Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky and Daniel Nelson.
You might sense the great orchestral machine emitting steam as Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Daniel Nelson's powerful Steampunk Blizzard. The energetic Finnish conductor will also guide us through Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which in Ravel's ebullient orchestration seems to spring to life before our eyes, creating a spellbinding world of sound. A chance to daydream further is offered up by Valery Sokolov in Tchaikovsky's magnificent Violin Concerto.
The Swedish-American composer Daniel Nelson (b. 1965) has created an animated impression of the pulsating, terrifying steam engines of the 19th century in his brand new work for orchestra, Steampunk Blizzard (2016). The title is a reference to science fiction in literature and film, where such mechanical monsters often play the main part. The music puffs and steams its way along, and should, according to the score, be played “with mechanical precision”. The work was commissioned and first performed by Orchestre National déÎle de France under Enrique Mazzolla.
The contrast could hardly be greater as Nelson's mechanical music is juxtaposed with Tchaikovsky's (1840−1893) Violin Concerto, which boasts velvety lines and glowing Romantic qualities. Tchaikovsky was a master of melody, and allows the violin to sing an uninterrupted stream of sublime, hypnotic tones. In the explosive final movement he has lent the music some Russian colour, with folkloristic melodies and a rhythm imitating the dance trepak. All this is bathed in the composer's harmonious writing for orchestra. Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto was first performed in Vienna in 1881 with Adolph Brodsky as the soloist. The work was no immediate success, but it has later proven itself to be amongst the most popular violin concertos in the classical repertoire.
Modest Mussorgsky's (1839−1881) Pictures at an Exhibition contains both some of Tchaikovsky's lyrical melodiousness and some of the rawness of Nelson's new work. When Mussorgsky's piano suite met Maurice Ravel's orchestration in 1922, a masterpiece was born which turned out to be more famous than most of the other works produced by the two composers put together. Mussorgsky's unique melodic and harmonic turns and magical expressions went hand in hand with Ravel's incomparable powers of orchestration.
Mussorgsky's suite is a musical parallel to ten actual pictures by the composer's friend Viktor Hartmann. Many of the pictures have since been lost, but the music reveals that the variety of images must have been great, from the mysterious and halting “Gnome” to the archaic oriental magic in “The Old Castle” and the hysterical dance in “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks” to the massive “The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)”. As famous as the picture movements is the rhythmically unpredictable “Promenade” which introduces the work, and keeps on returning to illustrate the wandering between the different pictures.
Ravel often let the colours of the various instruments sound freely and undisturbed in his work with orchestra, as did many French and Russian composers. Aside from the harmonic contrasts, the orchestration is characterised by subtle sound combinations and an untraditional and effective choice of instruments. This can be heard in the long solo for bass saxophone in “The Old Castle” and the effective use of percussion throughout the whole work.
Mussorgsky's piano suite had neither been performed nor published when the composer died of alcoholism in 1881, but his fellow composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov went through his manuscripts and gathered the material for publication. Ravel's orchestration of the work received its world premiere in Paris in 1922.
(In photo: Valeriy Sokolov; Photo: Simon Fowler; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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