May 18, 2024

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The Big Band of the Deutsche Oper plays the finale of the music festival “Epitaph” by Charles Mingus

Musikfest Berlin: The freedom I mean: Monumental: The Big Band of the Deutsche Oper plays the finale of the music festival “Epitaph” by Charles Mingus.

Charles Mingus was considered the genius and “angry man” of jazz, a highly talented musician who, as a teenager, was denied classical cello studies because of a skin color that was equated with cultural affiliation. He wasn’t even “really” black, but a “half-shit-colored nigger” due to the admixture of Swedish, English and Chinese genes, as he himself ironically remarked. In the 1940s, he was only open to jazz, for which he proudly claimed exclusivity as “black American music”.

But the longing for sounds beyond the categories did not let go of the great double bass player, who died in 1979 at the age of 57. His “Epitaph”, a monstrous sequence of 20 expansive pieces lasting more than two hours, shows influences across the stylistic epochs of jazz as well as from classical late romanticism and modernity. With a huge cast and without a conductor, the insufficiently prepared premiere in 1961 could only fail. Because Mingus meticulously composes the most dense, polyphonically moving structures, from which solo and most demanding group improvisations emerge.

Musikfest at Philharmonie Berlin / 27 August to 19 September 2022 – Digital in Berlin

It was only when the composer Gunter Schuller revised the parts and sketches that had left behind him in 1989 that a workable score was produced. Nevertheless, after a US tour in 2007, there is only one performance again, at the end of the “Musikfest Berlin”, as a homage to Mingus’ 100th birthday. Under the equally gestural and energetic direction of Titus Engel, the musicians of the Big Band and the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper as well as the Jazzinstitut Berlin scour the expressive worlds of dark menace, intimate singing, conflict and ecstasy with irrepressible joy of playing and remarkable clarity.

Star trumpeter Randy Brecker, who was already present at the “second” premiere in 1980, lets his wonderfully clear tone soar in the highest heights, his virtuosity is impressively emulated by bassoon and oboe, saxophones of all stripes and trombones. Touching when Jorge Puerta sings about “Freedom” with a powerful voice to a Mingus text and the musicians hum along. The giving and taking of jazz is united here in “Percussion Discussion” to create the most beautiful chamber music delicacy of breathtaking drum and double bass solos, while on the other hand timpani and massive wind chords bordering on atonality repeatedly result in an orchestral sound never heard before.

Titus Engel und die Musiker:innen der Big Band der Deutschen Oper Berlin sowie des Jazz-Instituts Berlin. 

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