Göteborgs Konserthus Debussy Days

Shimmering forces of nature with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali and pianist Alice Sara Ott.

Concert length: 2 h incl. intermission Scene: Stora salen
370-530 SEK Student 185-265 SEK

Here we meet two works by the composer Debussy. His Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun takes us from morning to midday at sea, to an afternoon in the company of the dangerous faun, half-goat and half-human. This piece of music caused a sensation when it first arrived and is felt by many to have initiated the era of modern music with its hypnotic, intoxicating sounds. Debussy’s music often conveys associations with an impressionistic shimmer, but here there are also pure forces of nature that find expression in the storms of the sea and the faun’s erotic desires.

The second work – La Mer (The Sea) – represents a milestone in the orchestral repertoire with its three ”symphonic sketches”. Debussy’s friend and colleague Satie rather insultingly stated that he ”liked the bit about quarter to eleven” in the first movement of The Sea.

This evening the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is joined by the brilliant pianist Alice Sara Ott. On this occasion she treats us to a Ravel’s amazing Piano Concerto for the Left Hand i D major.

This evening’s conductor is Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.


Get to know the classic works.

Get to know the pianist Alice Sara Ott.

Introduction to the concert

Take a seat in the Great Hall one hour before the concert begins and learn more about the music you will soon experience! You will get the stories behind the music, knowledge of the composers and own reflections about the classical pieces. The introduction last for about 30 minutes, it is free and free seating in the hall. Warm welcome!



CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun In 1889, the centenary of the French Revolution was to be celebrated. One wonders how the conversation went in the anniversary committee: "This is the most important event in the history of civilization! The whole world must be involved! We are building a tower to heaven! Telegraph Gustave!" Sometimes it pays to aim for the stars: the Eiffel Tower was built and all the people of the world came to the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Industrialism and machines were celebrated in a Galerie des machines, while various indigenous peoples were exposed in the "human zoo" that fascinated Europeans in the 19th century. The 27-year-old Claude Debussy was one of the visitors among steam engines and constructed villages. He was most impressed by the gamelan orchestra from Java. This was before the era of the radio and the gramophone record and few people had heard this exotic and evocative percussion music with gongs, bells and drums accompanying dance and shadow theatre. Debussy was fascinated by the timbres and fifth-tone scales that became apparent in much of his future music. An example is Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun with its falling flute motif and ancient cymbals, crotales, which play a small but important role in the piece. These little cymbals sparkle like stars with brilliant reverberations in the shimmering orchestral chords. Debussy's 1894 orchestral piece was inspired by the poem L'après-midi d'un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé, the Symbolist poet with an unrivaled sense of linguistic nuances and timbres (he himself saw his poetry as music). That the piece was titled "prelude" is because, according to some sources, Debussy planned a three-movement suite with prelude, interlude and paraphrase finale, but only completed the prelude.

MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937) PIANO CONCERTO IN D FOR THE LEFT HAND Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was written in 1930 at the request of the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961). At the beginning of the last century, he had begun a promising career, but in 1915 he lost his right arm during the World War. As the repertoire for the left hand was extremely limited, he set about commissioning new music from a long line of prominent composers: Ravel, Strauss, Prokofiev, Franz Schmidt, Hindemith, Korngold and Britten. Ravel wanted the concerto to sound as if it had been written for two hands: "I have composed in a style similar to the often powerful tonal language of the traditional piano concertos. After the introduction and an improvisational episode follows a jazz section. Only later does one notice that this is based on the same themes such as the introduction." The left-hand concerto is distinctly dramatic and held in dark, saturated colors. When it was given in Paris the year after the premiere in Vienna, the music historian Henry Prunières wrote that one could hardly believe anything other than that the solo part was performed with two hands, and sometimes even with four. It says something about the degree of difficulty but also about Ravel's ability to take the limitation as a challenge. LENNART DEHN

Intermission 25 min

With the successful premiere of the opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, Claude Debussy established himself seriously as a composer, and after the breakthrough he worked faster and with increased confidence. The Sea (La Mer) was composed between 1903 and 1905, and is among his most audience-friendly orchestral works. Despite the subtitle Three Symphonic Sketches, it is more like a symphony in its structure, but at the same time is a little too unorthodox to be called that, as it deviates from convention in the details. Debussy's stated preference for Asian pentatonic scales, rather than the conventional Western scales, also adds an extra layer of "shimmer" to the sound. CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918) The Sea In the first movement, From dawn to noon on the sea, Debussy allows the main theme to develop towards a powerful finale, after first being born out of indistinct tonality. With a complicated orchestration at the bottom, where the strings are sometimes divided into up to fifteen parts, together with the horns, the harp and the woodwind, he creates an effective sound world that flows with rich harmonies. The third movement, Dialogue between wind and waves, is a symbolic and powerful musical dialogue between vague and distinct moods. In between we have a scherzo, Play of the Waves, where Debussy shows us a masterful test of free form. The theme material and instrumentation alternates playfully, and is somewhat reminiscent of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. All three movements have the changeability of the sea as a metaphor for music in constant motion, something Debussy returns to in later compositions. ANDREAS KONVICKA

Thursday 9 February 2023: The event ends at approx. 21.30
Friday 10 February 2023: The event ends at approx. 20.00


The Gothenburg Symphony, called "one of the world's most formidable orchestras" by the Guardian, has toured the USA, Europe, Japan and the Far East and performed at major music centres and festivals throughout the world. Chief conductor is Santtu-Matias Rouvali who started his tenure in 2017. Barbara Hannigan and Christoph Eschenbach are principal guest conductors since 2019. Already at the orchestra's very first years, the great Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar was appointed principal conductor, contributing strongly to the Nordic profile of the orchestra by inviting his colleagues Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius to conduct their own works. Subsequent holders of the post include Sergiu Comissiona, Sixten Ehrling and Charles Dutoit. During Neeme Järvi's tenure (1982-2004), the orchestra became a major international force. In 1997 it was appointed the National Orchestra of Sweden. During his celebrated tenure as music director (2007-2012), Gustavo Dudamel took the Orchestra to major music centres and festivals in Europe, making acclaimed appearances at BBC Proms and Vienna Musikverein. The list of prominent guest conductors has included Wilhelm Furtwängler, Pierre Monteux, Herbert von Karajan, Myung-Whun Chung, Herbert Blomstedt and Sir Simon Rattle. The orchestra also runs extensive concert projects for children, and regularly releases digital live concerts free on gsoplay.se. The orchestra has been involved in many prestigious recording projects, the latest one the complete Sibelius Symphonies with Santtu-Matias Rouvali for Alpha Classics. Earlier, the orchestra has issued over 100 recordings on BIS, Deutsche Grammophon, Chandos, Farao Classics and several other labels. The Gothenburg Symphony is owned by the Region Västra Götaland.

Since 2017, Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony. He also has a successful international conducting career and has been hailed by The Guardian as "the latest great talent in the Finnish conducting tradition that you just have to listen to". Santtu-Matias Rouvali is also chief conductor of the Tampere City Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. He has toured with the Gothenburg Symphony and pianist Hélène Grimaud in Nordic capitals as well as with pianist Alice Sara Ott and percussionist Martin Grubinger in Germany. Throughout the season 2022-2023, Santtu-Matias Rouvali continues his relationships with top level orchestras across Europe, including Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Münichner Philharmoniker, as well as returning to the New York Philharmonic for his annual visits. He works with soloists including Víkingur Ólafsson, Nemanja Radulovic, Yuja Wang, Nicola Benedetti, Behzod Abduraimov, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Alice Sara Ott, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Vadim Gluzman, Randall Goosby, and Vilde Frang.

It is a pleasure to welcome Alice Sara Ott back to the Gothenburg Symphony. The German pianist is one of the classical music scene's most in-demand artists. She appears regularly with many of the world's top conductors, such as Gustavo Dudamel, Antonio Pappano, Sakari Oramo, Myung Whun Chung, Hannu Lintu and orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Radio Symphony and Wiener Symphoniker, to name a few, and toured with the Gothenburg Symphony in 2019. Alice Sara Ott's latest album, Echoes Of Life (Deutsche Grammophon 2021), is her personal musical reflection on life, built around Chopin's Preludies Op 28 and interspersed with seven works by György Ligeti, Nino Rota, Chilly Gonzales, Tôru Takemitsu, Arvo Pärt, Francesco Tristano and Ott himself. Her collaboration with architect Hakan Demirel resulted in a digital video installation accompanying the concert, which she toured with in 2022. Echoes Of Life followed standout albums such as Nightfall, Wonderland and The Chopin Project, bringing her total album streams to over 150 million. In the 2021-2022 season, Alice Sara Ott performed Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand on tour with the Orchester Philharmonique de Radio France and Mikko Franck. Alice Sara Ott is also a very active chamber musician and has had a concert series in collaboration with the London Symphony where she appears with musicians such as violinists Ray Chen and Nemanja Radulovic, clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy and cellists Pablo Ferrández and Alexey Stadler.

Questions? Contact the ticket office
Read more in the magazine

Nr 3 2022-2023 Tonsättarporträtt: Claude Debussy, 1862-1918

Vi tittar närmare på tonsättaren Claude Debussy.