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Culture news
Nordic Spring
05.13.2005 17:42

Nordic Spring From Jean Sibelius to Hans Christian Andersen to modern Swedish jazz and the music of the Royal Danish Court, the second international Nordic Music Festival, which runs from Monday through May 26, parades impressive artistic diversity.

With classical and modern music by composers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden featured in the program, the festival pays tribute to three anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Norway, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen and 140 years since the birth of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Although music from Nordic countries is often grouped under the misnomer "Scandinavian music," in recent years greater awareness of each country's distinct cultural identity, as well as their common traits, has led to an increased understanding of Nordic music.

The Nordic countries include Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The Nordic Council, an international organization, also includes the autonomous territories of Aland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Historically, however, the term Nordic was also applied to the far north of European Russia and the Baltic region including parts of northwest Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Scandinavia applies only to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

The festival was established last spring by Swedish conductor Kristofer Wahlander, who is artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Festival Orchestra.

The main event in last year's program was the Russian premiere of Hugo Alfven's Symphony No. 1, "The Mountain King."

This time, the festival opens with a performance of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar's works by Swedish pianist Per Tengstrand, followed by Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 played by the St. Petersburg Festival Orchestra with Wahlander conducting.

Concerts are being held at the Shostakovich Philarmonic, the Glinka Philharmonic Chamber Hall, the White Hall of Peterhof's Grand Palace, the Shuvalov Palace, Zazerkalye Theater and at the House of Composers (Dom Kompositorov).

On Tuesday, Constitution Day in Norway, the festival presents a concert devoted entirely to Norwegian music, paying tribute to the 100th anniversary of Russia's diplomatic ties with Norway.

Grieg's Suite No. 1 from "Peer Gynt" is followed by Klaus Egge's Symphonic variations and a fugue based on Norwegian folkloric music; Eivind Groven's Hjalarljod Overture; Christian Sinding's Suite for violin and orchestra; and Henning Sommero's "Ri Sull Da" for violin, children's choir, baritone and orchestra.

A Hans Christian Andersen-inspired concert at the Glinka Philharmonic on May 23 definitely counts among the most exciting offerings. Danish soprano Susanne Elmark, joined by her compatriot, pianist Elizabeth Westenholz, will perform Edvard Grieg's "Melodies of the Heart," Sergei Prokofiev's "The Ugly Duckling" and four songs from the "Danish Song Treasure," with all works set to Andersen's lyrics and prose.

The concert in the House of Composers on May 20 features works by contemporary Russian composers inspired by Nordic pagan traditions and Scandinavian sagas as well as a performance by Stockholm's Saxophone Quartet playing cutting-edge Swedish and Icelandic jazz.

Sweden-born Wahlander, who is the festival's artistic director, is conducting the opening concert only.

The conductor graduated with honors from Sweden's Royal Northern College of Music, later completing a postgraduate apprenticeship in conducting at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in St. Petersburg. A well-known figure in St. Petersburg's musical life, he has worked as an adviser to the vice-governor of St. Petersburg and is presently the chairman of the Swedish Society in St. Petersburg.

In 2003, Wahlander conducted a concert of Swedish and Russian music as part of the official celebrations of St. Petetersburg's 300th anniversary, featuring a memorable performance of Handel's Messiah. The performance was part of the worldwide "voices for hospices" project and won encouraging reviews.

"Wahlander, with his charisma, got exactly the right phrasing and nuance from all the musicians," wrote Swedish newspaper Sundsvalls Tidning about the performance. "In the joyful message of the first and the third act, the birth and resurrection of Messiah, he was literally radiating not only with his face but also with his whole body."

The Nordic Music Festival has much potential because of the many unexplored avenues in Nordic music. Local audiences have yet to discover the sounds of ancient Nordic musical instruments, such as the Norwegian seljefløyte -a traditional flute made of willow bark - or the Finnish kantele, a harp with a tinkling sound that evokes cracking ice.

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