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MUSICAL STORYTELLING: THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

Alongside Handel’s Messiah and Britten’s War Requiem, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius is one of the most important British music pieces ever written. The strong lyrics, written by revered English theologian and poet John Henry Newman, tell the story of a dying man whose life is being scrutinised by God. In the music, Elgar unites British elegance with Wagnerian richness of detail in an affecting way. Don’t miss the Berwaldhallen premiere of this rightly immeasurably popular piece. Friday´s concert will be livestreamed at Play.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a big event when Berwaldhallen plays Edward Elgar’s magnificent The Dream of Gerontius, considered one of Elgar’s best pieces, for the first time. Three renowned singers carry the soloist parts; tenor Andrew Staples, who recently recorded The Dream of Gerontius with Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim, multitalented baritone Simon Keenlyside who, like Staples, has visited Berwaldhallen many times before, and celebrated mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg who has recently started her tenure as Artist in Residence at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre.

A devout Catholic, Elgar himself chose well-liked English cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius to base the piece on. Newman converted to Catholicism as an adult, and in the poem, he explores the Catholic faith’s belief in the soul’s journey from the moment of death through Paradise to God, and on to Purgatory to be cleansed. In his life, Newman was a respected theologian, and spent a lot of time helping the poor and the sick. On Sunday the 13th of October, he will be declared a saint by Pope Francis, a significant event which makes this performance all the more relevant.

The first part of the piece shows the anxious Gerontius – the name comes from the Greek ‘geron,’ meaning old man – who is on his deathbed, surrounded by his friends. They pray to Mary, to the disciples and angels to ask for mercy for Gerontius’ soul. He himself is filled with anxiety and fear in the face of death, but a priest urges him to move on: ‘Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!’

In the second part, Gerontius’ soul is led by an angel to the meeting with God. On the way, they pass evil spirits and demons waiting to take the condemned to Hell. The angel who visited Jesus in Gethsemane promises joy, but warns about the pain of Jesus’ suffering. From earth, the voices of Gerontius’ friends still echo: ‘Be merciful, be gracious, spare him, O Lord.’ In one violent, instrumental outburst, Gerontius’ soul is judged by God in an instant, and in the end, Gerontius meets the choir of souls in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, with a promise of salvation.

The original performance of The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham on the 3rd of October 1900 was a failure due to a poorly prepared choir and unwell soloists. Musicians and critics saw the greatness of the piece, however, and when it was performed in Düsseldorf and then in London the following year, it really had a breakthrough. Richard Strauss celebrated Elgar as the reinventor of English music, and German newspapers described Elgar as ‘one of contemporary music’s leading figures.’ In Sweden, The Dream of Gerontius was likely first performed in 1904 at the Royal Swedish Opera, led by none other than Wilhelm Stenhammar. In 1912, it was performed again, at the Hedvig Eleonora Church in Stockholm, with Hugo Alfvén conducting.

Text: David Saulesco and Henry Larsson


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Participants

 

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of Europe’s most versatile orchestras, with a worldwide reputation and a repertoire that combines the major classical works as well as exciting new music. In collaboration with the most important conductors, soloists and composers, there is a constant striving to break new ground. The orchestra’s extensive and high-quality music-making has been rewarded with numerous prizes and accolades and they regularly perform at international festivals and concert halls. “The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. “I have never had a concert with the orchestra where they haven’t played as though their lives depended on it!” he continues. The first radio orchestra was formed in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and 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 and over the years has had such distinguished chief conductors as Sergiu Celibidache, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The Swedish Radio Choir is like a leading mountaineer in the world of music. The choir’s former chief conductor Peter Dijkstra has described the ensemble as “the group that leaves base camp first and stakes out the course for others to follow.” Three hundred years of Swedish a cappella tradition, combined with an ambitious and culturally diverse repertoire with some of the world’s finest conductors, has established the Swedish Radio Choir as one of the foremost ensembles of its kind. The 32 professional singers are as equally at home in completely new music by today’s most exciting composers as they are in classic favourites from the rich international treasure trove. Through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts and website the choir not only reaches concert audiences but also radio listeners everywhere.

Mikaeli Chamber Choir (Mikaeli kammarkör) was founded in 1970 by Anders Eby, who is still the conductor and artistic leader of the ensemble. The artistic aim has always been to repertoire, which has made the field of activity broad. The repertoire is equal parts secular and sacred. It includes the great works for choir and orchestra, as well as folk music and Swedish choir lyricism. However, the focus has come to rest on the great contemporary a cappella works.

Gerontius

The tenor Andrew Staples is a diligent concert singer who has performed with conductors such as Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Andrew Manze and Robin Ticciati. Most recently, he has played Froh in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at the Royal Opera House in London. He also toured Europe with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Simon Rattle, performing Bach’s St John’s Passion, as well as with the Orchestre de Paris and Daniel Harding, performing Britten’s War Requiem. In addition, he will soon debut at both Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera. Andrew Staples is also a frequent guest at Berwaldhallen where he will be performing several times during the season of 2019-2020.

Prästen och Dödsångestens ängel

Programme

Approximate timings

It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a big event when Berwaldhallen plays Edward Elgar’s magnificent The Dream of Gerontius, considered one of Elgar’s best pieces, for the first time. Three renowned singers carry the soloist parts; tenor Andrew Staples, who recently recorded The Dream of Gerontius with Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim, multitalented baritone Simon Keenlyside who, like Staples, has visited Berwaldhallen many times before, and celebrated mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg who has recently started her tenure as Artist in Residence at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre.

A devout Catholic, Elgar himself chose well-liked English cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius to base the piece on. Newman converted to Catholicism as an adult, and in the poem, he explores the Catholic faith’s belief in the soul’s journey from the moment of death through Paradise to God, and on to Purgatory to be cleansed. In his life, Newman was a respected theologian, and spent a lot of time helping the poor and the sick. On Sunday the 13th of October, he will be declared a saint by Pope Francis, a significant event which makes this performance all the more relevant.

The first part of the piece shows the anxious Gerontius – the name comes from the Greek ‘geron,’ meaning old man – who is on his deathbed, surrounded by his friends. They pray to Mary, to the disciples and angels to ask for mercy for Gerontius’ soul. He himself is filled with anxiety and fear in the face of death, but a priest urges him to move on: ‘Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!’

In the second part, Gerontius’ soul is led by an angel to the meeting with God. On the way, they pass evil spirits and demons waiting to take the condemned to Hell. The angel who visited Jesus in Gethsemane promises joy, but warns about the pain of Jesus’ suffering. From earth, the voices of Gerontius’ friends still echo: ‘Be merciful, be gracious, spare him, O Lord.’ In one violent, instrumental outburst, Gerontius’ soul is judged by God in an instant, and in the end, Gerontius meets the choir of souls in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, with a promise of salvation.

The original performance of The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham on the 3rd of October 1900 was a failure due to a poorly prepared choir and unwell soloists. Musicians and critics saw the greatness of the piece, however, and when it was performed in Düsseldorf and then in London the following year, it really had a breakthrough. Richard Strauss celebrated Elgar as the reinventor of English music, and German newspapers described Elgar as ‘one of contemporary music’s leading figures.’ In Sweden, The Dream of Gerontius was likely first performed in 1904 at the Royal Swedish Opera, led by none other than Wilhelm Stenhammar. In 1912, it was performed again, at the Hedvig Eleonora Church in Stockholm, with Hugo Alfvén conducting.

Text: David Saulesco and Henry Larsson

Approximate concert length: 1 hour 40 min (no intermission)

UPBEAT: Thursdagy Oct 17 6 pm, with David Saulesco.
Friday, Oct 18 at 6 – 6.30 pm, the Swedish Radio’s Europapodden with presenter Claes Aronsson visit Berwaldhallen for a talk on Brexit.