Sunday, November 3, 2013

Norrköping 2013: Concert Review!

I am not sure if my non-American readers know of the children's story called The Little Engine That Could. It is basically about a small engine who managed to pull an entire train over the hill. Larger, stronger engines refused this task, leaving it to the small one. As the small engine struggles to climb to the top of the hill, he never gives up, repeating to himself "I think I can, I think I can." I had this image in my mind while listening to this Norrköping SO concert featuring not one, but two Pettersson symphonies. As you probably know by now, the NSO is not just performing Pettersson regularly, but they will also record the rest of the symphonies not yet recorded for BIS. The larger, stronger "engines" (uh, let's call them the Göteborgs SO and RSPO and SRSO) have refused, but here the little engine steps up and accomplishes the task which others think is impossible. 

On to the concert then. The evening began with the Symphony No. 16, a work which I still feel is quite elusive and not as effective as its predecessors. I was quite impressed with the orchestra, who seemed to be more comfortable with this extremely busy and densely scored music when compared to the Symphony No. 4. The soloist, Jörgen Pettersson, was in complete control of this music and put passion and energy into every note. It really does make a difference when Pettersson's markings and dynamics are followed literally, which is what happened here. Bravo!

The fast and loud music (such as the first and third sections) were visceral and exciting and the slow music was beautifully played, but I still cannot get into this piece. I have no doubt in my mind that when the recording is available, it will be the most convincing argument to date for this work. 

On to the main course, the Symphony No. 4. In my opinion this is, at least on the surface, one of Pettersson's most accessible symphonies. However, it feels like a transitional work between his early and middle orchestral styles. Although the orchestra seemed to struggle a little in the morning rehearsal the evening performance was in a different league. During the concert, I could feel the intensity of concentration and the results were a testament to this orchestra's professionalism and commitment. It goes without saying that Christian Lindberg lives this music and his conducting reflects this. 

I was a little surprised how empty the hall seemed--I think the performance of the Symphony No. 9 last year was better attended. However, it is quite likely that the people who were present really wanted to be there, and they listened with the requisite concentration. The response was very enthusiastic for both symphonies.

I heard that the orchestra had only three rehearsals for this program. Although the performance felt like a work still in progress, convincingly performing two Pettersson symphonies on one program is superhuman, and Christian Lindberg and the NSO should be praised for their incredible physical and emotional stamina. While I felt that the performance of the Symphony No. 6 two years ago also felt like a work in progress, we all know how absolutely amazing and enlightening the recording is. I have no doubt in my mind that when this program is released on CD the results will be equally stunning.

Way to go guys! 

PS. Some extra details: for the Symphony No. 16 the performance time was about 27 minutes, Pettersson marks in the score 25 minutes.
For the Symphony No. 4 the performance time was about 38 minutes, Pettersson marks in the score 35 minutes.

Norrköping 2013: Rehearsal, Press Conference, Vox Humana, and Post-Concert

It is now becoming an established fall tradition that I wake up at an ungodly hour in darkness and under grey skies to fly to Sweden, where I am greeted by more grey skies. That's right, the yearly trip to Norrköping, Sweden, to watch Christian Lindberg and the extremely hard-working Norrköping band as they continue to work their way through the Pettersson symphony cycle. 

This year, however, was different. I wasn't just attending a concert, but there was practically a whole day of activities dedicated to Pettersson ahead of me. I arrived at the concert hall at approximately 10:30, where after asking around a little bit I was escorted into the dress rehearsal. At this time, the orchestra was drilling a few more passages in Lindberg's Kundraan and the Arctic Light, before moving on to the Pettersson works. Shortly after I showed up in the hall I was greeted by Jean-Christophe of ResMusica, Markus from the German Pettersson society and Robert van Bahr of BIS. 

I can seriously say that if it was not for Robert, my life would probably be dramatically different. It was because of BIS' recordings of Pettersson, Sibelius, Tubin, and Aho that I decided to take the plunge and move to Finland, where I could be "closer to the action." Robert is an extremely energetic and enthusiastic person and unfairly gifted with languages. Robert took a seat next to me as the orchestra began to rehearse the Symphony No. 4, and we followed the score together. 

I was a little surprised at how difficult it seemed to put everything together, considering how the technical demands of this symphony are generally lighter in comparison to the rest of Pettersson's symphonic oeuvre. During the break Christian Lindberg enthusiastically greeted me and we discussed a few sections in the score. 

After the break there was some spot-checking in the Symphony No. 4, after which the saxophone soloist Jörgen Pettersson came on stage to begin rehearsing the Symphony No. 16. I've made it pretty clear on this blog that I find this work to be quite problematic, starting with my personal bias against the saxophone in an orchestra context. During the rehearsal I was surprised by a number of things: I actually started to think that this piece "works," that the saxophone soloist was not completely drowned out, and that the orchestra seemed to play this work with more confidence than the other symphony on the program. 

At 13:00 the much-anticipated press conference began. This was attended mostly by orchestra staff, people from BIS, and die-hard Pettersson fans like myself. I actually do not have much to write here, since the entire press conference has been uploaded to YouTube and the orchestra's plans have been outlined on their webpage as well as here. In brief, between now and 2018 Lindberg and the orchestra will perform and record all the remaining symphonies for BIS which have not already been recorded on this label. There will also be a new recording of the Symphony No. 7 which will include the Symphony No. 17, in a completion by Lindberg. In 2018 the orchestra will take Pettersson's music on tour. Furthermore, several of the new recordings will be coupled with bonus DVDs featuring old Pettersson documentaries. You can hear Lindberg talk about the project here.

Included with the upcoming release of the Symphony No. 9 is a bonus DVD of Vox Humana, the documentary film made by Peter Berggren in the 1970s. This film was shown after the press conference. Again, I won't say much here since you can see it for yourself when it is released, but I will say this: I knew Pettersson was ill, but what I saw and heard shocked me. The fact that Pettersson was able to write what he did given the circumstances only further increases my admiration of this amazing artist. 

After the concert (I will post a review of the concert itself soon) Lindberg and several friends and close contacts went out for food and drinks. I was lucky enough to be seated next to Lindberg, and we enthusiastically talked about (you guessed it!) Pettersson. We also came up with a plan of action to get Pettersson performed in Helsinki, which is something I am extremely excited about. 

What a day.