Dangerous Liaisons
We meet in dramatic circumstances – a war broke out in Ukraine a few days ago. Western Europe, despite all its cultural and civilizational achievements, has turned out to be very naive. Until recently, many politicians, including Italian ones, believed that it was possible to get along with Russia on a diplomatic basis

Giovanni Antonini: Nobody expected this to happen. A lot of people think that we are just going through a rerun of 1939. The danger is that one dictatorial man wields so much power. I do not think we can just talk about Russia, but rather about the Russian authorities. Even in the artistic world, it is quite different. Recently, the authorities of Milan asked Valery Gergiyev, who conducted Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades at La Scala, to stand up against the war. He did not do it because he is a good friend of Putin. That is why he was thanked for his cooperation, not only in Italy. This is an example of an artist’s involvement in politics, but I also know a lot of Russian musicians who are against this war. There is no doubt that Russia is an authoritarian country in which you cannot express your views freely. I think that in Poland – because of its history and geographic location – you know Russia much better than we Italians.

The problem, however, is that hardly anyone in the West wanted to listen to us when we talked about how dangerous Putin is.

It is true. President Berlusconi, Putin’s friend, is a case in point. Unfortunately, the West usually led the so-called Realpolitik. After all, it was always about business, raw materials and fuels. This is a dangerous game. Now that Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons, everyone is wondering what to do. In Italy, there are still those who would like to bargain with him, believing that the alternative is a world war. From this point of view, the title of this year’s edition of the Wratislavia Cantans festival – “Dangerous Liaisons” – becomes extremely up-to-date and takes on new meanings.

Especially since we have all lived in Europe for centuries, and the present war is not the first conflict with Russia. The relationship between the West and the East has always been a kind of dangerous relationship.

Very much so. Although the title of the festival has much less dramatic sources – these are the famous film by Stephen Frears Dangerous Liaisons, and above all the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos of the same title. Some time ago I reread it, which inspired me to look for analogies in music. Of course, this is not just a book about sexual or love relationships.

The story described by Laclos has a clear social and political context. After all, it is about seduction, which becomes a tool of social control. Therefore, the book has been seen as a picture of the corruption and depravity of the French aristocracy shortly before the revolution.

I would say that this is primarily a novel about power – it is ultimately the power of the characters’ actions. I would risk saying that it is the most common cause of human actions in general. I do not forget that Wratislavia Cantans was founded as an oratorio festival, so this year we will start and end it with oratorios. Written by Emilio de’ Cavalieri at the very beginning of the 17th century, the Rappresentazione di anima et di corpo can be considered the first oratorio in the history of music in which, apart from the music itself, apart from the sublime art of recitar cantando, there is also a political and religious dimension. It was created in the era of the militant Counter-Reformation, when the Catholic Church argued that it was the only true representative of God on Earth. Today, several centuries later, we are talking about the same things.

However, the convention in which this work is maintained – the personifications of Soul and Body discussing moral issues – seems quite far from our contemporary sensitivity.

Last year I performed the Rappresentazione in a stage version at the Theater an der Wien. At one point, a discussion arose between the singers and director Robert Carsen regarding the details of the staging. Some believed that it should be à rebours, it should show the violence of the Catholic Church. Since the rehearsals took place shortly after US troops left Afghanistan, they even made analogies with the Taliban. In the same year that Cavalieri’s piece was composed, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. It turns out, therefore, that works from four hundred years ago evoke strong emotions – both in the aesthetic and social dimensions. Moreover, the piece asks the most universal questions, for example about what is after death or about the mystery of time and its passage. We all ask ourselves these questions, whether or not we are religious. The issues raised in the Rappresentazione are so fundamental that even a certain naivety in the way we talk about them does not offend.

Besides, there is also great music ...

I appreciate it very much. Since the piece is relatively short, Cavalieri himself inserted between acts an intermezzo, which often had nothing to do with the main content. We are preparing a concert version in Wrocław, so we will not do it. However, I would like to perform instrumental music from the 17th century between the acts – the music that became dramatic music in the form of a sonata. It was the result of creating dramatic vocal music in the form of an oratorio or an opera. It also seems to me that Cavalieri’s piece has never been performed during Wratislavia, even though Andrzej Markowski programmed Baroque Italian music. This is one more reason why I wanted to do the Rappresentazione this year. By the way, I must add that in recent years it has become fashionable among directors to "update" operas, interfering with them, which is also influenced by political correctness. In my opinion, this is often extremely dangerous as it excludes many works of the past from circulation. Almost every artist, starting with Shakespeare, had something on his conscience that, from our point of view, is sometimes difficult to accept. I would even call this trend fascist. Meanwhile, art is a space of freedom, and as an artist I would not want anyone to tell me what I cannot listen or read and what is politically correct or morally acceptable.

The oratorio San Giovanni Battista by Alessandro Stradella also has a purely aesthetic dimension. The story of this saint is also an example of extremely dangerous relationships.

Also in the biography of the composer himself there were many of them. Stradella, stabbed to death in Geneva, led an adventurous life, and I would describe his rich relationships with women as “vivace”. [laughs] In the 19th century, several operas were written, the librettos of which were based on the composer’s biography. So he became a romantic hero. San Giovanni Battista is in fact an opera “dressed up” as an oratorio – extremely dramatic music that talks about biblical events, but its structure is purely operatic. And the story of John the Baptist, who was beheaded because a plot by Herod’s wife, Herodias, is also a story of power. From these examples it would appear that almost all human relationships are dangerous, and from love it is awfully close to power. [laughs]

Another example is the story of the Bassano family – Venetian Jews, painters and musicians – one branch of which moved to England and served at the royal court. What will the concert of Il viaggio dei Bassano be about?

I would say that they were primarily instrument builders and improvising musicians. Interestingly, their descendants are still alive today. Few works of music by the Bassano family have survived – we do not know any songs of the first generation, only a few compositions by Augustin Bassano, a representative of the second generation. The Bassanos were such excellent instrument builders that their fame reached England, and King Henry VIII invited them to his court. The decision to move was certainly difficult for them, and the Doge of Venice complained that he was losing such outstanding artists. But the family simply had to get better working conditions in England. We cannot forget that Henry VIII was a great lover of music, he even composed himself. I will perform some of his pieces with Il Giardino Armonico. And this is where we find “dangerous relationships” – such were all marriages of Henry VIII something that Anna Boleyn experienced in a particularly gruesome way. Therefore, the keynote of this concert is not to present works by representatives of the Bassano family, because they simply do not exist, but the repertoire they performed, and an attempt to recreate the art of improvisation that these musicians were famous for. And this fascinated the king the most. In this context, there appears Silvestro Ganassi, a Venetian musician and author of, inter alia, the treatise La Fontegara of 1535, in which he was the first to describe in detail the complicated patterns of improvisation, especially in the rhythmic sphere. He also provided hundreds of examples, including those that include complex musical metrics. This is an extremely valuable resource for understanding the art of diminution, as it contains everything that was not included in the scores. I believe that the work was conceived, at least in part, as a description of music made by members of the Bassano family. After Ganassi, several other treatises on improvisation were published, and one of the most important ones was created in the 1720s by Francesco Rognoni, associated, among others, with the court of the Polish king Sigismund III Vasa. These sources are hugely fascinating. We can compare them to the recordings of contemporary jazzmen: if we want to know how Charlie Parker played, we must listen to his recordings, and we do not have recordings of the Bassano family members’ playing. We do have treaties. The programme of our concert will be a kind of journey from the earliest works of Flemish composers, published in 1501 in Venice in the first printed collection of polyphonic music Odhecaton, to the late Renaissance English works from Shakespeare’s times.

You mentioned saying goodbye to Venice by part of the Bassano family. The heroine of Francis Poulenc’s one-act lyrical tragedy La voix humaine says goodbye to her beloved who abandoned her. In the Metamorphoses, Richard Strauss says goodbye to the world that was swept away by World War II. He referred to the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica and wrote the words “In memoriam” in the score. These are expressive, strong gestures that remind me of our contemporary experiences of the pandemic and war.

Although they are two completely different songs, both are about goodbyes, it’s true. Today we say goodbye to such a Europe as we have known so far. A Europe too lazy to predict a possible scenario of events, too, as Strauss also experienced. I must emphasize that the title of this year’s festival comes from this concert. But not because of the programme, but because of the performer – Barbara Hannigan. She is an exceptional artist who creates a very difficult art – conducts and sings. I was delighted with this when I watched her concert with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. The way she conducts the orchestra, especially the gesture of support, is tightly integrated with the story, becoming an important part of it. So I find here a direct link between the work and the singer and conductor in one person – without any intermediaries. We can watch and listen to La voix humaine performed on the Internet, but the experience of this live concert is something completely different and unique.

The Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler, will be juxtaposed at the concert with songs by Alma Mahler, the composer’s wife. We still know little of her work, we probably know more about the Mahler marriage, which was not easy. Alma had to give up composing to marry Gustav, although her husband eventually agreed that she should return to writing. He even helped her edit and publish the songs.

I find Alma Mahler very interesting. Someone called her “the widow of four arts” – her life was full of interesting relationships, not only with Mahler, but also with Klimt and Kokoschka. The relationship with Mahler was not easy, because her husband required her to abandon her own creative work and focus on him. Their marriage did not last long as Mahler died in 1911. They also survived their daughter’s death. So it seems that it was not a happy relationship. From the point of view of this year’s Wratislavia motto, however, it is more important that Alma was a kind of femme fatale, as mentioned by numerous artists working at that time in the unique city of Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century. It was also a politically tough time – it was, among other things, that Richard Strauss was saying goodbye to the world of the Mahlers in the Metamorphoses. In fact, this world furnished by the bourgeoisie ended with World War I.

I wonder how you would describe Beethoven’s relationship with the Church. The Missa solemnis was created for a specific occasion to be performed as part of the liturgy, but it is not suitable for that at all. Theodor W. Adorno called it an “alienated masterpiece”.

This is an example typical of all of Beethoven’s late works, which exist, as it were, outside any world. Missa solemnis, like the late quartets or Symphony No. 9, is a work that poses so many problems when performing. On the one hand, the mass is closely related to the refined music of the past, and on the other hand, it looks far into the future. That is why it is so difficult; therefore it is hard to classify it and place it on the axis of history. The most interesting things to me are Beethoven’s connections with the musical past and future.

That is why the Missa solemnis requires a very experienced conductor who knows the score thoroughly. In Wrocław, we will hear the work of Beethoven under the direction of such a kapellmeister.

I am glad that our invitation was accepted by John Eliot Gardiner, who started out as an “ordinary” conductor, but then evolved towards historical performance. I find his path to the interpretation of 19th-century music on early instruments particularly interesting. Its effect is much greater clarity of the texture. I admit that Beethoven’s performance in the late-Romantic manner never convinced me. So I am sure that Gardiner, who knows the Missa solemnis score like few other people do, will show a completely different approach to this work than the standard one.

Equally outstanding specialists in their field are Le Poème Harmonique and Vincent Dumestre. Their concert is to introduce Jean-Baptiste Lully and Molière as rivals, although we probably see them most often as colleagues and close associates.

They cooperated only at the beginning of their activities at the royal court. Let us remember that Lully in the field of music in Paris was the absolute musical ruler under Louis XIV. Other musicians had to observe a number of limitations, e.g. in terms of the number of instruments in ensembles. At one point, Lully broke off his relationship with Molière, and Molière began working with Charpentier. It was certainly a very difficult moment for both artists, who started out as friends and ended up as enemies. It is worth remembering that this past January we celebrated the 400th anniversary of Molière's birth.

And since we have been talking so much about politics, let’s mention it and Lully and Molière. Art, especially dance and music, had an extremely important political dimension at the court of the Sun King.
Of course, dance and music were tools in the hands of the absolute ruler, which sometimes turns out to be truly relevant today. Molière’s works are equally up to date. But Baroque art in general was very often associated with the authorities and the Church. Fortunately, it always had an aesthetic dimension too.

This year’s festival will also feature – in line with years of tradition – a premiere. This time, we will hear the Symphony No. 8 by Paweł Łukaszewski, one of the most popular living Polish composers.
It seems to me that he is the most frequently performed composer in the world today, not only Polish. The subtitle of the symphony “Banganarti Hymns” refers to the archaeological site in Sudan, where Polish scientists discovered, inter alia, a church from the first millennium – a real rarity. The patron saint of the church was Archangel Raphael, and inscriptions dedicated to him were discovered on the walls. And they are the lyrics of the bass part. I am looking forward to this premiere.

Many of us are waiting for this year’s Wratislavia with the hope that artistic life in Europe has been resurrected for good after a long pandemic break. We thought this was the end of the drama in which we were actors. Meanwhile, the second act, this time of war, had begun. Where are we now?

I can only answer this question from a personal perspective. I feel very tired intellectually and emotionally. When working on the Wrocław festival, I always tried to be as creative as possible. I was looking for inspiration all around me, to create a kind of synthesis of what interests me and what is most interesting on the world music scene. This year, however, it turned out to be much more difficult, because I lacked the impulses that I always had in abundance: meetings with people, concerts, getting to know new works and new interpretations, surprises and discoveries – which has been my life since I can remember. All this was combined with the anxiety about the war, which is far away from me, but a lot of Ukrainians live in Italy. I am moved by what they say in the Italian media. It is so emotionally engaging that sometimes it is difficult for me to go back to music and close myself in my own world. This is nothing compared to the drama of the people of Ukraine, but that is my experience. There is also anxiety about the future of Europe and the world – for example, the big China is lurking in the background. But what do we know about the Chinese? They are young, they would like to play a leading role in the world at all costs and they are ready to do so.

You said that in such a situation it is difficult to go back to music. But what else can help us if not music?

That’s why I play, listen, rehearse, and give concerts. I also cancel some, as happened a few days ago when we cancelled our performance in Sochi, Russia. Which did not stop us continuing our rehearsals with Il Giardino Armonico – these few hours a day spent working together are a real joy. Music gives comfort, but now it is not enough. I am not only a musician, and a fanatic one too, but also just a human being. That’s why I feel lost now.

Giovanni Antonini
Artistic Director of International Festival Wratislavia Cantans


Festivals EN Andrzej Kosendiak

Andrzej Kosendiak
General Director

Prof Andrzej Kosendiak is a conductor and teacher, one of the most active musicians and organizers of musical life in Poland. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Composition, Conducting and Theory of Music at the Academy of Music in Wrocław. In the years 2001–2009 he was Head of the Interdepartmental Early Music Studio, and in 2013 he obtained a postdoctoral degree; in the years 2014–2016 he lectured at the Academy of Music in Gdańsk. In 2021, the President of the Republic of Poland awarded him the title of professor. He is currently working at his alma mater.

Wratislavia Cantans - Antonini EN

Giovanni Antonini
Artistic Director of Wratislavia Cantans

Born in Milan, Giovanni Antonini studied at the Civica Scuola di Musica and at the Centre de Musique Ancienne in Geneva. He is a founder member of the Baroque ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, which he has led since 1989. With this ensemble, he has appeared as conductor and soloist on the recorder and Baroque transverse flute in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, Japan, and Malaysia. He is Artistic Director of the Wratislavia Cantans International Festival in Poland and Principal Guest Conductor of the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and Kammerorchester Basel.

FestivalEN Events Wratislavia Cantans

Power and Passion
Wrocław Baroque Ensemble
7:00 PM
Cathedral of St John the Baptist
The Spirit of Ukraine
State Academic Choral Capella ‘Dumka’
7:00 PM
Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross and St Bartholomew
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Last tickets!
Il viaggio dei Bassano
Giovanni Antonini / Il Giardino Armonico
5:00 PM
White Stork Synagogue
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Last tickets!
La voix humaine. Anatomy of the imagination
B. Hannigan / Ludwig Orchestra
8:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall
Missa solemnis
J.E. Gardiner / Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
7:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall
Banganarti Hymns
Norbert Twórczyński /NFM Wrocław Philharmonic
7:00 PM
Church of St Mary Magdalene, Polish National Catholic Cathedral
The Dictator of French Music
Vincent Dumestre / Le Poème Harmonique
7:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall
Maverick Organist
Cameron Carpenter
8:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall
Mahler in Love
Agata Zubel / NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra
7:00 PM
NFM, Red Hall
Body and Soul
Giovanni Antonini / Il Giardino Armonico
7:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall
Apollo in cielo
46th Oratorio and Cantata Music Interpretation Course
12:00 PM
NFM, Red Hall
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
6:00 PM
NFM, Main Hall

Wratislavia Cantans patroni medialni EN

Media partners
Oliwia Kosendiak
Producer / International Festival Wratislavia Cantans Deputy Coordinator / Chamber Concerts Coordinator
Alicja Książek
Producer / International Festival Wratislavia Cantans Coordinator / Organ Series Coordinator

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