The Many Faces of Death

Fri 15/11/2019 19:00 - 21:00
Tickets: 46.00-9.50 €


Conductor Klaus Mäkelä continues his collaboration with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra with a programme that combines the serious themes of internal conflict, identity and liberation. Known for his powerful operatic roles, bass-baritone Shenyang looks the many faces of death straight in the eye in the songs and dances of Mussorgsky.

Klaus Mäkelä

Klaus Mäkelä (b. 1996) is one of the latest links in the celebrated chain of Finnish conductors. Like Salonen, Saraste, Vänskä and Mälkki, he studied in the legendary class of Jorma Panula and his career has traced a steep upward curve in the past five years. Having toured virtually all the Finnish orchestras, he has also won acclaim abroad with, among others, the Orchestre de Paris, the Munich Philharmonic, the Tokyo Metropolitan, the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Philharmonic. He began as Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in autumn 2018 and is Chief Conductor & Artistic Advisor Designate of the Oslo Philharmonic as of 2020. He also has a close relationship with the HPO, having conducted it twice in 2017 already and been invited back again and again.

Another reason for his close ties with the HPO is that he has also played in its ranks as a cellist. “It has been an extremely valuable experience for me,” he says, “playing the cello in the orchestra and seeing how a conductor works at close quarters. It’s been like a second conducting school for me.”

Follow Klaus Mäkelä on Twitter @KlausMakela


Though the son of two singers, Chinese-born bass-baritone Shen Yang did not really ‘discover’ classical music until he was 16. The real turning point came in his career came in 2007, when, at the age of only 23, he won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. The previous year, he had been invited by Renée Fleming – after attending a masterclass with her at Shanghai University – to join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program in order to prepare for it. After winning the Cardiff title, he changed his stage name to Shenyang.

In the past decade, Shenyang has appeared in a number of roles at the Met, graduated from the Juilliard School and sung with the Los Angeles, Oslo, Israel and Hong Kong Philharmonics, the Swedish Radio, Pittsburgh and other orchestras. He has not, however, let his rise to world fame lessen his ties with the musical life of his homeland. As a classical artist, he feels duty-bound to share his know-how with Chinese youngsters and other music-lovers and to serve as a bridge between the cultures of East and West.

Igor Stravinsky: Divertimento, suite from the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) wrote his one-act ballet Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss) in 1928 as a commission from the Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein, who wanted something to commemorate the anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death. He took the story from The Ice Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen. A fairy kisses a baby, who grows up to be a fine youth. He is just about to get married when the fairy reappears and makes him fall in love with her instead of his betrothed. She then gives him another kiss and they magically disappear. According to Stravinsky, the fairy may be imagined as a muse – either Tchaikovsky’s or in general. For as in the story, his muse marked Tchaikovsky with a fatal kiss the mysterious imprint of which manifested itself in his every work.

The ballet was premiered in 1928 and the Divertimento is a later suite based on the music. There are four movements: Sinfonia, Danse suisses, Scherzo and Pas de deux.

Modest Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death

Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) originally wrote his four Songs and Dances of Death for voice and piano to words by Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov. Shostakovich later arranged the cycle for soprano and orchestra and this version was later adapted for bass and baritone. In 1984, a version for voice and orchestra was made by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, who says the songs bear no trace at all of tenderness or consolation. In each one, Death is exclusively cruel and merciless.

In the Lullaby a mother is cradling her sick child. Death appears and sings the child to eternal sleep. In the Serenade, Death tempts a dying woman into his arms. In Trepak, a drunken peasant goes out into a snowstorm and Death invites him to dance. The peasant dreams of summer and freezes to death. Finally, Death is depicted as a Field Marshal after a terrible battle. Death delights in the fallen soldiers who will never rise from their graves.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

The opera Lady of Macbeth of Mtsensk composed by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) in 1934 was a roaring success until Stalin saw it. Stalin was not amused. Shostakovich waited in trepidation for that nocturnal knock on his door. Luckily, his Symphony No. 5 composed not long afterwards received a standing ovation lasting over half an hour at its premiere and met with the regime’s approval. This was because it toed the party line, which demanded music that was optimistic and easy to understand. This was Shostakovich’s way of proving he was willing to write for people and party. He did, however, fail to mention that in the finale he quotes from a song called Rebirth that says, “With sleepy brush the barbarian artist/The master’s painting blackens; And thoughtlessly his wicked drawing/Over it he is daubing.” He was here thought to be referring to the article in Pravda in which Stalin had derided Lady Macbeth as “muddle instead of music”. Shostakovich’s genius lay in his ability to juggle with party demands and his convictions as an artist


  • Klaus Mäkelä


  • Shenyang



  • 19.00
    Igor Stravinsky

    suite from ballet The Fairy's Kiss

  • Modest Musorgski

    Songs and Dances of Death

  • Interval 25 min

  • 21.00
    Dmitri Šostakovitš

    Symphony No. 5

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