Thursday, September 21, 2006

Baltic Sea Festival, Part 2

Thanks to our friend Mary Ellyn Hutton for sharing Part 2 of her article about the Baltic Sea Festival, appearing in MusicalAmerica.com this week. The full, unedited version will appear on her own website, Music in Cincinnati. Here is the excerpt pertaining to Paavo and the Estonian National Symphony's performance:
STOCKHOLM -- Founded in 2003 by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Valery Gergiev and Michael Tyden (general manager of Stockholm's Berwald Concert Hall), the Baltic Sea Festival has lofty goals -- cultural, environmental and political.

"A new Hanseatic League" is what Tyden jokingly called it at this year's opening night reception at Berwald Hall. The hope is to involve all nine countries that touch the Baltic: Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark, plus Scandinavian neighbor Norway.

The political and the environmental work may take some doing. Artistic director Salonen remembers how his kids once asked him, " 'Why can't you call the police if somebody is polluting the Baltic?' " And there is lingering animosity toward Russia, particularly in the Baltic states occupied by the former Soviet Union until little over a decade ago. Salonen hopes that the festival's success will be a catalyst for progress in the other areas as well.

The second half of the this year's event included two concerts by Salonen -- one all-Nordic, with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, and the festival finale, Mahler's Eighth Symphony with the Helsinki Philharmonic -- and one by Paavo Järvi and the Estonian National Orchestra performing Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür's Magma with percussionist Evelyn Glennie....

The Estonian National Orchestra, an ensemble re-constituted since the country threw off Soviet occupation in 1991, has achieved a new level of visibility with its recordings under Järvi, the orchestra's artistic adviser since 2002.

Tüür's aptly named Magma made a volcanic impression at Berwald Hall Aug. 25 on a program kindled even further by Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and Symphony No. 6 by Estonian composer Lepo Sumera (Tüür's mentor and teacher). Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun opened the performance

A former rock star in Estonia, Tüür, 46, has mastered an array of compositional techniques on his way to crafting his own style, which is deeply intellectual though without necessarily sounding so. Written for Glennie, Magma is not a concerto but a 30-minute symphony with solo percussion (Tüür's Symphony No. 4). Glennie moved among three sets of instruments -- metallic on the left in front of the first violins, wood facing the cellos and a jazz/rock drum set in the middle. The two movements, Andante furioso and Andante, reflected the outer groupings, with a sizzling improvised cadenza separating them.

The impression, as implied by the title, was of hot energy under pressure bubbling up from time to time. Performing the work in a new hall with limited rehearsal was a challenge for the ensemble, with the hearing-impaired artist picking up vibrations through her bare feet, but Järvi kept a tight rein on things and the result was impressive. Firebird also unfolded vividly....

The music-loving Baltic region brims with festivals, but this one appears poised to conquer them all. Salonen and his colleagues are committed; Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra are on board through 2009 and the announcement of a major sponsor for 2007 is expected soon.

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