Sabine Meyer performs Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and John Storgårds conducts music by Schubert, Saariaho and Sibelius.
John Storgårds is our guide as Sibelius entices us deep into the Finnish Forest God’s mighty and mythical kingdom in the innovative tone poem Tapiola. The orchestra also performs Vista, a brand new work for orchestra by Kaija Saariaho − commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic together with leading orchestras in New York, Berlin and Helsinki. Schubert’s unfinished, yet perfect, Symphony No. 8, and Mozart’s elegant Clarinet Concerto, with Sabine Meyer as the soloist, complement an enigmatic and beautiful programme.
Widely they stand, the dark forests of the north
Ancient, mysterious, hatching wild dreams
In them resides the mighty god of the forest
And in the shadows the forest elves spin their magical secrets
(Excerpt from the foreword to the score of Tapiola)
Jean Sibelius (1865−1957) was an internationally established composer when he composed what was to be his last great work for orchestra − the tone poem Tapiola. He worked for years on an eighth symphony, also after finishing Tapiola, but he never succeeded in completing it, and famously cast most of his notes away in the fireplace. Still, his seven symphonies, his tone poems and the rest of Sibelius’ production justify his position as one of the greatest Nordic composers of our time and a unique voice in European music history.
One of Sibelius’ most important aims was to create as great a symphonic unity as possible and as concentrated an expression as possible in his works for orchestra. The culmination of this development is represented by Symphony No. 7 − where the whole symphony is composed in a single, continuous movement − and his tone poem Tapiola, which has around the same scope as Sibelius’ last symphony. Tapiola has been called a “monothematic” work, and much of the material springs from a single core motive, introduced by the strings right at the beginning. Still, Tapiola isn’t primarily about developing a theme, but also about evoking certain moods through the use of the orchestra’s colours and textures, and it is here that the work appears as unique, powerful, and way ahead of its time. The shady peace of the forest, a sense of mythical mysticism and a stormy drama are quickly evoked through Sibelius’ tone poem. After a dramatic journey through the heart of the forest, the music settles, and a final, conciliatory major chord sounds through the composer’s last great masterpiece. Tapiola was first performed in New York in 1926.
While Sibelius was the greatest Finnish composer of his generation, Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) has also assumed an important position as a composer in our own time. She has had many great successes on the global music scene and is a firmly established name in contemporary music circles. Saariaho studied in France, where she has lived for many years, and, inspired by French spectral music, she created her own musical language − one which often features rich polyphonous textures and an astonishing richness of colour. She often combines acoustic and electronic sound in order to achieve the effect she is after. She has won a series of prestigious prizes and has a long list of works to her name, including operas, orchestra works and chamber music. This new work for orchestra is a joint commission between the Oslo Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Helsinki Philharmonic orchestras.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756−1791) Clarinet Concerto is an enduring classic which remains very popular, even more than 220 years after it was written. It was one of the very last works Mozart wrote before he died, and is an exemplary classical concerto in terms of featuring an idiomatic and elegant melodic line for the solo instrument and a perfect balance between its voice and a subtle accompaniment. In addition, Mozart demonstrates an excess of melodic inventiveness as well as his ability to write in a harmonious and well-balanced fashion for woodwinds and strings. The first movement is a fresh and light, classic allegro movement, the second movement is constructed upon one of Mozart’s best-loved melodies and the finale is a fiery rondo. Let yourself be inspired by the soloist’s virtuosity and play with the orchestra!
Franz Schubert’s (1797−1827) Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” has also become a firm classic. It is sometimes listed as no. 7, and is one of the composer’s most frequently played and best liked works. How he could have let such a masterpiece remain unfinished is a mystery. Some believe that Schubert associated the work with his contraction of syphilis in 1822, which was to torture him for the rest of his short life, and made him unable to compose further. Others place the blame on Beethoven, and on the belief that the reserved Schubert did not feel capable of competing with such a giant of music. In any case, he chose to dispatch the score of the two movements to his publisher in Switzerland in 1823, where it lay untouched in a drawer for forty years before being rediscovered.
From this drawer in Switzerland, the sketches of a symphony which in its time would have rivaled Beethoven’s symphonies was revealed, and it has continued to amaze listeners ever since. The dark introduction by the cellos and double basses is released by a restless tremolo in the strings before the work’s first lyrical, expressive theme sounds through the oboe and the clarinet. Still, it’s the beautiful side theme of the cellos that has remained the most memorable. Many have also pointed out that also this theme is “unfinished” as it is brutally broken off in the middle of a phrase and replaced by the most dramatic and magnificent orchestra music Schubert ever wrote.
After the second movement, which is lighter, but no less dramatic, there is no third movement or finale. Schubert clearly struggled with the thought of having to live up to Beethoven’s weighty finales, and this symphony was his third(!) unfinished one written between 1818 and 1823. He himself considered the work mediocre, and refused to allow even a youth orchestra to perform it. If only he knew …
Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony No. 8 has been a popular item on the Oslo Philharmonic’s programme though a hundred years — and audiences never seem to tire of this symphonic masterpiece. Already in the orchestra’s first season, Ignaz Neumark conducted the work three times. Sibelius’ work has also been frequently performed in Oslo, and Tapiola appeared on the programme in 1928, only two years after its world premiere in New York. The work was well-received on the whole in the Norwegian press, and even the usually conservative critic Per Reidarson wrote in Arbeiderbladet:
Sibelius’ new symphonic poem, Tapiola, contains much greater musical weight (than a work by Liadov, Ed.), and is freely translated as “The Great God of the Forest”. Here can be found forest mysticism and a feeling of nature: fine, distinctive melodic motives which circle, or, like a thread of gold, are woven into the sound. And even where the sound is supposed to evoke feelings of shadow or panicking fear − expressed by very dark disharmonies − one feels moved, because this is artistically felt and correctly placed in the composition.
Per Reidarson, Arbeiderbladet, 10 November 1928.
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: John Storgårds; Photo: Marco Borggreve)Read more
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