Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra Ottawa, John Storgårds has a dual career as a conductor and violin virtuoso and is widely recognised for his creative flair for programming.
Colin Currie is a solo and chamber artist at the peak of his powers.
LOUIS LANGRÉE • MUSIC DIRECTOR
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.
“Indeed, the impressive musical results supported the acclaim that has greeted the (…) Finnish conductor at every step of his rapid podium ascent worldwide.” Chicago Tribune
Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra Ottawa, John Storgårds has a dual career as a conductor and violin virtuoso and is widely recognised for his creative flair for programming. He additionally holds the title of Artistic Director of the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland.
Storgårds appears with such orchestras as WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Bamberger Symphoniker, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, BBC Symphony Orchestra as well as all the major Nordic orchestras including Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra where he was Chief Conductor from 2008 to 2015. Further afield, he appears with the Sydney, Melbourne and NHK Symphony Orchestras as well as the Chicago, St Louis and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Soloists with whom he collaborates include Yefim Bronfman, Sol Gabetta, Håkan Hardenberger, Kari Kriikku, Gil Shaham, Baiba Skride, Christian Tetzlaff, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Frank Peter Zimmermann.
Storgårds’ vast repertoire includes all symphonies by Sibelius, Nielsen, Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. He gave a historical cycle of all 54 symphonies by Mozart (including the unnumbered works) and conducted Finnish premieres of Schumann’s only opera ‘Genoveva’, his early ‘Zwickau’ symphony, plus world premieres of Sibelius’ Suite op. 117 for violin and strings and the Late Fragments. As a violinist, Storgårds gave the Finnish premiere of Schumann’s own violin version of the cello concerto and his Violin Sonata No 3. Storgårds regularly performs world premieres of works by contemporary composers such as Brett Dean, Per Nørgård, Kaija Saariaho and Pēteris Vasks. Many of these composers have dedicated their works to him. In opera he conducted the world premiere production of Sebastian Fagerlund’s new opera ‘Höstsonaten – Autumn Sonata’ at the Finnish National Opera and directed by Stéphane Braunschweig. The title was a finalist at the 2018 International Opera Awards. Storgårds further lead Haydn’s ‘Orlando Paladino’, a new production by Paul-Emile Fourny of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ at the Savonlinna Opera Festival as well as major titles by Strauss, Verdi and most Mozart operas.
Highlights of his 2018/19 season include Storgårds’ return to the BBC Proms with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra as well as his return to the Blossom Festival with the Cleveland Orchestra. Debut appearances include the Pittsburgh and Dallas Symphony Orchestras, the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and Münchner Philharmoniker as well as the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. He further gives his subscription series debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and returns to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra Washington as well as the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin for concerts at the Berliner Philharmonie as well as on tour conducting Bruckner’s monumental symphony No. 5.
Storgårds’ award winning discography includes recordings of works by Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn but also rarities by Holmboe and Vasks’ featuring him as soloist. Two cycles of symphonies by Sibelius (2014) and Nielsen (2015) with the BBC Philharmonic were released to critical acclaim by Chandos. Their latest recording project includes works by the American avant-garde composer George Antheil. Other successes include discs of works by Nørgård, Korngold, Aho and Rautavaara, the latter receiving a Grammy nomination and a Gramophone Award in 2012.
Storgårds studied violin with Chaim Taub and subsequently became concert master of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen, before studying conducting with Jorma Panula and Eri Klas. He received the Finnish State Prize for Music in 2002 and the Pro Finlandia Prize 2012.
Colin Currie is a solo and chamber artist at the peak of his powers. Championing new music at the highest level, Currie is the soloist of choice for many of today’s foremost composers and he performs regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.
Colin founded the Colin Currie Group in 2006 to perform the music of Steve Reich, and the Colin Currie Quartet in 2018 to present more diverse works written for percussion quartet.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. With a determination for greatness and a rich tradition that dates back over 120 years, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY®, One City, One Symphony, and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.
Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-2014 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 120-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López-Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.
A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres of Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, David Lang's mountain, Caroline Shaw's Lo and Daniel Bjarnason's Collider as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, Cincinnati's premier new music festival, as well as the world premiere of André Previn's Double Concerto. More recent commissions include Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych, three works set to the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou by T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster, as well three new concertos for orchestra by composers Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian, which will be released on a commercial recording in November of 2016.
The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Europe in 2008 and to Japan in 2009, including two concerts at Tokyo's Suntory Hall and the CSO's first-ever nationally televised concert in Japan. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 191, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.
FRI APR 12, 8 pm | SAT APR 13, 8 pm
JOHN STORGÅRDS conductor | COLIN CURRIE percussion
Helios Overture, Op. 17
Sieidi, Concerto for Solo Percussion and Orchestra
Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82
IT IS A DISTINCT PLEASURE to welcome back beloved guest conductor John Storgårds to the podium in this beautiful program of Nordic composers and influences. We begin with Carl Nielsen’s mesmerizing Helios Overture, which depicts the stunning beauty of the sun’s journey through the sky. Nielsen was inspired to write this music during a trip to Greece and by stories of the sun god, Helios; the piece paints a vibrant yet tranquil scene. Second on tonight’s program is a Concerto for Solo Percussion and Orchestra titled Sieidi, which comes from a Finnish language, Sami, and denotes a sacred site. We are thrilled to have the great Colin Currie perform this magical piece for the first time at the CSO. Finally, we present Symphony No. 5 by the wonderful Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. This remarkable work was commissioned by the government of Finland to celebrate the composer’s 50th birthday. It took many versions before arriving in its final, radiant form, which we present to you this evening.
Born: June 9, 1865, Sortelung, on the Danish Island of Funen (Fyn)Died: October 3, 193, Copenhagen
At the age of 38, Carl Nielsen—Denmark’s greatest classical composer—had already written two symphonies and an opera that had been performed successfully in Copenhagen. Yet he had not yet been able to quit his “day job” in the second violin section of the Royal Danish Orchestra, even after receiving a modest state pension to support his work as a composer. In 1903 he obtained a leave from the orchestra, to accompany his wife, the sculptor Anne-Marie Carl-Nielsen, née Brodersen, to Greece. She had received a grant to study ancient Greek art, and the couple settled in Athens, where Nielsen, too, admired the antiquities and immersed himself in ancient mythology. The figure of Helios, the sun god, captured his imagination in particular, and he composed a concert overture in which a full day, from sunrise to sunset, is represented in the form of a magnificent arch beginning and ending with a quiet contemplation of nature in the sustained notes of the French horns, and with a great deal of bustling activity in between.
KEYNOTE. Out of the quiet opening, a sinuous string melody emerges; it grows steadily in volume and rises in register until the blazing sound of the trumpets announces bright daylight. The violins introduce a glorious new theme in a new key and a faster tempo, continued by the cellos, projecting feelings of joy at the sight of the midday splendor. Then, unexpectedly, a fugue in Presto tempo appears, perhaps symbolizing the “fire-darting steeds” (as the poet Pindar called them) who drew Helios’s golden chariot across the sky. The hectic motion gradually subsides and the meditative opening returns to signal the end of the day and the disappearance of the sun behind the horizon.
Born: March 9, 1949, Forssa, Finland
Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, who turned 70 on March 9, 2019 has written 16 symphonies and a concerto for almost every instrument in the orchestra, in addition to several operas and a great deal of chamber and vocal music. Almost all of his works have been recorded on the BIS label and distributed worldwide, so that his music has reached music lovers all over the world. From his extremely large and varied catalogue, one should note in particular the Insect Symphony (No. 7, 1988), derived from the opera Insect Life (1985–87), and Chinese Songs for soprano and orchestra (1997). Also known as a passionate writer about current social issues, Kalevi Aho is a prominent voice in the cultural life of his country.
The percussion concerto Sieidi, which has become one of Aho’s most-performed works, was written for virtuoso percussionist Colin Currie. It was co-commissioned by a music festival in remote Luosto, Finland, almost 600 miles to the north of Helsinki. Luosto is located in a region known as Lapland, which has long been inhabited by the Sami people (the term Lapp, by which this group was long known, is considered derogatory and no longer used). The Sami have their own ancient culture and religion, worshipping around large boulders, high in the mountains or on the seashore. These sacred sites are called sieidi in the Sami language and they provided the initial inspiration for Aho’s concerto. Drums played a very important role in the ancient shamanic rituals of the Sami; their large, hand-held instruments had various magic symbols painted on their membranes. It was, therefore, a natural choice for Aho to write a percussion concerto to honor the Sami.
The work features the members of the orchestral percussion section, who are almost as important as the main soloist. Three percussionists, each with his or her special battery of instruments, are set up on the left, on the right, and in the back of the stage, respectively. They interact with the protagonist, who is placed front and center, in a multiplicity of ways.
KEYNOTE. The concerto, just over half an hour long, is in a single movement, consisting of about a dozen different sections (the lines between sections are not always easy to draw). In general, each new section is marked by the soloist’s switch to a new instrument or instruments in his vast array of drums, gongs and mallets.
The work begins with a vigorous solo on the djembé, a drum of West African origin that seems to make a solemn proclamation, punctuated by two large bass drums on either side of the stage. After a passionate response from the orchestra, the soloist re-enters on the darabuka, a Middle Eastern drum with a slightly lighter sound. Following the second response, the soloist moves to his set of five tom-tom drums, which produce a whole range of different sounds from high to low. This carefully planned succession of membranophones creates a gradual intensification of the musical textures and an increase in excitement, leading into a passage where a thundering timpani solo from the orchestral player in the back helps bring this introductory section to its end.
As a total contrast, the soloist moves to the marimba (a pitched mallet instrument!), providing a vigorous accompaniment to a dreamy English-horn solo, continued by the oboe and other woodwinds. This more introspective section builds up to its own climax. Then the scene darkens again as the timpani in the back begins an dramatic dialog with the soloist, now on wood blocks and temple blocks, highlighting the third major family of percussion instruments—the idiophones—after the mallets and drums. After an ominous transition section, with full orchestra complete with menacing bass drums, the orchestra falls silent and the soloist moves to yet another instrument, the vibraphone, to play a cadenza filled with the magical sounds of the metallic bars.
When the orchestra re-enters, the reverie continues with a soulful saxophone solo, continued by the clarinets. The lyrical atmosphere is rudely disrupted by a new orchestral explosion that gives rise to another cadenza, partially improvised by the soloist on the large tam-tam. Then, in a more peaceful new section introduced by two solo violins, the melodic phrases of the English horn and saxophone are set against the lively rhythms of the soloist, who now plays on wood blocks and temple blocks. This section, which features many prominent woodwind solos, has a distinctly Middle Eastern sound to it, and takes on the character of a lively dance. Another fiendishly virtuosic marimba passage is followed by the most joyful episode of the concerto, with a complex interplay between the soloist (playing mostly on the tom-toms) and the orchestra. The music quiets down at the end as the soloist returns to the two drums he played at the beginning, first the darabuka (against sinuous woodwind and brass solos), and then the initial djembé, which gets softer and softer. The last sounds we hear are the orchestral percussionists shaking their South American rainsticks, in imitation of the sounds of nature heard in the vast national park that had inspired the piece and where one of its first performances took place.
Born: December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, FinlandDied: September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland
Although its positive tone may imply otherwise, the Fifth Symphony gave Sibelius more trouble than any other work. The first version, which took three years to complete, displeased him. He made extensive revisions after the premiere in late 1915. A second version was performed in 1916, but still the composer was not satisfied. He planned to have the work ready for a 1917 performance, but World War I and then civil war in Finland kept him from working on it. As these wars cut off Sibelius’s income from his German publisher, he had to compose small piano pieces and songs in order to earn a living. He returned to the Fifth after hostilities ended. The work found its final form in 1919.
It is a total contrast to the inner, nebulous Fourth Symphony. With the Fifth, Sibelius went back to the energetic world of the Second, but with noticeably greater sophistication. Leaving behind the Fourth’s experiments with vague tonality, he cast the diatonic Fifth unambiguously in E-flat major.
KEYNOTE. Sibelius was intrigued by the concept of a movement. To what extent is a movement an independent piece, and to what extent is it an integral part of a larger whole? The manner in which the Second Symphony’s third movement melts into its finale is an early indication of Sibelius’s concern with this question. His casting of the Seventh Symphony in one continuous movement is his final solution. In the Fifth, each of the two outer movements acts like two movements combined into one. The first movement was, in fact, two separate movements in the symphony’s first version. In its final form, the first movement begins with an expansive section that is far too long, too involved, and too stable to be an introduction. Just as it approaches an expected recapitulation, it gives way to a scherzo. This new section is almost a waltz, except for rhythmic irregularities in the accompaniment. The two sections are closely integrated, with one beat of the first part’s 12/8 becoming the scherzo’s 3/4 measure. The result is a brightening of mood without a literal tempo change.
The finale also functions as two movements, but they interpenetrate one another more than in the first movement. The perpetual motion that begins the finale sounds like a second scherzo, in a fast 2/4 time. This music gives way to a slower passage in which the measures are consistently grouped in threes. This grouping makes the music sound now like a slow 3/2, even though, as in the first movement, the actual tempo has not changed. The scherzo returns, followed by a peroration in the slower tempo, now finally written in 3/2.
Between these two double movements lies the andante, an intermezzo that is essentially a set of variations on a simple theme.
The ending of the symphony is unusual. The slower idea of the finale takes over, gradually building in sound and intensity. The tension mounts to the breaking point, and then the music does just that: it breaks. A movement that has been characterized by continuous sound, particularly during the final build, at last admits silence. Sustained sound has become almost excessive. Several isolated, full, short chords punctuate the silence, as this most extraordinary of symphonies ends in a most extraordinary manner.
—Jonathan D. Kramer