To mark Finnish Music Day, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is going on a tour of our hometown. The concert programme has even more historical significance this year, as it has been a hundred years since Sibelius’s Humoresques were first performed. The concerts will be performed without a conductor, showcasing the chamber music dimensions of the orchestra.
The path to the top of Alina Pogostkina (b. 1983) has not been an easy one. The daughter of Russian violinists who moved to Germany when she was seven and earned a living as street musicians, she always knew she wanted to be a violinist, too. Her great moment came in 2005, when she won the 2005 Sibelius Competition in Helsinki and the special prize for the best interpretation of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Audiences may remember her from her performance of that concerto with the HPO in 2011.
Alina Pogostkina has been unusually open in speaking of her mindscapes, pressures, Weltschmerz and various mental blocks. In recent years, she has taken a break from practising and performing in order to seek new sources of inspiration and to allow personal development. In 2018, following her desire to further explore the spiritual aspect of music, she created ‘Mindful Music Making’, a specially curated programme which aims to bring mindfulness and deeper exploration of individual creativity relevant to the 21st-century classical musician.
Jean Sibelius: Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra
Having completed his great violin concerto in 1904 (and revised it in 1905), Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) went on to write several works for solo violin: two serenades and two little pieces (Cantique and Devotion) for violin and orchestra, and a sonata for violin and piano. The sketches he further made in 1917 never resulted in a second concerto, but they did produce six Humoresques for violin and orchestra. Though divided into two opuses (87 and 89), Sibelius probably intended them for performance together. The soloist at the premiere in 1919 was Paul Cherkassky, leader of the HPO, and the conductor was Sibelius. Despite being short, the Humoresques had an “excellent format”, said Sibelius. Humorous the Humoresques are not, but they are all the richer for their dance-like violin writing, masterly twists and Sibelian harmonies. The dancing first and third Humoresques are delicate, the second and fifth technically challenging, the fourth bears echoes of Grieg-like melodies and folk songs, and the eloquent sixth with its sudden mood shifts promises a great climax that in reality never comes.
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 3
The swelling strains of his first and second symphonies had made Jean Sibelius a national icon, so the third (1907), cautiously pointing to a less lavish future idiom, came as something of a surprise. The critics shook their heads and composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov asked him why he did not write in the usual way, telling him that the audience would not be able to follow or understand his symphony. This criticism must, however, be read in its temporal context, for it was in complete contrast to the mammoth works of such contemporaries as Rachmaninoff, Glière and especially Mahler. The romantic symphony was, however, on the way out. Sibelius, on meeting Mahler, said he admired the austerity and profound logic of a symphony in which all the motifs are interconnected. But Mahler disagreed: “No,” he said. “A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”
Sibelius’s third does not embrace everything, but nor does it lack anything. In 1940, by which time his pen had been gathering dust for a decade already, Sibelius recalled his symphony’s reception and Rimsky-Korsakov’s fatherly advice. “And now,” said Sibelius, “I am certain that my symphonies are played more than his.