Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra plays in Vara Concert Hall. This evening’s programme features three works written in the 1930s, with elusive love as the common theme, under the leadership of Pekka Kuusisto. The audience is treated to a meeting of extremes – Barber’s melancholic world hit Adagio for strings and Schönberg’s challenging and uncompromising Violin Concerto – with the Swedish rising star Ava Bahari. The evening is rounded off with the soft rhythms that have made Prokofiev’s Romeo and Julia such an immortal work.
Bach / Reger O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß 6 min
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß
(transcript by Max Reger)
St Matthew’s Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed in its first version in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig in 1727, is considered by many to be one of the most important works in the history of music. As text for the dramatic story of Jesus' suffering, Bach primarily used poems by the poet Picander. To this were added German hymns, where the choir considers and appeals to God's goodness. In the final version of the work, the finale of Part 1 consists of such a chorale; O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (O Man, bewail your great sin). Bach took the melody itself from a hymn written around 1524 by Matthias Greiter, a monk in Strassburg. Bach had previously used it in an organ prelude. Now he also added the text by the hymn writer Sebald Heyden.
The first stanza addresses the listener, asking her to remember and lament her great sin. The next line says that Jesus Christ came to earth wanting to be a mediator (Mittler). The second half of the stanza mentions that he removed all sickness before sacrificing himself, bearing the heavy burden of our sins (unsrer Sünden schwere Bürd). In both orchestra and choir, Bach exposes man and his shortcomings. Where we transgress our authority, we show not strength, but weakness. When we hurt our neighbor, we also hurt ourselves. In a chorale further on, forgiveness awaits: "I do not deny my sin, but your grace and mercy are much greater".
The composer Max Reger, like Bach, was based in Leipzig, where he was a professor at the conservatory at the beginning of the 20th century. Here he has taken Bach's hymn and turned it into slow strings, as humble as human voices.
Schönberg Violin Concerto 33 min
Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951)
Violin Concerto Op 36
Schönberg saw himself as a natural continuation of the successful Austrian musical tradition of Mozart-Beethoven-Brahms. It was never his intention to revolutionize or innovate, but at the same time he felt a strong need to reform. The keys began to lose their role when, among other things, Wagner began to chromatically use all twelve notes of the scale in the same work.
Schönberg did not like that lawlessness and tried to create new rules. But when he launched his twelve-tone technique at the turn of the century, there was an outcry. Over time, this method of democratically allowing all twelve notes of the chromatic scale to have equal value has become accepted, and composers have striven to make it a tool that the listener should not notice, any more than the sonata form.
In 1936 Schönberg completed his only violin concerto and he dedicated it to his devoted student Anton Webern. But the music was found so difficult to play that it lay unperformed for four years before Louis Krasner (who also premiered Alban Berg's violin concerto) and conductor Leopold Stokowski dared to take the plunge. Even after that, the concert has been a rare guest on the stages. It has sometimes been said that it requires six fingers. Nor does the orchestra escape easily in this uncompromising, delicate and very precisely notated work, where each note is a carefully weighed detail of the whole.
As rare as it is on concert programs, it is just as carefully studied by music theorists, who have here a splendid example of fully developed twelve-tone music. I don't think modern listeners has as much difficulty absorbing the music as they did when it was new.
Prokofjev from Romeo och Julia 40 min
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
From Romeo och Julia
1 Montague and Capulet
2 Folk dance
6 Mask game
7 Romeo and Juliet
8 Death of Tybalt
9 Romeo at Juliet's grave
For 400 years, Shakespeare's works have been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for composers. Iago's jealousy, Lady Macbeth's evil, Falstaff's gluttony, the enchanted forest romance in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ariel and Caliban's eternal battle in The Tempest; all are themes that have given rise to countless musical expositions. But the undying love between Romeo and Juliet, the family conflict of life and death and the final tragedy for the young lovers, might be the drama that has left the deepest musical traces.
Nowadays, it is not least musical composers who constantly return to Shakespeare, and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story is certainly not the only golden egg. As early as 1938, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart made Boys from Syracuse based on the rather unknown comedy The Comedy of Errors. Cole Porter's "Kiss me Kate", based on The Taming of the Shrew, became a Broadway hit with over 1,000 performances. But of course it was when the Bernstein-Laurents-Sondheim trio transplanted the Romeo and Juliet motif into the racial conflicts between two youth leagues in Manhattan that Shakespeare became a reality for a whole world again. The question is whether there are so many more remnants of classical education that are known by today's youth. But almost everyone has heard of Romeo and Juliet.
In 1944, Sergei Prokofiev received an order from the Kirov Theater in Leningrad for a ballet about Romeo and Juliet. The music was composed in 1935-1936, but since most ballet experts believed that the music was completely impossible for dance use, the set dragged on. They also tried to influence the composer to insert a "happy ending". Only after strong protests from literary expertise was it possible to preserve the original.
As early as October 1936, however, Prokofiev had played some piano transcriptions of the ballet music at a concert in Moscow and had been praised by Izvestia's critics for his new "realistic language". Impatient with all the fuss with the Kirov Theater, he proceeded to arrange a couple of orchestral suites from the ballet music. Suite No. 1 was performed in Moscow in November 1936, and in April 1937 the composer himself conducted the second suite in Leningrad. Later that year, he performed a piano suite comprising ten excerpts from the ballet. A few years later he also compiled a third orchestral suite.
The premiere of Prokofiev's ballet came to pass the Kirov Theater. Instead, it took place at a provincial theater in Brno, Czechoslovakia in December 1938. The problem was the "chamber qualities" of the music, all the harmonic rhythms and subtleties and the transparent orchestration, which terrified the dancers. Prokofiev was furious at the protests: "I know what you want. You want drums, not music." Eventually, Romeo and Juliet came to be regarded as the beginning of a new era in Russian ballet.
Thursday 26 January 2023: The event ends at approx. 21.00
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
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.
Pekka Kuusisto conductor
Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto has been described as "one of a kind" and is known for his curiosity and exploration of his repertoire. He has a special feeling for conducting ensembles from his violin.
Pekka Kuusisto is Artistic director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. From and during the 2023/24 season, he will be principal guest conductor and artistic co-leader of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. He is Artistic Partner of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony as well as Artistic Best Friend of Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen. He is an advocate of contemporary music and performed the 2021 world premiere of Bryce Dessners Violin concert with HR Sinfonieorchester. He has also recently premiered works of Sauli Zinovjev, Daníel Bjarnason, Anders Hillborg, Philip Venables and Andrea Tarrodi.
In the 2022/23 season, Kuusisto will debut as soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker and perform with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. He returns to orchestras such as The Cleveland, Cincinnati Symphony, San Francisco Symphony and Philharmonia.
After several visits at the Gothenburg Symphony as a soloist, we now get to see Pekka Kuusisto conduct the orchestra.
Ava Bahari violin
The violinist Ava Bahari was born in 1996 in Gothenburg. After studying for seven years with Professor Terje Moe Hansen at the School of Music in Oslo, she continued her violin studies with the former concertmaster of the Gothenburg Symphony, Per Enoksson. She has also taken lessons from leading music educators such as Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff and Ana Chumachenko and studied at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin.
Ava Bahari's career began at the age of eleven when she won her first competitions. In 2010, she qualified for the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin competition as the only representative from Sweden in the class for young people up to 20 years old. The successes continued when she won the Swedish award Polstjärnepriset in 2012.
In 2015, Ava Bahari was a youth grantee at Stenastiftelsen and was able to start her studies in Berlin.
In 2021 she won 3rd prize in the prestigious international Paganini competition. Ava Bahari has also competed in the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Competition where she made it to the final round in 2022.
In 2013, she appeared in SVT's drama series Molanders, where she played the violinist Yulia.
Ava has also received music and culture scholarships, among others from Sten A Olsson's Foundation for Research and Culture, Royal Society of Science and Knowledge in Gothenburg and the Willinska Foundation.