Salonen meets Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra
Activity included in concert ticket
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Polstjärnepriset is a prize for 14- to 18-year-old musicians that has been awarded since 2007. The 2023 winner – the cellist Inez Karlsson – and the Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra perform a programme including Antonín Dvořák’s Rondo in G minor for cello and orchestra and Johannes Brahms’s fourth symphony. The conductors are Marco Crispo and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Polstjärnepriset is organised by the National Centre for Music Talents. The centre involves eight of the country’s professional orchestras (including the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra), as well as music colleges, Regional Music in Sweden and the municipality of Vänersborg, where the association is based.
Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra
The Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra was formed after the Polstjärnepriset competition had been running for a few years. One of the founders of Polstjärnepriset, Ulrich Kaatz, explains how it all started. ”I looked at the entry list, saw all the instruments represented and realised that we had a whole symphony orchestra. All we had to do was provide the sheet music to play together. And that’s what we did.”
The Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra plays in symphony orchestra format, but also divided into strings and winds. The orchestra has played music from Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, Dvořák’s 9th Symphony, Farrenc’s 3rd Symphony, Holst’s The Planets and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Works performed by the strings include Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and Vaughan-Williams’ Tallis Fantasia. The winds have played De Haan’s Banja Luka, Jacobsen’s Circus Suite and Strauss’ Serenade.
Polstjärnepriset’s own conductor since ten years, Andreas Patrik Hansson, has been instrumental in the orchestra’s development. He has been responsible for rehearsing the repertoire that will be performed during the Baltic Sea Festival. The orchestra is now ready for its own endeavours outside the framework of Polstjärnepriset, where Esa-Pekka Salonen, among others, will lead the way.
Marco Crispo, conductor (before intermission)
After receiving his Diploma with honours in classical guitar (2011) and having studied composition at the International Piano Academy “Incontri col maestro” of Imola (2012), Marco has been working as a freelancer arranger/orchestrator and began studying conducting with Donato Renzetti in “Accademia Musicale Pescarese”. In August 2015 he entered the conducting class at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, studying with Ole Kristian Ruud and Sigmund Torp (2019).
Marco has recently debuted with Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol for Operaen i Midten and worked as an assistent conductor for the Royal Danish Opera in Verdi’s La Traviata and Mozart’s Così fan tutte (2022, 2023), for the Opéra National de Montpellier in Verdi’s Falstaff and Puccini’s Tosca (2020, 2022), for the Festival de Radio France in Thomas’ Hamlet (2022). He has been granted the Conducting Fellowship offered by “Cortona Sessions for New Music” (2017), conducting two world première pieces, together with compositions by Donatoni and Boulez. He was supported by “Fondation Idella” (2019, 2020). Marco is one of the candidates of the mentoring program “Dirigentforum 2018-2020” and a graduate from the Advanced Postgraduate program in Orchestral Conducting at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, where he studied under the guidance of Giordano Bellincampi and Michael Schønwandt.
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (after intermission)
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. Since 2020, he is the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. From 2008 to 2021 he was the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where he is now Conductor Laureate. In London he launched the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations which 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.
Salonen is Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1985 until 1995 and he was the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 until 2009. Salonen co-founded the annual Baltic Sea in 2003. Salonen is also a composer and from 2015 to 2018 he was Composer in Residence at the New York Philharmonic. In 2020, he was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by the Queen of England. For the 2022/23 season, Esa-Pekka Salonen is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Composer in Residence.
Inez Karlsson, cello
The 15-year-old cellist Inez Karlsson won Polstjärnepriset 2023, this being the first time the competition was open to all the Nordic countries. Karlsson is a Swedish citizen but lives in the English county of Surrey and is studying with Michal Kaznowski at London’s Royal College of Music. She says the following about Polstjärnepriset and the upcoming concert:
“Polstjärnepriset 2023 was a fantastic experience for me – it was incredibly stimulating to meet so many fantastic musicians from the entire Nordic region, and I still can’t quite grasp that I won. It’s given me the inspiration to continue to develop as a cellist, and I’m really looking forward to performing at Stockholm’s Berwaldhallen. It’s always very special playing with an orchestra on such a stage – and with such a distinguished conductor. This is a dream come true, and I’m so happy that it will give me the opportunity to play for my family and relations in Stockholm.”
Camilla Lundberg, presenter
Polstjärnepriset welcomes Camilla Lundberg as assistant head of the jury. Camilla is a well-known culture personality in the press, radio and television. She has a solid background as a music critic at Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Kulturnyheterna, SVT. On Swedish radio she can be heard in the popular “Klassiska podden” and among the music experts in “Musik-revyn i P2”. Camilla Lundberg has long experience from jury work: in addition to several music competitions also the Guldbagge Awards, Prix Italia and Rose d’Or. As an amateur cellist, she enjoys playing string quartets.
Concert length: 1 hour and 40 minutes with intermission
CARL NIELSEN: Praeludium from Suite For String Orchestra
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) had a simple childhood on the Danish island of Funen. He was the seventh of twelve children, and the family’s accommodation comprised just two rooms plus kitchen. The children often went hungry, and Carl had to look after the cows and goats, yet he had positive memories of his childhood. His mother was always singing, and she was an important inspiration for him. His father was a painter and decorator, and in his spare time was a sought-after violinist and cornet player for dances, weddings etc. Carl started playing the violin in his early teens.
After an unhappy three-month apprenticeship with a greengrocer Nielsen began playing French horn and alto trombone in Odense’s military orchestra, and he also took violin lessons and started playing string quartets and studying theory. As a 14-year-old he joined the military band, and was able to buy his own piano, and in 1884, with the aid of sponsors, he gained a place at Copenhagen Conservatory of Music to study violin, piano and theory.
After completing his studies Nielsen earned his living as a violinist in various orchestras and as a teacher of violin and chamber music. In parallel with this he continued studying composition with Orla Rosenhoff, who had been his teacher at the conservatory.
The Suite for String Orchestra Op. 1 was one of the first works Nielsen wrote whilst a student, and the first to which he gave an opus number. It was premiered at Tivoli in Copenhagen in 1888 under the baton of Balduin Dahl, who was renowned for helping and supporting young talents, and the piece went down very well with the public. The middle movement had to be reprised as an encore, and the composer, who was playing in the orchestra, was called for a bow three times. For the second performance Nielsen made his conducting debut.
The composer later revised the suite – in particular the finale. He was possibly influenced by the fatherly comment by the doyen of Danish composers Niels W. Gade: “My dear Nielsen, you’re too muddled.” The three movements also underwent several name changes, from the more imaginative The Danaids, Dance of the Charites and Bacchus Procession to the more neutral Prelude, Intermezzo and Finale. Nielsen dedicated the suite to his teacher Orla Rosenhoff.
Text: Katarina Lindblad
EDVARD GRIEG: Kulokk and Stabbelåten from To nordiske melodier
A wave of nationalism swept over Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with peoples and cultures starting to cultivate and focus on their own language, traditions and music. Composers such as Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, Hugo Alfvén and Edvard Grieg sought musical inspiration for their orchestral works in their own countries’ folk tunes, songs and dances. It was a way of revitalising symphonic music and making it more accessible to a broader public.
There was a parallel trend of composing for string orchestra. Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and Elgar each wrote a Serenade for Strings, and in Norway both Johan Svendsen and Edvard Grieg produced music for strings. But whilst some composers wrote for chamber or string orchestra, i.e. relatively small ensembles, Grieg wanted the rich sound of a large body of strings. ”The more the better” was his stance. He often cited 60 players as the ideal number.
In a letter Grieg presents his view of what differentiates Norwegian from German folk music, namely ”a deep melancholy that can at any time switch to wild, uninhibited humour”. This description very much applies to the Two Nordic Melodies op. 63 of 1895. The melody in the first movement is actually a composed one, not a genuine folk tune. But the second movement, which is being performed at this evening’s concert, is based on actual Norwegian folk melodies collected in the early 19th century by Ludvig Mathias Lindeman – tunes Grieg had already used in his 24 Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances op. 17.
Kulokk (Cow Keeper’s Tune) is a soft and melodic vallåt (herding tune), whilst the second half of the movement – Stabbelåten (Country Dance) – is based on a dance from Valdres in Norway. The introduction is reminiscent of a fiddler tuning his instrument in preparation for a dance. The rhythms here are wilder and the sound is more raw – features that weren’t to the taste of foreign critics. Grieg himself was consciously radical, and wanted to create the spontaneous feeling he held to be the core of all live art.
Text: Katarina Lindblad
DAG WIRÉN: Marcia from Serenade for String Orchestra
“I essentially wish to give those listening to my music the same experiences and feelings as I had when I wrote it. /…/. The experiences and feelings I’m talking about are (to my mind) not of the kind that can be put into words … but what they all have in common is that I feel happy when they come into being – intensely happy, even if the idea in question should happen to be of a tragic nature. You almost feel as if you could prevent war and epidemics with it!” (From Musikvärlden 1945:1)
Dag Wirén (1905-1986) was a man with a strong will, great integrity and a generous dose of humour. He was a liberal anti-Nazi who in an interview delighted in describing the time when the family’s dog bit a Nazi acquaintance’s trouser leg to shreds.
Wirén grew up with music – both his parents sang and played instruments. He learnt to read music at the age of five, and when he started school he thought the alphabet began with C, like the musical scale. As an eight-year-old he heard his aunt play Grieg’s piano sonata, and this made a deep impression on him. Whilst his friends dreamt of becoming firemen, Dag had made a completely different decision – he wanted to be a composer.
During his school years there were not many opportunities to hear music. Örebro Orchestral Association’s repertoire was limited, and chamber‑music concerts were rare. Every Saturday during his youth Wirén played the piano to silent films at the cinema. In 1931 Wirén graduated from the Conservatory and went to Paris for three years on a bursary. He didn’t find his studies that productive, but he did benefit from the city’s creative environment. It was there that Wirén met his future wife, the Irish cello student Noel Franks. They married in 1934 and returned to Sweden.
In his composition work Dag Wirén preferred symphonic and string‑quartet form. He wrote almost nothing for voice, apart from the hit song Annorstädes vals (Elsewhere Waltz), to a text by Alf Henriksson, which became Sweden’s 1965 Eurovision entry. The Serenade for String Orchestra is Wirén’s most-performed work – a public favourite ever since its premiere at a 1937 promenade concert at the Nationalmuseum.
Text: Katarina Lindblad
IGOR STRAVINSKY: Symphonies d'instruments à vent
Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies d’instrument à vent from the 1920s was a tribute to Claude Debussy, who had died two year earlier. The final chorale was published in the journal La Revue musicale in December 1920, and there referred to as Tombeau de Claude Debussy, but it was not performed for the first time until June the following year at Queen’s Hall in London. The concert was conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, but Stravinsky was not pleased; according to him it sounded like “an execution by firing squad”. The work was not a success.
Symphonies d’instrument à vent was composed for an orchestra that in the original version included alto flute and, more unusually, alto clarinet. Stravinsky never published this version in his lifetime, but he did revise in in 1945. This version was published two years later without the alto instruments. Only various sections of the 1920 version were available in print until 2001 when the full version was published.
The term “symphony” was in this case used in the ancient sense of “sounding together”, and Stravinsky’s work is structured in a series of short segments that form a kind of montage with three different tempi and colouration. This was entirely new in 1920, and it served as inspiration to many 20th century composers. It is also the first of Stravinsky’s compositions in which he pared the music down to its basic components. Symphonies d’instrument à vent also has strong influences from Russian folk music, you could see it as an instrumental version of the panichida, an Orthodox requiem. Alternatively, you could see it as a transition between Stravinsky’s Neoclassical period and his Russian period. Although it was not popular during his lifetime, it is of some importance in his overall oeuvre.
Stravinsky described the symphony as “an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogeneous instruments”.
LARS-ERIK LARSSON: Prelude to God in Disguise
ANTONIN DVOŘÁK: Rondo in g-minor
Antonín Dvořák’s Rondo in G-minor for cello was written for his friend Hanuš Wihan, one of the foremost cellists of the 19th century who at the age of merely 18 was appointed cello profess at the Vienna conservatory in 1873. He held the same post at the Prague conservatory from 1888 onwards.
Dvořák and Wihan went on a tour of Bohemia and Moravia together with the violinist Ferdinand Lachner. The tour was planned by Dvořák as a farewell to his native Bohemia before he left for the United States. On the programme were several works of chamber music as well as solo pieces for piano, cello and violin. Before the tour Dvořák presented a rondo for cello and piano to Wihan, who was looking to show off his skills. The short, deceptively simple, piece goes from the lyrical and optimistic to an agitated, virtuoso section in the upper register before it comes to a subdued end.
The rondo consists of three themes presented in the classic ABACABA sequence. The key gives the famous main theme a melancholic quality, but the piece is on the whole buoyant and lively, like many other chamber works by Dvořák. The rondo was adapted for orchestra in 1893, and on 16 December 1894 it was conducted by Alfred Volckland in Basel with Moritz Kahnt on the cello.
Text: Bodil Hasselgren
JOHANNES BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor
Johannes Brahms wrote his symphonies in pairs: the first and second during the years 1876-1877 and the third and fourth between 1883 and 1885. The first three were immediately highly successful, but Brahms himself was initially dubious about the fourth. Such was the composer’s need for a second opinion that he made an arrangement for two pianos that he and the pianist and composer Ignaz Brüll performed to a small, select group of friends.
But the work was not warmly received. After the first movement the music critic Eduard Hanslick, who was otherwise so positive about Brahms’s music, is said to have stated: “Throughout the movement it felt as if I was being beaten up by two terribly intelligent people.” His good friend Max Kalbeck was deeply disappointed, and begged Brahms to scrap the two middle movements, which he found inappropriate. The violinist Joseph Joachim, another close friend and collaborator, was likewise bemused. But in the course of time, after having heard the orchestral version, they all changed their minds and came to consider the fourth symphony one of Brahms’s very greatest works.
It’s easy for today’s music aficionados to dismiss these initial reactions as being ill‑considered, but if the response is instead taken seriously it actually provides a key to understanding the work. Joachim had the idea of starting the first movement with two bars of held chords. This suggestion indicates an important feature, namely that the symphony begins abruptly, in medias res, as if opening the door on an orchestra that has already played several bars. Hanslick’s reaction draws attention to the violent nature of the first movement. The symphony is sometimes deemed to be tragic, but it can equally be described as being acerbic or astringent.
Kalbeck, who criticised the middle movements, was the only one to approve of the final movement even after only having heard the piano version. Others did not think it could hold its own as a symphonic finale, in part probably because it remains in the minor throughout, even ending with a minor chord – something that was, and is, relatively unusual. Another reason may have been the fact that the last movement is a passacaglia – a form deriving from a dance popular during the Baroque period and comprising a series of variations over a bass line or chord sequence.
Text: Tore Eriksson
About the concert
Ever since 2007 the Polstjärnepriset has been awarded to classical instrumentalists aged 14-18. Last year’s competition was the first to be open to candidates from all the Nordic countries.
The 2023 winner was the then 15-year-old cellist Inez Karlsson, who impressed the jury and was described as “an elegant musician with great focus and a wonderful sound, and with a strong and natural presence that moves the audience – a young performer whose talent will take her wherever she wishes to go.”
As well as being awarded the SEK 50,000 prize, the winner also gets to perform in Swedish Radio’s Berwaldhallen as part of the Baltic Sea Festival. On 26 August Inez Karlsson and the Polstjärnepriset Symphony Orchestra take to the concert stage, and at the baton are Marco Crispo and Esa‑Pekka Salonen, who are sharing the conducting.
Musically the programme traverses the globe, and features 19th- to 21st-century works by Edvard Grieg (Norway), Carl Nielsen (Denmark), Antonín Dvořák (Bohemia), Igor Stravinsky (Russia), Dag Wirén (Sweden) and Robert Davidson (Australia).
Activity included in concert ticket
EVENT DATE PASSED