Shostakovich & Korngold

After his fifth symphony had re-established Shostakovich’s official position, Symphony No. 6, came out as a more personal reflection of the magnificent and prompt fifth, and is a darker and more introverted piece. Erich Wolfgang Korngold is associated by many with wonderfully extravagant film music and in his Violin Concerto, he reconnects with Hollywood’s boldly saturated palette.

When the young, rising star Klaus Mäkelä debuted at Berwaldhallen in the autumn of 2017, he made such a strong impression on the musicians that shortly thereafter he was asked to become their principal guest conductor. Consequently, he became the youngest ever person to be offered an extended contract with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Mäkelä has an avid interest in Russian music and showed, in his acclaimed debut with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra when he conducted Shostakovich, that he is a force to be reckoned with in this repertoire.

Shostakovich composed 15 symphonies. The first was created as his graduation piece at the conservatory during the experimental 1920s in the Soviet Union. However, times were to become more difficult and his Symphony No. 6 can be interpreted as a reflection of the arduous circumstances under which the composer worked. A dark first movement is a counterweight to the animated subsequent movements; according to conductor Mark Wigglesworth, Shostakovich wanted to use contrast to illustrate the irrational world in which he lived. With this in mind, the circus-like final movement almost becomes an ironic comment to Stalin’s wish for optimistic and boisterous finales.

At first glance, Shostakovich and Korngold may not appear to have much in common, but they were both prodigies of sorts and also diligent composers of film music. Shostakovich garnered experience of the new media through his work as a silent-film pianist, and went on to write the music for close to 40 films. Korngold came into contact with film after emigrating to the United States in the 1930s, where, for more than a decade, he gained great renown as a film composer.

In his Violin Concerto from 1947, Korngold develops themes from film music, and it is truly an extravagant palette of sounds and a wealth of nostalgic colour that is presented to the listener. But there are also melodic fantasy, rhythmic vitality and virtuoso challenges for this evening’s soloist, Elina Vähälä, who had her concert debut at the tender age of twelve. A few years ago, she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in front of a TV audience of hundreds of millions. Vähälä is also Professor of Violin at the Karlsruhe University of Music.

Text: Axel Lindhe




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.

Klaus Mäkelä is Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since the 2018–2019 season. He is Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra as well as Artistic Advisor of the Orchestre de Paris. He is also Artist in Association of the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Artistic Director of the Turku Music Festival.

In addition to his first season with the Oslo Philharmonic, the 2020–2021 season sees Mäkelä debut with for example the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He also returns to the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Gothenburg Symphony and Helsinki Philharmonic, and conducts two programmes with the Orchestre de Paris. He conducts premieres by Unsuk Chin, Sauli Zinovjev and Mette Henriette.

Mäkelä studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy with Jorma Panula, and cello with Marko Ylönen, Timo Hanhinen and Hannu Kiiski. As a soloist, he has performed with several Finnish orchestras, as a chamber musician with the musicians of Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and at many Finnish festivals. He plays a Giovanni Grancino cello from 1698, kindly made available by the OP Art Foundation. In 2019, he was awarded the Finland Prize for his contributions to Finnish art and culture.