Wagner’s 200th birth anniversary celebrated in Islamabad

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Oct 12, 2013.

Islamabad – It is perhaps no secret that Pakistanis love emotions and drama.

So it was not surprising that Pakistani guests, who attended a Piano Concert organised by the German Embassy on Thursday, seemed to adore the music of 19th Century German composer Richard Wagner, famous for compositions which are dramatic and packed with emotions.

The concert was held to commemorate Wagner’s 200th birth anniversary, which fell earlier this year.

German pianist Stephan Rahn and mezzo-soprano Judith Mayer combined with Karachi-based Pakistani pianist Usman Anees to perform the openings of some of Wagner’s most popular operas.

Wagner is famous for his operas, Rahn said. But because the musicians could not bring the whole orchestra required to play an opera, they decided to perform openings of two Wagner operas along with some songs.

Rahn, a freelance musician, and Anees, who is currently studying Western classical composition at London’s Trinity College, started with the overture to Rienzi. With a four-hand piano arrangement, the two pianists synchronized perfectly to reproduce the intensity of the opera’s opening.

Mayer then worked magic with her powerful voice as she sang five songs from Wagner, including “In the Greenhouse” and “Dreams.” The range of her vocals and dramatic delivery of the lyrics mesmerized the audience, which was evident from the applause she got at the end of each of her performances.

Sheikh Farooq, the general manager of a private shipping company who was in the audience, said the singing was “heartfelt and moving, with an emotional pull.”

“Wagner’s music is all about emotions and dramatic music,” Rahn said, talking about the musical quality of the German composer, who was also famous for writing his own librettos. “It’s pure opera.”

Rahn, who, along with the Mayer and Anees, also performed at the Goethe Institut in Karachi on Wednesday, said Pakistani audiences have been “very welcoming” of Wagner’s music, even though Western classical might not be the music to which they are accustomed.

At the concert, Anees, 27, also gave a solo performance of the Isolde’s Love-Death — the final, dramatic climax of Wagner’s opera, Tristan and Isolde, a medieval, European romantic legend.

After a brief interval, Rahn performed the “Sonata for the album of Madame M.W.” before combining again with Anees to play the prelude to The Master-Singers of Nuremburg. In between, Mayer sang five more songs composed by Franz Liszt, who was a friend and father-in-law of Wagner.

Pakistani and foreign guests in the audience appeared united in their applause for the performances and Ambassador of Germany in Pakistan Dr Cyrill Nunn seemed to agree.

“Music is the perfect bridge between countries,” the ambassador told The Express Tribune after the concert.

Nunn said the German Embassy always tries to create collaboration between Germany and Pakistan at its events.

“(In the case of the concert), one bridge is bringing German musicians here for the local audience,” he said. “The other is to feature a Pakistani musician who extraordinarily performs the music of someone as typically German as Wagner.”

German nationals in the audience said the pieces picked by the musicians for the evening were some of the “lighter” and “happier” music by the German composer.

They said Wagner’s popularity in Germany is evident from the fact that people wait years to get tickets for the performances of Wagner’s operas held at an annual festival in Bayreuth, Germany, where Wagner had supervised the building of a theatre during his lifetime.

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