Helge Dorsch

Helge Dorsch
Interview from ORPHEUS INTERNATIONAL, Berlin

Helge Dorsch holds the opinion that our humanity plays an essential role in artistic expression. "It is the human aspects which are manifested in the end-products of creative activity, including music. You cannot express harmony through music without a harmonious atmosphere among the performing artists." To this purpose, Helge Dorsch tries in every production to set an appropriate tone in working with the ensemble. This holds true as well for the orchestra rehearsals. He does not think much of dictatorially demanding compliance: experience shows that an orchestra will naturally react to such measures, but will seldom be motivated to cooperate intuitively. With this attitude, he has so far managed not only to be well accepted by all the orchestras he has worked with, but also to achieve thoroughly optimal results, which the critics seem almost unanimously to recognize. The problems encountered by some conductors, with whom orchestras have even gone so far as to refuse to work together, are foreign to Helge Dorsch.

Dorsch has some interesting ideas about music and especially about opera. Using the example of "The Magic Flute", he says, "Many conductors, when dusting off some older works, make the mistake of wiping off the magical dust as well. That would not be doing justice to the work. To properly interpret older works, it is not enough to listen to the CDs currently on the market and compare the various approaches, One must devote intensive study to the score. This involves becoming familiar with the performance practices of the time. Each musical work is composed in a certain time, which is why it is so important to understand the historical context, Take for example Leopold Mozart's "Violin Method". It contains everything one needs to know about Mozart interpretation. The same can be said for Johann Joachim Quantz' "Flute Method" or for "The Masterful Kapellmeister" by Johann Mattheson."

Dorsch seems to be something of a memory genius. He can quote Leopold Mozart by heart, "A contrapuntal structure must be composed in such a way that the human ear is able to follow it. But what usually happens nowadays? The Allegro of the "Magic Flute" overture is often so hectic that no one can perceive the structure. It is reduced to a mere external effect, a flourish: the musical kernel is dissipated." Using Karajan as an example, Dorsch says, "He was a genius both as a musician and businessman. He understood that the public wants to be deceived, so much of his work is like a culinary dish, prepared to taste, with the bitter parts sweetened. What is left is often little more than an opulent morsel, such as his "Carmen" recording, Compared to the Interpretation of Pretre, who conceived the work, so to speak, as a delicate etching, much as the composer actually intended, Karajan's interpretation seems like a swirling oil painting, And which version sells better? The oil painting, of course, the beautiful deception, rather than the hard, plain truth."

Helge Dorsch is an opera conductor to the core, rejoicing in each new challenge, and appreciated equally by vocalists and instrumentalists for his thorough preparation. He feels much understanding for singers. He considers it almost indefensible that the tuning pitch "A" has risen since the time of Verdi from 432 Hertz to 445 Hertz and higher. A high "C" one hundred years ago was nothing similar to the high "C" of today. For singers, the highest notes have steadily become more difficult, almost to the point of torture. For example, the highest note for the Queen of the Night under today's most extreme standards could be an "F sharp" , whereas it was likely a minor third lower in Mozart's day, sounding like a modern "E flat". Therefore it is only logical that one can scarcely find singers with the properly dramatic voices for this role anymore, only coloratura soubrettes can actually manage such extreme heights. The lower voice types have also been similarly affected. It is rare lo find a truly "black" bass voice, a true mezzo or a deep contralto as of old, because the low tones have changed in character as the pitch has risen. In this context, Dorsch is reminded of an anecdote. In Ankara, the tenor in "Don Pasquale" complained to him at intermission about the orchestra's "A". He had been having trouble with his high notes, Dorsch told him he would take it up with the orchestra. In fact, he forgot, but the psychological effect was enough. The tenor outdid himself with perfect high notes. Afterward, he expressed thanks for the apparent technical assistance.

Helge Dorsch would rather not limit himself to one specialty. Many German conductors are quickly consigned to pigeon-holes as Wagner or Strauss specialists. Dorsch wants to remain open to other directions, an attitude possibly influenced by a love for languages similar to his love for music: he currently speaks eight languages fluently. This helps enormously with his engagements all around the world, especially in communicating with orchestras, With that kind of attitude about his career, Helge Dorsch should be a force to reckon with for the next several years.