As a searing June heatwave made Europe swelter in Saharan air, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic came with the perfect antidote: cool Nordic vibes and music to transport audiences to the lands above the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets in the summer months.
The opening concert of our ‘Midnight Sun’ tour, at the Philharmonie in Berlin on 26 June, took place on the city’s hottest day of the year so far (a roasting 38°C!). But the heat was already building a week earlier, as the orchestra came together at its rehearsal base in Vlotho, North-Rhine Westphalia. Kristjan, together with strings and memorisation coach Jan Bjøranger, guided and inspired the musicians over six days, and on 23 June the orchestra had a public dress rehearsal in front of 300 of the town’s music lovers. One local fan enthused afterwards on Instagram: ‘The music was streaming and gleaming throughout the weekend, and to listen to the whole concert made it complete… still humming in my brain.’
The Berlin premiere of ‘Midnight Sun’ was the first chance to showcase the latest evolution of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s unique approach to concert performance, and we were excited to see how the audience would react. We had already performed a whole programme from memory, on the ‘Waterworks’ tour of the United Arab Emirates in November 2018, but for ‘Midnight Sun’ we were also playing the entire 110-minute programme with no breaks – just discreet transitions between pieces, some of which were even improvised by the orchestra.
Pēteris Vasks’s meditative violin concerto Lonely Angel, a delicate vehicle for Norwegian soloist Mari Samuelsen, flowed into the first movement of Rautavaara’s visionary Cantus Arcticus, which opened with the recorded sounds of Arctic birdsong. Emerging out of the Rautavaara came the first of four specially orchestrated songs featuring Estonian singer-songwriters Mick and Angeelia Pedaja. Mari returned to the stage, in between the second and third movements of Cantus Arcticus, for Max Richter’s Dona Nobis Pacem 2, and then for Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and finally Kristjan’s luminous Aurora, a piece inspired by the Northern Lights. The unbroken stream of music climaxed with Stravinsky’s ballet masterpiece The Firebird. Add in atmospheric lighting design, sensitively coloured concert clothing, and the freedom for players to move, interact and even dance on a stage with no music stands, and ‘Midnight Sun’ really was a fusion of everything that makes the Baltic Sea Philharmonic a revolutionary ensemble.
So what did Berliners make of the performance? Cheers and standing ovations told their own story, and deserved a special encore. Violinist Saimi Kortelainen led the orchestra in a rousing folk song from her native Estonia, and the musicians were still singing as they left the stage. ‘Truly heart-opening,’ as one concert goer summarised it.
The reaction was the same from the 2,100-strong audience in a sold-out Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg on 2 July – a thrilling second visit for us to this spectacular venue. In between the two German concerts we travelled to the beautiful lakeside town of Ossiach in southern Austria to perform at the Carinthian Music Academy in celebration of its tenth anniversary. Our performance in the Academy’s ultra-modern Alban Berg Concert Hall was also broadcast to viewers in the courtyard outside. By the tour’s end, we had played to more than 4,400 people and covered 2,780 km by road and air. ‘Midnight Sun’ was another unforgettable adventure for the musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic.