Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, West Helsinki Music Institute & East Helsinki Music Institute
Updated: Jan 24
Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on February 16th 2023. Julia Jurkiewicz, oboe |
James S. Kahane, conductor. Buy tickets here.
The Helsinki Chamber Orchestra joins forces with the West Helsinki Music Institute and East Helsinki Music Institute for a large scale program featuring British and American masterpieces, with oboe soloist Julia Jurkiewicz. The concert carefully weaves together chamber orchestra pieces which greatly benefits from a large ensemble: it consists of Jean Sibelius' Impromptu, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (which notably requires the orchestra to be split in 3 ensembles positioned at different places of the hall, including behind the audience), Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto, and finally, Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
Involving the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, 38 students of these two music schools as well as their teachers, this concert aims to provide the opportunity to young musicians to play with a professional orchestra and learn from the experience of their players. Seated alongside a full-time orchestra player or one of their teachers, the students will be immersed in the standard working process of the music industry, culminating in a final concert at Temppeliaukio Church on 16.2.2022, conducted by the orchestra’s principal conductor James Kahane. Ahead of the traditional rehearsal period, they will be intensely prepared in advance by their respective pedagogical team and the principal players of the orchestra.
Jean Sibelius: Impromptu
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring
Jean Sibelius: Impromptu
Although being mostly known internationally for his symphonic music, Sibelius had a substantial output for solo piano. His interest in that genre stemmed back to his early career, as the Six Impromptus from 1893 attest, written around the time of his first popular orchestral works Kullervo (1892) and the Karelia Suite (1893). The 5th and 6th Impromptus, arranged and revised by Sibelius for string orchestra, consists, in its string iteration, of a meditative and sorrowful movement with short outbreaks of light followed by a pastoral and loving passage, before the return of the opening section. The first heme possesses a Nordic stateliness searing the music into the mind's ear after just one listening, as well as an almost tragic character powerfully underlined by the straightforwardness of the theme. As a whole, and despite technically regrouping the music of only 2 out 6 of the movements of the original piano work, the piece is a superb example of expressiveness through the masterful use of the string orchestra. It's apparent simplicity only multiplies the strength of the emotions conveyed to the listener.
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is a landmark work in the classical repertoire and a testament to the composer's extraordinary artistic vision. Written in 1910 and revised in 1913, the piece is based on a theme by the 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis and consists of a series of variations that explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities of this theme.
Aware that the England's musical reputation had dwindled over time since the death of the master Henri Purcell in 1695, Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries sought to reestablish a national voice by turning to music of the past, as exemplified in his Fantasia, which incorporates elements of Renaissance and Baroque music into its structure and style. At the same time, however, the piece is very much a product of its own time, and Vaughan Williams' use of the full orchestra, with its rich and dynamic sound, is a hallmark of his modernist approach to composition.
One of the most striking features of the Fantasia is its use of dissonances and resolutions. Vaughan Williams often alternate between the consonant chords of the original choir piece by Thomas Tallis, the Third Tune for Archbishop Parker's Psalter ("Why fum'th in sight"), and his own more dissonant variations of these chords, creating not only a sense of tension and release, but also a dual harmonic language that sounds both mysterious and emotionally powerful. This technique is especially evident in the final variations, where the dissonant chords serve as gateways to new unexpected harmonies before eventually resolving into a peaceful and contemplative coda.
The original text set to music by Thomas Tallis is tempestuous and fiery: interestingly, its hostile characters are the only ones entirely absent from Vaughan Williams' Fantasia.
The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is also notable for its expansive form, which allows Vaughan Williams to create a sense of movement and development over the course of the work. The theme is presented at the outset, and then each variation expands upon and transforms it in some way, rhythmically, harmonically, or both.
The structure of the Fantasia is further enhanced by a unique use of the string orchestra it is written for. Indeed, Vaughan Williams divides the ensemble in 3 different string ensembles of various sizes: 2 orchestras and 1 string quartet. He uses these groups, intended to be placed at different places of a church, the ideal setting for this piece, to create a wide range of timbres and colors that uses the entire concert venue as an instrument. Various string solos are also used to highlight certain passages and to give the piece a more intimate and personal feel.
In addition to its technical and formal qualities, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is also a deeply expressive work that speaks to the heart and soul of the listener. Vaughan Williams' music is infused with a sense of wonder, contemplation and mystery that is both universal and timeless.
See the full score here: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Ralph Vaughan-Williams: Oboe Concerto
Ralph Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto is a masterful and enduring work that showcases the composer's unique musical style and his deep appreciation for the music of the past. Written in 1944, the concerto is a product of the composer's later years, as it was written when he was 72, and it reflects his mature musical vision and his lifelong commitment to the British musical language.
The concerto is inherently notable for its use of the oboe as a solo instrument, a somewhat rare choice with only a handful of them regularly performed. Indeed, the oboe is a relatively high-pitched and piercing instrument, and has a distinctive and expressive timbre that can be challenging to adequately write for and properly mix with the orchestra's sound. Vaughan Williams nevertheless makes full use of these qualities in the concerto and creates a work that is both virtuosic and emotionally compelling.
The concerto is in three movements, and departs from the traditional fast-slow-fast structure to instead follow a setting of one flowing movement, one fast movement, and a final one that alternates between fast and contemplative-slow passage. The first movement, Allegro moderato, is contemplative in nature with a strong pastoral undertone and a sense of forward momentum that is maintained throughout. The second movement, the Minuet and Musette, is slightly faster but still in a somewhat calm and relaxed character. The final movement, the Scherzo, is more energetic, light-hearted and playful, and it features a series of virtuosic oboe passages that are both technically demanding and musically satisfying. In its final slow passage, it features a beautiful and lyrical oboe solo that is supported by a rich and sonorous accompaniment. The concerto has an element of cyclic form. Each movement begins and ends with the same pentatonic theme, spanning an octave.
Throughout the concerto, Vaughan Williams makes effective use of the string orchestra rather than the full symphony orchestra, and he creates a rich and dynamic soundscape that is both sweeping and intimate without resorting to woodwinds, percussion or brass instruments. At times, the composer varies between the colors of the full body of the string section to give the piece an almost symphonic character, while resorting to only a few of their desks (and therefore a limited amount of their players) at other moments, emphasizing there a more intimate and chamber music-like quality of sound.
Ralph Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto is a cornerstone piece of the Oboe repertoire. It is a work that showcases the composer's unique musical style, mastery of writing for oboe as well as strings, his deep appreciation for the music of the past and his commitment to use it to reestablish a national musical language.
See the full score here: Oboe Concerto
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring
Appalachian Spring was first performed in 1944 and has since gained widespread popularity as an orchestral suite. The piece was commissioned by choreographer and dancer Martha Graham and funded by the Coolidge Foundation, and it was scored for a 13-member chamber orchestra. It premiered on October 30, 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., with Martha Graham dancing the lead role and the set designed by American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Copland was recognized for his achievement with the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Initially, Copland had not named the work, simply referring to it as "Ballet for Martha." This title was as straightforward as the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts", which is quoted in the music.
However, just before the premiere, Graham suggested the title "Appalachian Spring," taken from a line in Hart Crane's poem "The Dance" in his book The Bridge.
O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
The original ballet tells a story of a young pioneer couple on their wedding day. They wake up, reflect on the past, enjoy an energetic and sweet wedding, then retire to reflect on future as the sun sets. Copland himself described the 8 sections of this suite as follows:
Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
Fast/Allegro. Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action. A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
Moderate/Moderato. Duo for the Bride and her Intended – scene of tenderness and passion.
Quite fast. The Revivalist and his flock. Folksy feeling – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
Still faster/Subito Allegro. Solo dance of the Bride – presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
Very slowly (as at first). Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
Calm and flowing/Doppio Movimento. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title "The Gift to Be Simple." The melody borrowed and used almost literally is called "Simple Gifts."
Moderate. Coda/Moderato – Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the couple are left "quiet and strong in their new house." Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike chorale passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.
One of the most striking features of "Appalachian Spring" is Copland's use of folk-like melodies and rhythms, which give the piece a distinctively American character. The music is influenced by various American folk traditions, including shape-note singing and hymns, and it captures the sense of simplicity and authenticity that is associated with these traditions. At the same time, however, the music is also highly sophisticated and structured, and Copland employs a wide range of compositional techniques, including counterpoint, harmony, and form, to create a work that is both complex and accessible.
Conductor: James S. Kahane
A refined and passionate conductor, James S. Kahane has been invited to lead many first-class orchestras such as the Finnish Radio Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Strings and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra. He is a founding member as well as principal conductor of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, a Finnish orchestra born in the fall of 2018 and specializing in repertoire for chamber orchestra. Since this same year he is also conductor of the Finnish Polytechnic Orchestra.
Previously he was appointed, at the age of 21, as Susanna Mälkki's assistant conducto at the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Among the orchestras he has conducted are the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, the Ostrobothnia Chamber Orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Jyväskylä Sinfonia, the St. Michael's String Orchestra, the Triangle Orchestra, the Orchestre de la Francophonie, the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta, the Pori Sinfonietta, the Joensuu City Orchestra, the Järvi Academy Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian State Orchestra and the Rehovot Symphony Orchestra.
James studied in Sakari Oramo's renowned conducting class at the Sibelius Academy, where he was accepted at the age of 19. At the same time, James has benefited from the teaching of major conductors such as Paavo Järvi, David Zinman, Peter Eötvös, Matthias Pintscher, Sir Roger Norrington, John Storgårds, Mikko Franck, Leif Segerstam, Johannes Schlaefli, Nicolas Pasquet, Yoav Talmi, Colin Metters, Adrian McDonnell and Jorma Panula.
During the last seasons, James was selected from over three hundred and sixty applicants to participate in Bernard Haitink's conducting masterclass at the Lucerne Music Festival, the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival, and the 2017 Deutsche Dirigentenpreis (German Grand Prix for Conductors), where he was one of twelve applicants chosen to conduct the WDR Symphony Orchestra as well as the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne. Previously, he was the youngest candidate selected for the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, where he was chosen by Neeme Järvi to conduct one of the official concerts of the festival.
Since 2016, James is also the conductor of the Far(away) Ensemble, a modular and multidisciplinary group with which he recorded Jacopo Aliboni's music for the short films "Du Temps Perdu" and "Le Temps Prend Feu", among which the second one was officially selected for the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Cefalù Film Festival, the Guiar Festival as well as the seventy-second Cannes Film Festival.
The Finnish broadcasting channel YLE dedicated one of three portraits of promising conductors from the Sibelius Academy to him in 2018. The documentary was released in the Finnish movie theaters in Spring 2020.
Oboe: Julia Jurkiewicz
Julia Jurkiewicz is a polish oboist, born in Toruń, Poland. Her musical education began early, and she started formally studying Oboe at the age of 13. She graduated with a Master's degree with honors from the oboe class of Mrs. Agata Piotrowska-Bartoszek at the University of Music in Lodz in 2022. As part of her international experience, Julia had the opportunity to develop her skills with internationally renowned teachers and oboists: Anni Haapaniemi and Emmanuela Laville at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Francois Leleux, Arkadiusz Krupa and Nick Deutsch. Additionally, she is a laureate of many international competitions, including the Kings Peak International Music Competition and the International Competition of Young Musicians "Kaunas Sonorum" in Lithuania. Over the past few years she has been actively performing with several orchestras in Poland, such as the Płocka Orkiestra Symfoniczna, the Filharmonią Bałtycką and the Primuz Chamber Orchestra.