For this ‘Baltic Folk’ tour, we look to the east of the Baltic Sea region, to Estonia, and especially to Russia. In Stravinsky’s folktale-inspired The Firebird and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, we present two of the best-loved orchestral works of the early 20th century, both of which reveal their Russian essence in contrasting ways. In the ballet that launched his international career as a composer, Stravinsky dazzles us with brilliant colours, the vitality of Russian folk music, and the magic of the mythical Firebird. And in one of the most romantic piano concertos ever written, Rachmaninoff bares his soul in dramatic music rich in Slavic melancholy.
We begin our ‘Baltic Folk’ programme in the altogether different sound world of Arvo Pärt, the celebrated Estonian composer whose music is both deeply spiritual and emotionally direct. His contemplative, hymn-like Swansong is an orchestration of an earlier choral composition, ‘Littlemore Tractus’, in which Pärt set words from a sermon that the influential theologian John Henry Newman preached in 1843 in the English village of Littlemore.
Kristjan Järvi, Founding Conductor and Music Director of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, likens the music of Swansong to a village waltz: ‘Sometimes this waltz is slightly bitter, at other times nostalgic, but in the end it turns into something very hopeful, in its yearning for warmth and light.’ For Kristjan, this sense of longing and transformation is paralleled, in music of an altogether more epic and exotic style, in The Firebird.
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic will perform The Firebird in its 1945 orchestral suite version, and will make a daring shift from convention by playing the work entirely from memory. Kristjan sees this approach as an evolution in how musicians express themselves as artists. ‘Performing The Firebird from memory is all about chemistry and communication,’ he says. ‘It should feel like the players are improvising music that they have known for a long time.’
Joining the orchestra to perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, a work that Kristjan calls ‘the most nostalgic, the most Russian-themed concerto ever’, will be the 15-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev, one of the most exciting talents of his generation. Kristjan says of his new collaborator: ‘Alexander is already a rising star in Russia and has been acclaimed by some of the country’s greatest musicians. I am pleased that we can introduce him to a wider international audience.’
‘Baltic Folk’ will take the orchestra to three countries: Sweden, Germany and Italy. Visby, on the beautiful Swedish island of Gotland, is a special place for us, and the perfect location for our first concert. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic has always been sensitive to the environment, and on Gotland, with its picturesque beaches, lakes and rocky outcrops, it’s impossible not to feel deeply connected to nature. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Visby is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in northern Europe. It’s also where the idea for the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic was born ten years ago in a concert of a project orchestra called the Baltic Youth Orchestra. So Visby is part of our history too.
In Germany we make a return visit to Wiesbaden to perform in the prestigious Rheingau Music Festival. And our tour ends in Merano, northern Italy, where we have the honour of opening the Merano Music Festival. We’re delighted that these two festivals are welcoming us back after our previous appearances, at Wiesbaden in 2014, and Merano in 2011.
As we return to familiar places and festivals, we look forward to seeing old friends and making many new ones, and to transporting you all across the Baltic with our folk-inspired music from the east.