Frank Peter Zimmermann first performed Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto in 1988 at a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Crystal Night: ”Berg’s concerto is a requiem, a work of art, a small universe that gets under your skin. I never tire of playing it.” The premiere of a new piece by Kaija Saariaho arouses great curiosity: what direction is the internationally acclaimed composer moving in?
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.
Frank Peter Zimmermann
Frank Peter Zimmermann (b. 1965) is one of the few celebrated soloists who has risen to the top without any major competition wins. Taking part in competitions is not, he says, common in Germany, and he never felt the need to do so after winning the Jugend Musiziert competition at the age of 11. Over the past 30 years, he has performed practically all the violin concertos in the staple repertoire and recorded many of them on disc. He first performed the Berg concerto in 1988, at a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Crystal Night: “Berg’s concerto is a requiem,” he says, “a work of art, a small universe that gets under your skin. I never tire of playing it.” Indeed, he has already performed it well over a hundred times, with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, and each time it feels to him as if a piece of his soul is taken away.
A regular guest with the HPO, Frank Peter Zimmermann plays the 1711 ‘Lady Inchiquin’ Stradivarius on loan from the North Rhine-Westphalia government in his native Germany.
Jean Sibelius: Tapiola, Op. 112
In 1926, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) was asked by US conductor Walter Damrosch to compose a symphonic poem lasting about 15 minutes on a topic of his choosing. The result was Tapiola, named after the god of the forests in ancient Finnish mythology. Sibelius suspected that non-Finnish listeners might not be familiar with the myth so added a preface to the score: “Wide-spread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests, Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams; Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty god, And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.” The Finnish premiere by the HPO in 1927 was a tremendous success, for it spoke to the very heart of the Finns, though the audience at the premiere in New York in 1926 had been a little baffled. But Damrosch himself wrote to Sibelius: “We were all enthralled by the dark pine forests and the shadowy gods and wood-nymphs who dwell therein. The coda with its icy winds sweeping through the forest made us shiver.”
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto
The violin concerto by Alban Berg (1885–1935) was born of a tragedy. Berg had been asked by the violinist Louis Krasner to write him a concerto, but Berg had been busy at the time and declined. Until the daughter, Manon, of his friend Walter Gropius and his wife Alma (widow of Gustav Mahler) died of polio at the age of 18, inspiring him to reconsider the idea of a concerto in her memory. Dedicated “To the memory of an angel”, it would become one of the great 20th-century classics. Not only is it emotionally powerful – the music movingly captures the feelings of pain and loss – it also provides a perspective on the 12-note technique developed by Berg’s teacher, Arnold Schönberg. Though based on a 12-note row, the music is tonal to a degree that places it closer to Late Romanticism than to the Modernist ideal. The concerto is in two movements, the first of which, according to Berg, is a portrait of Manon and alternates light, waltzing motifs with intensely lyrical passages. The second movement represents death and transfiguration and at the climax, after a solo cadenza, quotes from the Bach chorale Es ist genug (It is enough).