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.
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).
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1/2017
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.
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.
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.
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?
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
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.
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.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung