Leif Ove Andsnes in Beethoven´s Emperor Concerto
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Vienna was under attack from Napoleon’s army as Beethoven composed his fifth piano concerto, Lilli Boulanger wrote D’un matin du printemps when World War I was still raging. Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka, written in 1911, is the story of a straw doll, a kind of antihero, which many consider the embodiment of the Russian people under the tsar. All the works performed this evening can be said to revolve around, and were directly or indirectly influenced by, major events where a hero for some was considered an enemy by others. Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in this multifaceted concert.
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1905 and currently consists of 109 musicians. The orchestra is based in Gothenburg Concert Hall – a gem of functionalism on Götaplatsen square that has enchanted music lovers since 1935.
Wilhelm Stenhammar was the orchestra’s Chief Conductor from 1907 until 1922. He gave the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra a strong Nordic profile and invited his colleagues Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius to collaborate with the orchestra. Under the leadership of Chief Conductor Neeme Järvi between 1982 and 2004, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra undertook a number of international tours and made a hundred or so album recordings while establishing itself as one of Europe’s foremost orchestras. In 1997 the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra received the title of the National Orchestra of Sweden.
Since season 2017-2018 Santtu-Matias Rouvali is Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Since season 2019-2020 Barbara Hannigan is Principal Guest Conductor. Christoph Eschenbach was also Principal Guest Conductor of Gothenburg Symphony in the years 2019-2022 – together they formed a strong three-leaf clover consisting of three completely different types of artists. We are also extremely proud to be an official partner of soprano Barbara Hannigan’s mentor initiative Equilibrium, with focus on young singers and musicians who are just beginning their careers.
Sten Cranner is the orchestra’s CEO and Artistic Director, while Gustavo Dudamel holds the title of Honorary Conductor and Neeme Järvi that of Principal Conductor Emeritus. Region Västra Götaland is owner of the orchestra.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra works regularly with conductors such as Herbert Blomstedt, Joana Carneiro, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Christian Zacharias and Anja Bihlmaier.
Santtu-Matias Rouvali, conductor
Santtu-Matias Rouvali is Chief Conductor of Gothenburg Symphony since 2017, and the contract has been extended to 2025. The collaboration has been an overwhelming national and international success, with a string of lauded concerts and tours in the Scandinavian capitals and in Germany/Austria. His is a unique combination of genuine musicality and exceptional technical control: “…he is the real thing: music unmistakably flows from him.” (Sunday Times)
Santtu-Matias Rouvali is Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and he retains his longstanding Chief Conductor position with Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra close to his home in Finland. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s profile continues to flourish, with invitations from orchestras such as New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in wide-ranging repertoire.
His first meeting with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in 2012 was a tremendous success and after each visit the mutual respect and love grew – and joy spread like wildfire throughout the audience. The collaboration between Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra has resonated internationally after tours in the Nordic capitals with pianist Hélène Grimaud and in Germany with pianist Alice Sara Ott and percussionist Martin Grubinger.
The many live streams of recent years on GSOplay have also attracted the attention of a large audience at home and around the world. The project with Sibelius ‘seven symphonies, both live in Gothenburg and as record editions (Alpha), has been praised by critics: “Sibelius’ fourth symphony sounded like a descent into the earth’s interior. As if it were made of glowing lava. That the orchestra after this gave Rouvali a “touche” was highly justified! ” (Martin Nyström, Dagens Nyheter)
When Santtu-Matias Rouvali is not working with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra or the Philahrmonia Orchestra – where he is also principal conductor – he guest-conducts leading orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Santtu-Matias Rouvalis grew up in a musical family, both parents played in the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and at home the music sounded day and night.
He was trained as a percussionist and then continued with conducting studies for Jorma Panula and Leif Segerstam at the Sibelius Academy. There he also laid the foundation for his study method that followed him during his conducting career.
In his spare time, he enjoys hunting and fishing. This is when he summons renewed energy for creative new concerts as Chief Conductor of Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
With his commanding technique and searching interpretations, Leif Ove Andsnes has won worldwide acclaim, performing in the world’s leading concert halls and with its foremost orchestras. An avid chamber musician, he is also the founding director of Norway’s Rosendal Chamber Music Festival.
Following the success of the “Beethoven Journey” collaboration, Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra partner for their second multi-year project titled “Mozart Momentum 1785/86” which sees them explore one of the most creative and seminal periods of the composer’s career. In Spring 2021 Sony Classical releases the first of two volumes in the project, featuring Mozart’s piano concertos Nos. 20, 21 and 22 and chamber music written in the same year.
Leif Ove Andsnes records exclusively for Sony Classical. His previous discography comprises more than 30 discs for EMI Classics – solo, chamber, and concerto releases, many of them bestsellers – spanning repertoire from the time of Bach to the present day.
He has been nominated for eleven Grammys and awarded many international prizes, including six Gramophone Awards. Recent releases encompass the Billboard best-selling Sibelius as well as Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes (Sony Classical), an album of Stravinsky’s music for two pianos with Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion), Schumann’s Liederkreis & Kernerlieder, with Matthias Goerne (Harmonia Mundi), Bent Sørensen’s piano concerto, La Mattina, with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and Per Kristian Skalstad (Dacapo) and a disc dedicated to the music of Norwegian composer Ketil Hvoslef on which Andsnes performs the piano concerto written in 1994 with the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner (Simax).
Andsnes has received Norway’s distinguished honor, Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav as well as the prestigious Peer Gynt Prize. He is also the recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award and the Gilmore Artist Award. He was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2013 and made an honorary doctorate of both New York’s Juilliard School of Music and the Bergen Conservatoire in 2016.
Leif Ove Andsnes was born in Karmøy, Norway in 1970, and studied at the Bergen Music Conservatory under the renowned Czech professor Jirí Hlinka. He has also received invaluable advice from the Belgian piano teacher Jacques de Tiège who, like Hlinka, has greatly influenced his style and philosophy of playing. He is currently an Artistic Adviser for the Prof. Jirí Hlinka Piano Academy in Bergen where he gives annual masterclasses. Andsnes lives in Bergen with his family of three children.
Concert length: 1 hour 45 min (with intermission)
LILLI BOULANGER: D’un matin de printemps
Lili Boulanger, who died in 1918 aged 24, was well on her way to becoming one of the 20th century’s foremost French composers, but joined the ranks of composers who have died far too young.
Boulanger worked on D’un matin de printemps in 1917 and 1918, and it is consequently one of Boulanger’s final works. The initial violin (or flute) and piano version, which she composed in spring 1917, was followed by a further scoring, for piano trio, and the work was finally orchestrated in January 1918. The three versions are not identical, but Boulanger saw them as parallel works with the same basis.
The music does not sound as if it comes from a deathbed, unlike many of her other works from this period, but is on the contrary full of life and energy. The influence of Debussy and other French impressionist composers is clearly audible in the lush modal harmonies, shimmering textures and complex rhythmic accompaniments. She was also inspired by Spanish composers such as de Falla, and to a degree one can detect the influence of her composition teacher Gabriel Fauré, though this does not make her any less unique in terms of originality and freshness.
D’un matin de printemps has an A-B-A structure, and is playful and rhythmically attractive. Boulanger enjoys using the colours of the wind section – a feature that listeners will notice right from the start, when the joyous main theme introduced by a solo flute in its low register is balanced against gently rustling strings and shimmering triangle and celeste writing. This recurring motif is then played by the strings and woodwinds alternately. There is soon a transition to a new section, the joyousness of the opening giving way to the somewhat darker nature of this middle section, which sharply contrasts with the two outer parts.
The final section reverts to a faster tempo, and there is subsequently a crescendo and a build-up of energy throughout the orchestra. The texture then suddenly thins out into chamber-music-like combinations, with a passage reminiscent of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – a work Boulanger was familiar with. It is as if Boulanger had wanted to convey the spring’s commencement, its changeability and its ultimate transience.
Text: Andreas Konvicka
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 E-flat major Emperor
As Napoleon’s army marched on the city in spring 1809, Beethoven was at home in Vienna, trying to compose his fifth piano concerto. Beethoven, who lived near the city wall, had to seek shelter in his brother’s cellar several times to get away from the noise of the battle. He wrote to his editor, “We have been through a great deal, everything that has happened here has weakened me body and soul.”
Beethoven first dedicated his third symphony to General Napoleon, but he furiously changed his mind when he heard that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor. Beethoven hated Napoleon for invading Vienna. His reaction was characteristic of the burgeoning national romanticism in Germany and Austria. No one knows why the fifth piano concert is known as the Emperor Concerto, it was not in tribute to Napoleon, and Beethoven never gave it that title. However, there is another, more poignant title – “the Emperor concerto”.
Military concertos were common at the time, they included gunfire, trumpet fanfares and march rhythms. You could say that there are traces of this in the first movement of the piano concerto. The peaceful introduction to the second movement, however, is said to be based on Austrian pilgrim songs. This is after all one of Beethoven’s lighter solo concertos, and it is hard to make out traces of the difficult period during which it was composed. It was also during this period that the composer’s hearing began to deteriorate, which meant that he was unable to perform the work himself.
At the first performance in Leipzig in 1811 the audience was so delighted that “the usual expressions of acknowledgement and satisfaction” did not suffice. But after only one more performance it was hardly played at all until the mid-1800s, when printed sheet music was available and many skilled piano virtuosi were able to perform Beethoven’s music.
Although Beethoven was to live for another eighteen years, this was his last piano concerto, maybe because he was unable to play it, or because he did not think he could produce any more music in this genre. But he did compose other forms of music.
Text: Bengt Arwén
IGOR STRAVINSKY: Petrushka
One of the most productive collaborations of the 20th century was established when, in February 1909, patron of the arts Sergei Diaghilev heard two first performances by the then 26-year-old Stravinsky. Stravinsky’s first Russian ballet, The Firebird, premiered the following year to great acclaim. Around this time Stravinsky had come up with an idea for a work about ancient pagan rites, which Diaghilev liked, and Stravinsky went to Switzerland to work in peace and quiet. While there he felt a need to detach himself from music for the stage before embarking on this new, major project for Diaghilev’s company.
By way of change, Stravinsky wanted to write music for the concert hall. He began by composing several songs, and then he started working on a piece for piano and orchestra. He kept thinking about a doll, or jumping jack, a soulless toy that comes to life like Olympia in The Tales of Hoffman. But what would he call this bizarre piece? One day as he was walking along the banks of Lake Geneva he found it: Petrushka, an immortal, ill-fated fairytale hero similar to Harlequin and Pierrot.
When Diaghilev visited Stravinsky in Lausanne at the end of the summer in order to, as he believed, discuss the first draft of what was to become the ballet Rite of Spring, he instead found the composer busy with a different work. After having heard the first two movements he realised it had tremendous potential, and he asked Stravinsky to make it into a ballet. The fairytale plot takes place in St Petersburg during the festival of Lent. It is a dramatic love triangle between the three enchanted dolls Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor.
Text: Christina Tobeck
About the concert
At the concert in Berwaldhallen Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra led by chief conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, are joined by internationally acclaimed Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist who was artist in residence with the orchestra in 2019–2020. He often travels with Beethoven.
Beethoven wrote his fifth piano concerto in Vienna in 1809, while Napoleon’s forces were attacking the city. He occasionally had to seek protection in his brother’s cellar, and his fear is tangible. The composer was at this time also being plagued by his deafness, but he nevertheless composed a work that from the orchestral hammer blows and rolling piano cascades of the introduction through to the third movement’s brilliant coda is full of surprises, original ideas, moving melodies and a belief that music and art can change the world. The piano concerto was subsequently dubbed the Emperor Concerto, and it is notable for its military characteristics – roaring canons, march rhythms and trumpet fanfares being discernible in this nevertheless optimistic piece, which Beethoven was never able to perform.
– “It is known how isolated Beethoven was at this time. He had fully grasped the seriousness of his disability, and was unable to play the concerto himself. This must have given him a huge sense of failure, yet there’s no trace of self-pity in the music. I can hardly imagine someone sitting and writing this music – a composition so incredibly beautiful that it would seem to have existed for ever,” says Leif Ove Andsnes about this work, which he has performed many times all over the world.
Simplicity and light also characterise Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps (One spring morning) – the second part of a diptych created by the French composer towards the end of her very short life. The two pieces making up this diptych process the same melodic and rhythmic themes in different ways. But whilst its sister piece D’un soir triste is slow and elegiac, D’un matin de printemps creates an almost cheerful impression, full of life, energy and expectation. The modal harmonies, playfulness and rhythmic refinements clearly show the influence of impressionism and Debussy.
Stravinsky’s Petrushka is also bursting with infectious rhythms, and its melodies are in part taken from old Russian folk songs. Having begun his collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes in Paris, Stravinsky suddenly had the idea of writing music about a puppet that comes to life and starts challenging the orchestra’s patience – an idea he obstinately pursued. It was conceived as a work for orchestra and piano, but under pressure from Diaghilev the composer developed this idea into a ballet, which was choreographed by Michel Fokine and became a great success in Paris. The music is now usually performed in a burlesque concert version comprising four tableaus, in which Petrushka ends up in a love triangle with the Ballerina and the Moor on a wintry marketplace in St Petersburg.
Text: Anna Hedelius
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