Death Knells and Symphonic Life

  1. The Bells
  2. Symphony No. 5
  1. Vasily Petrenko conductor
  2. Olga Podova soprano
  3. Dmytro Popov tenor
  4. Kostas Smoriginas bass
  5. Oslo Philahrmonic Choir
  6. Øystein Fevang choir conductor

Dare to venture into Rachmaninov’s darkest and most mysterious musical world accompanied by Vasily Petrenko and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.

Be prepared to stare death in the face in the choral symphony The Bells, while he chimes the bells of fate mercilessly. Towards the end, a glimmer of hope of resurrection appears, but it is really only when Prokofiev’s wild and energetic fifth symphony rings through the concert hall that a spark of life is reignited. Prepare yourself for an epic and existential journey into the depth of Russian cultural heritage in tonight´s programme.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873−1943) has been described as feeling a particular attraction to the melancholy, fatalistic and existential. It was therefore somewhat fitting that he in 1912 received a mysterious, unsigned letter with Konstantin Balmont’s Russian translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells, with a request to set music to the symbolistic text. Rachmaninov had always been fascinated by bell chimes, and in several works he includes passages where he imitates bells. Poe’s text gave him the possibility of exploring this even further.

In The Bells, many kinds of chimes sound through the orchestra, as noted in the titles of the movements: Fate Bells of SilverThe Mild Wedding BellsThe Strong Alarm Bells, and The Sorrowful Iron Bells. Although the themes and musical language of the work are dramatic and solemn, Rachmaninov also includes his habitual lyrical, expressive melodies. Death is not solely terrifying, but can also be melancholy, still, and even beautiful. The Bells received its world premiere in St. Petersburg in 1913.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891−1953) was, in contrast to Rachmaninov, an experimental soul who loved to provoke and to challenge the establishment. Still, with the epic, heroic Symphony No. 5 he composed a work in line with the conventions of the genre in terms of form and content, even if the surprising turns of melody, chords and rhythms reveal the turbulent youth of its creator. The composer himself maintained that his fifth symphony “praises the greatness of the human spirit and is an ode to the free and joyful human − his strength, generosity and pure spirit”.

The circumstances couldn’t have been better for Prokofiev when he first presented his life-affirming and grandiose work in both Russia and the USA in 1945. The second world war was drawing to an end, and the spirit of the time was imbued with optimism and a belief in the future. The legend Serge Koussevitsky, who had conducted the world premiere, was so enthusiastic that he described the symphony as the “greatest musical happening in many many years. The greatest since Brahms and Tchaikovsky! It is brilliant! It is the past, the present, and the future!” Symphony No. 5 ensured that Prokofiev’s name was on everybody’s lips and led to his face being on the cover of TIME magazine. Since then it has proved to be one of his most often performed and well-known compositions. 

(In photo: Olga Pudova; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation: Sarah Osa)

Tickets

  • Adult: 170 - 470 NOK
  • Senior: 170 - 375 NOK
  • Student: 170 - 235 NOK
  • Child: 100 NOK
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