Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a magnificent concert where Bach, Beethoven and Sibelius meet the sounds of today. Celebrated pianist Terés Löf interprets a part of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32, and star violinist Johan Dalene plays the prelude from Bach’s third Partita for Solo Violin. In Anders Hillborg’s Kongsgaard Variations and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Fog, we’ll meet two contemporary reflections of Beethoven and Bach, since both composers was inspired by the older masters in their compositions. The concert ends with Jean Sibelius’ beautiful Symphony No. 2 – one of the composer’s most beloved symphonies.
Among Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas, the last has a unique position as his “musical testament”. At this opening concert of the Baltic Sea Festival 2021, we will hear a passage from the second movement, Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile (Arietta: Adagio, very simple and singable). The introduction with its singable, sublime theme, is calm, almost angelic. In tonight’s concert it is interpreted by the renowned pianist Terés Löf.
Anders Hillborg refers to the Arietta in his Kongsgaard Variations. The work was commissioned by John and Maggie Kongsgaard, producers of the Arietta California wines, which feature musical notation from the Arietta in the composer’s own hand on the label.
Just as Beethoven’s piano sonatas occupy a special place in the piano repertoire, Bach’s six partitas and sonatas for solo violin are part of the core repertoire for violinists. Most frequently performed is the third partita, and at this concert we will have the privilege of hearing the young, multiple award-winning star Johan Dalene’s interpretation. He was also the winner of the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Competition in 2019. Last year, he performed Mozart’s fifth violin concerto together with Herbert Blomstedt at a much-acclaimed concert at Berwaldhallen.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is not only in great demand worldwide as well as the co-founder of the Baltic Sea Festival, he is also a highly successful composer. His work Fog was composed in celebration of the architect Frank O. Gehry’s 90th birthday. Gehry designed the spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which Salonen led for many years. Like Hillborg, Salonen has based his work on earlier masters, more precisely the Bach prelude included in the programme.
Jean Sibelius’ second symphony has been one of the composer’s most performed works since the legendary first performance in 1902. The Finnish composer began work on the symphony during a winter vacation in Italy, and he completed it back home in Finland. The melodious, wonderfully colourful work with its triumphant finale became an important symbol for Finland’s struggle for independence from Russian supremacy.
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.
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. In 2020, he will become the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. He is the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations have allowed people all over the world to step inside the orchestra through audio and video projections. Salonen also drove the development of a much-hailed tablet app, The Orchestra, which gives the user unprecedented access to the internal workings of eight symphonic works.
As the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he is now Conductor Laureate, Salonen was instrumental in opening the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and made the orchestra one of the best attended and funded in the country. He is the Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, and the co-founder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival. In 2015, he addressed the Apple Distinguished Educator conference on the uses of technology in music education.
Terés Löf is one of our most appreciated Swedish pianists. In the spring of 2001, she performed her diploma concert with an acclaimed performance of Brahms’ first piano concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and since then she has been active as a soloist and chamber musician in Sweden and internationally. Löf studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm for Esther Bodin and Staffan Scheja. As a soloist, she has performed with all Swedish symphony orchestras and made many recordings for SR and SVT. Last time she visited the Radio Symphony Orchestra was in 2019, when she played Clara Schumann’s piano concerto in a concert that was also broadcast on SVT. Terés Löf has participated in many festivals, including Musik vid Siljan and Gotland Chamber Music Festival. Together with cellist Kati Raitinen and violinist Klara Hellgren, Terés Löf is part of the trio Trio Nova. This autumn, Terés will tour Sweden with the program ”Presence” for solo piano, where she has collected the works that have meant the most to her throughout her career.
Violinist Johan Dalene has already made a big impression on the international stage. He performs regularly with leading orchestras and in famous concert halls, both abroad and in Sweden. He won the Norwegian Soloist Prize and the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Competition in 2019. Future seasons include soloist performances with most of the big Scandinavian orchestras, as well as his debut with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig with Sakari Orami, the Czech Philharmonic with Franz Welser-Möst, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin with Christoph Eschenbach, and recitals in Wigmore Hall, London, and Carnegie Hall, New York.
In April 2020, when public concerts were cancelled due to the Corona pandemic, Johan performed Bach’s concerto for two violins with Janine Jansen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a broadcast concert. During the 2020/2021 season, Johan was the appointed Classical Artist in Swedish Radio’s P2 and is also named a Rising Star by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO). During this period, he will also perform recitals in many of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls, such as Musikverein in Vienna, Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, L’Auditori in Barcelona, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, and Cité de la Musique in Paris. Johan was a New Generation Artist on BBC Radio 3 during the 2019 – 2021 season, mainly performing at recitals, chamber music concerts, and as a soloist with all the BBC orchestras.
Beethoven is best known to us as a composer of grandiose symphonies, but he was also a master of the small format, especially in terms of his compositions for piano. Piano was his instrument, and it was as a supremely gifted virtuoso and improvisation artist he made a name for himself in Vienna in the 1790s. His thirty-two piano sonatas are central to the piano repertoire, and he worked on them during the best part of his life, between 1782 and 1822. This music spans every conceivable musical emotion, from calm and peaceful to diabolic fits of anger.
Most of the thirty-two sonatas consist of three movements. However, the final sonata, composed during a few hectic weeks in the beginning of 1822, only has two movements, which made his publisher, Maurice Schlesinger, wonder whether the copyist had simply forgotten the last movement. Naturally, this was not the case. The work is perfectly balanced with the two movements in perfect contrast to one another: the first is powerful, the second is in a completely different mood in the form of a theme with variations. It is entitled Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile (Arietta: Adagio, very simple and singable). The beginning of this movement is serene and idyllic, with the singable theme presenting an especially poignant mood. It is extremely direct, but it also has a suspended, mysterious quality. This is sublime, ethereal music.
“The etiquette on a bottle of Arietta wine displays a couple of bars of the Arietta theme from the manuscript of Beethoven’s last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. When I was asked to compose a piece in honour of this fabulous wine, I naturally decided that this theme should have a key role. But whereas Beethoven produces a set of rigorous variations with a steadily increasing intensity curve (the Arietta theme, serenely beautiful and calm in the beginning, culminating in what can best be described as the first ragtime in music history, before fading back to serenity) – my Kongsgaard Variations are more like meditations, with no directional process.
The music floats aimlessly through the centuries, displaying reminiscences of Baroque, Folk, Renaissance and Romantic musics, but always with Beethoven’s Arietta theme at its epicentre. Although scarcely audible, the piece actually starts with music directly derived from the Arietta theme, leaving out the melody but maintaining the same rhythmical flow and harmonic landscape, as if Beethoven’s music is dreaming about yet another variation of itself. Arietta means ‘little song’, and these opening bars are then cloned and mutated into other ‘little songs’ that occur on several occasions in the piece.
After the introductory section the first violin takes on a simple, thoughtful solo motif which is again cloned and mutated and appears later in the piece in different shapes. Then comes a viola solo – joyful, as in a trance – which leads to a section where all instruments sing in praise of wine and music. Shortly after the middle of the piece, we hear the Arietta theme for the first time, but strangely distorted and stretched, in the same way a cubist painting twists the motif it uses – almost as if the music is being played backwards. A simple chorale follows which lands us in the music that began the piece, and then, finally, comes the first part of Beethoven’s theme in C major in its pure, original shape. This is succeeded by the second part of the theme in A minor (here again distorted in the manner described earlier) before the music evaporates into a mist of harmonics.
Kongsgaard Variations is warmly dedicated to John and Maggy Kongsgaard.”
An air of mystery surrounds Bach’s six sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Although it is generally agreed that he completed the composition in 1720, while he was Hofkapellmeister at Köthen, there is less certainty about the details. We do not know exactly when, where or for whom the pieces were written. Nor do we know whether it was ever performed in Bach’s lifetime. For many years, the music was generally believed to be study pieces. It was not until the arrival of the 20th century and stars such as Yehudi Menuhin and George Enescu that these pieces achieved their present status.
While the three sonatas follow a regular pattern, generally with four movements, the partitas have a less rigid structure, often in the form of well-known dance movements: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. The third partita is the most frequently performed. It has seven movements: six dance movements preceded by a prelude, which is often performed separately, as in this concert. Bach seems to have been very fond of this virtuoso prelude; he later returned to this composition, for example in two of his cantatas.
George Enescu called Bach’s sonatas and partitas “the Himalayas of violinists”. There is no doubt that this music constitutes a technical and musical challenge to the soloist. This is innovative, not to say exhilarating, music, maybe best described by the composer and author Johann Friedrich Reichardt who characterized it as “perhaps the greatest example in any art form of a master’s ability to move with freedom and assurance, even in chains”.
During the first years of his highly successful career, Esa-Pekka Salonen spent a significant amount of time at Berwaldhallen in his capacity as principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra 1985–1995. He then held prestigious posts, for example in Los Angeles and London. As of the 2020/21 season, Salonen is principal conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the ages, successful conductors have more often than not also been composers. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter and Leonard Bernstein were not only conductors, they were composers too. With his dual roles, Salonen – who has composed over 50 works, from chamber music to violin, cello and piano concertos and orchestral works – can be said to be the bearer of a longstanding tradition.
Esa-Pekka Salonen was commissioned by the Colburn School in Los Angeles to write Fog in celebration of the architect Frank O. Gehry’s ninetieth birthday. When Salonen began to work on the composition, he went back to when he and Gehry attended their first performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Gehry). The piece they heard was the prelude to Bach’s third Partita for Solo Violin, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Martin Chalifour. This piece became a natural starting point in his own work on Fog. Many of the harmonies in the piece are based on Gehry’s name: FAGEH.
In an interview conducted in connection with the performance of the piece in Houston earlier this year, Salonen described his work as “… a fantasy around the prelude … a dream where the prelude is always there, under the surface or really in front of us or somewhere completely in the background, but it’s always there …”