Friday, November 4, 2011

Hälsningar från Norrköping!

I remember in 2000 I saw on Paul Cathen's Pettersson page that the Symphony No. 6 would be performed in Stockholm. I could only look at the announcement and wish I could be there. I had no way of getting to Stockholm; I certainly did not have the money. This morning I woke up earlier than I would normally like to, packed my backpack, and made my way to the airport. As I stepped out the door I thought to myself that what happens tonight will only last an hour, but in this hour I will be seeing live a piece I have waited to see live for over twelve years. This piece is really special to me—while in the pits of early 20-something depression I would listen to this piece repeatedly, and every time I reached the final oasis of this work, I felt renewed and purified. This music spoke to me. Nowadays, while I am hopefully more mentally sound, I still keep coming back to this incredible work.

The German program which is taking place this weekend is arguably bigger than this one. In addition to all the great music and lectures, there will be my friends from the German Pettersson community and a whole bunch of other Pettersson scholars I would like to meet. I would get to speak German, which is something I enjoy doing whenever I get the chance. However, from a practical standpoint, coming to Norrköping from Helsinki is far easier (there is a direct flight) than going to Freiberg, which from my experience requires flying to Berlin, then taking the train to Freiberg via Dresden, which further adds a good 3-4 hours of travel time.

Anyhow, despite how scary I find old propeller-driven planes, I landed in Norrköping without incident. The bus stop in the city was right next to the main library, so I stopped in to see what kind of Pettersson-related material they had. Although I have access to Vox Humana via the Naxos Music Library, I do not have access to the texts. Fortunately the Norrkoping library had the CD, so I made some copies of the texts. They also had a copy of Laila Barkefors’ book, Det brinner en sol inom oss: En tonsättares liv och verk, but unfortunately not at the main branch.

If you look at who left a comment on my last entry you can see that Christian Lindberg himself was very pleased that I decided to go to Norrköping. Well, tonight before beginning the piece he made it a point to mention (in English, no less) that he was reading on the blogs that someone traveled to this very performance and passed up a chance to go to Freiberg. Made my day!

Anyhow, to the performance. The opening was played very deliberately (and very well), particularly the lower strings. The overall effect felt like quiet, albeit tragic, determination, as opposed to sounding just gloomy or sad. Once the symphony proper got started, it became clear that the enormous difficulties Pettersson presents to the orchestra was sometimes too much. The strings overall did fine, but they sounded restrained, as opposed to the near suicidal abandon from Kamu’s strings a generation ago. The horns were unfortunately too timid and lacking in confidence, but the trumpets and especially the low brass were quite good. I personally could have used a lot more tam-tam in the first half. The section where piccolo and xylophone are doubling on that devilish lick was shaky for a while.

Criticisms aside, I got the impression that Lindberg was more interested in bringing out musicality, orchestral details and maintaining a consistent line as opposed to bringing out the desperate conflicts which this piece has in spades, especially in the first half. This was particularly apparent to me in the protracted climb to the lyrical island—rather than sounding like an increasingly exhausting trek to reach the oasis, which Kamu and even Trojahn bring out, tonight’s performance made the lyrical island (which was absolutely beautifully played) seem more like an inevitability as opposed to a hard-fought struggle. This is certainly a valid approach, albeit one that I was not necessarily expecting. Perhaps this is not want Lindberg intended; we’ll see how the studio recording turns out (which will be nice, cause tonight there were a lot of coughing people).

I managed to speak to Lindberg for a few minutes after the performance. I asked him about the future of the Symphony No. 1, and he said that further performances elsewhere are being discussed. I also asked about the future of the Pettersson cycle, and if I understood correctly the goal is to first finish everything that Segerstam did not get around to and then re-record what BIS has already released. This however, is dependent on the financial situation at BIS, which I heard is less than great.

Anyways, a huge thanks to Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping SO! Tonight’s performance is one I will not forget any time soon. Word on the street is that the Symphony No. 9 is next…


  1. Thanks for these beautiful words.YES I was deliberately doing this interpretation with an idea of bringing out musical lines and details!! When You get to know people around Pettersson, and hear their view of him as a person, it is pretty obvious that the depressiveness, the despair, and pain in his music often is overexposed in the interpretations. There are SO many positive, optimistic and beautiful passages particularily in this sixth symphony that takes a lot of practice(intonation, timing and balance) to get to sound the way he meant they should be, FULL OF CELECTIAL BEAUTY!!
    I investigated also around your comments about the horns and the tamtam, but knowing the de geer hall and knowing now where you were sitting I think this and to do with where you actually were placed. Other people said that both tamtam and horns were very powerful and clear.
    I am really looking forward now to the recording in January!!! We will work EXTREMELY HARD to make this as close to what Allan himself had in mind!!
    Warmest Regards,
    Christian Lindberg

  2. But it took about 14 hours for visiting Norrköping from Japan, I was very glad to listen the same concert which Christian and NSO played with absolutely excellent! Congratulation!
    Your impression is almost common with me, thank you very much for post.

    och till Christian.
    Tack så mycket för bästa fantatisk konserten om Petterssons symfonin!
    Jag har lyssnade till din konserten med nordiska orkester i Kyoto, Japan.
    Jag hoppas du ska kommer till Japan med Petterssons symfonier. ;-)
    värmt helsningar.