Shostakovich’s magnificent Leningrad Symphony

When Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 premièred in 1942, it was performed by musicians who themselves had survived the siege of Leningrad. The composer himself had been evacuated and watched from a distance as his home town burned. This monumental work, both in length and in scope, has grown into one of Shostakovich’s most popular pieces. For a large part of his life, Pēteris Vasks also suffered under Soviet oppression and for him, music meant a freedom of sorts from external control and censorship. He also wants to use his music to contribute harmony and beauty to a wounded and ravaged world.

He has been called the new conducting wonder, Finnish Klaus Mäkelä, who will take up his position as the first guest conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in September 2018. At the age of 21, he was the youngest ever conductor to be granted an extended contract with the orchestra. Of the three Shostakovich symphonies that Mäkelä will be conducting this season, number seven may well be the most dramatic. At least in terms of the history behind its composition.

The year is 1941. Leningrad is on fire, the city besieged by Nazi forces. In December, Dmitri Shostakovich puts the final touches to his Symphony No. 7. It is intended as a tribute to his native city, but its première in March the following year has to take place in the city of Kuybyshev (present-day Samara), on the banks of the Volga, to which Shostakovich and the other Leningrad residents have been evacuated. Over the following months, a microfilmed score is smuggled to the west and the symphony is also performed in London, New York and Massachusetts.

On August 9, 1942, it is finally time for the Leningrad première with an orchestra comprising 40-50 surviving musicians, who collapsed from exhaustion several times during the rehearsals. The concert has drawn a vast crowd, both inside and outside the the Grand Philharmonia Hall: the concert is broadcast over loudspeakers, and can also be heard by the German troops on the front. The music goes down in history as a symbol of the resistance to the oppression.

The Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks has also written music as an act of resistance. His early music refers to Latvia’s vulnerable position, located as it was between two superpowers. Until 1991, he used his music in the struggle for his country’s independence from the Soviet Union. But his heartfelt music is in equal part inspired by nature: “Nature is magical. I take go for walks in the forest and cannot imagine composing in a large city. Nature inhabits my soul.”

Like his Baltic colleague Arvo Pärt, Vasks’s music has gradually become more minimalist. He has abandoned the experimental and aggressive in favour of harmony, in both expression and content. Each piece has its meaning and as a conductor, Vasks wants to improve the balance of good and evil in the world. “I love music above all else, it forms the very core of my being. In my music, I primarily want to share my joy and my love, as well as the sense that harmony is possible – at least in music.”

Pēteris Vasks, who was the Stockholm New Music Festival’s main composer in 1996, has written choral works as well as orchestra and chamber music. Pater Noster from 1991 is composed for choir and string orchestra. Laudate Dominum was written in 2016, originally for choir and organ, but was soon rearranged for choir and orchestra as well.

Text: Anna Hedelius




The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra serves as a symphony orchestra for the whole of Sweden. Regardless of where you live you can listen to the orchestra’s concerts through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts or on their website, and several concerts are also shown on Swedish Television. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the best and most versatile orchestras in Europe – perhaps even in the world. Every year they perform well-loved works from the classical repertoire as well as new music by exciting contemporary composers such as Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Magnus Lindberg and Unsuk Chin. In addition they perform music from popular films and computer and video games and collaborate with leading jazz, pop and rock artists in a constant endeavour to develop and to break new ground.

The Swedish Radio Choir is like a leading mountaineer in the world of music. The choir’s former chief conductor Peter Dijkstra has described the ensemble as “the group that leaves base camp first and stakes out the course for others to follow.” Three hundred years of Swedish a cappella tradition, combined with an ambitious and culturally diverse repertoire with some of the world’s finest conductors, has established the Swedish Radio Choir as one of the foremost ensembles of its kind. The 32 professional singers are as equally at home in completely new music by today’s most exciting composers as they are in classic favourites from the rich international treasure trove. Through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts and website the choir not only reaches concert audiences but also radio listeners everywhere.

Since autumn 2018, the rising star Klaus Mäkelä has been the first guest conductor for the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He made his debut with the orchestra in September 2017 with Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7. “Every time I am here, the orchestra makes me feel at home”, Mäkelä says. “It’s always a pleasure to perform here. From the very start, there is always a very high standard and it just gets better, which is very inspiring.” In a short time, Mäkelä has had a tremendous impact at home in Finland as well as around Europe. In the autumn of 2017, he made his debut as an opera conductor with The Magic Flute at the Finnish National Opera, where he will soon assist Esa-Pekka Salonen in a production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelunge, which will continue until spring 2021. In the autumn of 2020, he will take up the position as Chief Conductor for the Oslo Philharmonic and he is also Artist in Association at the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Artistic Director of the Turku Music Festival. Mäkelä is also an award-winning cellist who has performed as concert soloist as well as chamber musician, and he plays a Giovanni Grancino from 1698 on loan from the OP Art Foundation.

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.

Concert length: 2 h 15 min incl. intermission