A PAEAN TO LOVE WITH KASPARS PUTNIŅŠ AND THE SWEDISH RADIO CHOIR
The Song of Songs has puzzled people for centuries. How do these explicitly erotic texts fit into the religious tradition? The Swedish Radio Choir under Kaspars Putniņš in collaboration with video artist Roberts Rubīn, painter Kristīna Rubīne and Etienne Glaser as reciter celebrate life and the power and marvels of the physical world through three works by 20th century composers. The expressiveness of Daniel-Lesur’s mighty choral composition Le Cantique des Cantiques is well balanced by Ton de Leeuw’s intimate composition for twelve voices, Car nos vignes sont en fleurs, and Messiaen’s tender Cinq Rechants in an invented language. The Radio Choir perform the piece in unison with solo performances by the singers, which intensifies the significance of the message.
For more than 90 years, the Swedish Radio Choir has contributed to the development of the Swedish a cappella tradition. Under the leadership of legendary conductor Eric Ericson, the choir earned great international renown. It is still hailed as one of the best choirs in the world. The choir members’ ability to switch between powerful solo performances and seamlessly integrating themselves in the ensemble creates a unique and dynamic instrument praised by critics and music lovers alike, as well as by the many guest conductors who explore and challenge the choir’s possibilities.
Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Choir since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the seated audience, the choir reaches millions of listeners on the radio and the web through Klassiska konserten i P2. Several concerts are also broadcast and streamed on Berwaldhallen Play, offering the audience more opportunities to come as close as possible to one of the world’s top choirs.
With the 2020–2021 season, Kaspars Putniņš begins his tenure as the tenth Music Director of the Swedish Radio Choir. Since January 2019, Marc Korovitch is the choirmaster of the Swedish Radio Choir with responsibility for the ensemble’s continued artistic development. Two of the orchestra’s former Music Directors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed Conductors Laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest appearances.
The Swedish Radio Choir was founded the same year as the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and the choir had its first concert in May 1925. Right from the start, the choir had high ambitions with a conscious aim to perform contemporary music.
Acclaimed Latvian conductor Kaspars Putniņš is the Swedish Radio Choir’s new Chief Conductor from the 2020–2021 season. He is also Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and has been permanent conductor of the Latvian Radio Choir since 1994. Putniņš is an experienced interpreter of polyphonic Renaissance works as well as the swelling emotions of the Romantic era, but his foremost goal has always been to promote new and outstanding choral music. Through close relationships with a number of Nordic and Baltic composers, he has contributed to raising the bar for performances and recordings of new choral works.
As a guest conductor, he appears with ensembles such as the RIAS Kammerchor, NDR Radio Choir Hamburg, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, BBC Singers, Tokyo Cantat and the Netherlands Radio Choir. He has collaborated with composers such as Maija Einfelde, Mārtiņš Viļums, Toivo Tulev, Lasse Thoresen and Gavin Bryars as well as initiated several drama projects in collaboration with visual and theatre artists. He has made acclaimed album recordings, such as works by Schnittke and Pärt with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir on an album that was awarded both a Gramophone Award and Diapason d’Or.
Etienne Glaser is an actor, director and scriptwriter born in Copenhagen. During World War II, when Etienne was six years old, his family was forced to flee to Sweden. After graduating at the Royal Dramatic Training Academy, Glaser worked as a theatre and opera director in Sweden and abroad. He has worked as an actor, and later director, at the film and stage director Suzanne Osten’s theatre Unga Klara in Stockholm, which stages productions for children and young adults. Glaser participated in her films Mamma, Bröderna Mozart, Livsfarlig film, Skyddsängel, Tala! Det är så mörkt and Besvärliga människor. He also wrote the script for Bröderna Mozart, Livsfarlig film and Skyddsängeln. Today, Glaser is a popular reciter and public speaker.
Although the Song of Songs has been a symbol of the love between humans and God for millennia, we are more likely to enjoy these poetic Bible texts as expressions of the human desire for physical love – of timeless erotic desire.
How beautiful and pleasant you are,
O loved one, with all your delights!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree
and lay hold of its fruit.
The composer, radio director, teacher and member of L’Academie Française, Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur, was born in Paris in 1908 as Daniel Jean Yves Lesur. He met Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory, and the two composers became friends, colleagues, and creators of the influential ensemble Jeune France. Daniel-Lesur covered the full range of the classical repertoire, from opera and orchestral music to chamber music. The common denominator for his compositions is breathing. Song is central even to his instrumental music, and the human voice is expressed metaphorically – he gives voice, for example, to non-European inspiration – as well as literally. Le Cantique des cantiques (Song of Songs or The Song of Solomon) is most closely associated with Daniel-Lesur.
His musical setting of the Song of Songs penetrates to the mystery of the text, the rites, the sensual words exchanged between two young lovers. Sandal-clad feet and blushing cheeks, sleepless nights and intimate conversations. We meet King Solomon, his guards, the daughters of Jerusalem and the dancing Shulamite. We travel through secret gardens, deserts, vineyards, cities at night and across spice-scented mountains – but the opening word is alleluia. From Hebrew, via Greek, the old, sacred words permeate and inform the work.
Le Cantique de cantiques is a choral work of symphonic quality – complex and expressive for multiple voices. However, it requires strong soloists and offers scope for individual interpretation. The twelve voices intertwine in romantic triads, Eastern scales, solo performances and magnificent, perfect harmonies. Daniel-Lesur’s love story has been cherished by choirs and audiences since 1953.
Text: Janna Vettergren
Cinq Rechants (Five Refrains) for twelve solo voices was composed in 1948 as part of the Tristan and Isolde trilogy that also includes the song-cycle Harawi: Chants d’amour et de mort and the Turangalîla symphony. All three are variations on the myth of love.
The title of the work is a tribute to the Renaissance composer Claude Le Jeune and his famous work Le Printemps (Spring). According to Messiaen, Le Printemps is “a masterpiece for choir and a masterpiece of rhythm”.
Messiaen composed Cinq Rechants at a time when his first wife, Claire Delbos, was admitted to a psychiatric institution after a breakdown. The composer is also the author of the poetic text. It is partly in surrealist French, partly in an invented language and syllables borrowed from Quechua (an indigenous language of Peru) and Sanskrit. Some of the text is based on French translations of the Tristan and Isolde myth, which contains many symbols referring to love. The invented words have been chosen for their sweetness or hardness and their ability to accentuate the rhythms through their sound, intensity, intonation and duration.
Messiaen was inspired by the Harawi musical tradition of the indigenous Inca, and Yaraví, a traditional sorrowful love song from Peru and Ecuador. This piece was also inspired by alba, a song style popular in the Middle Ages in which the lovers are woken at dawn by a “voice from above” telling them that their lovemaking will soon come to an end. Messiaen combined non-European rhythms, for example from India (deçi-tâlas), with his own modal technique, which he referred to as non-retrogradable rhythms.
Cinq Rechants is a unique song-cycle full of repeated refrains and rhythmic complexities that come together to form a varied, rich texture.
Text: Andreas Konvicka
There are no bar-lines in Car nos vignes sont en fleur (Our vines are in bloom) by the Dutch composer Ton de Leuuw. The music grows and subsides on the horizontal score like mirror images of a soundwave – an image on the score expressed in musical terms.
The singers are placed in a semi-circle with altos and tenors at the centre, where it all begins with a gentle humming. Listening is key. The soloists need to begin to sing in a well-considered, flexible way “without haste”. Each singer in the twelve-voice choir depends on the others as individual phrases – each with its distinct tempo – links up with the others in a gentle, focused flow that eventually arrives at a unison repetition of aime, aime, aime, “loves, loves, loves”.
Through calm, precise instructions, Ton de Leuuw guides us in an intimate conversation about the deeper meaning of love. One of the composer’s aims is the contrast between the passion and urgency of the text and the introspective character of the music. Throughout the twenty-minute piece all that exists is you and I, or I and my own thoughts. We take our time. We don’t need to display our love to the world, all we want is to explore its mysteries.
Ton de Leuuw’s interpretation of the Song of Songs is about love, but also about the fear of losing love, searching for it, hope and despair, and ultimately the final union, also in the spiritual sense. The work is divided into these distinct parts, and after the passionate outburst of “takadama” in the sixth part, the unison, hymn-like finale offers a moment of respite.
Text: Janna Vettergren