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  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

Helsinki Chamber Orchestra: Farewells & New Beginnings

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on April 27th 2023. Martin Malmgren, piano |

Aku Sorensen, conductor. Buy tickets here.



Youth means many things in music: passion, inexperience, naivete… Youth can be touching, and powerful (or at least so says an orchestra of young people!). This concert, held at the orchestra’s traditional home of Temppeliaukio Church, this program unites three young composers, with barely fifteen years difference in age but dramatically different outlooks on the world. Young Mendelssohn, barely 14, writing a String Symphony as a composition exercise with surprising maturity. Linde, 21, writing as fast as his pen would move, unaware of his early death but producing music as if he knew his time would be short. And Schubert, 29, meditating on the fear and comfort of death after receiving the diagnosis that would one day kill him. A lot of life happens when you’re young, and the beauty, pain, joy, and depth of this music helps us relish it.


This program also emphasizes youth as a moment of change, at times joyous, sorrowful, or both, with a reflection on the farewells and new beginnings that have marked all of us in our young years. Indeed, this concert is also the opportunity for the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra to bid farewell to two of its young founding members, who after contributing to make the orchestra what it is today, will move on to the next steps of their musical journeys.


Program

  • Felix Mendelssohn: String Symphony No. 10

  • Bo Linde: Piano Concerto No. 1

  • Intermission (10')

  • Franz Schubert: Death and the Maiden (arr. Gustav Mahler)


 

Felix Mendelssohn: String Symphony No. 10

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) is one of the great wunderkind of classical music history. Born into a wealthy German Jewish family in Hamburg, he and all three of his siblings began piano lessons very young. By the time Felix was 10 years old, he and his sister Fanny, who would become an accomplished composer in her own right, were taking composition and counterpoint lessons Carl Friedrich Zelter.


Aided by a good teacher, a private orchestra hired by his parents, and an unbelievable talent, Mendelssohn showed remarkable maturity as a composer from the very beginning. He was only 16 years old when he wrote his famous Octet, and only a year older when he composed his overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


These works are however preceded by 13 string symphonies, Mendelssohn’s first attempts at orchestral writing. Clearly influenced by Zelter’s own musical conservatism, the works carry influences of Haydn and CPE Bach. The cycle of 13 start short and get longer and longer, with multiple of the late string symphonies even longer than Mendelssohn’s full fledged symphonies. The exception to this rule is the 10th symphony we play tonight. It is unclear whether this is a musical choice, or whether it was originally only a movement of a longer work that was lost.


It is a work of unbelievable depth from a young person, with a moving and mournful b minor Adagio introduction, before moving into an unmistakable Mendelssohnian Allegro, like something from one of his later string quartets.


See the full score here: String Symphony No. 10


Bo Linde: Piano Concerto No. 1

Anders Bo Leif Linde (1933 – 1970) was a true force of nature and a unique character in Swedish music life. He burst onto the scene as a young child prodigy in the post-WW2 era, writing music full of optimism, energy and bright major chords at a time when the modernists of the influential “Monday Group” were pushing the domestic music life in a far more radical direction. The resulting clash with much of the musical establishment meant that Linde’s music remained somewhat side-lined until after his death. In spite of this, it deserves to be said that Linde never compromised with his own musical ideals during his short but eventful life.


The first piano concerto – in fact his third, albeit the first to receive an opus number – is a shining example of Linde’s inventiveness. The motoric element, so often in the foreground in Linde’s music, is present from the string ostinato that starts the concerto. This is briefly contrasted by a short slow-moving section, after which the music basically continues at break-neck speed until the very end of the first movement. The second movement is a set of variations loosely based on the Dutch light classical music composer Jonny Heyken’s Ständchen, imaginatively scored with solos in all string parts and a shimmering cadenza in the uppermost register of the piano. The improvisatory mood continues throughout the rhapsodic final movement, which again shows Linde in his most creative and energetic state.

Being a pianist himself, Linde made notable changes to the piano part after having finished the score. These changes can be heard in a live recording of the premiere of the work, with the composer at the piano and Gunnar Staern on the podium, conducting Gävle Symphony Orchestra. In spite of extensive searches, no annotated version of these changes has been found, and one cannot help but wonder if they really were final changes, or rather signs of a composer who was willing to play around with his own musical material and make up changes on the spot. This performance primarily uses the score as a source, but incorporates a selection of the changes made by the composer in his own performance of the piece.


Franz Schubert: Death and the Maiden (arr. Gustav Mahler)

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) lived only 31 years but managed in that time to write an unbelievable number of works. Although official counts vary, he wrote over 600 lieder, 9(ish) symphonies, countless chamber works, piano works, sacred works, operas… Some calculate his total production as over 1500 pieces.


When Schubert began work on Death and the Maiden, he had been sick for some time. He had been hospitalized in the summer of 1823, his financial situation was rapidly deteriorating, and his recent opera had been a flop. He however, found a burst of productivity amid his depression, rapidly writing his 13th (Rosamunde) and 14th (Death and the Maiden) quartets in a matter of weeks in the spring of 1824.


Like the Rosamunde quartet, Death and the Maiden also borrows from an earlier work of his, in this case a lied he had written 7 years earlier by the same name which forms the theme of the slow movement. This lied meditates on the fear and the comfort of death, through the guise of a fearful young maiden who encounters death, but goes with him willingly in the end. A matter which an ailing Schubert would have perhaps found comforting.


Figures throughout musical history have found this piece gripping, including by a 36-year-old Gustav Mahler. A busy man, Mahler never fully realized his arrangement, but an annotated version of the quartet score remains, which we use as the basis of our performance today.


See the full score here: Death and the Maiden (original version for string quartet)


 

Conductor: Aku Sorensen


Aku Sorensen (b.1997) is a Finnish-American conductor and violinist. Born in California, but now operating out of Helsinki, Finland, Sorensen recently completed a a master’s degree in conducting at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts, under the tutelage of Sakari Oramo. He has previously received tuition from such conductors such as Jorma Panula, Hannu Lintu, Johannes Schlaefli, Sir Roger Norrington, Peter Eötvös, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste.


As a guest conductor, Aku has worked with orchestras such as the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, the Jyväskylä Sinfonia, the Pori Sinfonietta, the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and the Tapiola Sinfonietta.


Sorensen completed a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the Sibelius Academy as a student of Merit Palas. As a violinist, he was a founding member of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, and served as the ensembles original concertmaster.


Sorensen was named the 20th principal conductor the Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra (Ylioppilaskunnan Soittajat) in 2022, and has served as the artistic director of the Sounds of Luosto since 2019.


Piano: Martin Malmgren


Pianist Martin Malmgren has made himself known as a versatile performer, equally at home on stage as a soloist, and chamber musician and lied pianist. With an unusually wide repertoire ranging from early baroque up until the music of our times, he takes delight in surprising his audiences by performing unjustly neglected works and composers, in addition to the standard repertoire. Always aiming at finding meaningful connections between different composers, his concert programs typically show a thoughtful approach which builds bridges between different musical styles and periods.


As a sought-after soloist, he has appeared with such orchestras as Sinfonia Lahti, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Belgrade Symphony, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Torun Philharmonic Orchestra, Oulu Sinfonia, Jyväskylä Sinfonia and others, in collaboration with conductors such as Petri Sakari, Ari Rasilainen, Dalia Stasevska, Sasha Mäkilä, Eva Ollikainen, Ville Matvejeff and Erkki Lasonpalo. The interest in lesser-heard works has led to multiple performances of unjustly neglected works with orchestra such as Prokofiev’s 5th piano concerto, Hindemith’s Kammermusik (‘Klavierkonzert’) op 36 nr 1, Schumann’s Konzertstück op 92, Rachmaninoff’s 1st piano concerto, as well as the Finnish premiere of the late Elliott Carter’s “Dialogues 2”. He has performed extensively throughout Europe, USA and Israel. During 2015, he was invited as Main Guest Artist at the Pasimusic Festival in Kuopio, a festival focusing on the music of the Finnish contemporary composer Pasi Lyytikäinen. Other notable concerts during recent seasons include soloist appearances at the Music Centre in Helsinki, a nomination as “Young soloist” in “Music in the Castles and Manor Houses of Sörmland” and performances at several festivals in Sweden and Finland. Among previous projects, he has performed the complete Mazurkas by Karol Szymanowski and all Études by Claude Debussy.


In addition to his soloist career, Martin takes great interest in lied and chamber music, and enjoys close collaborations with many well-known singers and instrumentalists. Martin has often collaborated with contemporary music ensembles such as NYKY Ensemble and Focus Ensemble. He has premiered and commissioned a long list of works and actively collaborates with contemporary composers.

Performing in other venues than the usual concert halls is also of great interest for Martin, bringing classical music to places where it is less often heard. He often performs in smaller venues, including in bookshops, soirees and home concerts, where there is a possibility to interact closely with the audience. As a co-founder of the klezmer/balkan band Babalisk in his early teens, Martin has also enjoyed the experience of performing in music restaurants, folk music festivals, and on the streets of his hometown, Gothenburg. His wide interests have also led to collaborations with pop singers, jazz musicians, dancers, poets and others.

Martin holds a Bachelor of Music from Edsberg Manor/Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, where he studied piano with Mats Widlund and chamber music with Mats Zetterqvist. He continued his studies at the Sibelius Academy, with Ilmo Ranta as his main piano teacher. Other important influences include Konstantin Bogino, Jerome Lowenthal and Liisa Pohjola. With an interest in early music, Martin has also taken fortepiano masterclasses with Malcolm Bilson, Bart van Oort and Tuija Hakkila.

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