ESA-PEKKA SALONEN & SYMPHONY NO. 2 BY MAHLER
The Baltic Sea Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary with a jubilee concert featuring the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir under Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen in Gustav Mahler’s magnificent second symphony, The Resurrection. According to Mahler, “a symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything”. Never has this quote seemed more relevant than in this magnificent symphony in which the composer takes the listener on an extraordinary musical journey with the help of the orchestra, choir and soloists – from the opening funeral march to the finale’s heavenly tones, radiant with light and hope.
The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is known worldwide as one of Europe’s most versatile orchestras with an exciting and varied repertoire and a constant striving to break new ground The multi-award-winning orchestra has been praised for its exceptional, wide-ranging musicianship as well as collaborations with the world’s foremost composers, conductors and soloists.
Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the audience in the hall, the orchestra reaches many many listeners on the radio and the web and through it´s partnership with EBU. Several concerts are also broadcast and streamed on Berwaldhallen Play and with Swedish Television, offering the audience more opportunities to come as close as possible to one of the world’s top orchestras.
“The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2007. “I have never had a concert with the orchestra where they haven’t played as though their lives depended on it!” The orchestra is also proud to have Klaus Mäkelä as its Principal Guest Conductor since 2018.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swedish Radio Symphony was one of the only orchestras in the world which never stopped playing. Its innovative and creative approach to making music in these dark times helped its public to cope and even made the news itself.
The first radio orchestra was founded in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967. Through the years, the orchestra has had several distinguished Music Directors. Two of them are Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
For more than 90 years, the Swedish Radio Choir has contributed to the development of the Swedish a cappella tradition. Under the leadership of legendary conductor Eric Ericson, the choir earned great international renown. It is still hailed as one of the best choirs in the world. The choir members’ ability to switch between powerful solo performances and seamlessly integrating themselves in the ensemble creates a unique and dynamic instrument praised by critics and music lovers alike, as well as by the many guest conductors who explore and challenge the choir’s possibilities.
Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Choir since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the seated audience, the choir reaches millions of listeners on the radio and the web through Klassiska konserten i P2. Several concerts are also broadcast and streamed on Berwaldhallen Play, offering the audience more opportunities to come as close as possible to one of the world’s top choirs.
With the 2020–2021 season, Kaspars Putniņš begins his tenure as the tenth Music Director of the Swedish Radio Choir. Since January 2019, Marc Korovitch is the choirmaster of the Swedish Radio Choir with responsibility for the ensemble’s continued artistic development. Two of the orchestra’s former Music Directors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed Conductors Laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest appearances.
The Swedish Radio Choir was founded the same year as the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and the choir had its first concert in May 1925. Right from the start, the choir had high ambitions with a conscious aim to perform contemporary music.
The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir was founded in 1945 by the then 27-year-old Eric Ericson and has since been a prominent hub of the Swedish as well as the international music scene. The ensemble’s interest in continually finding new music and new fields of work has given them a very extensive repertoire: from early music to the very latest. For generations of Swedish and international composers, the choir has represented an ideal with its characteristic Nordic sound and skilful virtuosity. The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir is part of the international elite of professional ensembles. Fredrik Malmberg has been their choirmaster since 2013.
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. Since 2020, he is the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. From 2008 to 2021 he was the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where he is now Conductor Laureate. In London he launched the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations which have allowed people all over the world to step inside the orchestra through audio and video projections. Salonen also drove the development of a much-hailed tablet app, The Orchestra, which gives the user unprecedented access to the internal workings of eight symphonic works.
Salonen is Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1985 until 1995 and he was the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 until 2009. Salonen co-founded the annual Baltic Sea in 2003. Salonen is also a composer and from 2015 to 2018 he was Composer in Residence at the New York Philharmonic. In the 2022/23 season, Esa-Pekka Salonen is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Composer in Residence.
Julia Kretz-Larsson, violin, has studied with Marianne Boettcher and Thomas Thompson in Berlin and with Josef Suk in Prague. With the Julius Stern Piano Trio, she has won various awards at international competitions. She is a member of the chamber music ensemble Spectrum Concerts Berlin, which has its own concert series in the Berliner Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal and with which she also played in halls such as Carnegie Hall in New York and Concertgebouw Amsterdam. In 2006, Julia Kretz-Larsson became a member of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, led by Claudio Abbado, and since 2008 she has been a member of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, from 2011 as conductor. Julia has been the alternate first concertmaster in the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2015 and is a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
Julia has regularly played chamber music concerts with several international artists and has performed at festivals such as the Salzburger Festspiele, the International Chamber Music Festival Utrecht, Julian Rachlin and Friends, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and the Winter Festival. She has recorded chamber music for, among others, BIS, NAXOS, Harmonia Mundi.
For years, Swedish born Nina Stemme has been considered a leading singer of the most challenging parts in major dramas: Isolde, Brünnhilde and Kundry, Salome and Elektra, Fanciulla and Turandot.
Stemme is an artist who is in demand all over the world. Whether at the Metropolitan Opera New York, La Scala Milan, the Bayreuth Festival, the Vienna State Opera or the Royal Opera House in London – Nina Stemme has furthered the great tradition of Flagstad and Nilsson at leading opera houses.
She has been appointed Swedish Court Singer and Austrian “Kammersängerin”, received the “Premio Abbiati” critics’ award (2010), the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera (2010), the International Opera Award for the Best Female Singer (2013) and the Opera News Award (2013), to name but a few. The German specialist journal “Opernwelt” has crowned her Singer of the Year twice, in 2005 and 2012 and in 2018 she received the largest prize in the history of classical music; The Birgit Nilsson Prize.
Alongside the Tristan recording with Plácido Domingo as Tristan, and conducted by Antonio Pappano, Nina Stemme’s performance of Isolde has also been documented in the form of a live recording from Berlin under Marek Janowski as well as a television recording of her Glyndebourne performance by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Her rendition of Walküre Brünnhilde is available as as a video recording of the La Scala production under Daniel Barenboim. The diversity and bandwidth of her repertoire is manifested in her interpretations of Zemlinsky’s König Kandaules, Aida, Jenufa, Der Rosenkavalier, and La Fanciulla del West.
Nina Stemme made her successful debut as «Dyer’s wife» in the anniversary production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Vienna State Opera May 2019, and has thus added another great Strauss role to her repertoire.
Internationally renowned Swedish soprano Miah Persson has worked all over the world as a recitalist and concert artist, as well as on the operatic stage.
Eminent conductors with whom she has collaborated include Sir Colin Davis, Daniel Barenboim, Antonio Pappano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir Charles Mackerras, Marc Minkowski and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Miah Persson has appeared in many of the world’s leading opera houses, with career highlights such as the roles of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Gretel in Hänsel und Gretel and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at the Metropolitan Opera, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden, Sifare in Mitridate and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at the Salzburg Festival, Sophie and Susanna at the Vienna State Opera, Fiordiligi, Donna Elvira, Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress and the Governess in The Turn of the Screw at the Glyndebourne Festival, Fiordiligi at the Bayerische Staatsoper, as well as performances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Paris Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Theater an der Wien and Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona. In 2011 Miah Persson was appointed court singer by the King of Sweden.
In spring 1888 Mahler embarked on what was to become the first movement of his second symphony. He completed it at the end of summer the same year. Mahler named the piece “Todtenfeier” (Funeral Rites), explaining that the music represented the funeral of the hero from his first symphony.
Five years passed before Mahler went back to work on his second symphony in 1893. That summer he was busy composing music to songs from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn. He set “Saint Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes” to music for voice and piano. Mahler also wrote an orchestral version that formed the basis for the third movement scherzo and the fourth movement, “Urlicht” – with the text taken from another song in the Wunderhorn collection – as well as the second movement andante.
The finale, however, presented a problem. Mahler had been thinking about adding a chorus part to the finale for some time, but he was afraid it would be perceived as a cheap imitation of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. According to the composer, inspiration came to him unexpectedly when he in spring 1894 attended the funeral of the conductor Hans von Bülow, when a children’s choir began to sing Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s resurrection chorale from the organ loft. “I was as if struck by lightning …,” he later wrote in a letter. “Everything was suddenly revealed to me.” Mahler set two of Klopstock’s stanzas to music and added verses of his own for the final movement.
The second symphony was composed at a time when the formal arrangement of the symphony was under debate. An especially intense dispute was underway about the point of programmatic music. Should a symphony contain only non-representational music or should it symbolize an extramusical narrative? Mahler had himself an ambivalent relationship to programmatic music. He often wrote programmes for his own work, which he later discarded, as was the case with the second symphony.
One of the reasons for Mahler’s indecision was his fear that explicit programmes would lead to audiences making assumptions. I his opinion, they should be free to decide for themselves. Despite Mahler’s ambivalence, it might be interesting to contemplate some his thoughts on the symphony. The programme below is an abridged version of a statement that Mahler wrote for a performance in Dresden in 1901.
In the first movement we are standing by the coffin of a well-loved man. What is life – and what is death? Will we live on in all eternity? Is it all but a confused dream, or does life and death have a purpose? To go on living we need an answer to this question.
The andante portrays a joyful moment in the dear departed’s life and a doleful recollection of his youth and lost innocence.
The third movement expresses a sense of futility and despair; life appears nightmarish, which causes him to cry out loud in anguish.
The fourth movement represents a time when he hears the sweet voice of childish devotion. And, in the finale, humanity is confronted by the Day of Judgement. The Doomsday trumpets of the Apocalypse call every body and soul. In the silence we make out the song of a nightingale – a last echo of life on Earth. A chorus of saints and the heavenly host are alternating: “Rise again, yes, you will rise again!” Then we are touched by the grace of God. There is no punishment and no reward! An all-encompassing sense of love fills us with blessed understanding and a sense of presence!