas was really the turning point. After that he changed.’
Listeners expecting only Debussy in this set are in for a refreshing, indeed an illuminating, surprise.
‘We’re trying here – and working on a large scale – to give a lot of insight into Debussy the musician as a whole, trying also to give insight into a lot of the piano works. If you confine yourself just to those works orchestrated by Debussy himself, that might be accommodated by half the number of CDs. But for us it was very important to include, as well, orchestrations by people who were very close to him, like Ravel, like Caplet, for example, students and friends who knew him too, and later even contemporary composers, composers of our own time, who’ve orchestrated of some of the piano works. And this demonstrates how even today, Debussy’s works are so important that today’s composers are still exploring and learning from them. So in this cycle that we’ve done you really get a big picture of Debussy (every note we present is by Debussy): a portrait of the composer and his significance that stretches over a whole century.’
A very warm welcome to a new year and to my new website. I look forward to keeping you up to date with my activities, and in due course exchanging ideas on music and life.
2011 was quite a year – the end of a very happy six years for me as Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon and many guesting highlights along the way. I am still living with my family in Lyon, and we are enjoying this city and the French “savoir vivre” very much. If only everyone would not always be on strike…
My first visit to China, conducting Mahler 10 at the really impressive National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bejing, was an extraordinary experience and one of many highlights. The NCPA Orchestra is very young – set up only 18 months ago, they are still working on finding and defining their own tradition and sound. The potential is immense.
I was also delighted to return to the NHK Orchestra, with which I have a regular relationship, for the first time since last year’s terrible events in Japan. This orchestra is really one of my favourites: top quality combined with great dedication to the music. I met many friends, of whom several had suffered greatly under the earthquake and tsunami. I was impressed by how these people are managing under such severe circumstances, by how hard they are working to reconstruct the country. I guess no other people would work as hard and in as disciplined a way as they do. At least I could contribute in a small way with my concerts: many people in Japan are longing for music to find some relief and bring light back into their lives.
2012 began with a televised New Year’s concert in Leipzig and a welcome return to the Helsinki Philharmonic. It was first time I conducted them in their stunning new hall. It was quite an experience: Beethoven’s 8thsymphony and Mendelssohn’s lovely Lobgesang (a work which I have also enjoyed conducting in Leipzig where they know this music inside-out, of course). It was sung by the Turku Philharmonic choir with the incredible Finnish star Soile Isokoski, whom I know from many opera performances in Vienna, and accompanied by a great, warm sound from the Helsinki Philharmonic.
At the studio in Leipzig we are recording rarely played overtures by d’Albert and Wagner for Naxos. The works of D’Albert is a real discovery for me: very beautiful music indeed. Among many mouth-watering programmes with my Leipzig orchestra this spring, I am particularly looking forward to conducting my own selection of the orchestral parts of Wagner’s Ring – all of which fit neatly into 45 minutes and make a wonderful sweep of music, a joy for the orchestra to play and for me to conduct.
This spring is the centenary of Debussy’s birth, and to celebrate Naxos are releasing the boxed set of the complete orchestral works, which I recorded with the Orchestre national de Lyon over the past six years as Music Director there. It’s a real “first” as no one has ever had undertaken this 9-CD challenge. I am very happy with the result and I hope you enjoy them.
Much of my time this spring will be spent in North America, where I feel very at home; last season my engagements there included my debut with the Cleveland Orchestra and a return to the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in November I had a great week with the St Louis Symphony, which I always enjoy conducting. This spring I also return to Baltimore, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Utah and Vancouver, and am delighted to be making my debut with the Cincinnati Symphony in January in a programme dear to my heart: Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture, Brahms’ 4th Symphony, and Liszt’s first Piano Concerto with the effervescent Lang Lang. I heard Cincinnatti is a great orchestra with a long music tradition which had been strongly influenced by German artists. I am really looking very much forward to meeting the musicians and the city.
More in my next newsletter…
With very best regards
Jun Märkl makes his China debut at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, conducting the NCPA orchestra in Mahler’s 10th symphony (Derek Cooke completion) as part of the NCPA’s prestigious Mahler festival; other orchestras and conductors appearing in the same festival include the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle.
Märkl then carries on around the world for a week with the St Louis Symphony (Beethoven, Strauss and Ravel), before returning to Leipzig for a televised Verdi Requiem with the MDR Symphony. He returns to Asia for Mahler Symphony No.4 and Rückert Lieder with the NHK Symphony.
After a spectacular opening to his final season in Leipzig conducting Mahler Symphony No.3, Jun Märkl spends October on the road. On October 9 he conducts his own 45-minute orchestral arrangement of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo. Märkl conducted the first ever all-Japanese Ring Cycle in Tokyo a few years ago and has also conducted Wagner operas at the Vienna State Opera, the Nationaltheater München, Covent Garden and Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Then on October 20 he makes a welcome return to the Oslo Philharmonic –a quick follow up, hard on the heels of his first visit last season – this time to conduct Liszt’s Faust Symphony, which he also programmes the week before with his own MDR orchestra in the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
The last week of October sees him in Northern Spain with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia for Brahms Symphony No.4 and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with our gifted young Russian violinist, Eugene Ugorski.
Jun Märkl opens the MDR season in Leipzig with Mahler’s 3rd Symphony on September 1, and later in the month returns to Leipzig with a programme of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben and Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with Sarah Chang.
Jun Märkl conducted his farewell concert with the Orchestre National de Lyon on June 3 in an exciting programme, going out with a bang with Saint-Saëns’s glorious Organ Symphony.
After his Cleveland Orchestra debut a couple of months ago, Jun Märkl returns to the Philadelphia Orchestra for concerts on March 31, April 1 and 2, conducting Beethoven Symphony No.2 and a Mozart piano concerto with Marc-Andre Hamelin.
Jun Märkl will make his Cleveland Orchestra debut on 11-13 February, jumping in for an indisposed Vladimir Jurowski. He conducts a programme of Mussorgsky, Debussy, Liszt and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Leonidas Kavakos.
Jun Märkl returns to the Indianapolis Symphony for a Dvorák programme this month. He will then conduct the Residentie Orchestra in a specially commissioned film from the innovative Director Lucas van Woerkum, inspired by and accompanying the score of Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead. This will be coupled with Mahler’s 4th Symphony.
Recording of Debussy Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien on the Naxos label garners widespread critical praise
Jun Märkl’s recording of Debussy Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien on the Naxos label has garnered critical praise including Classic FM Magazine’s Editors Choice:“Even bearing in mind classic recordings from the likes of Karajan and Haitink, Jun Märkl is a master Debussyan, who captures the half-lights of these scores with a rare instinct for colour and texture.”
Other reviews include:
“The performance conveys the music’s subtle seductiveness with a sure and refined sense of colour.”
Gramophone, November 2010
“Debussy’s music is notoriously difficult to bring off convincingly, which makes Märkl’s achievement all the more remarkable. Played like this, with every phrase pulsating with life-enhancing radiance and choreographic intensity, these magical scores caress the senses as rarely before.”
Classic FM Magazine ‘Editor’s Choice’, five stars, November 2010
“…the music’s sensuous colouring shows Debussy inspired, the orchestral playing echoing his finesse.”
The Telegraph, September 2010