Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole in 1911 still gives polar enthusiasts goose bumps.
At this multimedial concert you can join Andrew Manze and the Oslo Philharmonic in experiencing the polar drama through photographs and diary extracts, and through Vaughan Williams’ picturesque Sinfonia Antartica. Renowned violinist Isabelle van Keulen also performs Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which both provoked and delighted contemporary audiences and remains a discovery for new listeners. But first we break the ice with new arctic tones by Karin Rehnqvist.
There is something mythical about adventurers who, their lives at stake, are prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of being the first to reach the goal. The outcome is often one of two scenarios: a hero’s triumph or a hero’s death. For while Roald Amundsen sent a telegram to Norway in 1912 with the words “The Pole reached the fourteenth of December 1911. All well. Roald Amundsen”, Scott and his companions perished of hunger and cold in the polar wilderness in the same year. “I don’t think I can write any more. For God’s sake: take care of our people” he wrote in his final diary entry.
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) first encountered the polar drama through his work with the music to the film “Scott of the Antarctic”. The film music was reworked to become Symphony No. 7, Sinfonia antartica (1952), but retained many of its cinematic qualities. Here we can “hear” the frozen ice landscape, feel the wind whistle through our ears, and experience the atmosphere when the inevitable finally takes place, the wordless choir of souls vanishing into the white horizon.
We can experience this too in Att bryta isen — “To Break the Ice” — from Karin Rehnqvist’s (b. 1957) Arktis Arktis!, this time influenced by the North Pole, where the composer lived for a long time and was inspired by life on an icebreaker and the infinite ice landscape. Depicted here, according to the composer, are “the panoramic views, the horizons, the quivering effect when warm and cold air meet. And the ice — so fascinating! Powerful and hugely varying in form and colour. Not always beautiful. Not always white. When it broke, it created a huge drama”.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was also an explorer, forever on the quest for uncharted territory in the labyrinth of the classical repertoire. Violin Concerto No. 1 (1915) shows him both as elegant, melodic lyricist and as provocative radical and enfant terrible for the establishment at the beginning of the 1900’s. The music is as epic and dramatic as an expedition to the South Pole, yet the feeling is warmer in tone.
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