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Culture news
Northern soul
05.19.2006 12:25

nordic_music By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

The Third Nordic Music Festival is in full swing.

The Third Nordic Music Festival — running through May 28 this year — thrives on the edges of both high brow and street-level entertainment.

This time round, the event juxtaposes a performance of the Violinkonzert by Finnish-born Paris-based composer Kaja Saariaho at the Hermitage Theater (May 28, 7 p.m.) with a concert of the amateur “Logreglukor Reykjavikur,” the Icelandic Policemen Choir at the State Cappella courtyard (Tuesday, 4 p.m.). Predictably, there will also be performances of works by Jean Sibelius and Edvard Grieg.

The festival was established in 2004 by Swedish conductor Kristofer Wahlander, who is artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Festival Orchestra. Its mission is to showcase an array of classical masterpieces by Nordic composers performed by distinguished musicians. The festival doesn’t confine itself to the already famous names, for example Grieg, whose work is featured prominently in repertoires of Russian orchestras. Neither does it follow the footsteps of Finland’s Musica Nova festival to devote its concerts solely to experimental contemporary music.

The Nordic Music Festival brings to St. Petersburg music from various eras.

“We don’t make a point of digging out and performing a long-lost score that everybody has forgotten about because it was no good,” Wahlander smiles. “On the contrary, we give our audiences what we like ourselves and what is admired in the Nordic states.”

The festival opened on Monday with Wahlander conducting the St. Petersburg Festival Orchestra in the program of Grieg and Hugo Alven.

Traditionally, the festival’s program reflects anniversaries of Nordic cultural icons. Last year’s program made reference to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen and 140 years since the birth of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

This year Norwegian notables are in focus. Paying tribute to the 100th anniversary of the death of the renowned Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, a concert at St. Petersburg State University on Friday (7 p.m.) features an internationally acclaimed trio — the soprano Isa Katharina Gericke, the violinist Annar Folleso and the pianist Wolfgang Plagge — which will perform a program of works by Per Norgard, Toivo Kuula, and Wolfgang Plagge, as well as by Grieg.

Perhaps the festival’s biggest international star is the Danish soprano Gitta-Maria SjÚberg, renowned for her Mozart, Bizet and Puccini repertoire and who has performed with the world’s most acclaimed singers, including Placido Domingo. SjÚberg, accompanied by pianist Irene Hasager, gives a solo recital — fusing Nordic music with popular Italian opera arias— at the White Hall of Peterhof’s Grand Palace on Sunday at 6 p.m.

Wahlander feels rewarded by the attention the festival receives in St. Petersburg. “It is all the more encouraging to see the attention if you consider how much classical music means for people in this city, and how much the audiences know about it,” he said. “In Sweden, if you stop someone at random and ask who is the chief conductor at Stockholm Philharmonic, what you are most likely to get is a strange look. But here, almost everyone seems to have a certain relation to classical music.”

Natalya Entelis, a prominent music historian and one of the festival’s organizers, draws attention to choral concerts. She said the performance of Stockholm’s St. Clara Church Choir at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, at St. Catherine’s Swedish Church is not to be missed.

“Choral culture in Sweden has a long and venerable tradition, and even amateur church choirs would surpass many professional Russian ensembles,” she said. “What I am trying to say, is don’t try to pick the concerts like raisins from a bun. A church choir can give you a highlight, however humble its name may have sounded.”

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