The concert season begins with a message by the vocal ensemble EXAUDI from the source of our musical heritage and the heart of Italian vocal polyphony.
A conductor born and bred in Helsinki, Susanna Mälkki grew up to the accompaniment of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2004 she received her first invitation to conduct the orchestra of which she would become Chief Conductor in autumn 2016. Her path to the conductor’s podium passed through the cello classes of the Sibelius Academy and the Edsberg Institute in Stockholm, however, and the position of principal cellist in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. She made her conducting breakthrough in 1999, at the Helsinki Festival, and her first regular conducting appointment was as Artistic Director of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. Her Music Directorship of the celebrated Ensemble Intercontemporain (2006–2013) established her as a profound interpreter of music of the present day.
Susanna Mälkki has conducted the world’s finest orchestras. In season 2017-18 she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera season and took over as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Musical America voted her Conductor of the Year 2017.
During the 2019-2020 concert season Mälkki will debut at both the Orchestre de Paris and the Orchestra dell’ Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Other highlights of the upcoming season include concerts with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. At the Paris Opera she will be conducting Philippe Boesmans’ Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy.
Founded by James Weeks and Juliet Fraser, EXAUDI is one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles for new music. It is strongly involved with the emerging generation of young composers, and regularly takes part in composer development schemes and residencies. The newest new music is at the heart of its repertoire, and through its commissioning scheme, it is particularly committed to the music of its own generation. EXAUDI is also passionately committed to education, from composer mentoring to vocal masterclasses and choral workshops. Its members – Juliet Fraser (soprano), Rebecca Lean (soprano), Emma Tring (soprano), Lucy Goddard (mezzo), Tom Williams (countertenor), Stephen Jeffes (tenor), Jonathan Bungard (tenor), David de Winter (bass), Jimmy Holliday (bass) and Simon Whitely (bass) – have all made their mark in repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary, solos in orchestral works and opera. Lucy Goddard is also an accomplished violinist and David de Winter a sports reporter. Director James Weeks also composes and teaches composition at the Guildhall School of Music.
Follow EXAUDI on Twitter @EXAUDIensemble
Carlo Gesualdo: Asciugate i begli occhi (“Dry those lovely eyes”, Madrigals Book V no. 14)
Carlo Gesualdo (1560–1613), Prince of Venosa and famous for killing his wife and burning witches in his back yard, also had a passion for composing. Along with several others at the turn of the century, he was one of the fathers of a new type of madrigal (a part-song for several voices typically unaccompanied and arranged in elaborate counterpoint) in which the music was now subordinate to the text. These composers thus subjected their chosen poems to radical musical treatment designed to underline their message. Gesualdo’s madrigals represented the avant-garde in their day. They were composed for a refined audience thoroughly familiar with the prevailing musical idioms. Six books of madrigals by him were printed as scores in 1613. This was unusual, and they were probably intended for persons wishing to study his style. The songs’ potent emotional charge still clearly speaks to the present-day listener.
Igor Stravinsky: Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum (1960)
The Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) is based on three of that composer’s madrigals, one of them that on tonight’s programme. It is a free arrangement for orchestral instruments much in the style of Anton Webern’s transcriptions of Bach. The idea itself is far from new, since vocal music was sometimes already being coloured by instruments back in Gesualdo’s day. Yet even when performed on an organ or by a consort of flutes, the music at that time still had to follow the rhythm of the words. Stravinsky’s approach nevertheless deviates from its 17th-century models, being more in the nature of a free fantasia using the instruments of a modern orchestra instead of the shawms, brass and fiddles of a Renaissance ensemble. He wrote his Monumentum for the Gesualdo quadricentennial and it was premiered in 1960. A few months later, George Balanchine choreographed it for New York City Ballet.
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 104
The allusions to contrapuntal style in the Symphony No. 6 by Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) are often thought to derive from his interest in the polyphonic music of the 16th–17th centuries. This symphony makes use of the Dorian mode on D somewhat similar to a minor scale; centuries ago, this scale was deemed suitable for the expression of topics of a serious, exalted nature.
Sibelius begins by presenting two contrasting worlds. The first of these, on oboe and flute, will later prove important in the development section, and the second, on strings, will superimpose the two worlds as they build up to the climax. The second movement is a set of variations on two alternative themes in the spirit of Haydn. The third is a lively scherzo in which Sibelius exploits the potential of different time signatures, and the fourth is again a set of variations.
The sixth symphony of 1923, the seventh of 1924 and the tone poem Tapiola of 1926 were to be Sibelius’s last great works, for he gradually stopped composing after 1927.
Luciano Berio: Sinfonia for Eight Solo Voices and Orchestra
Luciano Berio (1925–2003) liked drawing on material of various kinds – images of a mental asylum and of the sinking Titanic, for example – yet all bear the mark of death. He built his Sinfonia on the themes of water and death. For the first movement he turned to Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Le cru et le cuit examining the transformation of myths about water, picking out individual words and sounds. The second movement is a tribute to Martin Luther King and constructs a phonetic game that slowly forms the words “O Martin Luther King”. Serving as the frame for the third movement is the Scherzo from Mahler’s second symphony, but as its tonal idiom is far from Berio’s own, he replaces some of it with quotations from Debussy, Schönberg and Berg. There are also snatches of Beckett. The fourth movement is made up of phonetic material from the phrase “Rose de sang” (rose of blood, a reference to “O Röslein rot” in the Mahler symphony and Luther King’s wounds), and for the fifth movement Berio uses Beckett and fragments of Lévi-Strauss.