Composer Luciano Berio created unconventional instrumentals from folk songs he found on old recordings, in sheet music collections, and from folk musicians and friends. Mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch colours the songs in earthy tones. The concert ends with great contrasts and emotional extremes with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, which the composer alternately loved and hated.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste (b. 1956) began his musical career as a violinist and leader of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra but has been one of Finland’s most renowned conductors for several decades now. He joined the Radio Symphony Orchestra as Principal Guest Conductor in 1985 and served as its Chief Conductor from 1987 to 2001. Meanwhile, he was also Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra 1987–1991 and Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra 1994–2001. Then followed a term with the Oslo Philharmonic 2006–2013, which later made him its first Honorary Conductor, and from 2010 to 2019 he was Principal Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne. Passing on the knowledge he has acquired to the younger generation is very important to him and he has been involved in various youth projects. Jukka-Pekka Saraste has also been the recipient of a number of major distinctions both at home and abroad.
Follow him on Twitter @jpsaraste
Nora Gubisch has long been one of the world’s most sought-after mezzo-sopranos, commanding a repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Wagner. She also enjoys performing contemporary music, not just for the new, unexpected challenges it poses but also out of a sense of duty as a musician. Even as a child, she was already listening to new music. Her parents took her to concerts at IRCAM (the musical research centre in Paris), and they often listened to works by Stockhausen and their friends. New music takes longer to learn than, say, the part of Carmen, she says, but it’s worth the effort, even if it is for a single performance only. It is her job, she feels, to give the piece her all, honestly and authentically. The Folk Songs by Lucio Berio are one of her showpieces, and the recording she made of it in 2014 with her pianist-conductor husband Alain Antinoglu has won virtually unanimous acclaim.
Nora Gubisch studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the class of Christiane Eda-Pierre and later with the legendary Vera Rózsa.
Hans Werner Henze: Erlkönig
The vast output of German composer Hans Werner Henze (1926–2012) – some 15 ballets, 10 symphonies, 40 operas, dozens of songs, oratorios, solo works and concertos – is matched only by the prizes and distinctions with which he was honoured. His music often has a humanistic undercurrent fostered by the impoverishment of culture he witnessed during the Nazi regime. “If music were a part of man’s everyday life, as it should be, there would certainly be less aggression and much more equality and love on Earth,” he once said.
The Fantasia for orchestra on the poem by Goethe and Schubert’s Opus 1 is part of the ballet Le fils d l’air of 1962/1996 but works well as a separate number. Goethe’s poem about a father riding on horseback through the night, his son in his arms, offers many interpretations. The father does not believe his son’s terrifying visions and tries to reassure him, but by the time they reach home, the boy lies dead in his arms. The music is stormy and dramatic and bears fleeting echoes of Schubert’s setting of the same poem. Tonight’s performance marks the Finnish premiere of the work.
Luciano Berio: Folk Songs
A composer who defies classification, Luciano Berio (1925–2003) introduced electronics into classical music in a work entitled Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) in 1958 and with his Sinfonia ten years later provided one of the greatest musical experiences of the 20th century. His music is coloured by his belief that we are always tied to both our communal and our individual past; that life abounds in references and superimposed associations in which the past comments on the present moment. The best example of this is the Sinfonia, but the Folk Songs (1964/1973) he composed “as a tribute to the extraordinary artistry” of the American singer Cathy Berberian interprets old national elements with a modern twist. The cycle is an anthology of 11 folk songs of various origins (United States, Armenia, France, Sicily, Sardinia, etc.), but “I have given the songs a new rhythmic and harmonic interpretation: in a way, I have recomposed them,” he said. “The instrumental part has an important function: it is meant to underline and comment on the expressive and cultural roots of each song.” Not all the folk songs are, however, authentic.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5
A composer plagued by inner conflicts, Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) was not a happy man. In his last three symphonies, he seems to have poured out his feelings in a narrative in which the defiant hero is himself. He completed his last symphony, no. 6, only weeks before his death in dubious circumstances.
Tchaikovsky wrote a precise scenario for his Symphony No. 5 (1888), but evidence has been preserved of only the text for the first movement: the clarinet introduction represents “a complete resignation before fate.” The Allegro that follows expresses “doubts…..reproaches against xxx” (possibly alluding to his homosexuality, in those days a criminal offence). He borrowed the fate theme running right through the symphony from Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar. Over the second movement he is said to have written: “Oh, how I love you! oh my friend!, possibly alluding to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. The third movement enters the world of the ballet to which he always fled from the pressures of real life. In the finale, the fate theme becomes increasingly ominous, as if to underline that there is no escape from fate.