Shostakovich’s magnificent Leningrad Symphony

When Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 premièred in 1942, it was performed by musicians who themselves had survived the siege of Leningrad. The composer himself had been evacuated and watched from a distance as his home town burned. This monumental work, both in length and in scope, has grown into one of Shostakovich’s most popular pieces. For a large part of his life, Pēteris Vasks also suffered under Soviet oppression and for him, music meant a freedom of sorts from external control and censorship. He also wants to use his music to contribute harmony and beauty to a wounded and ravaged world.

He has been called the new conducting wonder, Finnish Klaus Mäkelä, who will take up his position as the first guest conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in September 2018. At the age of 21, he was the youngest ever conductor to be granted an extended contract with the orchestra. Of the three Shostakovich symphonies that Mäkelä will be conducting this season, number seven may well be the most dramatic. At least in terms of the history behind its composition.

The year is 1941. Leningrad is on fire, the city besieged by Nazi forces. In December, Dmitri Shostakovich puts the final touches to his Symphony No. 7. It is intended as a tribute to his native city, but its première in March the following year has to take place in the city of Kuybyshev (present-day Samara), on the banks of the Volga, to which Shostakovich and the other Leningrad residents have been evacuated. Over the following months, a microfilmed score is smuggled to the west and the symphony is also performed in London, New York and Massachusetts.

On August 9, 1942, it is finally time for the Leningrad première with an orchestra comprising 40-50 surviving musicians, who collapsed from exhaustion several times during the rehearsals. The concert has drawn a vast crowd, both inside and outside the the Grand Philharmonia Hall: the concert is broadcast over loudspeakers, and can also be heard by the German troops on the front. The music goes down in history as a symbol of the resistance to the oppression.

The Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks has also written music as an act of resistance. His early music refers to Latvia’s vulnerable position, located as it was between two superpowers. Until 1991, he used his music in the struggle for his country’s independence from the Soviet Union. But his heartfelt music is in equal part inspired by nature: “Nature is magical. I take go for walks in the forest and cannot imagine composing in a large city. Nature inhabits my soul.”

Like his Baltic colleague Arvo Pärt, Vasks’s music has gradually become more minimalist. He has abandoned the experimental and aggressive in favour of harmony, in both expression and content. Each piece has its meaning and as a conductor, Vasks wants to improve the balance of good and evil in the world. “I love music above all else, it forms the very core of my being. In my music, I primarily want to share my joy and my love, as well as the sense that harmony is possible – at least in music.”

Pēteris Vasks, who was the Stockholm New Music Festival’s main composer in 1996, has written choral works as well as orchestra and chamber music. Pater Noster from 1991 is composed for choir and string orchestra. Laudate Dominum was written in 2016, originally for choir and organ, but was soon rearranged for choir and orchestra as well.

Text: Anna Hedelius




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.

Klaus Mäkelä is Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since the 2018–2019 season. Starting autumn 2020, he will be Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also Artist in Association of the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Artistic Director of the Turku Music Festival.

In the 2019–2020 season, he made his first appearance with the NDR Elbphilharmonie, Münchner Philharmoniker, Dutch Radio Filharmonisch Orkest and London Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. He also returned to orchestras such as Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Mäkelä made his operatic debut at the Finnish National Opera conducting Mozart’s The Magic Flute and a concertante performance of Erkki Melartin’s Aino. He is also an acclaimed cello soloist who has performed with Finnish orchestras such as the Lahti and Kuopio Symphony Orchestras as well as appearing at many Finnish festivals including the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival and Naantali Music Festival. 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.

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.

Concert length: 2 h 15 min incl. intermission