Hilary Hahn plays Prokofiev

Even though Sergei Prokofiev’s first symphony and first violin concerto were both created during the same period, they show completely different sides of the then young composer. The symphony he himself called The Classic Symphony, as its style is a reference back towards classicism and the father of symphony, Joseph Haydn. Violin Concerto No. 1, on the other hand, demonstrates the romantic, lyrical Prokofiev. Several decades later, Symphony No. 5 was born in the midst of WWII, a backdrop that also coloured the dramatic music.

Listen to Hilary Hahn talking about playing the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Prokofiev:

Violinist Hilary Hahn was twelve years old when she made her grand orchestral debut with the symphony orchestra of her native Baltimore. At seventeen, she debuted in Carnegie Hall in New York. Hahn’s relationship with Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev is heartfelt and sincere. Her attitude to Violin Concerto No. 1, a piece with several surprising changes in tempo and mood, is somewhat sporty: ”I really love that piece. As a musician, I sometimes feel a little like a biathlete. Those that go, go, go and then suddenly, they have to lie still and control their breathing.”

Israeli conductor and pianist Lahav Shani began playing the piano at the age of six. In his adolescence, he studied the double bass and conducting in addition to his piano studies. ”Music has always been one of my native languages. As a child, I wanted to listen to The Magic Flute every day. I didn’t understand a single word of it, but by the time I was four I could sing along with the whole opera”, he has said. At the age of 24, he won the prestigious Gustav Mahler competition for young conductors and his career took off. Shani is the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic for the 2018–19 season and in 2020, he will take over as the Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sergei Prokofiev was a six-year-old prodigy on the piano, who wrote his first opera at the age of nine. He was born in the Ukraine and received his initial musical schooling by his mother, who was an amateur pianist. In 1917, he lived in Saint Petersburg, at the time called Petrograd. It was the year of the two Russian revolutions that toppled the czar, and the 25-year-old conductor was more productive than ever. As was his wont, he was working on several pieces at the same time and within only a few months, he wrote Symphony No. 1, as he himself calls the classic symphony with a wink to Haydn, Violin Concerto No. 1 and the piano pieces Visions fugitives. He also began a choral work and his third piano concerto, as well as planning the opera The Love for Three Oranges – all in wildly disparate styles. The spiritual symphony has little in common with the lyrical violin concerto.

Symphony No. 5 came about much later, in 1944, in the midst of war when Prokofiev himself was safely tucked away in an artists’ residence in Ivanovo, east of Moscow. He wanted to use the heroic music and martial crescendos of the symphony to celebrate ”the generosity, strength and spiritual purity of the free and happy individual” and he himself directed the première at the musical conservatory in Moscow, in January 1945. When he stood at the podium, baton aloft, the sounds of cannons suddenly rolled in over the city and Prokofiev waited with the upbeat until the salvoes has ended. The salute signalled the the Red Army’s entry into Nazi Germany, something that marked the beginning of the reconquest of the Soviet Union.

Text: Anna Hedelius




The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra serves as a symphony orchestra for the whole of Sweden. Regardless of where you live you can listen to the orchestra’s concerts through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts or on their website, and several concerts are also shown on Swedish Television. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the best and most versatile orchestras in Europe – perhaps even in the world. Every year they perform well-loved works from the classical repertoire as well as new music by exciting contemporary composers such as Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Magnus Lindberg and Unsuk Chin. In addition they perform music from popular films and computer and video games and collaborate with leading jazz, pop and rock artists in a constant endeavour to develop and to break new ground.

Concert length: 2 h incl. intermission