Eivind Gullberg Jensen conducts music by Gisle Kverndokk, Ludvig Irgens-Jensen, Edvard Grieg, and Johan Svendsen.
Johan Svendsen was one of Europe’s leading conductors, the father of Norwegian orchestral music and one of the Oslo Philharmonic’s most important influences. Another significant Norwegian conductor, Eivind Gullberg Jensen, comes to Oslo to perform Svendsen’s bubbling Symphony No. 1 (1866). He is joined by soprano Mari Eriksmoen in Ludvig Irgens-Jensen’s colourful song cycle Japanischer Frühling (1957). Gisle Kverndokk’s freshly-composed overture for winds and percussion has been written in honour of the Oslo Philharmonic’s 100th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of Bølgen Kulturhus, and is a powerful homage to Arne Nordheim.
Johan Svendsen (1840−1911) was an important figure in the Oslo Philharmonic’s history. In 1871 he founded Christiania Musikforening − a predecessor of the orchestra − and throughout his career he worked both as a conductor and as a composer towards raising the quality of Norwegian orchestra music. He didn’t live to experience the formal establishment of the orchestra in 1919, but his music was immediately given an important place in the orchestra’s repertoire. Svendsen’s two symphonies, and many other of his orchestral works, were performed in the course of the orchestra’s first season in the autumn of 1919, and have been a natural part of the orchestra’s repertoire for a century. The Oslo Philharmonic was also been an important vehicle for Ludwig Irgens Jensen’s music. It has performed the world premieres of many of his works, among them the great cantata and success Heimferd in 1930, as well as the orchestral song cycle Japanischer Frühling in 1957.
“The most lively genius, just the right national tone and truthfully, a brilliant way of handling the orchestra", wrote Edvard Grieg enthusiastically in a letter when he had heard a rehearsal of Svendsen’s Symphony No. 1 in 1867. He later described the concert itself in Christiania as “a triumph for Norwegian art”. Many are of the opinion that it was after this experience that Grieg noted “Must never be performed!” on his own Symphony in C Major from 1864. It’s possible that Grieg saw Svendsen as a greater symphonic composer than he could ever hope to become. Audiences were thrilled too, and the work enjoyed great success in both Norway and Europe for many decades to come. Since then, Svendsen’s Symphony No. 1 has proven to be one of the most enduring symphonies written by a Norwegian composer, regardless of epoch or style.
It’s almost impossible to believe that Svendsen was still a student in Leipzig when he wrote his first symphony. The effervescent genius Grieg had heard is present from the very first bar when the orchestra fires off the fresh and inspired first movement. Even more impressive is the fact that the orchestration is so colourful and varied. It reminds one more of Berlioz’s French style of orchestration than of the German composers Svendsen studied under in Leipzig. In the second movement, Svendsen reveals another side of his composing personality − that of the sweet sentimentalist and tender lyricist. The energy picks up again in the scherzo, which includes certain elements associated with Norwegian folk music, and which are also present in the energetic finale. Svendsen’s Symphony No. 1 was first performed in parts in Leipzig, and in its entirity in Christiania in 1867.
Already in 1920, Ludvig Irgens-Jensen (1894−1969) published the song cycle Japanischer Frühling, in a version for song and piano. Just like Gustav Mahler and many other composers, Irgens-Jensen was inspired by Hans Bethge’s German interpretations of East Asian literature. Bethge published the anthology Japanischer Frühling in 1911, and the texts to the nine songs in this cycle are taken from this anthology. In the piano version the song cycle was not a great success, but when Irgens-Jensen finally completed and performed the version for orchestra in 1957, they appeared in a completely different light. Japanischer Frühling contains some of the same richness of colour and melodic inventiveness as Mahler’s orchestral songs. They represent some of the finest works in their genre by a Norwegian composer.
Throughout at least a century, the Oslo Philharmonic and its predecessors have supported the performance and dissemination of new Norwegian music. It’s therefore a great pleasure to have the opportunity to present several completely new Norwegian works in our anniversary season. One of these is a new commission for winds and percussion by Gisle Kverndokk (b.1967). “It’s turned out to be a sort of festive overture, which will hopefully communicate energy and virtuosity”, says Kverndokk of his new work − a work written in memory of Arne Nordheim, but which is also inspired by the surroundings of the pier in Larvik. Kverndokk has made his mark as an opera composer − with works such as Den Fjerde Nattevakt and Around the World in 80 Days − and as an orchestra composer, with a series of greater and smaller works for orchestra to his name.
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: Mari Eriksmoen; Photo: Astrid Waller)Read more
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