Composer Dieter Ammann comes from the world of jazz and improvisation, and his music combines spontaneity with carefully crafted technical compositions. The Planets by Gustav Holst takes listeners on a voyage through our solar system. Mercury – the winged messenger, Venus – bringer of peace and other heavenly bodies named after Roman gods are each given their own characterisations. Giacinto Scelsi’s modern classic that opens the concert transforms simplicity into fine art.
A conductor born and bred in Helsinki, Susanna Mälkki grew up to the accompaniment of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2004 she received her first invitation to conduct the orchestra of which she would become Chief Conductor in autumn 2016. Her path to the conductor’s podium passed through the cello classes of the Sibelius Academy and the Edsberg Institute in Stockholm, however, and the position of principal cellist in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. She made her conducting breakthrough in 1999, at the Helsinki Festival, and her first regular conducting appointment was as Artistic Director of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. Her Music Directorship of the celebrated Ensemble Intercontemporain (2006–2013) established her as a profound interpreter of music of the present day.
Susanna Mälkki has conducted the world’s finest orchestras. In season 2017-18 she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera season and took over as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Musical America voted her Conductor of the Year 2017.
During the 2019-2020 concert season Mälkki will debut at both the Orchestre de Paris and the Orchestra dell’ Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Other highlights of the upcoming season include concerts with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. At the Paris Opera she will be conducting Philippe Boesmans’ Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy.
Andreas Haefliger (b. 1962) was born into a distinguished Swiss musical family and grew up in Germany, going on to study at the Juilliard School in New York. In addition to tonight’s performance, he is down to play the Piano Concerto by Dieter Ammann in London, Boston, Vienna, Munich and Taipei, and will be recording it with the HPO.
Works by contemporary composers, he says, allow the performer more scope for personal interpretation than the classics. “To the contemporary composers I can bring my own values; I become a complementary composer. When you don’t have a melody to work with or something that is immediately pleasing to the ear, you have to have great strength to find the sounds. This requires more thought than a Beethoven sonata and is a very enriching experience. Playing has to become an extension of your body, and then it sings for you.” Martial arts, discipline of mind and body, are in this respect very important to him, for they help to control the breathing, and “breathing is the origin of playing”. 60 per cent of players hold their breath, he claims, and that is not a good thing.
Helsinki Chamber Choir
The Helsinki Chamber Choir was founded in 1962 as the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir and assumed its current name in 2005. It is currently Finland’s only professional chamber choir.
While its wide-ranging repertoire includes music from the Renaissance to the present day, the Helsinki Chamber Choir is particularly highly regarded for its work with new music. The choir regularly commissions new works and has given over 70 world premieres in the seasons since 2005, as well as more than 30 Finnish first performances.
The choir appears frequently at festivals in Finland and abroad and collaborates with symphony orchestras, period-instrument ensembles and contemporary music groups. Its concerts are regularly broadcast on national radio and television, and it has also appeared in productions for the Arte channel and the European Broadcasting Union, among others with Einojuhani Rautavaara's Vigilia in 2013.
The Helsinki Chamber Choir is a member of Tenso, the European network of professional chamber choirs. Recent touring has taken the choir to the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Russia and around Scandinavia.
The choir records regularly among others for BIS Records. Its recording of Magnus Lindberg's Graffiti (with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo) was nominated for a Grammy in the contemporary music category in 2010. Northlands with music by Matthew Whittall was the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s Record of the Year 2017.
Since 2007 Professor Nils Schweckendiek has been Artistic Director of the Helsinki Chamber Choir.
Giacinto Scelsi: Quattro pezzi ciascuno su una nota sola
In the 1940s, Giacinto Scelsi (1905–1988) had a nervous breakdown and spent some time in a clinic. One day, seated at the piano, he began playing one and the same note, again and again. The nurses thought he was crazy, but he had in fact invented a new approach to music. The single note, he said, began to grow, and so much so that he also began to hear the harmonies within it, so that ultimately it incorporated all the others. He wanted his audience to be alert and focused, for the music to sharpen the senses and maybe serve as a means to spiritual enlightenment. He also sought inspiration in meditation, yoga and theosophy.
Four Pieces on a Single Note was premiered in Paris in 1959. Each piece is based on one note: F, B, A-flat and A. The result is, however, anything but grey and monotonous, being colourful, infinitely expressive and full of surprises. Not without reason, it became one of the most influential classics in 20th-century music.
Dieter Amman: Piano Concerto
Dieter Ammann (b. 1962) composed his Piano Concerto as a commission from the BBC Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Lucerne Festival, the Munich Philharmonic and the Taipei Symphony Orchestra and it was premiered at the London Proms with Sakari Oramo conducting and Andreas Haefliger as the soloist in August this year. The original working title was, the composer says, “no templates, which primarily means an openness of thought in the approach to this genre, but also an openness in relation to the variety of means used.” Such an approach has long been characteristic of this Swiss composer. The concerto does, however, have certain traditional elements, too: the soloist is both an individual and an accompanist, and the piano gives the orchestra impulses to which the orchestra responds.
Beginning his career as a jazz musician and improviser, Dieter Ammann has been composing since the 1990s. Last year, he was awarded the Swiss Music Prize, the Jury making special mention of the rhythmic energy of his works and their imaginative timbres.
Gustav Holst: The Planets, Op. 32
Gustav Holst (1874–1934) was a British composer and a man of many interests: literature and poetry, history, Indian philosophy and astrology to mention just a few. He likewise wrote music in a variety of styles, some popular or experimentally modern, others painting exotic, archaic or mystic visions. The music of each movement in his orchestral suite The Planets seeks to capture the nature of the ancient god after which the celestial body was named. Hence Mars, The Bringer of War is militant and violent, Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity extrovert and boisterous, and Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age slow and tragic. The other movements are Venus, the Bringer of Peace; Mercury, The Winged Messenger; Uranus, The Magician; and Neptune, The Mystic. There are only seven planets in the suite; the missing one is Earth. (Pluto was not discovered until 1930 and has since been demoted to the role of dwarf planet.)
Ever since its premiere in 1918, The Planets has been by far the most popular work by Gustav Holst, somewhat to his annoyance as he considered it inferior to many of his others