One of the most urgent issues of our time, the climate crisis, is the topic of Karin Rehnqvist’s Silent Earth for choir and orchestra with texts by Kerstin Perski. Rehnqvist and Perski express the dramatic climate change that threatens the Earth in three emotional movements: Silent Earth; We, Who Once Were; The Burning Earth. Silent Earth was first performed in Amsterdam in January 2022, this is the first performance in Sweden. The concert opens with Tchaikovsky’s musically shimmering Hymn of the Cherubim from the composer’s Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomos. The concert concludes with Sergei Rachmaninov’s evocative second symphony. The Russian-Finnish conductor Dima Slobodeniouk, musical director of Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, conducts the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Choir.
The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is known worldwide as one of Europe’s most versatile orchestras with an exciting and varied repertoire and a constant striving to break new ground The multi-award-winning orchestra has been praised for its exceptional, wide-ranging musicianship as well as collaborations with the world’s foremost composers, conductors and soloists.
Permanent home of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1979 is Berwaldhallen, the Swedish Radio’s concert hall. In addition to the audience in the hall, the orchestra reaches many many listeners on the radio and the web and through it´s partnership with EBU. Several concerts are also broadcast and streamed on Berwaldhallen Play and with Swedish Television, offering the audience more opportunities to come as close as possible to one of the world’s top orchestras.
“The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2007. “I have never had a concert with the orchestra where they haven’t played as though their lives depended on it!” The orchestra is also proud to have Klaus Mäkelä as its Principal Guest Conductor since 2018.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swedish Radio Symphony was one of the only orchestras in the world which never stopped playing. Its innovative and creative approach to making music in these dark times helped its public to cope and even made the news itself.
The first radio orchestra was founded in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967. Through the years, the orchestra has had several distinguished Music Directors. Two of them are Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
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.
Lauded for his deeply informed and intelligent artistic leadership, Dima Slobodeniouk has held the position of Music Director of the Spanish orchestra Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia since 2013.
In previous seasons, he has worked with renowned orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Bayrische Staatsorchester, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Concertgebouworkest and the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
Slobodeniouk’s recordings include an album featuring Kalevi Aho’s Siedi and his Fifth Symphony, the concert suites of Sergei Prokofiev’s opera The Gambler and the ballet The Tale of the Stone Flower with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra on BIS. Also previously released by BIS were works by Stravinsky with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia and Ilya Gringolts, plus another recording of works by composer Kalevi Aho with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which won the 2018 BBC Music Magazine Award. For the Ondine label, Dima Slobodeniouk recorded works by Perttu Haapanen and Lotta Wennäkoski with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
From 2016 to 2021, Dima Slobodeniouk was Principal Conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra as well as Artistic Director of the Sibelius Festival.
The Hymn of the Cherubim from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Opus 41, is a spiritual a capella choral work completed by Tchaikovsky in 1878. He had discovered and been inspired by the music of the Orthodox Church, and he wrote to a friend: “A vast and untrodden field of activity lies open to composers here … In my opinion, the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is one of the greatest artistic achievements of all time … it is impossible not to be deeply moved by it.”
The divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is a central communion service liturgy of the Orthodox Church. The anaphora – the key repetitive element of the text – is attributed to St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the sixth century. Tchaikovsky’s composition is considered to be the first musically coherent composition of the liturgical text. Most of the fifteen movements are based on traditional, simple, homophone Slavonic songs. But Tchaikovsky introduced new, less formal compositions to six of the movements. These are less “sugary” than the prevailing ideal at the time in that they are more informed by early Italian sacred music by, for example, Allegri and Vivaldi. The Hymn of the Cherubim – allegedly inspired by a personal, religious experience in childhood – is the work’s finest achievement.
The clerics of the Russian-Orthodox Church were quick to censor and ban new musical versions of the holy texts that were not to their liking; much of Tchaikovsky’s liturgical music was confiscated by the director of the St Petersburg State Academic Chapel. Composing and playing the music in private was permitted, but publication was strictly forbidden. By sending the work to his editor, Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky’s unknowingly started a small revolution. Jurgenson entered a lengthy legal combat that was eventually won by the composer, and the music was published. This groundbreaking victory allowed other Russian composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov to create their music without bureaucratic intervention.
Text: Andreas Konvicka
One evening in March 2019, Kerstin and I sat talking about us human beings and the Earth. Our planet Earth, being increasingly exposed. Vulnerable. The ice is melting, the forests are aflame, our rivers and streams are overflowing in a way that we haven’t seen before. The proportions are frightening. What will happen? What is happening right now?
In our thoughts, we transported ourselves to another planet. We sat there and gazed from a distance at our beautiful blue planet. The Earth. So beautifully suspended in space. Yes, there it is. But what do we find there? Could there be life? Are there people? We chatted for a long while and somehow it felt consoling that we nevertheless sat there philosophizing, albeit on another planet. We existed. We were alive.
I was about to begin composing a large-scale piece for choir and orchestra; I was looking for ideas and felt that it was impossible not to touch upon the climate crisis, that fateful issue for humanity. With my voice and a piano I had improvised a free introduction that I gave to Kerstin.
After our conversation, she returned with two short, exquisite poems. The third poem had already been completed. It was written in 2008 and is a very dramatic text about a natural disaster. Even though it was written first, I decided that it should be placed last in the piece. Then I started to compose and, as always, I was carried away with the music. After a long phase of coalescing it gradually becomes clear and begins to take form.
My starting point is always that I examine something with the help of music. I try to hear what needs to be said, what needs to be expressed. It becomes a conversation with the notes, in which I set in motion processes keenly alive to where the music wants to go. I work at it, play it over and over, knead, sing, dream the music forth. If it is inspired, it opens up and starts to compose itself. Things arise that I never would have been able to hit upon by thinking. You have to pay attention, have your feelers up.
The first movement is desolate with wind gongs, cymbals and icy brass. In the midst of this: the choir, Humanity.
In the second movement, the choir – we humans – sing to the Earth. Telling who we were. How we lived. The sonorities are often in unison, having the simplicity of a song. At times almost romantic. Actually, when listening to a recent playback I thought it was a little too romantic, too beautiful. As an artist, I then began to paint over the movement with trills, sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant. Now and then I made the music come to a halt, freeze. The movement concludes with the choir singing in many different languages to the Earth: Save yourself from us! Save us from ourselves! Save us!
The last movement is quite dramatic, a depiction of a natural disaster and a lament combined: The burning earth. The tremoring earth … The piece is rounded off by an extended coda.
Text: Karin Rehnqvist
“When I had completed the second, and then revised the first, I assure you: no more symphonies. Damn them! I don’t know how to write them, and above all, I don’t want to,” Sergei Rachmaninov wrote to his friend Nikita Morozov in the winter of 1907. It still tormented him ten years after the disastrous first performance of his first symphony. This was no surprise, as the acerbic critic César Cui compared it something composed by a student at the conservatory of hell, inspired by the ten Plagues of Egypt.
Rachmaninov moved with his family to Dresden in November 1906, partly to escape the effects of the first Russian Revolution, partly to work in peace. He had already started working on his second symphony, but although he was no longer affected by writer’s block he was still haunted by the events of 1897, and progress was slow. It did not help that one of his friends leaked information about the new symphony to the St Petersburg press. As a result, the far from completed work was booked for the coming season. However, this time it was a resounding success, and the papers named Rachmaninov a worthy successor to Tchaikovsky, his favourite composer. He could not have wished for a better response.
The symphony’s first movement is almost programmatic, with a theme that runs through the four movements. The dramatic first movement follows a slow, mysterious introduction. The second movement takes over from the first in the same agitated spirit. A new theme, reminiscent of a medieval Dies Irae, runs through the second movement. After several musical turns, the second movement ends in an eruption that slowly fades out. The poetic, languorous third movement takes over from the dramatic second movement in the form of two wonderful, distinct melodies in succession: one played by the violins, the other by the clarinet. There are also fragments of the introductory theme from the first movement and the Dies Irae element from the second movement. The fourth and final movement, like the first, is in the form of a sonata. A lively, fanfare-like introductory theme is followed by a magnificent, sweeping second theme. Motifs and material from the first three movements are expertly interwoven in the mid-section, and at the end the grandiose and the fanfare-like come together in a triumphant finale.
Text: David Saulesco