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February 2014 - Plzenska filharmonie - 4th symphony

 
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Kurkikohtaus
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2014 11:53 am    Post subject: February 2014 - Plzenska filharmonie - 4th symphony Reply with quote

As my rehearsals for the 4th symphony begin tomorrow, I thought I would open a thread beforehand, one that will eventually fill-up with my impressions of this endeavour.

With a single night's rest separating me from what will certainly be the most difficult musical task that I have ever undertaken, I am racked with self-doubt. That is actually the good thing. I would hate to feel "ready" or "confident", because preparing the 4th is not a process that merits those attitudes.

The bad thing is that I know what I must do. This piece, more than most, requires an uncompromising approach from the conductor, lest it become a mish-mash of styles, effects and affects. While one must remain steadfast to a certain extent even in his other works, it is the substance to which one relentlessly adheres in the 4th that sets it apart. In the 5th or 7th symphonies for example, it "suffices" to identify and understand the musical concepts at play, and then strive to achieve them through good technique and tasteful expression.

In the 4th symphony however, the challenges are not conceptual in nature, but rather personal. The conductor must imprint his vision of the sound, structure and expression on the orchestra, it is the conductor's personality that holds this often delicate and brittle work together. The music not only exposes the conductor's understanding of the work, but of who he is and what he has to say.

While some other works approach this status, I cannot think of a single piece that embodies this idea in the way that the 4th symphony does.

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kullervopete
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The fourth is undoubtedly Sibelius's deepest expression of personal feeling and I look forward to Kurki's insights has he explores this masterpiece. Its worth remembering Sibelius's comments to Koussevitzky when he was preparing a performance of the fourth symphony 'One may express the truth in more than one way'. Good luck Smile kp

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lots of Good Luck! Sure it will be a success
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Kurkikohtaus
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 10:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The concert has come and gone, I have to let it sink in a little bit before writing more, but first and foremost, many thanks to Andrew B and his wife Kyllikki for being there and supporting me through the week. It was much appreciated! Photos from the concert week are sure to come soon, and here's a little sneak preview:

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kullervopete
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

These two extracts have wet my appetite for more. The first movement broad and powerful. The third movement [the emotional kernel of the work' deeply felt--kp

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm wondering whether Kurki has any thoughts on his performance of the Sibelius fourth symphony that he would be willing to reveal to us all--kp

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 9:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At this point, I will withold specifics, as Andrew B has mentioned that he will "chime in" at some point and let us know what he thought. I would rather cross-reference his thoughts to my own impressions than give a long exposition here.

That said, although it has been some time since the performance, the experience is still very fresh in my mind. I feel very fortunate not only to have conducted it, but also to have an opportunity to perform it again, in March 2015 with the Moravian Philharmonic Olomouc.
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EsaTero
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 6:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some friends who listen broadly still don't "get" the ending. They like the 5th.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speaking of the ending ...

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Sibelius stated several times that the ending must be without ritardando and in tempo. He conceded that one can slow down in the tremolo passage before the end to about mm=100, but that it should stay in tempo from there to the end. His words were (in German):

Von Letter W bis zum Schluss mm=100. Die 6 letzten Takte: mf. So ernst wie möglich und ohne ritardando (tragisch, ohne Tränen, unwiederruflich).

(tragic, without tears, definite)

You can't be much clearer than that, and it therefore puzzles me why such prominent Sibelius interpreters as Paavo Berglund (among others) slow down so much at the end. Not only does it miss the point, but it disregards in the most direct way what the composer said about what is probably the most important passage in the work, the key to its understanding.
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kullervopete
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Listening to this excerpt, I personally found the basic tempo to fast for my taste. That single flute with its rising third answered by the oboe three times should not be rushed! I know that the score indicates no modification of tempo for the final coda. Some conductors such as Vanska and C. Davies do stay rigorously in tempo to the end. However most conductors do soften the tempo slightly so that the decrease in motion matches the decrease in musical action. Sibelius did permit this slackening in a letter to Koussevitzky--kp

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well it was a bit fast, but not faster than a few recordings. I would have enjoyed that performance for the whole piece. Provided the glockenspiel was right. If I were conducting it, I would be best buddies with the percussionist until the performance was over. Wink

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bravo!
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really will post, I promise! ... all sorts of things getting in the way.
The glockenspiel in Plzen was spot-on. Audible, rhythmically precise (why do so many of them rush the phrase? - Are they afraid of coming in late?)

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, playing in orchestra is not easy always.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2014 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

AT LAST!!! A proper report.
You can get a slightly longer version, will photos, in the members’ area of sibeliusone.com

- - - - -

Imagine the scenario: take a decent orchestra that does not have a tradition of playing Sibelius; ask it to perform from scratch what is probably Sibelius’s most complex and challenging work to an audience that is equally unfamiliar with the idiom, allow just a couple of days of rehearsal time… and what will the result be?

This is precisely what happened in Plzeň in the Czech Republic in February 2014. As part of a Nordic-themed concert – the first half of which consisted of Morning Mood from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, with Dimitri Ashkenazy as soloist) – the Plzeňská filharmonie (Pilsen [Plzeň] Philharmonic Orchestra) performed Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony.

The guest conductor for this demanding but intelligently planned concert was ‘Kurkikohtaus’ – Michael Roháč, whose credentials as a Sibelius interpreter are unique in the Czech Republic: as principal conductor of the West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra in Mariánské Lázně from 2004 until 2011 he successfully introduced conservative Czech audiences to Sibelius’s Third, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, Luonnotar, Tapiola and numerous shorter works, and he has continued his pioneering work elsewhere in the country, for instance conducting the Fifth Symphony with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra and making radio recordings of Valse triste and Kurkikohtaus with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Prague.

The concert was scheduled for the evening of Thursday 20th February. I arrived on the Monday night and straight away met up with Michael Roháč who had just finished the first rehearsal. There was a certain tension in the air: the orchestra had returned at 2 a.m. from a tour to Germany and the evening rehearsal had been a bleary-eyed sight-reading affair. The next rehearsal too was something of an uphill struggle. The Fourth Symphony does not play itself and its complex rhythms, off-beat entries and syncopations pose a serious challenge to every orchestra that attempts it. Much of the rehearsal, therefore, was devoted to giving the players the opportunity to work out exactly when they were supposed to come in. As their confidence grew, so too the tonal blend started to develop and small details of ensemble became more secure. At each break in the proceedings, Roháč and I retired to the conductor’s room for what he described as a ‘post mortem’. Anecdotes were exchanged, interpretative points were discussed, errors in the score and parts were corrected. On Wednesday the process continued: the security of the playing increased palpably from each play-through to the next.

Rehearsing a symphony as complex as Sibelius’s Fourth presents innumerable challenges, not least how to explain to players who are unfamiliar with the idiom how all the various strands of the symphony fit together. In the slow movement Michael Roháč had an inspired solution: instead of playing the movement from beginning to end, he rehearsed the various appearances of its all-important rising theme one after another, showing the musicians how this theme develops during the course of the movement and giving them a means of orientation within the music. There was a further benefit: by clearly identifying each appearance of the theme at an early stage in the rehearsal process, the underlying tempo was immediately established as a constant. The trap that many conductors fall into – to start the movement slowly and allow it to speed up rhapsodically as it progresses – was thus neatly avoided, as the players’ natural tendency was to return to the tempo at which they had learned the music.

On Thursday morning came the public dress rehearsal. This took place not at the Radio building but at the concert venue itself – Měšťanská beseda, a handsome hall in the city centre, with capacity for around 500 listeners and a very sympathetic acoustic. Whether it was the change of acoustic or the extra day’s familiarity with the music, it sounded like a different orchestra: more confident, more at ease with itself and the music – indeed almost unrecognizable to anyone who had heard the players struggling to count their way through this score just two days earlier. And this was maintained at the well-attended evening concert too. The short Grieg piece served as a gentle curtain-raiser – the calm before the storm of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, played with sensitivity as well as aplomb and virtuosity by Dimitri Ashkenazy. And Sibelius’s Fourth was a stunning second half: the first movement as bleak and remorseless as one could wish for, and the scherzo’s quirkiness skilfully managed. The slow movement was supremely effective: steady in tempo but full of concentration. No punches were pulled in the finale, brisk and alert, with the important glockenspiel part clearly audible and rhythmically precise. As the composer instructs, there was no slackening of pace in the coda. If, as here, this passage is played with musicality, there is no danger of this becoming merely mechanical; indeed its impact is enhanced if any faux-Romantic overlay is eschewed.

The audience’s reaction to this difficult and unfamiliar score was reassuringly positive. Czech audiences may be conservative but they are also well-informed and sophisticated, and performances of this artistic calibre are absolutely essential if Sibelius’s music is to achieve the place it deserves in the country’s musical life.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2014 10:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andrews report of the concert is pretty positive and I must congratulate maestro Kurki for not only including this austere and forbidding work in the programme but also for having the courage and the insight in closing the concert with this Masterpiece.--kp

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kullervopete wrote:
Andrews report of the concert is pretty positive and I must congratulate maestro Kurki for not only including this austere and forbidding work in the programme but also for having the courage and the insight in closing the concert with this Masterpiece.--kp
Harri M wrote:
Bravo!

A very belated "double ditto!" Smile
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