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 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.

Since autumn 2018, the rising star Klaus Mäkelä has been the first guest conductor for the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He made his debut with the orchestra in September 2017 with Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7. “Every time I am here, the orchestra makes me feel at home”, Mäkelä says. “It’s always a pleasure to perform here. From the very start, there is always a very high standard and it just gets better, which is very inspiring.” In a short time, Mäkelä has had a tremendous impact at home in Finland as well as around Europe. In the autumn of 2017, he made his debut as an opera conductor with The Magic Flute at the Finnish National Opera, where he will soon assist Esa-Pekka Salonen in a production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelunge, which will continue until spring 2021. In the autumn of 2020, he will take up the position as Chief Conductor for the Oslo Philharmonic and he is also Artist in Association at the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Artistic Director of the Turku Music Festival. Mäkelä is also an award-winning cellist who has performed as concert soloist as well as chamber musician, and he plays a Giovanni Grancino from 1698 on loan from the OP Art Foundation.