The Eric Ericson centenary
For many years, he was the chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Choir, as well as the director of his own small chamber choir. He highlighted new music, encouraged new expressions and was a prominent figure in what is called ”the Swedish Choir Miracle”. Eric Ericson has made an indelible impression on the world of music and is celebrated with two of his own showpieces, as well as one of the many works that he himself commissioned. In addition, it is the première of a completely new commissioned work by Lithuanian Raminta Šerkšnytė, one of the most sought-after choral composers of our time.
The choral nation of Sweden emerged as early as in the 19th century through social movements, in student towns like Lund and Uppsala, as well as in the church, where choral singing had long been prominent. So it did not really start with Eric Ericson, but there was nevertheless fertile soil in which to cultivate skilled singers, and also a fundamental interest in harmony singing as well as a musical community. As conductor of his own chamber choir as well as Orphei Drängar and, not least, the Swedish Radio Choir, in many ways he elevated choral singing and pushed the envelope for what was considered possible for choral singing – and writing.
The concert bill is in tune with the spirit of Ericson, with a challenging repertoire that demands much from the practitioners, but which is also rewarding in its remarkable beauty. Richard Strauss’s Der Abend and Arnold Schönberg’s Friede auf Erden were written about ten years apart, on either side of the year 1900, and represent on the one hand the very height of romanticism and on the other, the transition to modernism with its liberal approach to traditional harmonics. Both are showpieces of Eric Ericson, which is understandable considering the sonorous wealth and depth of the pieces. Likewise, Gloria by Lars Edlund and Ingvar Lidholm’s “…a riveder le stelle” were recorded by Ericson on several albums and are both examples of the new kind of choral music that he brought to the fore and encouraged. Furthermore, the latter is one of many pieces personally commissioned by Ericson.
In lineal descent from the avant-garde choral composers of the 20th century, there are contemporary composers like Ēriks Ešenvalds, whose suggestive piece, A Drop in the Ocean, has several aspects in common with the other composers on the bill. Lidholm depicts Dante’s and Virgil’s arduous ascent from hell using sharp dissonances and breathtaking movements in the different parts. Using breathing, whistling, mumbling and ethereal chords, Ešenvalds evokes an enchanting mood by setting music to verses from the Bible, as well as to writings by Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, to whom this piece is dedicated. At times, the sounds are reminiscent of both Schönberg and, in the tensest passages, of Edlund.
But even more interesting is the new piece written by Raminta Šerkšnytė, and which was commissioned for the festival concert in honour of Eric Ericson. Just as Ericson commissioned new works from composers who were at the musical forefront, this is music by a composer who mixes established techniques with new ones to explore and discover new sides of whichever ensemble she writes for. Šerkšnytė herself describes her music as if she, like with watercolours, wishes to evoke as many shifts and notes as possible. With that level of ambition, an instrument as versatile as the human voice could not be more appropriate.
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.
The Latvian Radio Choir has purposefully taken on both the earliest music and the most innovative and newly written music equal impetus and artistic acuity. With their two conductors, Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš, the choir has participated in opera performances and cross-over artistic projects, theatrical shows and much more over the past twenty years, in addition to their regular concerts. The choir has performed at a number of the world’s major festivals, including in Salzburg and Lucerne, at the BBC Proms, the White Light Festival, Soundstreams in Canada, and many more. Recordings of the choir are available on Ondine, Hyperion, Deutsche Grammophon and BIS.
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is one of the country’s most renowned and prominent ensembles. Tõnu Kaljuste founded the choir in 1981, and as its choirmaster she spent more than 20 years developing the artistic eminence of the choir. The choir has collaborated with such outstanding conductors as Claudio Abbado, Eric Ericson, Ward Swingle, Stephen Layton, Sir Colin Davis and Gustavo Dudamel. The choir’s recordings on labels such as Harmonia Mundi, Carus, Ondine and ECM have been Grammy nominated 14 times and have received such prestigious awards as Diapason d’Or and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
The Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste is familiar to Swedish audiences after his time as the Swedish Radio Choir’s Chief Conductor from 1994–2000. This versatile musician has been a driving force in awakening interest in the Nordic region to music from the Baltic countries. He founded the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and then, ten years later, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, both of which have become very successful and perform at the world’s major concert venues and festivals. He is known for his interpretations of the works of Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, and has won prestigious awards for his many recordings. Among his latest collaborations are the Norrlandsoperan Symphony Orchestra, the Wrocław Philharmonic and the choir at Orquestra Gulbenkian in Lisbon.
Sigvards Kļava has been Artistic Director of the Latvian Radio Choir since 1992. He has worked with the leading choirs in Latvia as well as with RIAS Kammerchor in Berlin, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the Radio Choir at MDR Leipzig, and many others. He has made over 20 recordings with the Latvian Radio Choir, and has had productive collaborations with Latvia’s major contemporary composers: Maija Einfelde, Erik Ešenvalds, Juris Karlsons and Pēteris Vasks, to mention but a few. Since 2000, Klava has been professor of conducting at the Latvian Musical Academy in Riga. As conductor, he has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Berliner Philharmoniker, among others. He regularly acts as a judge on jury panels at international choral competitions.
In 2008, the composer and pianist Raminta Šerkšnytė became one of the youngest recipients of the Lithuanian National Prize, her native country’s foremost artistic distinction. Gidon Kremer, with whose ensemble Kremerata Baltica she has worked numerous times, has described her De Profundis for string orchestra as the business card of Baltic music. Ensembles including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Les Percussions de Strasbourg have performed her works. Šerkšnytė frequently participates in contemporary music festivals and events, both as a pianist and a composer, amongst them the Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam, the ISCM World New Music Days and Klangspuren Schwaz.
Ingvar Lidholm’s music presents us with stirring harmonies and the eternal questions. This may be especially true for his choral compositions, which he developed from the age of twenty in collaboration with Eric Ericson and his chamber choir.
Lidholm borrowed a passage from the end of “Inferno”, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s major epic poem La Divina Commedia/The Divine Comedy, where Dante has followed his guide Virgil through the circles of hell before emerging via a hidden path … a rivider le stelle/to see the stars again and is moved by the promise of Heaven. These words, and the stanzas leading up to them, are the subject of Lidholm’s fourteen-minute-long choral piece.
The work was first performed by the Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson’s Chamber Choir in 1974 with the solo parts sung by Marianne Mellnäs. It is a seminal contribution to the Swedish choral canon.
This is a tour de force in terms of drama and tonality, and although the melodic and harmonious elements are more prominent here than in Lidholm’s earlier work, it is full of tricky intervals, tonal clashes and major rhythmical and dynamic contrasts.
The altos and sopranos begin fortissimo and with frequent glissandi on the vowel “A”. The text is introduced by the basses on ma la notte resurge (but night is rising once more), after which the sopranos and altos join in. On this resounding start follows a milder, more sonorous polytonal section as Dante and Virgil are moving closer to the light.
After a general pause halfway through the piece, the wanderers are approaching the gates of Heaven. The light they encounter is reflected in shimmering chords consisting of up to 32 voices, then suddenly, like a strange homecoming, the choir strikes an unexpected, harmonious C-sharp chord on a rivider le stelle.
The soprano solo does not appear until the end. Accompanied by long, drawn out chords, a wordless, poetic melody rises towards the bright, open sky.
Concert length: 1 h 40 min incl. intermission
No bus to Berwaldhallen from Stockholm City –
Busline 69 is shortened and runs Karlaplan – Kaknästornet / Blockhusudden. For more information, please visit www.sl.se/en/
FESTIVAL OFFER (Östersjöklippet)
With the Baltic Sea Festival Offer (Östersjöklippet), you get three different levels at a discount – 10, 15 and 20% off the regular fare depending on whether you buy three, four or five different concerts at the same time.
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