Georg Friedrich Handel’s oratorio Messiah, crowned by the famous Hallelujah Choir – a magnificent finale in which the joy of resurrection also frames this year’s festival theme, rebirth. Conductor Reinhard Goebel leads the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Choir, and soloists.
The Messiah oratorio is probably to be considered Georg Friedrich Handel’s best-known work, especially outside of England. Messiah is likely one of the world’s most famous and performed oratorios; a brilliant setting of texts from the Old and New Testaments to music, by one of the truly great masters of the baroque era.
Messiah had a triumphant premiere in Dublin in 1742. When it was first performed in London in 1745, the reception was decidedly cooler, which meant that only three concerts of the planned six took place. But when the piece was performed again, having been on ice for four years, it gained ground once more. The year thereafter saw the beginning of the annual Messiah charity concerts, which continued even after Handel’s death. In 1755, Handel’s poor eyesight stopped him from leading the performances, and the baton was handed over to one of the composer’s students. Fate wanted the Messiah concert in London, 1759, to be the final concert Handel attended, eight days before he died.
Handel reworked Messiah a number of times, sometimes to adapt the piece for the various soloists that were at his disposal at the time. Others, such as Mozart, have also reworked the oratorio. Several versions, modified for the tastes of the time, were created in the 1800s, sometimes leading to monumental performances with up to 800 performers. These days, as is the case here, a more ‘Handel-faithful’ version is often performed. A complete Messiah with 68 movements and a concert length of two and a half hours is a rare occurrence.
In the 1750s, Messiah went into the world to convert new concert audiences. The piece spread from England to the European continent and the US. The oratorio, or parts of it, started being performed at concerts, festivals and religious services, and this has continued ever since. A strong tradition of performing Messiah at Christmas – if not the whole oratorio, then at least the now iconic Hallelujah chorus – has also developed.
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 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, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been appointed Conductors Laureate.
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.
Reinhard Goebel works across the world, and specialises in a repertoire from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. During the 20/21 season, he explores lesser-known Beethoven works through his extensive project Beethoven’s World. One result of the project is a recording of five albums with Germany’s leading radio orchestras, where seven of the works are recorded for the first time ever. In May of 2018, Goebel was named Artistic Director of the Berlin Baroque Soloists, a baroque ensemble with members from the Berlin Philharmonic. In 2019, the ensemble was awarded an Opus Klassik, one of Germany’s most prestigious awards, for its recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
During the 21/22 season, Goebel will visit the radio orchestras in Cologne and Saarbrücken, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the New Leipzig Bach Collegium Musicum, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Dalasinfoniettan, for instance. Goebel founded the legendary Cologne Musica Antiqua, which he led for 33 years. Over the past few years, he has received the Bach Medal, an Independent Music Award, and been listed as one of musical history’s 20 best violinists by the BBC Music Magazine.
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.
Sopranen Camilla Tilling har i över två decennier framträtt på opera- och konsertscener världen över. Tidiga operaroller som Sophie i Rosenkavaljeren, Pamina in Trollflöjten, Ilia i Idomeneo, Susanna i Figaros bröllop och Zerlina i Don Giovanni gav Tilling engagemang vid scener som the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Opéra national de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Teatro alla Scala och Metropolitan, New York. Bland senare roller kan nämnas Guvernanten i The Turn of the Screw, Euridice i Orfeo ed Euridice, Donna Clara i Dvärgen, Greta i Hans och Greta, l’Ange i Franciskus av Assisi, Blanche i Karmelitsystrarna och Mélisande i Pelléas och Mélisande.
Bland Tillings nyligen genomförda engagemang på konsertscenen kan nämnas Bernard Haitinks sista konsert vid Concertgebouw, Brahms Requiem med Birmingham Symphony Orchestra och Mirga Gražinytė Tyla, Dutilleuxs Correspondances med Los Angeles Philharmonic och Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mahlers fyra med Orchestre de Paris och Thomas Hengelbrock samt Bergs Sieben frühe Lieder med både Sydney Symphony Orchestra och Christoph von Dohnányi samt London Symphony Orchestra och François-Xavier Roth. Tilling har även turnerat med Peter Sellars uppsättningar av Matteuspassionen och Johannespassionen. Bland höjdpunkter säsongen 2022/2023 kan nämnas Griegs Peer Gynt med Cincinnati Symphony, Irgen-Jensens Japanischer Frühling med Karajan-Akademie of Berliner Philharmoniker samt Bachs Matteuspassion med Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The Swedish mezzo-soprano Kristina Hammarström is a much sought-after concert and opera singer and she regularly appears in opera houses, concert halls and festivals throughout Europe and Asia. Assignments in 2019/2020 included Caino in Scarlatti’s Il primo Omicidio at Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, Opéra National de Paris and Concertgebouw. She also sang Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina at the Salzburg Festival, Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and did concerts in Copenhagen with music by Wilhelmine of Prussia and Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
Hammarström’s operatic repertoire includes an impressive number of roles in baroque operas as well as Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, Octavian in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Marguerite in Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust, Cherubino in Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro – a role in which she made her Paris Opera debut – Cecilio in Lucio Silla, the title role in Ascanio in Alba and Idamante in Idomeneo, just to mention a few. Her concert repertoire includes pieces as Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Rückertlieder, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Das Lied von der Erde, Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9, Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri, as well as a large number of masses and oratorios.
Andrew Staples is an acclaimed and versatile singer who sings regularly with conductors such as Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding and Yannick Nézet-Séguin and orchestras including the Berliner Philharmoniekr, Rotterdam Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and Wiener Philharmoniker. He has made several lauded performances in Berwaldhallen, including Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Alan Gilbert during the Baltic Sea Festival 2019 and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Daniel Harding the same autumn. In opera, he is a regular guest at the Royal Opera House in London where he has sung Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, Flammand in Capriccio, Narraboth in Salome and Artabanes in Artaxerxes.
In December 2019, Staples made a strong debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Andres in Berg’s Wozzeck. A month later he was praised once again, when he on short notice was summoned for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Gustavo Dudamel and the New York Philharmonic. He has recorded several large works such as John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and Bohuslav Martinů’s The Epic of Gilgamesh. Staples is also a multifaceted director, from staging classics like Così fan tutte and La bohème in London to Handel’s Dido and Aeneas in a dance club with Kiez Oper in Berlin, as well as a production for the Choir of London interweaving Britten’s classic Hymn to St Cecilia with depositions from Palestinian detainees. In the winter of 2021 Staples made the film Siegfried Idyll in collaboration with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding.
Matthew Rose studied at the Curtis Institute of Music before becoming a member of the Young Artist Programme at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In 2006 he made an acclaimed debut at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera as Bottom in Brittens A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which he received the John Christie Award, and he has since performed at opera houses throughout the world. He has sung under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Andrew Davis, Vladimir Jurowski, Sir Charles Mackerras, Yannick Nézet-Seguin and Antonio Pappano and is already a critically acclaimed recording artist, winning a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording for Ratcliffe/Billy Budd. Other recordings include Winterreise with pianist Gary Matthewman and Schwanengesang with Malcolm Martineau (Stone Records).
Highlights of the 2020/21 season include Pulcinella with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Beethoven 9 with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Vasily Petrenko and The Creation with Louis Langrée and Cincinnati Symphony. On the operatic stage Matthew sings Gremin in Eugene Onegin at Garsington Opera.
Chief conductor of the Jeune Choeur de Paris, he started a collaboration with the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart in 2013 (including a recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé), and also works regularly with the Chœur de Radio-France and the Choeur Accentus since 2014, for tours, radio performances, recordings, preparations and A Cappella concerts. He collaborates with many personalities, such as Sir Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Daniele Gatti, Louis Langrée, Stéphane Denève, Daniel Harding, Laurence Equilbey, L. G. Alarcon… He has also conducted the WDR Rundfunkchor in 2016. In July 2016, he has prepared both the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR Chor for Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette. In 2017, he has participate to the opening of the Seine Musical conducting the choir accentus and in 2018, he starts a collaboration with the Croatian Radio Choir. Korovitch works for many festivals: the Mozartwoche in Salzburg, Recontres Musicales d’Evian, the Festival de Radio-France in Montpellier or the festival Mozart in New York.
When Georg Friedrich Handel created Messiah, he had lived in London for almost 30 years, and his Italian operas, for instance, had brought him great success. But as interest in the genre waned, and intrigue between the London theatres increased, he eventually gave up, and introduced the English oratorio, a type of work that would grant him just as much success. Messiah is, in terms of its structure, not completely unlike an opera with its introductory Sinfonie, ‘overture’, and its three parts, like acts. But there are no sung roles – the piece is more of a comment on Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, than a dramatization of Jesus’ life.
It took just over three weeks for Handel to compose the music for Messiah. Even though he borrowed from himself – which was praxis at the time – and reused many movements from previous compositions, writing such an extensive work in so short a time is impressive. Librettist Charles Jennens disagreed, however, feeling that it was careless and lazy not to put more time into setting his compiled text to music. Jennens had long supported Handel financially, and written librettos to many of his oratorios, and with time, a friendship had grown between the two, which now hit a big bump. The relationship did not exactly become less strained when Handel decided to do the original performance of Messiah in Dublin rather than in London, having been invited by the Viceroy of Ireland to arrange a series of charity concerts.
In April 1742, Messiah was performed for an audience that witnessed a tremendously successful premiere.
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