THE BALTIC SEASONS
Using this year’s festival theme, rebirth, as a starting point, the Swedish Radio Choir invites you on a musical journey through the varied map of the Baltic Sea region. Led by our Latvian Music Director Kaspars Putniņš, we visit Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s electro-poetic universe, Latvian festival favourite Pēteris Vasks’ captivating tonal landscape – and witness the world premiere of a new choral piece by Swede Jan Sandström. The theme running through the concert is the powerful interplay of the seasons, and the cyclical side of the human condition. Star violinist Johan Dalene also makes an appearance alongside the choir.
Kaspars Putniņš’ first concert at the Baltic Sea Festival as the Swedish Radio Choir’s Chief Conductor has been named The Baltic Seasons. Seasons, as well as cyclical changes throughout life, form the tonal foundation as the Swedish Radio Choir and star violinist Johan Dalene meet Putniņš.
‘The cycles of nature, big and small, are one of the great wonders of the world,’ says Putniņš. ‘Here in the Nordic countries, the changes of the seasons are so clear, and so beautiful. The frozen lake, how everything comes to life in spring, and the intense greenery of high summer. It’s like breaths, the circle of life. I also think that the strange and dark time of the pandemic is part of a circular movement. This concert is about different aspects of change.’
To Kaija Saariaho, German poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s texts have a special meaning. The poems in her piece Tag des Jahrs dive into the strong colours of the seasons, and follow their ever-changing characters. But what Saariaho returns to is how the texts are dated. They are all signed with a made-up name, Scardanelli, and dated several years before Hölderlin was born. Saariaho, whose mother lost her sense of time and space due to a stroke, asks if Hölderlin might have experienced something similar. The harmonies of the choir are embraced by electronic sounds, a human voice, and distant birds in Hölderlin’s landscape.
In April, Latvia celebrated the great composer Pēteris Vasks, who turned 75. He was born in the small town of Aizpute, which is two hours straight west from Kaspars Putniņš’ Riga, and one day of sailing from Gotland, if the winds are willing. In Three Poems by Czesław Miłosz, Vasks finds an individual who is enveloped in the cyclical nature of the world and of life: in circles of joy and grief, conflict and clarity. Kaspars Putniņš sees rebirth in the piece:
‘The loneliness we have experienced over the past year is a great challenge for us as individuals. But I think that being allowed to exist in the normal, social flow without being forced to focus on oneself can be a deliverance. If we take this seriously, it can mean something new for our civilisation. Spring is inexorable – it comes every year, no matter how hard the winter has been,’ says Putniņš.
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.
Acclaimed Latvian conductor Kaspars Putniņš is the Swedish Radio Choir’s new Chief Conductor from the 2020–2021 season. He is also Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and has been permanent conductor of the Latvian Radio Choir since 1994. Putniņš is an experienced interpreter of polyphonic Renaissance works as well as the swelling emotions of the Romantic era, but his foremost goal has always been to promote new and outstanding choral music. Through close relationships with a number of Nordic and Baltic composers, he has contributed to raising the bar for performances and recordings of new choral works.
As a guest conductor, he appears with ensembles such as the RIAS Kammerchor, NDR Radio Choir Hamburg, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, BBC Singers, Tokyo Cantat and the Netherlands Radio Choir. He has collaborated with composers such as Maija Einfelde, Mārtiņš Viļums, Toivo Tulev, Lasse Thoresen and Gavin Bryars as well as initiated several drama projects in collaboration with visual and theatre artists. He has made acclaimed album recordings, such as works by Schnittke and Pärt with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir on an album that was awarded both a Gramophone Award and Diapason d’Or.
22-year-old Swedish-Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene is already making an impact on the international scene, performing with leading orchestras and in celebrated recital halls both at home and abroad. His ability to “make his Stradivarius sing like a master” (Le Monde), coupled with his refreshingly honest musicality and engagement with musicians and audiences alike, has won him countless admirers. This talent was heralded most recently as winner of the Norwegian Soloist Prize and First Prize at the prestigious 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition.
Dalene was recently selected as a European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) Rising Star, and during the 2021-22 season, performed recitals in some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls, while also engaging in Education, Learning and Participation work with diverse communities in cities across the ECHO network. Johan was also a BBC New Generation Artist from 2019-22 during which time he performed recitals, chamber music and concerti with the BBC orchestras, all broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Dalene began playing the violin at the age of four and made his professional concerto debut three years later. In Summer 2016, he was student-in-residence at Switzerland’s Verbier Festival (where he made his performance debut in 2021) and in 2018 was accepted on to the Norwegian Crescendo programme, where he worked closely with mentors Janine Jansen, Leif Ove Andsnes and Gidon Kremer. Andsnes subsequently invited Johan to play at the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival and they performed together again in May 2019 at the Bergen International Festival. In 2019 he joined Janine Jansen and other members of the Crescendo Programme for a performance at the Wigmore Hall in London, and at the International Chamber Music Festival in Utrecht. In April 2020, during lockdown in Sweden, Johan performed Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, alongside Janine Jansen. During the 2020/21 season, he was Artist in Residence with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, performing concerti, recitals, and chamber music together with members of the orchestra.
Dalene studies with Per Enoksson, Professor at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, as well as with Janine Jansen, and has also participated in masterclasses with a number of distinguished teachers, including Dora Schwarzberg, Pamela Frank, Gerhard Schulz, and Henning Kraggerud. He has been awarded various scholarships and prizes, notably from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, The Anders Wall Giresta Scholarship, Queen Ingrid’s Honorary Scholarship, The Håkan Mogren Foundation Prize, Equinor Classical Music Award, Sixten Gemzéus Stora Musikstipendium, The G.T. Bäckmans Kulturstipendium, Norrköping Kommuns Kulturstipendium and Rolf Wirténs Kulturpris.
Johan Dalene plays a Stradivarius violin from 1736, generously on loan from the Anders Sveaas’ Charitable Foundation.
Following studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho sought out the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM) in Paris in the 1980s, where she immersed herself in electroacoustic music and French spectral music. Her early pieces are based on interplay between orchestra and taped electronics, and often consist of dense masses of sound going through slow changes.
Saariaho has transferred the same viewpoint to vocal music. Her opera L’Amour de loin, directed by Peter Sellars, was highly celebrated when it premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000. In 2001 Saariaho wrote Tag des Jahrs for choir and electronics, a piece based on four poems by Friedrich Hölderlin.. . In a programme note Saariaho writes as follows:
‘I have been familiar with the late poems of Hölderlin for some time now and used some of them for several little pieces. The idea for Tag des Jahrs for choir came to me a few years ago when someone very dear to me suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and communication with her acquired a new logic (or lack thereof), as she no longer had any sense of time or place. I do not know what had happened to Hölderlin, for he signed huis poems under different dates, decade, even centuries from the time in which he lived, and under the name of Scardanelli. I nevertheless acquired a new insight into his poems as visions of lived moments that pass in the twinkling of an eye and then vanish or transform into new, intensive moments. Our minds are full of such clear, sensuous moments, and they in fact make up our own experience of the life we live.’
Like in many other pieces, Saariaho has used nature as the starting point for her composition: ‘I wanted to expand the sound world in the direction of nature that is so present in these poems. Hence the material consisting not only of taped human voice but also of birds, the wind and other nature sounds.’
Tag des Jahrs is dedicated to Kaija Saariaho’s mother.
Many know Jan Sandström from A Motorbike Odyssey, a trombone concerto where the soloist makes a dramatic entrance on a motorcycle. Many choral singers have also sung his serene, almost meditative arrangement of the Praetorius’ hymn Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, an emotional mainstay with Christmas concert audiences.
When Kaspars Putniņš, conductor of the Swedish Radio Choir, called Sandström to commission a work for the Baltic Sea Festival in the form of a tribute to the natural landscape that links the countries around the Baltic Sea: the sea, nature, the forests and the changing seasons. Sandström began to search for suitable texts, and he found in Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry the elements that communicate Sandström’s favourite forms of expression; simplicity and subtle tonal shifts that convey parallel realities. The result is Den stora gåtan (The Great Enigma), based on six poems in from Suite 11 in Tranströmer’s eponymous suite of haikus.
“Although each poem is an experience in itself, they appear to be linked by a common motivation, or core. The sea, God’s wind in your back and apple trees are central. It all comes together in the words that became the title also of the choral work – The Great Enigma,” according to Sandström.
’To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.’
These are the first lines in the Bibel verse which I have used for my composition. It is a very poetical text, from Ecclesiastes 3, in which the repetitive words ’a time to…’ forms a sort of refrain that creates a musical form in itself. There is no obvious message in this Bible Verse, but in a few, sparse lines, the whole diversity and richness of human life is uncovered. When I set music to it, I also thought about it as an image of music itself: a space where all doors are open, where everything has a place.
Female choir and violin: what an attractive combination of lines in high register! In my piece, you can hear the violin sail freely above the singers, like a kite to which the choir hold the line. At other times, the violin joins the choir, as one voice among the others.
’To every thing there is a season’ is about nine minutes in lenght and is dedicated to The Netherlands Female Youth Choir and Janine Jansen.
Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ music is characterised by effusion, and revolves around global and timeless issues. Birth and death, hatred and forgiveness, harmony and dissonance are recurring themes in his work, in differing ways. Hope and belief in the final victory of good over evil is a running theme throughout his compositions.
‘Music is the most powerful of art forms, as it most easily reaches the divine. Music is an abstraction, but sound has the ability to reach the soul and express something that can’t be said in words’, he has said.
Vasks’ atmospheric choral pieces oscillate between dramatic passion and harmonic stillness. Three Poems consists of three choral pieces with lyrics by Polish-American poet Czesław Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Vasks lies acquiescently down next to Miłosz’ words with exacting harmonies and complex rhythms that realize? the varying ambiences of the poems.
In Window, the imperceptible transformations of an apple tree changing from sapling to mature fruit tree are depicted contemplatively and dreamily. So Little describes how man is torn between hope and glimmering despair with a haunting polyphony, while a light and hopeful spirit characterises the memory of an interaction with a hare in Encounter.
In Three Poems, Vasks confirms his belief that ‘harmony is possible, at least in music’. The original performance of the piece was given by the Hilliard Ensemble in 1994.
He was England’s big symphonist, Ralph Vaughan Williams, with no less than nine symphonies in his catalogue. But his oeuvre also includes opera, ballet, chamber and choral music, created during a period of 60 years. A composer with a belief in making music as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, and whose musical moods stretch from calm to stormy, and from enigmatic to effervescent.
Thanks to his interest in, and influence from, English Renaissance music, and not least folk music, Vaughan Williams created something of a break in the trend of English art music, which had a strong German influence at the time. It took time for him to remove himself from the German heritage, but studies with composer Maurice Ravel helped him find his own voice.
To us, his hyper-romantic, pastoral romance for violin and orchestra, The Lark Ascending, is likely one of his most famous pieces. Originally, The Lark Ascending is a poem of 122 lines of verse by English Victorian poet George Meredith, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature many times. The poem inspired Vaughan Williams to write music with the same title, music that has become significantly better known than Meredith’s poetry, and that combines two of Vaughan Williams’ big passions: poetry and the violin.
The original version from 1914 was thus written for violin and piano, but was orchestrated six years later by the composer, becoming the most played version by far. Here, a further reworking is presented, now for violin and choir, commissioned by the Swedish Chamber Choir and its conductor Simon Phipps. The choir takes over the orchestra’s accompaniment, and also sings George Meredith’s lyrics.
POETIC (R) EVOLUTION
Young poets meet the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a unique collaboration between Berwaldhallen and Unga Klara.
SING ALONG FOR BIG AND SMALL 2021
A musical family adventure!
PÅ MINUTEN INTAR BERWALDHALLEN 2021
The popular Swedish radio show På minuten is being recorded live at Berwaldhallen