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Harding meets Isabelle Faust

Felix Mendelssohn’s dramatic cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht, after a ballad by Goethe, depicts mountain druids who use craft and creativity to defy the Christian powers that be in order to be able to celebrate in their own traditional way. The text was written with the intention of having music set for it and Mendelssohn skilfully accentuates the drama of the text. Schoenberg’s music has long been close to star violinist Isabelle Faust’s heart. She has frequently performed the works of other composers at Berwaldhallen and now the turn has finally come to Schoenberg.

In an interview in The Guardian in April 2017, Isabelle Faust was asked about which LP recording was the first one she had ever bought. Her answer was the sextet Verklärte Nacht, by Arnold Schoenberg, performed by the LaSalle quartet, a recording that has remained her favourite ever since. She herself is perhaps mainly associated with her interpretations of Bach and other great masters, and she played Bartók’s first and second violin concertos at her latest performance at Berwaldhallen in 2012. Now the time has come for Schoenberg’s infamously difficult Violin Concerto, and it is said that it requires a six-fingered violinist to play it.

Schoenberg began work on the piece as early as 1933 in Vienna, but had to put it aside when he was forced to flee to the United States because of his Jewish heritage. He had converted to Protestantism, but that no longer afforded any protection against the increasingly brutal anti-Semitism. When the concerto was completed, he first asked his brother in law, Rudolf Kolisch, to play the violin solo. But, just like Jascha Heifetz, he declined because of the enormity of the task. Schoenberg himself said that ”I can wait for the right one”.

The right one eventually turned up in the form of an acquaintance from Vienna, Louis Krasner, who accepted, on the condition that he was given two years to study it. They had met in Vienna while their colleague, Alban Berg, worked on his violin concerto, which Krasner also premièred. Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto is one of his most artistic and sterling works, in which he takes the form to a larger format in an almost neo-classicist manner.

The young Felix Mendelssohn, like Schoenberg a composer of Jewish heritage, was introduced to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1830 by his mentor and teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter. Goethe’s text was originally meant to be set to music by Zelter himself, but after two failed attempts, Mendelssohn was given the opportunity. He wrote a first version in 1831, which underwent a radical revision before being published in 1843.

Die erste Walpurgisnacht inserts itself like a wedge between the distinctly Bach-influenced oratorios, Paulus and Elias, and distinguishes itself clearly from those by being much more romantic in its structure. Goethe’s ballad takes place in the transition from heathendom to Christianity. The Druids of the Harz mountains want to celebrate the coming of spring in their traditional manner, but are prohibited from doing so by the Christian powers that be. They come up with the idea of playing a prank on the Christians, so they dress up as devils and demons and consequently succeed in scaring them away.

The oratorio is very much a reflection of Mendelssohn’s own dilemma: raised as a protestant but, at the same time, never really accepted by his time and never fully separated from his Jewish heritage.

Text: Andreas Konvicka


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Participants

 

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.

The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, chief conductor 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 first radio orchestra was formed in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts. Since then, the orchestra’s concerts have always been broadcast by the Swedish Radio. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967.

Through the years, the orchestra has had several distinguished chief conductors. Two of them, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been appointed conductors laureate together with Valery Gergiev, a regular guest conductor and co-founder of the Baltic Sea Festival.

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 and is hailed as one of the best choirs in the world today. 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.

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.

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 choir’s former chief conductors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed conductors laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest performances. A new chief conductor is currently being recruited.

Chief conductor of the Jeune Choeur de Paris, he started a collaboration with the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart in 2013 (including a recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé), and also works regularly with the Chœur de Radio-France and the Choeur Accentus since 2014, for tours, radio performances, recordings, preparations and A Cappella concerts. He collaborates with many personalities, such as Sir Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Daniele Gatti, Louis Langrée, Stéphane Denève, Daniel Harding, Laurence Equilbey, L. G. Alarcon… He has also conducted the WDR Rundfunkchor in 2016. In July 2016, he has prepared both the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR Chor for Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette. In 2017, he has participate to the opening of the Seine Musical conducting the choir accentus and in 2018, he starts a collaboration with the Croatian Radio Choir. Korovitch works for many festivals: the Mozartwoche in Salzburg, Recontres Musicales d’Evian, the Festival de Radio-France in Montpellier or the festival Mozart in New York.

The bass barytone Shenyang was born in Tianjin in China and studied at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He has played the title role in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, and at the Metropolitan Opera he played Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Garibaldo in Handel’s Rodelinda and Colline in Puccini’s La Bohème. He has also performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In 2010, he premièred Xiaogang Ye’s Song of Farewell, which was written for him, with China’s National Symphony Orchestra. The same year, he won the Montblanc New Voices Award at the Stars of the White Nights Festival.

Concert length: 1 h 50 min incl. intermission