Music for the Solitude of the Soul
In Sibelius’ fourth symphony, the national romanticism has given way to a more austere, introspective sound inspired by the dramatic Finnish wilderness. The Swedish Radio Choir performs Purcell’s comforting funeral music to Queen Mary. Acclaimed opera singer Ann Hallenberg sings Mahler’s Der Einsame im Herbst, an orchestral Lied painted in the muted colours of autumn, and Erbarme dich from Bach’s St Matthew Passion. An eagerly awaited concert with music director Daniel Harding.
The concert was broadcasted live in Swedish Radio P2 and on Berwaldhallen play Friday June 5 at 7 pm.
The English language has two words for being alone. “Loneliness” is the involuntary kind that can chill you to the bone. “Solitude” is the kind you seek yourself, that can be both liberating and healing. After ten weeks in quarantine in a locked-down Paris, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s music director Daniel Harding knows a bit about both. He describes this concert with the word “solitude”, a programme encompassing sorrow and anxiety but also acceptance and peace.
In 1910, Jean Sibelius walks through the Karelian forests. He wants to create something new and needs inspiration. He stands alone for hours by the famous Imatran rapids, trying to perceive a fundamental tone in the thundering waters. The symphony he begins composing that same autumn begins with a strong, low C in strings and bassoons – is this perhaps the tone of the rapids?
Simultaneously, Sibelius works on a setting of one of the most famous horror poems, if such a genre exists, of his day: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. That project was never finished, but some of its music lives on in the symphony and the poem’s sombre, supernatural mood contributes to the symphony’s dark landscape with tritone intervals and reduced orchestral forces.
The narrator’s terror at the raven’s hoarse, relentless “nevermore” may echo Sibelius’ own anxiety. He lived in constant fear that the cancer, which had been removed from his throat, would return. “The fourth symphony represents a very integral and profound part of me; indeed, I am glad to have written it”, Sibelius wrote.
To be “alone but not lonely” is legendary soprano Jessye Norman’s description of Das Lied von der Erde. When Gustav Mahler composed it in 1908, he had just lived through a year of terrible personal tragedies. And yet, Das Lied von der Erde does not deal only with sorrow and parting, but also acceptance. Mahler had found comfort in translator Hans Bethge’s volume of ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German, which he used for his six songs. He called his work a symphony, even though the format is reminiscent of chamber music.
Ann Hallenberg, who has conquered the world with her warm and virtuosic mezzo voice, sings about Der Einsame im Herbst, the lonely one watching bluish fog creeping over a lake, wondering if the autumn of the heart will ever end. Will the sun of love no longer dry these bitter tears?
Even though her repertoire is large and varied, Ann Hallenberg is perhaps most well-known for her interpretations of 18th-century music. Embraced by Sibelius’ symphonic streams, she sings one of music history’s most beloved arias: Erbarme dich from Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
32 years before Bach turned his faith into immortal music in the St Matthew Passion, another of music history’s greatest composers unexpectedly died. Henry Purcell passed away 35 or 36 years old of an unclear cause of death. He composed music for the funeral of Queen Mary II in March 1695. Half a year later, two of those pieces were performed at his own funeral. As the choir sings: “In the midst of life we are in death.”
And, enveloped by the music, Tomas Tranströmer describes solitude, in this concert through the voice of beloved film and theatre actor Krister Henriksson. When Tranströmer walks across the frozen fields of south-eastern Sweden, he feels, much like many of us, a desire for time to himself. Here, translated into English by Robert Bly:
“I have to be by myself
ten minutes every morning,
ten minutes every night,
– and nothing to be done!
We all line up to ask each other for help.”
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 orchestra’s high-quality music making as well as its collaborations with internationally renowned composers, conductors and soloists have been rewarded with numerous prizes and accolades.
“The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, chief conductor 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 formed in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts. Since then, the orchestra’s concerts have always been broadcast by the Swedish Radio. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967.
Through the years, the orchestra has had several distinguished chief conductors. Two of them, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen, have since been appointed conductors laureate together with Valery Gergiev, a regular guest conductor and co-founder of the Baltic Sea Festival.
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 and is hailed as one of the best choirs in the world today. 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.
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.
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 choir’s former chief conductors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed conductors laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest performances. A new chief conductor is currently being recruited.
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 2022–2023 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.
Ann Hallenberg is hailed as one of the world’s leading mezzo-sopranos, recently awarded the Opera Prize 2019 by music magazine Tidskriften Opera. She performs on stages worldwide such as Teatro alla Scala Milan, Teatro Real Madrid, Théâtre de la Monnaie Brussels, Theater an der Wien, Royal Swedish Opera and the Norwegian National Opera. Her opera repertoire includes a large number of roles in operas by Rossini, Mozart, Gluck, Handel, Bizet and Massenet, among others.
She is also a highly sought-after concert singer who has performed with orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Danish Radio Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra. She enjoys particularly close collaboration with ensembles Les talens lyriques, Il Pomo d’oro and Europa galante.
Among her recent achievements are the title role in Handel’s Agrippina in Halle and Bucharest with Les talens lyriques, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius in Berwaldhallen conducted by Daniel Harding, and additionally, a gala concert in Moscow with chamber orchestra Musica Viva, arias composed for Farinelli with Les talens lyriques in Arras and another gala concert at the Salzburg Festival. She has made over 40 recordings. Her latest solo album, Carnevale 1729, has received rave reviews.
Krister Henriksson’s initial rise to fame came with the title role in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Stockholm City Theatre in 1973. There, he later performed roles including Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, Baron Tuzenbach in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, the title roles in Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Göran Tunström’s Chang Eng. From 1993 he has been engaged at the Royal Dramatic Theatre where he has appeared as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, Captain Adolph in August Strindberg’s The Father and more recently the title role in Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas. He is set to appear in Tröstrapporter by Jacob Mühlrad and Alex Schulman.
He has performed in a number of film and TV productions since the 1970s. In 1992, he got a starring role in beloved Swedish tv-series Rederiet. He became a household name the year after thanks to the leading role in acclaimed Swedish thriller miniseries Den gråtande ministern. He is most widely known today for playing detective Kurt Wallander in more than 30 films inspired by Henning Mankell’s novels. He has received several awards, including two Guldbagge Awards for Best Actor in a leading role.