Photo of violinist Vilde Frang.

Blomstedt and Frang

  1. Violin Concerto
  2. Symphony No. 5
  1. Herbert Blomstedt conductor
  2. Vilde Frang violin

Sibelius’ fifth symphony with Herbert Blomstedt and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Vilde Frang.

Herbert Blomstedt, former Principal Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic from 1962−1968, is one of the foremost conductors of our time. He returns to Oslo to perform with one of our homegrown stars, Vilde Frang, who will play Beethoven’s violin concerto. Sibelius’ fifth symphony celebrates spring, the light, and the power of nature. One of the masterpieces in the Nordic symphonic repertoire, it was, as legend has it, inspired by a group of swans circling above the composer in the depths of the Finnish forest.

Four quiet strikes to the timpani introduce the dramatic first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770−1827) Violin Concerto. This movement alone is longer, more varied and richer in content than most violin concertos written before 1806. It is characterised by the composer’s unique, dramatic musical language, but at the same time it also has a lyrical and sustained melodic flow which hardly any other work by Beethoven contains. A sensitivity to the violin’s unique ability to sing legato melodies in a sky-high register with a wonderful warmth of sound characterises the slow second movement. Here, all the drama from the first movement is set aside, the music assuming a character of complete calm. Then, it’s time for a lively dance − the playful and energetic third movement is characterised by folksy dance rhythms and many technical challenges for the soloist.

There was no guarantee that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto would assume a central position in the classical standard repertoire, in Oslo or anywhere else. It is said that Beethoven was so delayed in delivering the material to the world premiere of the work in Vienna in 1806 that the soloist engaged to play it, Franz Clement, only received the final pages on his way on to the stage itself. Clement showed his irritation by playing his own piece on one string with his violin upside down the middle of the concert. The performance was a disaster and the work was forgotten until the twelve-year-old child prodigy Joseph Joachim performed it in London in 1844. This set Joachim’s career going − he was to become a legendary violinist − and at the same time rendered Beethoven’s Violin Concerto an enduring classic. As we celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in 2020, the work remains more popular than ever before.

When Jean Sibelius (1865−1957) completed the final version of his fifth symphony in 1919, both he and audiences around the world had realised that he was one of the few composers in the Nordic region who could seriously claim to be the heir to the symphonic tradition after Beethoven. Just like Beethoven, Sibelius kept striving for the greatest possible symphonic unity and logic in his cyclical compositions. Symphony No. 5 is in this way one of his most successful works where the melodic ideas, harmonic development and sound all move towards the magnificent horn theme in the final movement − the end goal of the whole of the symphonic development. Sibelius arguably realised that he was in the process of composing a masterpiece when he already in 1914 wrote in his journal that “God opens his door for a moment and his orchestra plays my fifth symphony.” In encountering this mighty symphony we might experience associations to the religious or metaphysical, and at another moment in the composition process Sibelius wrote that “it is as if God, our Father, has cast bits of mosaic down from the heavens and asked me to find the pattern in it”.

Still, it wasn’t only the religious and metaphysical, the “wrestle with God”, which inspired Sibelius in his work with Symphony No. 5. Throughout his whole career, nature had played a decisive role as a source of inspiration for the composer, and this is never more apparent than in the process which resulted in his fifth symphony. In a journal entry from 21 April 1915 he noted for the first time the famous theme from the finale with a description of having seen sixteen swans circle above his house in Järvenpää − an experience of nature which clearly made a colossal impression on the Finnish composer: “One of the greatest experiences of my life! Dear God, what beauty!” he wrote enthusiastically. The “Swan Hymn”, as it is referred to in Sibelian literature, is the great highlight of his fifth symphony. This is the aim of the musical development, which starts when the same horns present a pastoral musical landscape from the beginning of the first movement, and the woodwinds sing their springlike melodies. And there’s more to it − the Swan Hymn lifts to new heights in the course of the finale, and in the end breaks free of any framework before the symphony seemingly spins into the infinite, with seven characteristic blows which conclude the work in a spectacular manner.

The final version of Symphony No. 5 was performed in Helsinki for the first time in 1919, with Sibelius himself conducting. Since then it has remained one of the composer’s most popular and well-known works.

One might safely say that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto has been an important part of the Oslo Philharmonic’s repertoire throughout a century. Already in its first season, the orchestra performed it three times, and in the course of its first decade, from 1919−1929, audiences had twenty-six opportunities to experience the violin concerto in Oslo − played by three different soloists. Its first performance took place during the Christmas period of 1919, with Johan Halvorsen conducting, and the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman as the soloist. Although critics sourly claimed that the Christmas concerts broke with tradition and were ill-attended, the performance was a success, and Huberman had to play an encore.

(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation  from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: Vilde Frang; Photo: Marco Borggreve)

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Tickets

  • Adult: 120 - 490 NOK
  • Senior: 120 - 395 NOK
  • Student: 120 - 245 NOK
  • Child: 120 NOK
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