Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Mes(s)to with the program!

I hope you can forgive me for talking about other Pettersson-related things on this blog.

One of the ways I wear my music-nerd stripes is to obsessively check the websites of major orchestras and ensembles during the months of January to May, which is when the new season programs are announced. Now that I live in Helsinki, I pay particularly close attention to the nearby Swedish orchestras, looking out for any performance of Pettersson’s orchestral works.

I was both excited and a little disappointed when I saw the 10-11 season announcement of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (SRSO). It said that in April 2011 Daniel Harding will conduct the massive Mesto from Pettersson’s Concerto No. 3 for String Orchestra. I was excited that it was a Pettersson orchestral work besides the 7th Symphony, but disappointed that he wasn’t performing the whole piece. Nevertheless, beggars cannot be choosy: if you hear the 7th live, consider yourself lucky. If you hear an orchestral work besides the 7th live, consider yourself even luckier.

It was a pretty good sign that this performance was actually going to take place when Gehrman’s posted it on their website as well. However, as one can never be sure with these things (I’ll say more about this below), I continued to check both the webpages of the SRSO and Daniel Harding.

If you go to the SRSO site you will see that the Mesto is NOT on the program (Daniel Harding's webpage doesn't have any information on April 2011 yet). Of course, there may be many possible reasons why this change occurred, but the cynical and probably correct reason is some higher-up involved in programming said something like: “You know, this Pettersson-stuff probably won’t sell too many tickets, so let’s program something else that people have heard a million times already.”

This Pettersson denial is actually the third one I can think of in recent memory. Maybe about a year and a half ago, Christian Lindberg announced on his website that he would conduct the 2nd Symphony with the Norrlands (Umea) Opera orchestra in April 2010. However, as I did not see anything about it on Gehrman’s page, I obsessively checked the Norrlands Opera webpage until they announced the Spring 2010 program, which said nothing about any Pettersson performance.

Closer to Helsinki, the Mikkeli city orchestra was scheduled to perform the Concerto No. 2 for String Orchestra this past fall. The performance was also announced on Gehrman’s site. However, at the time the Mikkeli orchestra website was undergoing a painfully slow update, so to speed things up I found the conductor on Facebook and asked him to confirm. He said that he would be playing something else.This is actually forgivable, as I must sheepishly admit that I missed a performance of this piece in Mikkeli by the same forces about a year and a half ago.

Probably the biggest Pettersson denial happened to the man himself. As you may know, for a period of time Pettersson banned the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (RSPO) from performing his music. If my facts are correct, this was in response to the RSPO yanking the 7th Symphony from their overseas tour. When I think about this I wonder if the 7th Symphony would be more of a repertoire item today if the tour program had not been changed, and other audiences had been exposed to this work. On the other hand, I wonder if Pettersson developed some bad blood with the programming establishment in Sweden because of his response. Perhaps if he had been more chill about it and didn’t ban the RSPO from playing his music, he might have actually had more performances and a better chance of establishing his works in the repertoire.

The fact that you’re here reading this blog probably means that you’re interested in classical music beyond Pachabel’s Canon and Mozart’s Eine kleine. Like myself, you probably also have a laundry list of composers who you feel are unjustly neglected, and Pettersson is just one of them. For people like us, looking at the schedules of our local orchestras is usually disappointing, and we have resigned ourselves to the world of recordings to hear these neglected composers.

It’s fascinating to think about what forces are involved in determining which work enters the repertory and which work will languish in obscurity. We know that many works throughout history were booed and dismissed at their premiere only to become repertoire staples years later. The converse is also true. Probably the most famous example is Mahler, who met resistance while he was alive but said his “day will come.” I know this is total cliché, but maybe Pettersson’s day will come as well.

In the meantime, let’s hope that future programs featuring Pettersson’s music are not Mes(s)to(ed) with.

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