Dima Slobodeniouk was all set to become a virtuoso violinist until he picked up a baton and was almost immediately sold. Born in Moscow in 1975, he settled permanently in Finland in 1992 and studied in the legendary Sibelius Academy conducting classes of Atso Almila, Leif Segerstam and Jorma Panula. His conducting career has traced a steady upwards curve, beginning with HPO children’s concerts in 2001 and leading to his appointment as Music Director of the Galicia Symphony Orchestra in Spain in 2013 and Principal Conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland in 2016. Recent merits have included his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and this season, guest concerts as conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Apart from music, Dima’s other great passion is flying, and he has clocked up more than 400 flight hours with different types of aircraft. In 2014, he received his private pilot licence and an instrument rating which allows him to fly with a visibility of less than a metre, simply by referring to the instruments in the cockpit. “A bit like conducting a whole concert without once looking up at the orchestra,” he says. “The main thing is keeping a close check on your instruments and your nerves.”
Copenhagen 2004 marked a turning point in the career of Finnish soprano Anu Komsi: it was the first time she sang Morton Feldman’s monodrama opera Neither and her most difficult role to date. On hearing her performance, Joséphine Markovits, Artistic Director of the Paris Autumn Festival, suggested to George Benjamin the composer that he tailor a part for Komsi in the opera Into the Little Hill he was writing for the 2006 festival. This he did, and Anu has since sung it dozens of times to great acclaim.
These are just two of the works in a repertoire that also includes Heinz Holliger’s Snow White and the part of Eva in Stockhausen’s Thursday from Light. Anu has the same respect for contemporary as for Romantic music. “The same moral rules apply to contemporary music as to older repertoire: the more exacting you are and the purer your intonation, the better it will sound. The audience don’t need to make a musical analysis in order to recognise a brilliant performance.” Though singing Neither demands the stamina of a long-distance runner and the lungs of a deep-sea diver, the hypnotic mood and weighty text make her forget the physical strain. Every performance moves her, for the work has a drama she cannot describe.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 38 “Prague”
Considering how Salzburg has succeeded in branding itself as the home town of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), it may come as something of a surprise to learn how he longed to get away from it! His dream came true in 1781, when he got himself dismissed from his post at the Archbishop’s court and moved to Vienna. He there faced keener competition, however, and although his operas The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito won warm acclaim, it came not from Viennese circles but in Prague, a week’s journey away in a horse and carriage. And it was in Prague that his Symphony No. 38 was premiered in 1786. The Prague audience virtually ate out of his hand. “They understand me,” Mozart is said to have exclaimed.
Whether or not Mozart intended his symphony to be performed specifically in Prague is uncertain, but its unusual three-movement format and its long passages for that city’s famous Bohemian wind players does suggest it was made to measure.
Morton Feldman: Neither
Morton Feldman (1926–1987) was sick of scores full of special symbols and a preordained set of parameters. He wanted his music to be quite the opposite. His best works are almost hypnotic, transporting the listener to a sort of suspended time. They do not seek to entertain in the traditional sense, or to tell a story.
The “libretto” of Feldman’s only “opera” Neither (1977) is a 16-line poem by Samuel Beckett. The collaboration of these two unconventional artists is unusual in that Beckett did not like having his texts used as songs. The title “Neither” is thought to be some kind of insider joke expressing their shared dislike of traditional opera. The monodrama has no plot, and nothing much really happens.