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Friday, February 8, 2008

Sweden – February 7/8, 2008

We went by the first hour of RK rehearsal (along with EEKK) for Rachmaninoff Bells, led by Risto Joost. I have to say, I’m even more impressed with Risto’s work. Of course, it helps that he’s fluent in Russian, but also understands the style/sound elements in this music. One wouldn’t guess that he’s so young: his rehearsal is relaxed, yet demands a lot of detail work, and he’s clearly in command. Very enjoyable, and I think the combined choirs will sound quite spectacular (and quite Russian) for these performances (in Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki).

We only spent an hour at the rehearsal, since we had to catch the train to Uppsala for that evening’s performance of the Cherubini Requiem with Orphei Drängar and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra. The hall, part of a conference center that just opened, is interestingly set up: conference facilities below and two LONG escalator rides to the concert hall, which is on top of the building. Uppsala doesn’t have tall buildings and it’s relatively flat, so I imagine the view (the “lobby” goes all around the hall with lots of windows) is spectacular. Of course, since we were there after dark, it was a little difficult to tell! Hopefully we’ll see it this spring in the daylight. The hall itself isn’t that beautiful. Other than red seats, everything is grey. However, the sound is pretty good—clear, but without much extra resonance to give a bloom to the sound.

The program opened with Berwald’s Symphony Serieuse in g minor. Berwald’s an important Swedish composer (remember, the Radio’s hall is Berwaldhallen), but I wasn’t particularly struck by this work.

The second half was Cherubini’s Requiem in d minor for male choir and orchestra. This isn’t a work that’s often done—it’s fairly challenging for the choir, and there just aren’t that many good, big male choirs. OD, of course, is a good, big male choir and they performed really well. Folke Alin did the choral preparation and his work, as I’ve said before, is excellent.

Paul Mäggi, the Estonian conductor of the chamber orchestra, is also very good. His gestures are understated, but clear and expressive. The orchestra (strings 6-5-4-4-3, double winds, 2 trpts, 3 trombones and timpani) also play very well.

I’d listened to the work long ago (long enough that I remember it was on an LP!) and don’t remember being that impressed, but after this performance, I’d put it on my list of works to do someday—should the performing circumstances be right!

Today was prep day to leave—doing laundry, cleaning up and other mundane tasks—but we also looked forward to hearing the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Symphony Orchestra under their chief conductor, the (barely) 27 year old wunderkind, Gustavo Dudamel, who will also become Music Director of the LA Philharmonic in 2009. Check out this YouTube video of him leading his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Bernstein’s Mambo—and this interview during the London Proms.

All I can say, based on watching this concert (and I say “watching” advisedly—we were seated in the front row of the choir stalls directly behind the orchestra, so we had a dead-on view of Dudamel the entire time), is that the hype ain’t hype—he is that good.

It was an interesting program, opening with a premiere (they’d just done the world premiere in Gothenburg before coming to Stockholm)—Paula af Malmberg Ward’s Operatic. She came out to introduce the material—essentially a set of variations, with Dudamel and the orchestra then playing examples. The piece itself is strong, lots of interesting musical ideas and a wonderful orchestration. It also included the orchestra members speaking a text by Ward, which she’d had translated into Spanish.

Next on the program was the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra, with the great Norwegian cellist, Truls Mørk. A fantastic piece I didn’t know, it was premiered by the 20 year old Rostopovich in 1952. Mørk and the orchestra gave a wonderful performance—just stunning. After many times being demanded back to the stage, Mørk played a simple Grieg melody (I recognized the tune, but couldn’t place it--I think it was one of his songs), softly, slowly and incredibly beautifully. A gorgeous way to go off after the virtuosic Prokofiev.

After intermission, Dudamel turned to the Nielsen Fifth Symphony. Another work I was unfamiliar with, and another spectacular performance. Having not heard it before, I can’t compare with other performances, but it’s no cool, Nordic work, at least not in Dudamel’s hands.

Dudamel is fascinating to watch: intensely musical, his gestures dramatic, varied, and always to the emotional point of the music. See him if you can!

This was a great way to end the winter part of my Swedish adventures this year. It’s late and I have to get up at 5 AM to catch my plane to London and on to Edmonton, so goodnight!

1 comment:

Alan D said...

Sounds like your having a great time in Sweden. I wish I had the free time to go to alot of concerts and hang out with alot of musicians. I really like reading your entries of your trip to Sweden. I read every post that you write.