The overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream was conceived in Berlin in the Mendelssohn family’s enormous garden, where the young Felix and his sisters presented pageants, plays and musical performances inspired by the likes of Shakespeare. Salvatore Sciarrino took inspiration for his Allegoria della notte from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. As Sciarrino himself put it, the piece is ”the uninhabited side of Planet Mendelssohn” whose darkness is dissipated by the themes of the violin concerto.
Estonian conductor Olari Elts (b. 1971) rose to fame on winning the Jorma Panula Conducting Competition in 1999 and the International Sibelius Conductors’ Competition the following year. He was Principal Conductor of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra 2001–2006 and has since held such posts as Principal Guest of the Orchestre de Bretagne, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. He was Principal Guest Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra 2011–2014 and has been Artistic Advisor of the Kymi Sinfonietta since 2018.
Elts is particularly well known for his close connections with contemporary music and his collaboration with fellow Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür. In 2018, he was awarded the Eesti Kultuurikapitali for his services to Estonian music, and the following year the Estonian Music Prize for his CD of Tüür’s 8th symphony. With the NYYD Ensemble, the new music collective he founded in 1993, he has won himself a reputation for innovative programming. His guest conducting engagements have taken him all across Europe and to America, and this season brought him to Helsinki to conduct the Finnish Radio Symphony and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.
Ilja Gringolts (b. 1982), undisputedly one of the greatest violinists in the world today, returns to Helsinki tonight to play the works by Mendelssohn and Sciarrino he performed here last month with Elts and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. “For me, these two works mark the co-existence of two different worlds: on the one hand, we have the classic-romantic sound and on the other hand, the fantasy world of the music of the night, where Sciarrino likes to spend his time,” he says. “Perhaps this is an attempt to connect these two worlds with an invisible thread – if it is at all possible. A real black hole of a piece!”
A frequent visitor to Finland, Gringolts was last heard with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 2003. He has also been the soloist and conductor with the Finnish Baroque Orchestra. He lives and teaches in Zurich and likes to spend his free time with his three daughters, with books and films. A very private person, he considers himself as an introvert and says that if he had not become a violinist, he would possibly have sought a career in cinema: not as an actor, but preferably behind a camera.
Ilja Gringolts plays a violin made by Guarneri del Gesù in 1742.
Felix Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Op. 21
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) was 17 when he read a German translation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer-Night’s Dream and was immediately fired to compose an overture inspired by it that was premiered in 1827. Years later, he wrote a suite of incidental music for the play that included his possibly best-known piece, the Wedding March. The overture conjures up the three different worlds enacted on the stage: the forest realm of the magical, ethereal fairies, expressed in rustling strings; the trials of the young Athenians trying to sort out their love problems in highly romantic melodies; and the antics of the slightly stupid artisans in somewhat simple, rhythmic music. Thanks to a plot devised by the fairies, the Queen of the Fairies, Titania, falls in love with one of the artisans, a weaver, whose head has been turned into that of a donkey. The overture does not keep very closely to the plot.
Salvatore Sciarrino: Allegoria della notte for Violin and Orchestra
Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947) is one of the leading Italian composers of his generation, and winner of many prestigious awards. He has had operas performed at, among others, La Scala, La Fenice and German opera houses, and he has also written orchestral, chamber, solo and electronic music.
Sciarrino wrote Allegoria della notte for violin and orchestra in 1985 and it was premiered at that year’s Venice Biennale with Salvatore Accardo, to whom it is dedicated, as the soloist. Many of Sciarrino’s works have some connection, if only a passing one, with another composer, and in the case of the Allegoria it is with Felix Mendelssohn’s E minor violin concerto. Fragments of that concerto are heard at the beginning. In the middle section, they may be experienced as a long echo and shadow, and towards the end, Sciarrino introduces some surprising new Mendelssohn fragments. The refined colours and effects typical of Sciarrino’s style create a musical space in which every little gesture has a meaning.
Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
The violin concerto composed by Felix Mendelssohn for his violinist friend Ferdinand David, leader of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra of which Mendelssohn was conductor, got an ecstatic reception at its premiere in 1845 and has remained firmly in the concert repertoire even during the times when the music of Mendelssohn was either politically or aesthetically frowned upon. It is in fact performed so often that the British musicologist Donald Tovey went so far as to say, “I rather envy the enjoyment of anyone who should hear the Mendelssohn concerto for the first time and find that, like Hamlet, it was full of quotations.” Despite being cast in the more or less established mould, the concerto does have some signs of experiment. One is the main theme of the first movement, which is introduced right at the beginning by the soloist and not the orchestra. The concerto is in three movements, the second and third performed without a break.
Lotta Wennäkoski: Verdigris
Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski (b. 1970) often seeks in her music to engage in dialogue with social issues, examples being the status of women, human trafficking and forced prostitution. She is at present working on an opera about the woman once engaged to the philosopher Kierkegaard. Verdigris (2014–2015) was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius. It therefore seemed only natural to weave him into her work. The listener may catch references to his En Saga, and the whole of Wennäkoski’s work may have the feel of a saga. ‘Verdigris’ means ‘patina’ and it was inspired by the idea of the patina on an imaginary statue of Sibelius. “A composer adds more and more sheets of manuscript to the pile of musical history. As a rule, the relationship with the old is somewhat obliterated, but sometimes, as in this case, I borrow direct and audibly. Hopefully, this new layer will nevertheless also acquire a green patina.”
Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11
Felix Mendelssohn composed his first symphony for a full orchestra in 1824, at the age of only 15. It was premiered at a private party for his sister Fanny on her 19th birthday and in public three years later. Before even reaching the age of 14, Felix had already written a dozen symphonies for strings that showed he had closely studied both the counterpoint of Bach and the large-scale forms favoured by the Viennese Classicists. If his idiom strikes the modern listener as being somewhat conservative, then the reason may be that his composition teacher, Carl Zelter, had encouraged him to write in the spirit of such earlier colleagues as Mozart. One critic at the English premiere in 1827 was impressed by the novelty and invention of the music; this may seem strange to the modern listener, considering that Beethoven had only recently completed his ninth symphony. In any case, the four-movement symphony displays an astonishing command of technique, and it was, after all, written by a mere teenager!