The Eric Ericson centenary
For many years, he was the chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Choir, as well as the director of his own small chamber choir. He highlighted new music, encouraged new expressions and was a prominent figure in what is called ”the Swedish Choir Miracle”. Eric Ericson has made an indelible impression on the world of music and is celebrated with two of his own showpieces, as well as one of the many works that he himself commissioned. In addition, it is the première of a completely new commissioned work by Lithuanian Raminta Šerkšnytė, one of the most sought-after choral composers of our time.
The choral nation of Sweden emerged as early as in the 19th century through social movements, in student towns like Lund and Uppsala, as well as in the church, where choral singing had long been prominent. So it did not really start with Eric Ericson, but there was nevertheless fertile soil in which to cultivate skilled singers, and also a fundamental interest in harmony singing as well as a musical community. As conductor of his own chamber choir as well as Orphei Drängar and, not least, the Swedish Radio Choir, in many ways he elevated choral singing and pushed the envelope for what was considered possible for choral singing – and writing.
The concert bill is in tune with the spirit of Ericson, with a challenging repertoire that demands much from the practitioners, but which is also rewarding in its remarkable beauty. Richard Strauss’s Der Abend and Arnold Schönberg’s Friede auf Erden were written about ten years apart, on either side of the year 1900, and represent on the one hand the very height of romanticism and on the other, the transition to modernism with its liberal approach to traditional harmonics. Both are showpieces of Eric Ericson, which is understandable considering the sonorous wealth and depth of the pieces. Likewise, Gloria by Lars Edlund and Ingvar Lidholm’s “…a riveder le stelle” were recorded by Ericson on several albums and are both examples of the new kind of choral music that he brought to the fore and encouraged. Furthermore, the latter is one of many pieces personally commissioned by Ericson.
In lineal descent from the avant-garde choral composers of the 20th century, there are contemporary composers like Ēriks Ešenvalds, whose suggestive piece, A Drop in the Ocean, has several aspects in common with the other composers on the bill. Lidholm depicts Dante’s and Virgil’s arduous ascent from hell using sharp dissonances and breathtaking movements in the different parts. Using breathing, whistling, mumbling and ethereal chords, Ešenvalds evokes an enchanting mood by setting music to verses from the Bible, as well as to writings by Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, to whom this piece is dedicated. At times, the sounds are reminiscent of both Schönberg and, in the tensest passages, of Edlund.
But even more interesting is the new piece written by Raminta Šerkšnytė, and which was commissioned for the festival concert in honour of Eric Ericson. Just as Ericson commissioned new works from composers who were at the musical forefront, this is music by a composer who mixes established techniques with new ones to explore and discover new sides of whichever ensemble she writes for. Šerkšnytė herself describes her music as if she, like with watercolours, wishes to evoke as many shifts and notes as possible. With that level of ambition, an instrument as versatile as the human voice could not be more appropriate.
The Swedish Radio Choir is like a leading mountaineer in the world of music. The choir’s chief conductor Peter Dijkstra has described the ensemble as “the group that leaves base camp first and stakes out the course for others to follow.” Three hundred years of Swedish a cappella tradition, combined with an ambitious and culturally diverse repertoire with some of the world’s finest conductors, has established the Swedish Radio Choir as one of the foremost ensembles of its kind. The 32 professional singers are as equally at home in completely new music by today’s most exciting composers as they are in classic favourites from the rich international treasure trove. Through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts and website the choir not only reaches concert audiences but also radio listeners everywhere.
The Latvian Radio Choir resolutely tackles the earliest music as well as the most innovative and newly written scores with the same drive and artistic focus. Over the past twenty years, the choir and its two conductors, Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš, have combined concert performances with opera and genre-crossing projects, theatre shows and much more. The choir has performed at a vast number of the world’s great festivals, among them Salzburg and Lucerne, at the BBC Proms, the White Light Festival, the Canadian Soundstreams, and many others. Recordings of the choir can be found on the Ondine, Hyperion, Deutsche Grammophon and BIS labels.
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is one of the country’s most renowned and prominent ensembles. Tõnu Kaljuste founded the choir in 1981, and as its choirmaster she spent more than 20 years developing the artistic eminence of the choir. The choir has collaborated with such outstanding conductors as Claudio Abbado, Eric Ericson, Ward Swingle, Stephen Layton, Sir Colin Davis and Gustavo Dudamel. The choir’s recordings on labels such as Harmonia Mundi, Carus, Ondine and ECM have been Grammy nominated 14 times and have received such prestigious awards as Diapason d’Or and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste is familiar to Swedish audiences after his time as the Swedish Radio Choir chief conductor from 1994–2000. The versatile Kaljuste has been a driving force in opening Nordic audiences to music from the Baltic states. Within a span of ten years, he founded the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, both of which have been extremely successful and perform at renowned concert venues and festivals all over the world. He is an acknowledged interpreter of many artists, including Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis and has won several prestigious awards for his recordings.
Sigvards Kļava has been the artistic director of the Latvian Radio Choir since 1992. He has worked with Latvia’s leading choirs as well as with RIAS Kammerchor in Berlin, Nederlands Kamerkoor, the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and many others. He has made more than 20 recordings with the Latvian Radio Choir and has collaborated with several great contemporary Latvian composers, including Maija Einfelde, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Pēteris Vasks. In 2000, Kļava became Professor of Conducting at the Latvian Musical Academy in Riga.
In 2008, the composer and pianist Raminta Šerkšnytė became one of the youngest recipients of the Lithuanian National Prize, her native country’s foremost artistic distinction. Gidon Kremer, with whose ensemble Kremerata Baltica she has worked numerous times, has described her De Profundis for string orchestra as the business card of Baltic music. Ensembles including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Les Percussions de Strasbourg have performed her works. Šerkšnytė frequently participates in contemporary music festivals and events, both as a pianist and a composer, amongst them the Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam, the ISCM World New Music Days and Klangspuren Schwaz.
FESTIVAL OFFER (Östersjöklippet)
With the Baltic Sea Festival Offer (Östersjöklippet), you get three different levels at a discount – 10, 15 and 20% off the regular fare depending on whether you buy three, four or five different concerts at the same time.