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Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” in historically-informed performance practice

The German early music ensemble Concerto Köln and the American conductor Kent Nagano launch a leading-edge project: in cooperation with the University of Cologne and Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Cologne (Germany) they will undertake Richard Wagner’s tetralogy, “The Ring of the Nibelung”. Their endeavor will help provide the international opera scene new impetus for historically-informed approaches to musical-theatrical works of the 19th century. For the first time, the entire “Ring” will be be examined from the early music movement perspective: over the course of several years, the instrumental and vocal styles as well as the staging at the time of Wagner will be explored and a historically-informed performance conceptualized. A further aim of this extensive work on both a scientific and an artistic level is to serve as a performance practice guide to the fields of 19th century music and opera. While Kent Nagano is responsible for the overall project, Dr. Kai Hinrich Müller heads the scientific component.

The project officially begins on October 1st with key questions discussed in a symposium beforehand: What was Wagner’s ideal in terms of performance practice of his “Ring”? How does it differ from the Wagner sound of today? How can his ideal be reconstructed? And which challenges must be overcome? Lecture subjects include the ‘proper’ pronunciation of German in the 19th century, Wagner’s conducting, the playing style of string and wind instruments as well as the singing of Wagner, then and now. Featured lecturers are faculty members at major German universities, colleges and music institutions. All lectures and outcomes of the session will be subsequently published.

The scientific component is expected to be completed in 2019 at which time Kent Nagano will take over the musical realization. Kent Nagano: “Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” is probably one of the most researched compositions yet nonetheless, a systematic approach to the tetralogy from a historically-informed perspective has not been attempted thus far. It is therefore all the more important that such an undertaking is tackled and that, in romantic repertoire now as well, normality in terms of sound which seemed irrefutable so far, is called into question. I have collaborated with Concerto Köln for several projects in the past and am convinced that I have found two most competent partners in the Cologne ensemble and the Kunststiftung NRW who are able to provide the scientific basis for a historically-informed reading of Richard Wagner’s “Ring”. Together we will pursue this endeavor and bring the music to the stage!” The results will be performed in an interpretation by Concerto Köln and Kent Nagano during the 2020/21 season. All research findings will be published in Open Access.

The Kunststiftung NRW views the project as an excellent opportunity for the artistic development of the ensemble and will provide funds for a project office and two fellowships.

Further support is provided by the Freunde von Concerto Köln e. V., the Strecker-Stiftung and the long-standing partner MBL Akustikgeräte GmbH & Co. KG.