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Brahms meets Chin

After struggling for years with the shadow of Beethoven looming over him, Brahms was freed from his ghosts after the success of his first symphony. After that, it did not take long before Symphony No. 2 was completed as well, which is said to be Brahms’s own favourite symphony. Unsuk Chin’s music was last heard at Berwaldhallen in the autumn of 2017. That time, it was her clarinet concerto, now it is her playful but no less challenging Piano Concerto that will be tackled by acclaimed Swiss pianist, Francesco Piemontesi.

Lithuanian Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is one of the brightest shining stars among today’s conductors, with an extraordinary talent and intensity. In 2016, when, at the age of thirty and as the first woman, she was appointed chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a veritable ”Mirga mania” broke out, according to elated critics. She grew up in a family of musicians in Vilnius and at the age of 13 she already conducted her first choral concert. Eight years later, she graduated in both choral and orchestral conducting in Graz, Austria. Since then, she has worked with a large number of orchestras, in addition to the symphony orchestra in Birmingham, such as Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has also been the bandmaster at Komische Oper in Berlin and Bern, and collaborated with such conductors as Gidon Kremer, Herbert Blomstedt and Kurt Masur.

South Korean Unsuk Chin, based in Berlin, is one of the foremost contemporary composers in the world. She is played in concert halls and opera houses across the globe, much appreciated for her bold and unconventional progressions, colourful orchestral sounds, lyrical depth and rhythmic imagination. And not least, her sense of humour. A certain affiliation with György Ligeti has been alleged – she studied composition under him – but Unsuk Chin is definitely more carefree.

She has said about her instrumental concerts – she has written for sheng (a traditional Chinese mouth organ), violin, clarinet as well as piano – that she creates extreme situations in order to force the soloists to go beyond what is possible. The Piano Concerto, on commission by the BBC in 1997, is no exception; it demands a lot from the pianist. Speaking of the piano concerto, Unsuk Chin has said that it reflects all eras of piano literature, from Scarlatti to the present, emphasizing the instrument’s energetic, virtuoso and playful aspects.

With his second symphony, that Johannes Brahms wrote in 1877, he definitely claimed his place among the greatest composers of his age. According to himself, his first symphony took 21 years from rough draft to finished piece, while the others evolved more rapidly after the positive responses to the first. Brahms himself allegedly claimed, concerning the difficulty with the first symphony, that you cannot have any idea what it is like ”always to hear such a giant marching behind you”. The giant was of course Beethoven, and Brahms’s fist symphony is sometimes also called ”Beethoven’s tenth”. The second symphony has also been compared to Beethoven when it has been called Brahms’s ”pastoral symphony”.

The first movement opens with three notes in the deep violin parts, as a leitmotif that the composer keeps working on throughout the work. Despite its many lighter sounds, the symphony also holds darkness and, in Brahms’s typical manner, both introverted inquiry and extroverted euphoria. Of the four symphonies written by Johannes Brahms, this is said to have been his favourite.

Text: Jenny Leonardz


SVERIGES RADIOS SYMFONIORKESTER Print

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The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra serves as a symphony orchestra for the whole of Sweden. Regardless of where you live you can listen to the orchestra’s concerts through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts or on their website, and several concerts are also shown on Swedish Television. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the best and most versatile orchestras in Europe – perhaps even in the world. Every year they perform well-loved works from the classical repertoire as well as new music by exciting contemporary composers such as Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Magnus Lindberg and Unsuk Chin. In addition they perform music from popular films and computer and video games and collaborate with leading jazz, pop and rock artists in a constant endeavour to develop and to break new ground.