Sunday, 10 December 2017

"I am not pleased!" says Sibelius re the Guardian

"I am NOT pleased!" growls  Janne Sibelius
The Guardian questioned whether Sibelius was Finnish.  Rejoinder: does the Guardian do journalism, or clickbait?  For the past three months, London has enjoyed two superlative series - Sakari Oramo's Sibelius plus series with the BBC SO at the Barbican, and Esa-Pekka Salonen's Nordic Days with the Philharmonia (and others) at the South Bank.   At a stroke the Guardian has destroyed the goodwill generated by these concert series.  So much goodwill  (and knowledge) built up. Then, at a stroke, the Guardian messes up. The article's become an international incident, picked up in the Scandinavian press.  Thank goodness they don't think all Brits are as stupid as our newspapers.  The Guardian later changed the headline and the writer apparently apologized. But if the Guardian was serious about journalism they'd look into what gets written in the first place.

As many have said, three languages are spoken in Finland - Finnish, Swedish and Russian, and huge parts of Karelia are now under Russian rule.  National identity is never simple or rigidly fixed, except maybe to Brexiteers.  A basic knowledge of European history would not go astray. Dare we ask that anyone writing about Sibelius might know who he was and what he did?   Sibelius's music found a ready audience in Britain very early on. His popularity helped shape western opinion, creating international sympathy for a Finland even when Britain and Russia were allied.  In the past, Finland was too small to have had strategic value to the west, so popular international support made a lot of difference.   Effectively, Sibelius was the father of his nation, a symbol of Finnishness to the whole world.  Music and politics, dovetailed. Doesn't that matter?

Original Content: "I am not pleased!" says Sibelius re the Guardian


photo : Roger Thomas
The photo isn't fuzzy. It's snowing hard !

Original Content: Snow

Secret twins - Paavo and Vlad

OH nononono no NO ! 

Original Content: Secret twins - Paavo and Vlad

Friday, 8 December 2017

Salonen Sibelius Finnish independence Lemminkäinen Suite

Lemminkäinen and the Swan of Tuonela
 Celebrating Finnish Independence (and Jean Sibelius's birthday) at the South Bank, London, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vilde Frang and the Philharmonia Orchestra.  A very inspired performance, Salonen and the players no doubt responding to the sense of occasion.  The Royal Festival Hall  was illuminated in blue and white - the national colours of Finland - enhanced with gold, adding to the party atmosphere. The powerful brass motifs of Finlandia op 26 seemed to loom out of nowhere, at once ferocious and challenging, followed by timpani rolling like thunder. The woodwind theme with its heartfelt sincerity seemed at first fragile, but fragile things can grow strong : that's part of what Finlandia stands for.  Like a prayer, like an act of faith, the theme grew firmer until the brasses herald it with joy, and the percussion crashed round it. Though Finlandia is so well known as a stand alone,  it needs to be understood in the context of its origins in the Music for Press Celebrations op 25/26 which we heard yesterday. Please read more here.

Vilde Frang was the soloist in Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor op 47. This is another perennial, played by eminent masters. Frang is fragile looking, but her technique is strong. the freshness of her style brought out the sensitivity in the piece. The spirit of the hymn theme from Finlandia ! The freshness of Frang's style . Very moving.

But the highlight of this concert was an exceptionally vivid Sibelius Lemminkäinen Suite op.22.  This is an early work, from the period of Finlandia and shows the young Sibelius finding his voice, drawing on the past in order to move forward.  Given that Wagner drew on Norse/Icelandic legend for Der Ring des Niebelungen, it would have seemed logical to create a saga based on the Kalevala.  Like Kullervo op,7 1892, and indeed the Music for Press Celebrations, the Lemminkäinen Suite is a series of scena, effectively four tone poems on the adventures of Lemminkäinen, a figure in the Kalevala.  In the first section, Lemminkäinen.and the Maidens of .Saari, the hero is youthful. Sweeping themes suggest open horizons. Salonen emphasized the underlying rhythmic pulse, for the young Lemminkäinen represents physical vitality. That's why he seduces all the maidens on the island.  Brief, more cautious figures, like an animal stalking prey, give way to exuberant rhythms : the thrill of the chase. Good contrast between "male" thrusting motifs and "female" dances and a very well executed denouement.  

Most impressively, though, Salonen  understood Lemminkäinen. as "abstract" music - layers of movement, shifting textures, swift changes of pace. There's a whole lot more to  Lemminkäinen than folklore. Salonen's approach is more sophisticated, musically, and puts more emphasis on Sibelius as a composer who understood structure, form and orchestration.  In the two movements in Tuonela, these multi levels  create density : shimmering sounds of great richness,  broken by sharp contrasts. The music tells the story. The swan glides gracefully. The "arrow" flies. The cor anglais melody indicated that something survives, but huge blocks of sound suggested overwhelming forces, looming upwards then crashing down.  In death Lemminkäinen's body parts are scattered, but he's restored to life by his mother, who makes him whole again.   Thus Salonen brought out the way Sibelius's music mirrors the narrative. In Lemminkäinen's Return , the line is once again vigorous,  the many layers united.

Original Content: Salonen Sibelius Finnish independence Lemminkäinen Suite

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Finland Awakes ! Sibelius and Oramo : Finnish Centenary Celebrations

Finland Awakes ! Sakari Oramo celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Finnish Independence with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall, London . What a sense of occasion !  A remarkable performance even by their usual high standards, so powerful and passionate that it will long be remembered.   Sibelius symbolizes Finland to the west. The popularity of his music, especially in Britain, ensured public support for Finland in its long struggle for freedom from Russia.  When the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Europe after 1945, that legacy kept Finland safe. Music as cultural, identity, shaping politics and history.

Sibelius's Press Celebrations Music was veiled protest. Ostensibly written as a fundraiser for press pensions, it struck a raw nerve at a point when the Russians were attempting to tighten control over Finland and its press. The painting at right, by Edvard (Eetu) Isto, is Hyökkäys (The Attack). (1899)  The girl represents Finlandia.  She's holding a book which contains the laws of Finland, The book wields off an attack by a two-headed eagle - the symbol of Russia.  Isto, born the same year as Sibelius,  was an artist who made paintings of nature and folkoric allegory, as did Sibelius's brother-in-law, Eero Järnefelt, and their friend, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. From paintings to music : Sibelius created the music as a series of "tableaux" depicting key events in Finnish history.  
The first tableau is Väinämöinen's Song, its mysteries evoking the primeval world of the Kalevala.  In the second tableau, the Finnish people are converted to Christianity, significantly western Christianity, not the Russian Orthodox Church. This is further affirmed by the third tableau, Duke John in the Castle at Turku. Horns and pipes connect medieval Finland to Sweden and a time of prosperity, which would be shattered in the Thirty Years War, the first true "world war" when Finland was occupied by Russia in the"Years of Hate" (1714-21). The painting below is Burnt Village (1879) by Albert Edelfeldt. The woman is trying to protect what's left of her family- their village is burning in the background.   The Great Hate tableau is disturbingly dramatic, and connects well with Finlandia, though Finlandia with its heartfelt optimism will always be more popular. 

Sibelius himself conducted the premiere in Helsinki on 4th November 1899. Over the years the work underwent numerous changes, the seventh movement "Finlandia Awakes!" becoming the now famous stand alone Finlandia op 26, which also exists in several versions.  The full score was restored, edited and recorded only in 1999, so this UK premiere wasn't as long overdue as might be supposed. This new performance with Oramo and the BBC SO was so vivid that it completely eclipsed the first recording : Oramo/BBCSO is the new benchmark.
Two Pieces op 77, (1914))  Cantique and Devotion in the version for cello and orchestra followed, featuring soloist Guy Johnston, The cello is more mournful, deeper than a violin.  In the context of Oramo's programme this was appropriate because these are fairly private works, as opposed to the public persona of the Music for Press Celebrations.  But the spirit of 1899 prevailed once again, with Sibelius's Symphony no 1 op 39 (1899-1900). Hearing the symphony after the tableaux highlights the stylistic breakthrough. It's as if Sibelius's soul was being liberated. The violin part - Sibelius's own instrument - flies free, then invigorates the orchestra with its exuberance. Here, the andante sounded particularly moving, reminding me of the "hands on heart" theme in Finlandia. . Individual figures  in the wind and strings were particularly beautiful, lighting the way for the grand surges  in larger ensemble.  Tempi speed up into whirlwind, then retreat, and the heartfelt motif returned, warm and confident.  The scherzo moved briskly, opening out to a clearing where individual instruments again took centre place.  A romp, wild but purposeful: An exhilarating way to celebrate a hundred years of nationhood and artistic progress.

Original Content: Finland Awakes ! Sibelius and Oramo : Finnish Centenary Celebrations

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Playlist. (National Sawdust Log, Oct. 25, 2016)

Playlist Oct 25

An occasional tally of memorable things Steve Smith has stuck in his ears lately.

Linda Catlin Smith - Memory Forms (Artifact Music; 2001)
> Among the Tarnished Stars - The Burdocks; Through the Low Hills - Andrew Smith, Stephen Clarke; Knotted Silk - Stephen Clarke, Arraymusic/Henry Kucharzyk; With Their Shadows Long - Marc Sabat, Stephen Clarke; Memory Forms - CBC Radio Orchestra/Owen Underhill; Moi qui tremblais - Mark Fewer, Richard Sacks, Arraymusic/Henry Kucharzyk

Michael Pisaro - asleep, desert, choir, agnes - University of South Carolina Experimental Music Workshop/Greg Stuart (Soundcloud; 2016)

Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast; 2016)

<a href="">Dissolution by Olivia Block</a>

Olivia Block - "Dissolution B" (from Dissolution) (Glistening Examples; due Nov. 11, 2016)

XTC - Skylarking (Ape; 1986/2016)

Graham Lambkin - Community (KYE/ErstSolo; 2016)

Jóhann Jóhansson - Orphée (Deutsche Grammophon; 2016)

<a href="">Centres by Ian William Craig</a>

Ian William Craig - Centres (130701/Fat Cat) <a href="">Everywhere at the end of time by The Caretaker</a>

The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time (History Always Favours the Winners; 2016)

Ingram Marshall - Fog Tropes (New Albion; 1984/1994)
> Fog Tropes - San Francisco New Music Ensemble/John Adams; Gradual Requiem - Foster Reed, Ingram Marshall; Gambuh 1 - Ingram Marshall

<a href="">Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties by Carl Stone</a>

Carl Stone - Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties (Unseen Worlds; 2016)

<a href="">EARS by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith</a>

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS (Western Vinyl; 2016)

King Crimson - Larks' Tongues in Aspic (DGM/Panegyric; 1972/2012)

<a href="">Repas Froid LP (PAN 17) by Ghédalia Tazartès</a>

Ghédalia Tazartès - Repas Froid (PAN; 2011)

<a href="">Echolalia by Ocean Viva Silver</a>

Ocean Viva Silver - Echolalia (self-released; 2014)

<a href="">Before Nostromo by Stephan Mathieu</a>

Stephan Mathieu - Before Nostromo (Schwebung; 2015)

King CrimsonPalais Des Sports, Besancon, France, March 25, 1974 (from Starless) (DGM/Panegyric; 1973/2014)

<a href="">Sarah Hennies: Orienting Response by Cristian Alvear</a>

Sarah Hennies - Orienting Response - Cristián Alvear (mappa; 2016)

<a href="">Autumn by Günter Schlienz</a>

Günter Schlienz - Autumn (Zoharum; 2016)

Meredith Monk - On Behalf of Nature - Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble (ECM New Series; 2016)

<a href="">Anterior Space by HOLOVR</a>

HOLOVR - Anterior Space (Further; due Dec. 2, 2016)

Archived from National Sawdust Log

Original Content: Playlist. (National Sawdust Log, Oct. 25, 2016)