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BRAHMS’ SYMPHONIES: NO. 2 AND NO. 4

Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 is sometimes referred to as his ”pastoral symphony” due to the work’s many beautiful and singable melodies and its idyllic character. However, as so often with Brahms’ works, the music also contains darker undertones. These shifts between light and shadow can also be heard in the composer’s magnificent Symphony No. 4, with the fourth movement having become particularly renowned for its variations. On this occasion we hear these two masterpieces as interpreted by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Daniel Harding.

This concert will be broadcasted on the Swedish Radio P2 on May 13 at 7 pm when given from Barcelona during the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s tour in Spain.


SWEDISH RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
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Participants

 

Sveriges Radios Symfoniorkester. Foto: Julian Hargreaves.

The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is known worldwide as one of Europe’s most versatile orchestras with an exciting and varied repertoire and a constant striving to break new ground The multi-award-winning orchestra has been praised for its exceptional, wide-ranging musicianship as well as collaborations with the world’s foremost composers, conductors and soloists.

Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the audience in the hall, the orchestra reaches many many listeners on the radio and the web and through it´s partnership with EBU. Several concerts are also broadcast and streamed on Berwaldhallen Play and with Swedish Television, offering the audience more opportunities to come as close as possible to one of the world’s top orchestras.

“The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2007. “I have never had a concert with the orchestra where they haven’t played as though their lives depended on it!” The orchestra is also proud to have Klaus Mäkelä as its Principal Guest Conductor since 2018.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swedish Radio Symphony was one of the only orchestras in the world which never stopped playing.  Its innovative and creative approach to making music in these dark times helped its public to cope and even made the news itself.

The first radio orchestra was founded in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967. Through the years, the orchestra has had several distinguished Music Directors. Two of them are Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Daniel Harding is Music and Artistic Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He is also Artistic Director of the Anima Mundi Festival in Pisa and Conductor Laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with whom he has worked for more than 20 years. He is one of few conductors regularly invited to conduct the world’s foremost orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concergebouw Orchestra and Wiener Philharmoniker, and additionally a qualified airline pilot.

A renowned opera conductor, he has led acclaimed productions at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Theater an der Wien, London’s Royal Opera House and at the Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence Festivals. He has made a great number of recordings, including Grammy Award-winning Billy Budd with the London Symphony Orchestra and Beethoven’s Piano Concertos No. 3 and 4 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Maria João Pires.

Harding’s contract as music director extends through the 2024-2025  season. In 2019, he also accepted a new role as the orchestra’s first artistic director with an overall responsibility for the orchestra’s artistic vision. This expanded role also includes the opportunity to create brand new types of concert programmes and ways to present classical music in creative ways.

“It is increasingly rare for the relationship between a conductor and an orchestra not only lasts for more than a decade, but keeps growing”, Daniel Harding says about working with the orchestra. “It is also rare for an orchestra of the highest musical standard also very obviously want to keep on growing.”

Harding started out playing the trumpet, but in his teens, the interest in conducting took over. 17 years old, he led a performance of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with a student ensemble. This led to a job assisting Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for a year. The time with Rattle and the orchestra ended with Harding’s professional debut, conducting the orchestra himself.

In 2002 Daniel was awarded the title Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government and in 2017 nominated to the position Officier Arts et Lettres. In 2012, he was elected a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Music. He is a qualified airline pilot.

Julia Kretz-Larsson. Foto: Bo Söderström.

Julia Kretz-Larsson, violin, has studied with Marianne Boettcher and Thomas Brandis in Berlin and with Josef Suk in Prague. With the Julius Stern Piano Trio, she has won various awards at international competitions. She is a member of the chamber music ensemble Spectrum Concerts Berlin, which has its own concert series in the Berliner Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal and with which she also played in halls such as Carnegie Hall in New York and Concertgebouw Amsterdam. In 2006, Julia Kretz-Larsson became a member of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, led by Claudio Abbado, and since 2008 she has been a member of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, from 2011 as conductor. Julia has been the alternate first concertmaster in the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2015 and is a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.Julia has regularly played chamber music concerts with several international artists and has performed at festivals such as the Salzburger Festspiele, the International Chamber Music Festival Utrecht, Julian Rachlin and Friends, Schubertiade, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and the Winter Festival. She has recorded chamber music for, among others, BIS, NAXOS, dB Productions, Harmonia Mundi and has won the music award ” Grammis” for the recording with music by Amanda Maier.

Programme

Approximate timings

Johannes Brahms completed his symphonies in pairs: the first and second symphonies in 1876–1877, and the third and fourth in 1883–1885. The first three were immediate successes, but Brahms was initially sceptical about the fourth symphony. His need of a second opinion was strong enough that he wrote an arrangement for piano four hands, that he performed himself with pianist and composer Ignaz Brüll to a small circle of friends.

The reception was not kindly. Music critic Eduard Hanslick, otherwise quite positive about Brahms’ music, is said to have remarked about the first movement: “I feel I’ve just been beaten up by two terribly intelligent people.” Max Kalbeck, a good friend, was devastatingly upset and begged Brahms to discard the two, in his opinion, unbecoming central movements. Violinist Joseph Joachim, another close friend and collaborator, was similarly confused and disappointed. But gradually, after hearing the orchestral version, they all changed their minds and later hailed the symphony as one of Brahms’ crowning achievements.

Today, it can be easy for music enthusiasts to discard these reactions as poor judgment, but if taken seriously, they are in fact key to understanding the work. Joachim suggested opening the first movement with a constant two-bar chord. This highlights an important fact: the symphony begins in medias res, as if you’re opening the door to an orchestra that is already several bars into a piece. Hanslick’s reaction points to the violent character of the first movement. The symphony is sometimes called “the tragic”, but could just as easily be called acerbic or harsh.

Kalbeck, who criticised the central movements, was on the other hand the only one who appreciated the final movement even in piano reduction. The others deemed it unsuitable as a symphonic finale, likely in part because it maintains its minor characteristic throughout. It even ends on a minor chord, which was – and still is – relatively rare. Another reason may have been Brahms’ choice of musical form, the passacaglia, which was popular during the Baroque era: a series of variations over a bass line or sequence of chords.

Text: Tore Eriksson

Approximate concert length: 1 hour 40 minutes (with intermission)