Clear the ring for a whiner

 Staatstheater Braunschweig plays the opera premiere of "How Mr. Mockinpott's suffering is expelled" by Stefan Litwin

… The focus is on the sad clown, our Mockinpott, whom Zacharias N. Karithi makes a popular figure despite all the laziness. Which is due to his lovable playing, but of course also to his so comfortably warm and powerful baritone voice, with which he is allowed to sing melodically according to Litwin's template. The way he complains about every rejection again and again in uncomprehending solitude and promptly throws himself hopefully into the next adventure, that also touches on his good-natured unteachability. It's all the sadder that the doctor has operated on his crying away and from then on he can only giggle and speak, no longer sing.
Litwin's decision to show his loss of humanity in this way is already the dramaturgical crunch point for Weiss: that without this center of human emotion he should come to a wiser point in the end. That may still be the old reflex against emotion and pity in the Brecht theater, but if Mockinpott is robbed of his humanity from then on, became part of the machine, a puppet, how can he then still gain spiritual insight? How is he supposed to sing the "Internationale"? After all, he goes off dancing, maybe in search of a new voice.
With a lot of percussion, blasts of wind and plucked strings, Litwin drives the action forward. There is always a characteristic variety, whether cowbells profane the angelic song of the four choristers, a fraudulent waltz sounds on the occasion of adultery or the national anthem under the government gossip. It gets shrill when the dog barks or the sound bars and flute yell for the nasty surgery. Alexis Agrafiotis keeps his »circus orchestra« together precisely behind the gauze curtain.
But Litwin lets us feel that without the singing human voice, the whole circus of life is missing the crucial point. How much we would have liked to hear the liberated singing at the end. But, well, dialectics of the political show booth: sing yourselves free!

Andreas Berger, Braunschweiger Zeitung, March 7, 2022 

Mr. Mockinpott’s knee is still reliable

Rarely thought of in this way: the Staatstheater Braunschweig premieres the music theater work »How Mr. Mockinpott's suffering is expelled« by Stefan Litwin based on Peter Weiss.

... Stefan Litwin has transformed this Hanswurstiade into a subtle music theater that has now premiered at the Staatstheater Braunschweig - Litwin's second Weiss adaptation after the moritat »Nacht mitGUeste« in Saarbrücken in 2016.
Weiss and Litwin are spiritual relatives in their orientation towards Bertolt Brecht, but it is only with Litwin's pointed music that the deliberately awkward text in Knittelversen finds its higher artistic character. The individually challenged ensemble of fifteen instrumentalists under the direction of Alexis Agrafiotis has the main task, because for each of the eleven scenes the cast, style and character vary as in a higher-level puzzle, everything in rapid succession. The operation scene, for example, is accompanied by deep palpitations and dizzying music without (harmonic) reason. In the picture »Beside the Government«, parodies of the march and scraps of the Deutschlandlied appear, the music alternates between rhythmic bustle and surreal emptiness. Before that, a grotesque waltz, the short epiphany of a string quartet or a dull contrabassoon for Mockinpott's rival (Benjamin Kaygun) ironize the action, later a concertante trombone will take over the voice of God - here wonderfully smug as an old woman in a fur coat at the walker (Julia Suzanne Buchmann, too as Mockinpott's wife). With the cowbells, the four angels also have a leading instrument that illustrates their rattling tin wings. They are also the only protagonists allowed to sing alongside Mockinpott, a recurring »Miserere« in the weird »old« style. Mockinpott himself only sings until his operation - after which he can only croak and giggle. Zachariah N. Kariithi not only ennobles the title role with a warm, lyrically flowing baritone, but also as an actor who brings the ridiculous type of simpleton into the character field and finds in the audience what they are looking for in vain on stage: compassion. But in his hopeless attempts to put the right shoe on the right foot without ever becoming impatient or even angry, one would gladly come to him for help. Only at the end does he find out when he has learned to walk (away). ...

Lotte Thaler, FAZ, March 9, 2022

Balancing on a Razor Blade

Premiere of »Nacht mit Gaesten« by Stefan Litwin at the Hochschule für Musik Saar

A dark piece of music theatre based on a theatre piece by Peter Weiss just enjoyed a magnificent premiere – at a federal German school of music. First of all, mention must be made here of Stefan Litwin’s artistic decision to provide a late ‘delivery’ of something that author Peter Weiss had hoped for in vain. Namely, a piece of music for »Nacht mit Gaesten« that is neither an illustration nor plays like a barrel organ, but that rather is, first of all, carefully composed down to the last detail and, secondly, is instrumentally oriented towards the bustling fair, the clattering travelling theatre.

Stefan Litwin has delivered all this with an ensemble structure that is permeated with instrumental theatrical gesticulations, with scratching and scraping noises, strained accents, exploding vocal lines. Most recently appearing at the Beethoven festival in Bonn as a splendid pianist and composer in his own right, he has with this music theatre piece added a new jewel to his always stimulating, ever ambitious compository oeuvre. One could also say: a piece of resistance aesthetics. Resistance no longer strictly in Weiss’ but in the sense of it strengthening our will to survive in a new other violent environment. This is, roughly speaking, the composer’s point.

Georg Beck,
nmz 27.10.2016

New Qualities

Stefan Litwin’s »Nacht mit Gaesten« based on Peter Weiss' 'Street Ballad' of the same name.

In Litwin’s version, the whole thing gains new qualities, in particular because the score fulfils Weiss’ wish to have a 'thorough composition' rather than merely accidental stage music. There are hardly any pretty melodies or ‘songs’ in the traditional sense such as in Weill or Eisler’s work, yet much that is expressive, characteristic. Sounds reminiscent of jazz, Ländler (a folk dance in ¾ time) and tango and countless more or less hidden citations from Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler and Eisler further impart and substantiate. ...

The music is consciously anti-psychologizing, and the coherent, convincing stage set and scenic action deliberately anti-naturalistic, corresponding with dramatic processes and text.
And finally, the two-dimensional props show the gloom in a geometric/symbolic fashion (stage set and costumes: Annette Wolf). Face paints evoke Japanese Kabuki theatre. Analogue to the virtuously rhythmic speech are the elaborate, well and truly choreographed and similarly rhythmic gestures (director: Frank Wörner, voice professor at the Hochschule für Musik Saar).

Hanns-Werner Heister,
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1/2017

Sharpened Knives

Litwin’s »Nacht mit Gaesten« is based entirely on the text, which is transformed into inflected speech. This rhythmic language not only ensures a maximum text comprehension but also encourages a consistently sustained swift pace. The orchestra consists of seven musicians – all excellent students attending the Saarbrücken University of Music …

The following characters appear in Annette Wolf’s proscenium stage with its distorted perspective: father, mother, two daughters and two mysterious, sinister guests who kill each other at the end in a scene involving also instrumentally sharpened knives. The children are the only protagonists surviving this night with guests. Unmoved, they leave the bloody scene as full orphans …

Director Frank Wörner, who heads a voice class at the Saarbrücken University of Music, also staged the piece with very young students who brilliantly integrated themselves into the extremely physical, gestural puppet theatre, partly as comic figures, marionettes and silent film actors. …

The premiere in Saarbrücken is, in any event, a discovery of Peter Weiss for music. All of the smaller stages should now start trying to snag it.

Lotte Thaler,
SWR2, 24.10.2016



Technical Brilliance

The second piano sonata by Ives, »Concord, Mass. 1840-1860«, a key work on the intellectual center of New England's Transcendentalism, is a hypercomplex piece that really demands a man with two brains and three hands.

Stefan Litwin mastered it as if it were the simplest thing in the world: complementing each other in ideal manner were technical brilliance, musical understanding, a sure sense of construction, and a kind of actor's art of transformation in the often abrupt changes in the heterogeneous layers of material and mood.

But what is decisive is the seriousness with which Litwin plumbs the dignity of expression of the individual characters. Litwin plays nothing that he hasn't understood, and he seems to know at every moment what he wants to »say« musically.

Julia Spinola,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

As if Beethoven Himself Sat at the Piano

A Revelation: Stefan Litwin at the Schauspielhaus

Precisely what is special about this evening casts a dismal light on concert routine: Beethoven's Piano Concert No. 1, this time played, not by a pianist, but by a musician.
Stefan Litwin is his name, and in his performance with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and Gielen he does just about everything differently from the hundreds of piano laborers whose Beethoven presentations usually resemble each other as much as one tuxedo the other. [...]

His playing of Beethoven is a revelation that need not fear comparison with Rattle's »Pastoral« of last week, whose primary characteristics – the exploration of historical performance practice and the fusion of a thoroughly calculated artistic statement with the (seeming) spontaneity of the moment – also define Litwin's playing: staccato playing, transparent sound, and the balance of registers with a crisp, rhythmically vibrant bass, take us to the present directly from the forte-piano of Beethoven's era; Litwin colors them with magnificently rich Steinway tone.

One can almost believe Beethoven himself were sitting at the piano, so fresh and improvisational does Litwin's playing sound.

Jörg Königsdorf, Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin

New Land Beyond Romanticism

Michael Gielen and Stefan Litwin in the Alte Oper

His interpretation of Beethoven’s C minor concerto was downright sensational: with Litwin, not a nebulous ›romantic‹ virtuoso concerto, but crystal-clear ›chamber music with piano‹. [...]

The concept of the Beethoven solo concert must be reconsidered - and Litwin and Gielen provide an exemplary occasion for this.

Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich,
Frankfurter Rundschau

Wars of Liberation, Black on White

Stefan Litwin analyzes and plays Ludwig van Beethoven's C Major Piano Concert

For Litwin, interpreting means, in the emphatic sense, explicating - musically as well as in words. This is why he loves and cultivates the lecture-recital form already practiced by Walter Levin and Charles Rose. Everyone who has ever experienced Litwin on the stage knows that he is a brilliant speaker. But that his lectures are as stirring as they are illuminating is because nothing in them is learned ornamentation; all of it is argumentation.

Nothing makes the inherent life and expressive overflowing of the works clearer than Litwin's own musical interpretation of the C major concert. The conflicts of the first movement, its melting utopia of freedom, and the yearning romance of the middle movement with its touching waltz episode, which on this recording is finally played out in a "Viennese" manner, as well as the Janissary music of the concluding rondo, which are full of willfullnesses - in Litwin's recording, all of this takes on a plasticity, forcefulness, and eloquence that makes all interpretive theory suddenly seem pale again. What more could one want?

Julia Spinola,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Superior Perfectionist

Stefan Litwin, who carried out the gigantic piano sonata by Jean Barraqué, proved himself a superior perfectionist. Without palpable involvement or effort, but with inexorable precision, he worked through the demanding 45-minute opus.

Albrecht Dümling,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Hommage à Pierre Boulez

This Mexico City-born specialist for New Piano Music achieved something enormous; especially with the »Notations« and the sonata by Boulez he was a master of balanced execution at the keyboard not weighted by hands. Much of Boulez, for example the second movement of the sonata or some of the twelve-measure pieces, demands a machine-like precision as with Ligeti, yet Litwin paired this manual skill even with unbelievable elegance and smoothness.

He must be a pianist completely to Pierre Boulez' taste: clean and painstaking in dealing with sounds, precise to hard in his touch, calm, even easy-going on questions of form. And completely himself, without any extravagance.

Stefan Schickhaus, Main-Echo

For a Few Fingers More

On the world premiere of Michael Gielen's »recycling der glocken« (recycling the bells) in Berlin

The pianistic added value can hardly be grasped. Sometimes it sounds, and looks, as if the pianist, already facing a great challenge for a virtuoso, would have to grow another five to ten fingers.

Stefan Litwin is not only one of the few thinking pianists who know how to bridle, including technically, such a »warhorse«. Around this spectacular world premiere he also arranged one of his intelligent programs, in which cross-references are as meaningful as they are rich in leaps in knowledge.

Eleonore Büning,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung