MALIN BROMAN & FRIENDS
The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster, Malin Broman, leads some of our time’s top instrumentalists in Mendelssohn’s String Octet – and two world premieres by Britta Byström. Ink-wash on paper was inspired by artist Gunnel Wåhlstrand’s detailed images, which will be projected onto a screen during the concert. A Room of One’s Own was influenced by Virginia Woolf’s classic essay, and dedicated to Malin Broman. The piece is performed in the shape of a film in which Malin plays all eight parts herself.
In the spring of 2017, a big exhibition opens at the art gallery Magasin III in Stockholm, showing Gunnel Wåhlstrand’s photographically soft and unique ink-wash pieces on paper, with motives from her parents’ photo album. Music is important to Gunnel’s work. ‘These days, I go to every Mahler concert I can, and the thing I want most of all is my own chair on the choir balcony in the Swedish Radio concert hall Berwaldhallen. It’s become a bit of a drug,’ she says in an interview. She feels that she wants to thank the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster, Malin Broman, and invites her to a personal viewing of the exhibition. Malin brings along her friend, composer Britta Byström, and a seed starts growing; the trio want to collaborate.
Seven images in chronological order appeal to Britta Byström, who has approached both art and artistry in her music before. She names her new piece Ink-Wash on paper after Gunnel Wåhlstrand’s ink technique.
Three years later, a virus has swaddled cultural life in a thick, contour-less blanket of snow. But below it, things are growing. People sing a cappella with themselves, and ballet dancers in lockdown turn the dinner washing-up into choreography. A video of Malin Broman playing the Presto movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet by herself spreads on social media. Four violin parts, two viola, and two cello – eight different parts that Malin plays with herself. This lonely work awakens something in Malin that she wants more of. She calls Britta Byström.
Byström thinks of Virginia Woolf’s words in the essay A Room of One’s Own from 1929, about how women need their own spaces to be able to create. Britta says that that space for her is about ‘the magical moments that appear in the artistic process.’ A Room of One’s Own becomes a piece that becomes a video, where Malin Broman plays the same instruments as in Mendelssohn’s Octet, and whistles and sings Virginia Woolf’s words: ‘there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’
The video premieres now – while Malin is accompanied on stage by seven musician friends to perform Mendelssohn’s whole octet together, live.
Malin Broman is First Concertmaster of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and an internationally sought-after soloist, having visited the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Copenhagen Philharmonic, and the Gothenburg Symphony, among others. She has been Artistic Director of Musica Vitae since 2015, and succeeded Sakari Oramo as Artistic Director of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra in 2019. She has also been the Artistic Director of the Trondheim Soloists, Oulu Symphony Orchestra, the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, and the ACO Collective – the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s string ensemble.
Over the last few years, Broman has performed world premieres of violin concertos by Helen Grime, Britta Byström, Andrea Tarrodi and Daniel Nelson, and recorded both Carl Nielsen’s and Britta Byström’s concertos. Her recording of Mendelssohn’s double concerto for violin and piano with Musica Vitae and Simon Crawford Phillips was nominated for a Grammy in 2019. She has also made many recordings with celebrated ensemble the Kungsbacka Piano Trio. In the spring of 2020, Broman filmed a noted recording of her playing all eight parts of Felix Mendelssohn’s string octet.
Malin Broman is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and Professor of Viola at the Edsbergs Institute of Music. In the spring of 2019, she was awarded H.M. the King’s eighth size medal for her considerable contributions to the Swedish music industry. She plays a Stradivarius violin from 1709 and a Bajoni viola from 1861, borrowed from the Järnåker Foundation.
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.
The Finnish violist Eriikka Nylund has been principal violist with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2007. Nylund studied at the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, Musik-Akademie Basel and Mozarteum, Salzburg. Until 2006, she was one of the founding members of the multiple award-winning Finnish string quartet Meta4, winner of the international Shostakovich Chamber Music Competition in Moscow in 2004, including the jury prize for best Shostakovich interpretation. She has appeared as a soloist with several major orchestras and was previously principal violist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Chris Parkes is a horn soloist with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He is also principal horn player of the John Wilson Orchestra and former principal of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Furthermore, he performs with the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Philharmonia Orchestra London and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Parkes has appeared as a soloist with, among others, the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra led by John Wilson, Gianandrea Noseda and Daniel Harding. He has participated in chamber music projects and recordings with, for example, Anne Sofie von Otter, pianists Gwilym Simcock and Pierre-Laurent Aimard as well as with ensembles including Superbrass, the Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble and Fine Arts Brass. Parkes studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, where he has also been teaching since 2011.
In the autumn of 2020, when Malin Broman came up with the idea that I would compose something that she could play ‘with herself’, my thoughts went to Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own. Woolf’s title refers to the purely practical privacy that women too need in order to write (‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’). I thought more of the great joy of creating in solitude, and of the magical moments that appear in the artistic process. This magic remains during a pandemic too; even though we’ve seen the music industry take a terrible hit this year, the joy of creation lives on, invulnerable in its own rooms.
In addition to playing eight parts on three different string instruments – violin, viola and cello – Malin also whistles and sings in harmony with herself. The brief text she sings is also from A Room of One’s Own, and reads, having taken on something of a new meaning during this musical lockdown: ‘there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind’.
The piece also constitutes a smaller companion piece to a bigger one that I have composed for Malin and double bassist Rick Stotijn: double concerto Infinite Rooms. That was about orchestral eternity rooms, inspired by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. So now, we’re moving from big orchestral rooms to a small, separate chamber, but the principle is the same; your own room is also a kind of eternity room, where small, musical details multiply ad infinitum through mirrors.
Did anyone think that Malin Broman is extrovert ? Looks can be deceiving. She is, she says, an introvert. So she needs a room of her own.
Mirror mirror- director’s note
This project shouldn’t work. It should be impossible. Yet it can only exist like this as a film or as a recording. Malin can’t play 8 parts to you live. I hope 8 people will play it often but that will be a version of this piece, an altered reflection of its intention – not the “real” thing. Yet in this concert hall the real thing can’t be played. It’s a charming paradox, and one that gave us much inspiration.
Due to quarantine restrictions and everybody’s tight schedules I wasn’t able to be in Stockholm during the two filming days. We knew this would happen so we had to make a plan – an ambitious and detailed plan for how we would create this film. We needed to plan all the shots for the edit rather than edit what we film but film what we needed to edit. We all had to imagine the outcome and make that real. Again an altered reflection or mirror image of the typical way.
To do this we needed to build a unique collaboration across Zoom and FaceTime between artist, composer, director, technical team and sound producer.
For instance I’ve never actually met Britta in the flesh – but I feel we have genuinely worked together to create what you now see before you.
Of course I know Malin, Karl and Aurélie so well, and having worked together with them during these last 18 months on Don Giovanni, Siegfried Idyll and the St John Passion, we had already established a strong collaborative spirit and fostered all the trust you need to make a project like this work.
Britta’s piece is built from gleaming fragments and bold ideas. The music reflects itself and as you listen, the patterns and colours play over your mind’s eye as well as your ear. Understanding Britta’s composition process was my leaping-off point for how we might build this film together.
She told us about her dual inspirations; the first being of course the essay by Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own. The second being the mirror-rooms created by Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. These infinitely reflective finite spaces are often quite small but the experience of entering one is as mind-expanding as it is beautiful. One’s sense of boundary and structure slips away into the iterating distance as reflection bounces off reflection, questioning the reality of the very surface from which they are reflecting. You are at once in a solid room and an undefinable space – neither real nor imagined.
Within one of these simple yet highly unusual rooms, you are able to examine increasingly fading versions of you, as you appear to yourself trapped in a series of self-consuming dimensional planes.
In short you could spend hours in there.
After creating models – both physical and digital, it quickly became clear that we needed to build our own mirror room – and it needed to be big enough for Malin to play and film herself inside.
Karl and Bo Söderström took on this challenge, and they found their answer in a well-known Swedish furniture company’s wardrobe doors.
The piece requires other construction beyond physical sets, namely that of a virtual octet of Malins playing the 8 parts. We wanted to bring the ideas of true mirror reflections and altered versions of the same thing together to explore this.
A reflection in light is to an echo in sound.
Our task was to create visual echoes of Malin, in the same way that Britta had created musical reflections. We used green-screen techniques to composite many Malins into a virtual space. We used editing techniques such as cross fades and opacity blending to layer Malins over herself. And my favorite is the video-echo technique achieved by connecting the camera to a screen and filming it with the subject in the foreground. This causes in-camera video echoes as the camera captures the image it is sending.
Combining and refining these tools we were able to use them to examine the ideas of self-reflection, introspection and the paradox of perception. Malin is at the same time trapped by this mirror box and able to escape and travel across space and time. Through shear willpower and exceptional talent, Malin herself is able to crossover the boundaries of what is usually possible. She is living proof of the truth behind Woolf’s assertion that “there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of (her) mind.”
I don’t think anything like this has been done before in this way. And I think it’s fair to say that without all the very special set of circumstances, singular talents and generous souls that combined to make this happen, it would have been genuinely impossible.
What happens to you happens to you. If it is perceived, it is real. If it can be seen, heard, or perceived, it can be confronted or changed. We cannot escape our reflection. Light travels. Sound bounces. We are trapped and we are free.