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A Rebel at Saint Denis Festival : Teodor Currentzis

REVIEW – The Saint Denis Basilica is a large medieval church where all the kings of France are buried. It opened its doors to the Greek maestro, Teodor Currentzis, on Tuesday 30th May. The atmosphere was electric as hundreds flocked into the gothic basilica, which was illuminated with striking blue, pink and golden lights to mark the start of the classical festival of Saint-Denis.

Known as a rebel in the classical world, Teodor is not your average conductor. Born in Athens, he moved to the small town of Perm, Russia where he leads the MusicAeterna choir at the Perm Opera house. He is a perfectionist and is renowned for leading long rehearsals into the late hours of the night. He has a striking appearance with long dark hair and youthful looks, attracting a younger audience. His programme combined Bach’s sublime Motets (BWV 225, BWV 229 & BWV 227) with Berio’s harrowing Coro (1974-1976).

The singers arrived at the altar dressed in long black shawls evoking the appearance of a group of monks. The setting was perfect for a truly authentic and spiritual performance of Bach’s Latin Motets.

Teodor’s style of conducting is unconventional and brilliant. As he led the choir he was almost dancing to the music, reaching forward to draw out and blend beautiful harmonies. At the same time, he is sharp and precise. Both musicians and audience were completely captivated by his gestures. Two cellos and two violins accompanied the choir and this meant every choral note rang out along the aisles and into the arches of the basilica.

Berio’s Coro could not have been more of a contrast. The piece consists of a multilingual patchwork drawn from folk songs from around the world. Instead of a separate choir and orchestra, each singer sits with a musician, so that the music and text are combined in a new way. The lyrics of the sopranos ‘Come, see the blood in the streets’ to clashing cymbals is not easy listening and this 50 minute continuous piece is relentless.

Teodor is captivating to watch and brought Bach’s Motets to life. A rebel defying some of the classical music conventions, this was an exciting start to the festival.

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