Sakari Oramo celebrates 10th anniversary as Chief Conductor of Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with new Ravel cycle, Schoenberg and Bartók operatic double bill, Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D, Mahler’s Seventh Symphony

Rich RSPO season includes Stockholm International Composer Festival focus on the music of Thea Musgrave, world premieres of new symphonies by Tommie Haglund and Daniel Börtz, and focus on works by female composers

Guest artists include Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Christoph Eschenbach, Edward Gardner, Alan Gilbert, Martin Helmchen, Katerina Karnéus, Ton Koopman, Radu Lupu, Kian Soltani, Nina Stemme and Simone Young

The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Sakari Oramo, one of the strongest teams in classical music, celebrate the 10th anniversary of their partnership in style during the 2018-19 season. The Swedish orchestra and its Finnish Chief Conductor will explore seven programmes together in Stockholm, undertake tours to Japan and Switzerland, and launch a major project to record the complete orchestral works of Maurice Ravel. Their season’s repertoire spans everything from new works and rarities to the double bill of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with a cast that includes 2018 Birgit Nilsson prize winner Nina Stemme. The RSPO will also continue its commitment to work by women composers and music by Swedish composers past and present. Thea Musgrave, who celebrated her 90th birthday in May, is the focus of the orchestra’s annual International Composer Festival, while Swedish composer Tommie Haglund commands the spotlight of its Composer Weekend (Thursday 28 – Saturday 30 March 2019).

Sakari Oramo is set to open the RSPO’s season on Thursday 20 September with Transit Underground by Tobias Broström and Sibelius’s Kullervo. The programme, repeated on Saturday 22 September, unites the RPSO with the combined male-voice forces of the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and Helsinki’s Polytech Choir, and mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists Tuija Knihtilä and Heikki Kilpeläinen. Broström’s intensely dramatic score, which dates from 2007, was chosen to complement the concert’s main work while broadening the orchestra’s diet of contemporary Swedish music. “Transit Underground is a dark piece, quite individual in style and strong in its melodic ideas,” comments Sakari Oramo. “It connects well to Kullervo. I am delighted that we shall perform the Sibelius with these two very special choirs.”

Ravel occupies centre stage in the RSPO’s next Stockholm concerts with Oramo (Thursday 8 & Saturday 10 October). The programme’s first half places the French composer’s Une barque sur l’océan and Alborada del gracioso in company with Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.2, with Alexander Toradze as soloist; its all-Ravel second half comprises Le tombeau de Couperin and La valse, compositions created under the dark shadow of the First World War yet strikingly life-affirming in their elegance and panache. Oramo and his orchestra will record Ravel’s scores for the BIS label as part of a comprehensive survey of the composer’s orchestral output. “I think we will be the first Nordic orchestra to record a complete Ravel set,” the conductor comments. “It is music that suits this orchestra well and will help it develop. I have a certain idea, especially of string sound in Ravel, which should work beautifully and suit the orchestra in its home.”

The RSPO and Sakari Oramo unleash the expressionist energy of Schoenberg’s one-act monodrama Erwartung and Bartók’s one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle early next year (Thursday 17 & Saturday 19 January 2019). The two operas will be fully staged in Konserthuset Stockholm which will be transformed to support Swedish scenographer Bengt Gomér’s staging of these landmarks of musical modernism. Swedish artists Katarina Karnéus (Erwartung) and Nina Stemme (Bluebeard’s Castle) will be joined by the German baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle (Bluebeard’s Castle) for what promises to be a highlight of the RSPO’s season. “We’ll rebuild everything around the stage and bring in extra lighting,” observes Oramo. “The director’s concept will involve the orchestra as part of the action, which I really welcome.”

Elements of Classicism and Romanticism run through Sakari Oramo’s next RSPO concerts (Wednesday 13 & Thursday 14 February). Their programme offers the compelling combination of Ludvig Norman’s Symphony No.3 in D minor and Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major, with Martin Helmchen as soloist. Norman, born in Stockholm in 1831, was a near-contemporary of Brahms who studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and received early encouragement from Robert Schumann. He returned to Stockholm to teach composition and become conductor of the royal orchestra. “His music mixes traces of Schumann and Brahms,” notes Oramo. “He was one of the best Swedish composers of the Romantic era without doubt. There’s great integrity and beauty to his music. We’ve chosen his third and final symphony to show just how good his work is.”

Radu Lupu joins the RSPO and Sakari Oramo for two concerts in Stockholm (Wednesday 13 & Thursday 14 March). The Romanian artist, hailed by the Guardian as one of ‘only a handful of genuinely great’ pianists, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K.488. The concert opens with Furioso by Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann (1910-99), a short work that lives up to its name with driving motor rhythms and a brooding central interlude. Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 occupies the programme’s second half. “Liebermann, who wrote in an extraordinary variety of styles, was very critical of Sibelius,” notes Oramo. “But Furioso, which was premiered at Darmstadt in 1947, works well with Sibelius Two. I’m delighted that Radu Lupu will be with us in Stockholm. What a musician and what a sound!”

The orchestra will then embark on a Swiss tour to Zurich, Geneva and Lucerne (Wednesday 20 – Friday 22 March) with Martin Fröst. The programme will feature Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto together with Furioso by Lieberman and Mahler’s Symphony No 1. The clarinettist and orchestra have had a close partnership for many years which has included the Dollhouse (2013), Genesis (2015) and Retrotopia (2018) projects.

The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir returns to work with the RSPO and Oramo in the Mass in D by Ethel Smyth (Thursday 9 & Friday 10 May). “She was a great personality who led a remarkable life. Smyth was arrested for throwing stones at the homes of opponents of women’s suffrage. Her Mass in D, which was first performed by the Royal Choral Society in London in 1893, has an eternal quality and great strength about it.” Oramo has chosen to pair Smyth’s ebullient composition with Martinů’s Violin Concerto No.2, with Frank Peter Zimmerman as soloist. “Both works are rarely performed but they’re quite magnificent,” says the conductor. Oramo ends his season with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic with two performances of Mahler’s Symphony No.7 (Thursday 16 & Saturday 18 May). The work, a new addition to his repertoire, is both enigmatic and protean, dazzling in its expressive and textural contrasts and emblematic of a vast untamed, untameable universal force.

The RSPO’s season offers two programmes of music by Edinburgh-born, Santa Barbara-based composer Thea Musgrave (Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 November); a Composer Weekend built around the visionary work of Tommie Haglund, who studied with Delius’s friend and amanuensis Eric Fenby (Thursday 28 & Saturday 30 March); and the world premiere performance of Daniel Börtz’s Sinfonia 13, a dramatic symphony for vocal soloists, two reciters, chorus and orchestra about human agency, aggression and kindness (Thursday 23 & Saturday 25 May). Musgrave becomes the latest subject of the orchestra’s Stockholm International Composer Festival, an event devoted to the work of living composers presented annually since 1986. Haglund’s weekend presents the world premiere of his specially commissioned Symphony and a retrospective of some of the 59-year-old Swedish composer’s most distinctive scores, Hymns to the Night, La rosa profunda and Flaminis aura among them.

Other highlights include the tenth anniversary concert of the Association of Swedish Women Composers, crowned by Catharina Palmér’s Färd Genom Ögonblicket (Journey Through the Moment) for orchestra and reciter (Wednesday 10 October), Joshua Bell in Brahms’s Violin Concerto (Wednesday 31 October & Thursday 1 November), and the Nobel Prize Concert 2018, with Lisa Batiashvili as soloist in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and internationally acclaimed conductor Karina Canellakis (Saturday 8 December). Conductor Simone Young and cellist Kian Soltani are set to join forces in Schumann’s Cello Concerto on Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 January, with Ton Koopman directing music by J.S. Bach, Haydn and Mozart on Wednesday 23 & Thursday 24 January, and Christoph Eschenbach conducting Franz Schreker’s Chamber Symphony and Bruckner’s Symphony No.2 on Wednesday 30 & Thursday 31 January. Alan Gilbert, the RSPO’s Conductor Laureate and former Chief Conductor, returns to Stockholm for a programme of works by Debussy and Lili Boulanger (Wednesday 3 & Thursday 4 April), while Edward Gardner explores Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra (Thursday 25 & Saturday 27 April).


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