top of page
  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

Passion and Belief

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on April 25th 2019. Helmi Malmgren, clarinet |

James Kahane, conductor. Buy tickets here.

Shaping the music of the 20th Century; the neo-tonal composers.

“Where the heart does not enter, there can be no music.” Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Through the centuries, a recurrent role often held by music was to be a mean for catharsis. Indeed, as musical pieces often reflect on human love, love-longing, and the primacy of emotions, the listener may relate to them intensely, often resulting in a feeling of renewal and restoration. Few composers expressed their emotions as intensely and raw as Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, and the passion and suffering that can be found in their music, while bearing a tragic element, make their works some of the most relatable and striking pieces of music written in the western classical music history. However, while the expression of feelings was a key and almost systematic element in Romantic music, with Tchaikovsky's and Sibelius' evidently being no exception, the concept itself can be found in equally intense ways in all periods of music history. Some of the most extraordinary and ardent depictions of human emotions rest to this day in Baroque music, while the music of our times makes no exception with its treatment of sentiments, although sometimes in a more esoteric manner. As a diachronic element through music history, passion, love, melancholy, grief, despair, are aligned in the following program, with all the pieces sharing the incredible intensity of their expression.


  • Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence

  • Jean Sibelius: Impromptu

  • Osvaldo Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac The Blind

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence

The String Sextet in D minor "Souvenir de Florence", Op. 70, is a work scored for 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos composed in the summer of 1890 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The work, in the traditional four-movement form, was titled "Souvenir de Florence" because the composer sketched one of the work's principal themes while visiting Florence, Italy, where he composed The Queen of Spades. Souvenir de Florence is dedicated to the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society in response to Tchaikovsky appointment as an Honorary Member. The work, revised several times between 1891 and 1892, has also been arranged for string orchestra by Lucas Drew and will be performed as such in the present concert. While not being strictly programmatic music, as opposed to many of Tchaikovsky's iconic works, the piece nevertheless possesses an impressively vehement character, and seemingly reflects Tchaikovsky's own emotional tumult. From the first bars, the abrupt start of the piece with its iconic melody starting from the 6th degree leaves no room for ambiguity on the character. Through the work, the idiomatic musical illustrations used by Tchaikovsky point to a work about love, pain, and suffering, in some of its most primal aspects.

Jean Sibelius: Impromptu

Sibelius had a substantial output for solo piano, although being mostly known internationally for his symphonic music. 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.

Osvaldo Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac The Blind

"Eight centuries ago Isaac The Blind, the great kabbalist rabbi of Provence, dictated a manuscript in which he asserted that all things and events in the universe are product of combinations of the Hebrew alphabet's letters: 'Their root is in a name, for the letters are like branches, which appear in the manner of flickering flames, mobile, and nevertheless linked to the coal'. His conviction still resonates today: don't we have scientists who believe that the clue to our life and fate is hidden in other codes?
Isaac's lifelong devotion to his art is as striking as that of string quartets and klezmer musicians. In their search for something that arises from tangible elements but transcends them, they are all reaching a state of communion. Gershom Scholem, the preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism, says that 'Isaac and his disciples do not speak of ecstasy, of a unique act of stepping outside oneself in which human consciousness abolishes itself. Debhequth (communion) is a constant state, nurtured and renewed through meditation'. If communion is not the reason, how else would one explain the strange life that Isaac led, or the decades during which groups of four souls dissolve their individuality into single, higher organisms, called string quartets? How would one explain the chain of klezmer generations that, while blessing births, weddings, and burials, were trying to discover the melody that could be set free from itself and become only air, spirit, ruakh?
The movements of this work sound to me as if written in three of the different languages spoken by the Jewish people throughout our history. This somehow reflects the composition's epic nature. I hear the prelude and the first movement, the most ancient, in Aramaic; the second movement is in Yiddish, the rich and fragile language of a long exile; the third movement and postlude are in sacred Hebrew.
The prelude and the first movement simultaneously explore two prayers in different ways: The quartet plays the first part of the central prayer of the High Holidays, 'We will observe the mighty holiness of this day...', while the clarinet dreams the motifs from 'Our Father, Our King'. The second movement is based on 'The Old Klezmer Band', a traditional dance tune, which is surrounded here by contrasting manifestations of its own halo. The third movement was written before all the others. It is an instrumental version of K'vakarat, a work that I wrote a few years ago for Kronos and Cantor Misha Alexandrovich. The meaning of the word klezmer: instrument of song, becomes clear when one hears David Krakauer's interpretation of the cantor's line. This movement, together with the postlude, bring to a conclusion the prayer left open in the first movement: '...Thou pass and record, count and visit, every living soul, appointing the measure of every creature's life and decreeing its destiny'.
But blindness is as important in this work as dreaming and praying. I had always the intuition that, in order to achieve the highest possible intensity in a performance, musicians should play, metaphorically speaking, 'blind'. That is why, I think, all legendary bards in cultures around the world, starting with Homer, are said to be blind. 'Blindness' is probably the secret of great string quartets, those who don't need their eyes to communicate among them, with the music, or the audience. My homage to all of them and Isaac of Provence is this work for blind musicians, so they can play it by heart. Blindness, then, reminded me of how to compose music as it was in the beginning: An art that springs from and relies on our ability to sing and hear, with the power to build castles of sound in our memories."

— Osvaldo Golijov

150 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page