Composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher (b. 1971) says that playing the violin in his local youth orchestra taught him at an early age that the orchestra was “his thing”, in his role of both composer and conductor. A student of Heinz Werner Henze from the age of 18, he had already composed three symphonies by the time he was 22. He has conducted a large number of the very great orchestras and “my thinking as a conductor is informed by the process of my own writing, and vice versa of course.”
On leaving his native Germany, Matthias headed first for London, then Paris and finally New York. His reason for leaving Germany was, he says, his country’s lack of a sense of joyfulness, and he reckons he has since stripped away his German roots. In Paris, his music picked up a “strong French sensibility”. But rather than laying down new roots, he kept travelling. At heart, he says, he’s a wayfarer.
Matthias Pintscher at present has a year-long collaboration as the Tonhalle Zurich “Creative Chair”. He takes over as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival in 2020 and has been on the composition faculty of the Juilliard School since 2014.
One of Finland’s most outstanding violinists, Elina Vähälä is an exceptionally versatile musician with a repertoire ranging from chamber music to concertos and the Baroque to the present day. She has premiered concertos by Jaakko Kuusisto, John Corigliano, Aulis Sallinen and Curtis Curtis-Smith (this last a double concerto with pianist Ralf Gothóni), and in 2008 performed to a global TV audience at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. In a televised broadcast in September 2015 she performed the early version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Finnish RSO under Hannu Lintu.
Born in Iowa (USA) but raised in Finland, Elina Vähälä began her concert career over 30 years ago, at the age of 12, at a concert with the orchestra of her home town, the Lahti Symphony, and she still has close ties with the orchestra. She is one of the founding members of the Violin Academy established in 2009 and funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and is a Professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe. Her instrument is a Giovanni Battista Guadagnini from 1780.
Claude Debussy: Rondes de printemps
Rondes de printemps is originally one of the three movements in an orchestral suite called Images by Claude Debussy (1862–1918). Each of the movements is a tribute to a particular country: England, Spain and France, and Rondes is the “French” one. It is impressionistic music in that it may be understood as a musical description of the aural and visual impressions of nature awaking in the spring. It proceeds at a slow but sure pace, from quiet mood-painting to outbursts each more cheerful and colourful than the last. Debussy reinforced the idea by attaching to the score some lines in praise of spring written by the Renaissance poet Poliziano. The music is based entirely on two tunes: Nous n’irons plus au bois (We won’t go to the woods anymore) and Do, do l’enfant, do (Sleep, my child, sleep) from which Debussy tosses little snippets around the orchestra. The full tunes are heard only in passing.
Béla Bartók: Violin Concerto
In 1937, Béla Bartók was asked by Zoltán Székely, a partner in chamber music who had also premiered some of his music, to write him a Violin Concerto. Bartók agreed and would have liked to compose a one-movement set of variations, but Székely wanted a classical concerto in three movements. Bartók obliged, but cast the second movement in variation form and in the finale varied all the basic motifs from the first movement. The concerto was premiered in Amsterdam in 1939. Naturally the soloist was Székely, who had helped Bartók to write a virtuoso solo part and in other respects, too, influenced some of the details.
The concerto was written at a time when Bartók was striving towards a balanced, classical mode of expression. This does not mean the result was tame. Indeed, it has biting rhythms, spiky chromatics and an allusion to Schönberg’s 12-note technique. Yet taking the lead in all three movements are lyrical, dancing melodies tasting of Hungarian folk tunes.
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 1 in B flat, “Spring”
Robert Schumann (1810–1856) had mostly composed only Lieder when his wife urged him to try his hand at writing for orchestra. No sooner said than done: in 1841 alone he produced three large-scale works, one of them the “Spring” symphony. Within four days he had made the sketches, and in little more than a month the orchestration. The symphony was premiered to great acclaim with Felix Mendelssohn conducting in 1841.
The symphony, said Schumann, tied in with a poem about spring by Adolf Böttger, and the opening fanfare rhythmically corresponds to the words “O wende, wende deinen Lauf / Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf!” (O, turn, O turn and change your course/In the valley, Spring blooms forth!). But the symphony was not, he said, really programmatic; spring should here be understood as a general symbol of spiritual and artistic rebirth. In the first movement, the world turns green and nature comes to life. Spring takes its leave in the finale, but summer is only just round the corner.