MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Morlot Leads the Next Chapter in the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Adventure

Ludovic Morlot reunites with the Seattle Symphony (image: Nick Klein)

For the second installment in the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius cycle, emeritus conductor Ludovic Morlot rejoined the orchestra to lead a program centered around the Second Symphony. The occasion inspired some spectacular, edge-of-your-seat playing on Thursday night.

The concert started off with another in the series of commissions of new works from contemporary composers that find a way to “relate” to each of the Sibelius symphonies. In February, when the cycle launched with the Sibelius First (conducted by the talented Ruth Reinhardt), the pairing presented an intriguingly provocative new piece by Ellen Reid. The Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón faced the challenge of responding to what is, for many Sibelius fans, the best-loved of the seven symphonies. Color Shape Transmission, the result, offers an imaginatively fresh take on the phenomenon of acoustic space and the orchestra as a kind of mobile aural sculpture. Negrón spins her vast array of forces into a kaleidoscope of mysterious timbres, rapturously sustained clusters, and subtle echo and richochet effects. The impression of a ritual or procession brought to mind the mystery of the Second Symphony’s Andante, with its walking bass and swelling hymn.

I seem to recall that this program had originally been planned to include Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with Isabelle Faust. She was the soloist in Stravinsky’s contribution to the genre instead, but it was a wonderful match and proved captivating from first note to last. Faust displayed multiple personalities, all equally convincing, in Stravinsky’s one-of-a-kind take on the concerto idea: alternately cheeky, heart-breaking, whimsical, and invigorating. Morlot’s tenure with the SSO included some especially memorable encounters with Stravinsky, so it was gratifying to find him shedding light on a different aspect of the composer, tending so carefully to his piquant timbral combinations of woodwinds and soloist; concertmaster Noah Geller matched Faust’s ravishing tone in the duet between both violinists in the Capriccio finale.

But what left the most resounding impression was the epic sweep conveyed by the Second Symphony. In this account, Morlot navigated the SSO through Sibelius’s drastic transformations of landscape with a convincing sense of purpose. Sunlight shifting on the meadows, impending storms, glorious new vistas opened up — the sonic imagery flowed generously, but Morlot shaped its ebbs and flows with architectural understanding, aside from the occasional haze produced by a passing sonic imbalance. He homed in on Sibelius’s use of tension and release to thrilling effect.

In his excellent program notes, Christopher DeLaurenti points out that Sibelius had little use for the political purposes which his work seemed to serve, while at the same time hinting at the Second’s uncanny relevance for the terrible present moment. Its premiere in 1902, he writes, “was welcomed by the Finnish public as a missive of nationalist resilience against their Russian overlords.” He also quotes the composer’s friend and champion Robert Kajanus hailing the Second as “a broken-hearted protest against all the injustice that threatens at the present time to deprive the sun of its light and our flowers of their scent.” Grasping the music’s agonized heroism, this performance invested the final moments of the Second with cathartic grandeur.

The full program will be performed again on Saturday, 9 April, at 8pm. If you need a dose of hope, don’t miss it.

Filed under: commissions, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Uncategorized

Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Take on an Early Sibelius Epic

84319-1617-concerts-dausgaard-0091-credit-brandon-patoc

photo: Brandon Patoc

My review for Bachtrack of Thomas Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony in Sibelius’s Kullervo:
On 28 April 1892, when he was only 26, Jean Sibelius unveiled Kullervo to the public. Its triumph established both his career as a composer and his reputation as Finland’s musical bard…

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Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Thomas Dausgaard

Sibelius: Kullervo

Today’s listening, preparing for this weekend’s Seattle Symphony program.

Filed under: Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Sibelius at the Piano

“For one thing — and, given the era, it was no small achievement — Sibelius never wrote against the grain of the keyboard. At its best, his style partook of that spare, bleak, motivically stingy counterpoint that nobody south of the Baltic ever seems to write.” –Glenn Gould

Filed under: piano, Sibelius

A Primer in the Romantic Spirit from Seattle Symphony

khachatryan-12Sergey Khachatryan. Image courtesy of Seattle Symphony.

My review of this weekend’s Seattle Symphony program with Ludovic Morlot and violinist Sergey Khachatryan is now live on Vanguard Seattle:

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO)’s sixth season with Music Director Ludovic Morlot has so far included a pair of electrifying programs that paired world premiere commissions by composers of today with Beethoven classics—the latter part of an ongoing two-year cycle of the composer’s complete symphonies and piano concertos.

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Filed under: Berlioz, Ludovic Morlot, review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Vanguard Seattle

Happy 150th, Jean Sibelius!

Fittingly, in December:

Filed under: Sibelius

Sibelius and Mahler at the NSO

mahler_138     sibelius

This week’s National Symphony program pairs Sibelius and Mahler, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Here’s a debate from the Talk Classical site pitting the two composers against each other as symphonists:

Two of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century…but who is greater?

Sibelius and Mahler both took on the symphony with quite different philosophies. In their famous exchange, Sibelius said: ” I admire the symphony’s style and severity of form, as well as the profound logic creating an inner connection among all of the motives,” whereas Mahler said: “The symphony is like the world; it must embrace everything.”

Who is right here? Both? Neither?

As an admirer of both symphonists, my vote goes to Sibelius. While Sibelius’s seven symphonies often lack a sort of “hysteria” and hyper-emotion that one encouters in Mahler, his works can still certainly elicit strong emotional responses. And he does this within fairly strict means, concentrating the musical rhetoric so every theme, phrase, motive and note seems to be concentrated with meaning.

Plus, Sibelius seems to have a masterful handle on the symphonic form, which I think is important here. A symphony is not a suite or a rhapsody; it, by its very definition, has rules and conventions. Sibelius seems to take the symphony head on and make music that adheres to the “severity of style.” whereas Mahler seems to go more rhapsodic and bend the rules quite a bit more.

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that; again, I love Mahler’s symphonies. But from a technical standpoint, Sibelius seems to understand symphonic form much better.

Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers here; not one of us can say definitively who is the greater. But I think a civil and respectful discussion on this would be most interesting!

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Filed under: Mahler, National Symphony, Sibelius

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part III

Thomas Dausgaard

Thomas Dausgaard; photo (c) Morten Abrahamsen

My review of the final program in Seattle Symphony’s just-completed Sibelius Festival is now live at Musical America. The program included Symphonies 5-7. It’s a subscriber site with a paywall, so I can’t post more than the teaser here:

SEATTLE—-At the beginning of his  journey through the seven symphonies of Jean Sibelius, Thomas Dausgaard hinted at the big picture Seattle Symphony audiences could expect: “These works are about a search for the essentials…

complete review

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Concluding the Sibelius Festival in Seattle

sibelius

With the strings leaning in to one of the most powerfully orchestrated C major chords of the 20th century, the Seattle Symphony’s ambitious Luminous Landscapes Sibelius Festival has reached its conclusion. (There’s also a curious Nachtisch to this week’s final program: after the orchestra players cleared the stage on Thursday, we were treated to a mini-recital of nine Sibelius lieder, with soprano/pianists Maria Männistö and Christina Siemens alternating roles.)

For fellow music lovers (and Sibelius completists) who’d been present for all three programs this past month, there was an added sense of satisfying closure that was maybe, just maybe, a bit reminiscent of being with a Ring audience at Seattle Opera as the final chord of Götterdämmerung fades out.

On Sunday you can listen to the entire marathon via the KING FM Seattle Symphony Channel, KING FM 98.1’s new collaborative project with the SSO. On March 29 the marathon starts at 12:01 a.m. with a looping 24-hour stream of the seven symphonies, the Violin Concerto (with soloist Pekka Kuusisto), and Finlandia — all with Thomas Dausgaard conducting, recorded live from the past month’s performances.

My previous coverage of the Sibelius Festival:

review of Sibelius Program I for Bachtrack

review of Sibelius Program II for Musical America

review of Sibelius Festival Program III for Musical America

And a glance at San Francisco Symphony’s recent “Creation” program, which included the composer’s fascinating, brief tone poem Luonnotar.

We’re still early in this 150th anniversary year honoring Sibelius. The birthday itself falls in December — which somehow seems just right for a composer so associated with Northern landscapes. Many orchestras have therefore planned Sibelius-related programs for the coming season as well. But the Seattle Symphony is the only U.S. orchestra to have performed an entire Sibelius symphony cycle back-to-back to mark the anniversary. It’s been a genuinely laudable artistic milestone for the ensemble.

Filed under: programming, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival: Part II

Pekka Kuusisto; photo (c) Kaapo Kamu

Pekka Kuusisto; photo (c) Kaapo Kamu

My review of the second program of the Seattle Symphony’s Sibelius Festival has now been posted on Musical America. MA is a subscriber site, so I’m limited to posting the link here:

The Seattle Symphony has been on a winning streak of synchronicity when it comes to favorably timed good news. Last year [Musical America Composer of the Year] John Luther Adams’s…

continue reading (The full review appears behind Musical America‘s subscriber paywall.)

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Sibelius

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