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MUSICAL STORYTELLING: THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

Alongside Handel’s Messiah and Britten’s War Requiem, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius is one of the most important British music pieces ever written. The strong lyrics, written by revered English theologian and poet John Henry Newman, tell the story of a dying man whose life is being scrutinised by God. In the music, Elgar unites British elegance with Wagnerian richness of detail in an affecting way. Don’t miss the Berwaldhallen premiere of this rightly immeasurably popular piece. Friday´s concert will be livestreamed at Play.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a big event when Berwaldhallen plays Edward Elgar’s magnificent The Dream of Gerontius, considered one of Elgar’s best pieces, for the first time. Three renowned singers carry the soloist parts; tenor Andrew Staples, who recently recorded The Dream of Gerontius with Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim, multitalented baritone Simon Keenlyside who, like Staples, has visited Berwaldhallen many times before, and celebrated mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg who has recently started her tenure as Artist in Residence at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre.

A devout Catholic, Elgar himself chose well-liked English cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius to base the piece on. Newman converted to Catholicism as an adult, and in the poem, he explores the Catholic faith’s belief in the soul’s journey from the moment of death through Paradise to God, and on to Purgatory to be cleansed. In his life, Newman was a respected theologian, and spent a lot of time helping the poor and the sick. On Sunday the 13th of October, he will be declared a saint by Pope Francis, a significant event which makes this performance all the more relevant.

The first part of the piece shows the anxious Gerontius – the name comes from the Greek ‘geron,’ meaning old man – who is on his deathbed, surrounded by his friends. They pray to Mary, to the disciples and angels to ask for mercy for Gerontius’ soul. He himself is filled with anxiety and fear in the face of death, but a priest urges him to move on: ‘Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!’

In the second part, Gerontius’ soul is led by an angel to the meeting with God. On the way, they pass evil spirits and demons waiting to take the condemned to Hell. The angel who visited Jesus in Gethsemane promises joy, but warns about the pain of Jesus’ suffering. From earth, the voices of Gerontius’ friends still echo: ‘Be merciful, be gracious, spare him, O Lord.’ In one violent, instrumental outburst, Gerontius’ soul is judged by God in an instant, and in the end, Gerontius meets the choir of souls in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, with a promise of salvation.

The original performance of The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham on the 3rd of October 1900 was a failure due to a poorly prepared choir and unwell soloists. Musicians and critics saw the greatness of the piece, however, and when it was performed in Düsseldorf and then in London the following year, it really had a breakthrough. Richard Strauss celebrated Elgar as the reinventor of English music, and German newspapers described Elgar as ‘one of contemporary music’s leading figures.’ In Sweden, The Dream of Gerontius was likely first performed in 1904 at the Royal Swedish Opera, led by none other than Wilhelm Stenhammar. In 1912, it was performed again, at the Hedvig Eleonora Church in Stockholm, with Hugo Alfvén conducting.

Text: David Saulesco and Henry Larsson


SWEDISH RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA dot SWEDISH RADIO CHOIR
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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.

Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the seated audience, the orchestra 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 and in 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 orchestra is also proud to have Klaus Mäkelä as its Principal Guest Conductor since 2018.

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, as well as 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. 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.

Mikaeli chamber choir is one of Sweden’s most well-reputed choirs, with a broad and accomplished repertoire. Based in Stockholm, the choir comprises 32 experienced singers. Ever since the start in 1970 it has been led by Anders Eby, who is a professor of choral conducting and a conductor and teacher with various international assignments.

The ensemble’s passion for Swedish choral music has led to a large number of first performances, commissions and personal relationships with our greatest composers of choral music. The choir and its conductor also have an interest in historical music, which has contributed to the breadth of its repertoire, treating audiences to everything from female 19th century composers to polyphonic renaissance music.

Over the years, the choir has had extensive collaborations with Swedish orchestras and soloists. Mikaeli chamber choir appears on well over 20 recordings and countless radio performances, as well as concerts and performances on most of Stockholm’s major scenes. In an effort to further these traditions, the choir has also for many years arranged workshops and master classes for young, aspiring conductors.

During almost 50 years, the choir has been a mainstay of Swedish choral life. Since July 2018, Mikaeli chamber choir operates as an independent group.

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.

Gerontius

The tenor Andrew Staples is a diligent concert singer who has performed with conductors such as Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Andrew Manze and Robin Ticciati. Most recently, he has played Froh in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at the Royal Opera House in London. He also toured Europe with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Simon Rattle, performing Bach’s St John’s Passion, as well as with the Orchestre de Paris and Daniel Harding, performing Britten’s War Requiem. In addition, he will soon debut at both Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera. Andrew Staples is also a frequent guest at Berwaldhallen where he will be performing several times during the season of 2019-2020.

Prästen och Dödsångestens ängel

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Approximate timings

It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a big event when Berwaldhallen plays Edward Elgar’s magnificent The Dream of Gerontius, considered one of Elgar’s best pieces, for the first time. Three renowned singers carry the soloist parts; tenor Andrew Staples, who recently recorded The Dream of Gerontius with Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim, multitalented baritone Simon Keenlyside who, like Staples, has visited Berwaldhallen many times before, and celebrated mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg who has recently started her tenure as Artist in Residence at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre.

A devout Catholic, Elgar himself chose well-liked English cardinal John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius to base the piece on. Newman converted to Catholicism as an adult, and in the poem, he explores the Catholic faith’s belief in the soul’s journey from the moment of death through Paradise to God, and on to Purgatory to be cleansed. In his life, Newman was a respected theologian, and spent a lot of time helping the poor and the sick. On Sunday the 13th of October, he will be declared a saint by Pope Francis, a significant event which makes this performance all the more relevant.

The first part of the piece shows the anxious Gerontius – the name comes from the Greek ‘geron,’ meaning old man – who is on his deathbed, surrounded by his friends. They pray to Mary, to the disciples and angels to ask for mercy for Gerontius’ soul. He himself is filled with anxiety and fear in the face of death, but a priest urges him to move on: ‘Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!’

In the second part, Gerontius’ soul is led by an angel to the meeting with God. On the way, they pass evil spirits and demons waiting to take the condemned to Hell. The angel who visited Jesus in Gethsemane promises joy, but warns about the pain of Jesus’ suffering. From earth, the voices of Gerontius’ friends still echo: ‘Be merciful, be gracious, spare him, O Lord.’ In one violent, instrumental outburst, Gerontius’ soul is judged by God in an instant, and in the end, Gerontius meets the choir of souls in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, with a promise of salvation.

The original performance of The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham on the 3rd of October 1900 was a failure due to a poorly prepared choir and unwell soloists. Musicians and critics saw the greatness of the piece, however, and when it was performed in Düsseldorf and then in London the following year, it really had a breakthrough. Richard Strauss celebrated Elgar as the reinventor of English music, and German newspapers described Elgar as ‘one of contemporary music’s leading figures.’ In Sweden, The Dream of Gerontius was likely first performed in 1904 at the Royal Swedish Opera, led by none other than Wilhelm Stenhammar. In 1912, it was performed again, at the Hedvig Eleonora Church in Stockholm, with Hugo Alfvén conducting.

Text: David Saulesco and Henry Larsson

Approximate concert length: 1 hour 40 min (no intermission)

UPBEAT: Thursdagy Oct 17 6 pm, with David Saulesco.
Friday, Oct 18 at 6 – 6.30 pm, the Swedish Radio’s Europapodden with presenter Claes Aronsson visit Berwaldhallen for a talk on Brexit.