Beginning his musical career as a violinist, John Storgårds served as the leader of many orchestras in Finland and abroad before qualifying as a conductor at the Sibelius Academy. He still continues his violinist career as a soloist and in chamber ensembles.
John Storgårds began his conducting career with the Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra from 1992 to 1996, the year in which he was appointed Artistic Director of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra – a post he still holds. From 2003 to 2008 he was Principal Guest Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and from 2008 to 2015 its 12th Chief Conductor. He has also held regular conducting posts in Oulu, Tapiola and Tampere. At the Savonlinna Opera Festival he conducted Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 2000 and Don Giovanni in 2016.
Now Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (2012–) and Principal Guest Conductor of the National Arts Centre Ottawa (2015–), John Storgårds is also Artistic Partner of the Munich Chamber Orchestra. He makes regular guest conducting appearances with, among other, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the St. Louis, Toronto and Houston orchestras.
His guest conducting schedule for the 2018–2019 season include, besides Helsinki, also e.g. return to the Boston Symphony Orchestra bodium, debut with Munich Philharmonics and Dallas Symphony, and a soloist debut appearance in Musikverein in Vienna with Tonkünstler Orchestra.
John Storgårds has released many discs as both violinist and conductor, including the complete Sibelius and Nielsen Symphonies with the BBCPO, and most recently Symphonies 2, 4, 5 & 6 by Per Nørgård with the Oslo Philharmonic. The disc featuring him as the soloist in the Violin Concerto by Pēteris Vasks won the Cannes Classical Disc of the Year Award in 2004.
His principal violin teacher was Chaim Taub.
Follow John Storgårds on Twitter: @johnstorgards
Says Baiba Skride of Bernstein’s Serenade:
“I love the piece, but it’s not often played in Europe – it’s for small orchestra and lots of percussion so it can slip through the net. It’s also challenging – the violin writing isn’t very idiomatic, the intonation can be difficult, there’s nowhere to breathe – and it’s hard to get the overall idea of the piece because it’s all chopped up into different movements.”
This may be difficult to believe on hearing its performance by Baiba Skride, one of this century’s most celebrated violinists. She has many times collaborated with Finnish orchestras and conductors (the HPO under John Storgårds included), and has recorded Bernstein’s Serenade with Finland’s Santtu-Matias Rouvali.
One of three Latvian sisters now all eminent musicians, Baiba (b. 1981) studied in Germany and at the age of 16 took the first prize in the Jeunesse Musicales competition in Bucharest. She made her real breakthrough, however, in 2001 on winning the world’s most prestigious competition, the Queen Elisabeth in Brussels.
George Antheil: Over the Plains
As a young man, American George Antheil (1900–1959) loved to provoke his audiences. On one occasion, he began a concert by pulling out a revolver, and on another, he had a wind machine (that annoyed his audience by sending their programmes flying), a siren (which failed to work), a whistle, several pianos and banjos installed on the platform at Carnegie Hall. The result was chaos and the critics hated his music. He was soon forgotten. Then in the 1930s he began composing film scores, later symphonies and operas in a very traditional, tonal style. He worked as a pianist, wrote press articles, studied endocrinology, even wrote a whodunit (Death in the Dark), and in the 1940s, with actress Hedy Lamarr, invented a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes.
Over the Plains (1945) is an example of his non-avant-garde music. It was inspired by the plains of Texas and could well be the soundtrack for a scene from a film set in the Wild West.
Leonard Bernstein: Serenade for Violin and Orchestra
As a composer, Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is most famous for his musicals, though his best compositions were, he thought, his religious vocal works, symphonies and other concert genres. The 1950s yielded a host of compositions: the musical West Side Story, the film score for On The Waterfront, the opera Candide and the Serenade for Violin and Orchestra. Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Serenade was premiered at La Fenice in Venice in 1954. The soloist was Isaac Stern.
The Serenade is based on Plato’s Symposium addressing the nature of love, and the movements are named after the participants: Phaedrus and Pausanias; Aristophanes; Eryximachus; Agathon; Socrates and Alcibiades. Phaedrus, for example, speaks of love with lyrical eloquence, Eryximachus in lively, ironic tones. The music varies accordingly, ranging from Baroque-like Affekts to jazzy humour. The solo part is so dominant and virtuosic that the Serenade could truly be called a concerto.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15
The symphony composed by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) in 1971 was to be his last. He had composed his first in 1926 and followed it with 14 more: some monumental, some toeing the political party line, and others in the nature of a personal testimony. Woven into no. 15 are quotations from others’ music: the overture to Rossini’s William Tell in the first movement, Wagner’s Ring, and a snatch from Tristan in the finale. Shostakovich did not, he told a friend, know quite what the quotations were doing there; he just felt they had to be there. He also alludes to works of his own at a couple of points.
Shostakovich originally subtitled the opening movement The Toyshop, but it remains for the listener to decide whether the music is entertaining or gently ominous. The second movement may likewise be taken as either sad and tormented or distantly ironic. The short third movement follows without a break, and the fourth includes nostalgic dances and a monumental passacaglia.