HARDING, DVOŘÁK & BRAHMS
Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra meet the world singer Christian Gerhaher in a concert with music by Antonin Dvořák and Johannes Brahms. Dvořák’s concert overture Otello is named after Shakespeare’s play, and the music contains both thrilling drama and dreamy sounds. The concert is crowned with Brahms’ powerful Fourth Symphony – a work that begins suddenly, ”in medias res”, as if you opened a door to an orchestra that is already playing.
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 orchestra’s high-quality music making as well as its collaborations with internationally renowned composers, conductors and soloists have been rewarded with numerous prizes and accolades.
Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the seated audience, the orchestra 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 and in 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.
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, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been appointed Conductors Laureate, as well as Valery Gergiev, a regular guest conductor and co-founder of the Baltic Sea Festival.
Daniel Harding is Music and Artistic Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He is also Artistic Director of the Anima Mundi Festival in Pisa and Conductor Laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with whom he has worked for more than 20 years. He is one of few conductors regularly invited to conduct the world’s foremost orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concergebouw Orchestra and Wiener Philharmoniker, and additionally a qualified airline pilot.
A renowned opera conductor, he has led acclaimed productions at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Theater an der Wien, London’s Royal Opera House and at the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals. He has made a great number of recordings, including Grammy Award-winning Billy Budd with the London Symphony Orchestra and Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 3 and 4 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Maria João Pires.
Harding’s contract as music director extends through the 2022–2023 season. In 2019, he also accepted a new role as the orchestra’s first artistic director with an overall responsibility for the orchestra’s artistic vision. This expanded role also includes the opportunity to create brand new types of concert programmes and ways to present classical music in creative ways.
Malin Broman is First Concertmaster of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and an internationally sought-after soloist, having visited the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Copenhagen Philharmonic, and the Gothenburg Symphony, among others. She has been Artistic Director of Musica Vitae since 2015, and succeeded Sakari Oramo as Artistic Director of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra in 2019. She has also been the Artistic Director of the Trondheim Soloists, Oulu Symphony Orchestra, the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, and the ACO Collective – the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s string ensemble.
Over the last few years, Broman has performed world premieres of violin concertos by Helen Grime, Britta Byström, Andrea Tarrodi and Daniel Nelson, and recorded both Carl Nielsen’s and Britta Byström’s concertos. Her recording of Mendelssohn’s double concerto for violin and piano with Musica Vitae and Simon Crawford Phillips was nominated for a Grammy in 2019. She has also made many recordings with celebrated ensemble the Kungsbacka Piano Trio. In the spring of 2020, Broman filmed a noted recording of her playing all eight parts of Felix Mendelssohn’s string octet.
Malin Broman is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and Professor of Viola at the Edsbergs Institute of Music. In the spring of 2019, she was awarded H.M. the King’s eighth size medal for her considerable contributions to the Swedish music industry. She plays a Stradivarius violin from 1709 and a Bajoni viola from 1861, borrowed from the Järnåker Foundation.
Johannes Brahms completed his symphonies in pairs: the first and second symphonies in 1876–1877, and the third and fourth in 1883–1885. The first three were immediate successes, but Brahms was initially sceptical about the fourth symphony. His need of a second opinion was strong enough that he wrote an arrangement for piano four hands, that he performed himself with pianist and composer Ignaz Brüll to a small circle of friends.
The reception was not kindly. Music critic Eduard Hanslick, otherwise quite positive about Brahms’ music, is said to have remarked about the first movement: “I feel I’ve just been beaten up by two terribly intelligent people.” Max Kalbeck, a good friend, was devastatingly upset and begged Brahms to discard the two, in his opinion, unbecoming central movements. Violinist Joseph Joachim, another close friend and collaborator, was similarly confused and disappointed. But gradually, after hearing the orchestral version, they all changed their minds and later hailed the symphony as one of Brahms’ crowning achievements.
Today, it can be easy for music enthusiasts to discard these reactions as poor judgment, but if taken seriously, they are in fact key to understanding the work. Joachim suggested opening the first movement with a constant two-bar chord. This highlights an important fact: the symphony begins in medias res, as if you’re opening the door to an orchestra that is already several bars into a piece. Hanslick’s reaction points to the violent character of the first movement. The symphony is sometimes called “the tragic”, but could just as easily be called acerbic or harsh.
Kalbeck, who criticised the central movements, was on the other hand the only one who appreciated the final movement even in piano reduction. The others deemed it unsuitable as a symphonic finale, likely in part because it maintains its minor characteristic throughout. It even ends on a minor chord, which was – and still is – relatively rare. Another reason may have been Brahms’ choice of musical form, the passacaglia, which was popular during the Baroque era: a series of variations over a bass line or sequence of chords.
Text: Tore Eriksson