Season’s curtain raised to entertain

  • 2013-08-31
  • By Jonathan Brown

Composer Alban Berg is highlighted in this year’s Sinfonietta Riga program

RIGA - Alban Berg was the poster-boy of fin de siecle intellectual art music. He was the youngest, most handsome and sociable of the three composers who made up the otherwise gloomy and furrow-browed Second Viennese School (the entrepreneurs of atonality). Young Berg barely graduated beyond secondary school; he wrote popular songs at the piano, and associated with other artists and intellectuals, including Oskar Kokoschka. He died from blood poisoning after an insect bite became infected (anecdote has it that such was his poverty, his wife attempted an operation with a pair of scissors). Perhaps his most understated composition, ‘Lyric Suite,’ was discovered to be a coded love letter to a close friend’s wife; an out-pouring in dissonance.

Sinfonietta Riga has nominated this determined and haunted music to inaugurate its 2013/14 season.
Scored for only four string instruments, ‘Lyric Suite’ is not quite the postured, celebratory, or heraldic season opener; it is, however, one of Riga’s finest and most inventive this year. It’s repertory that sees the Sinfonietta set the red-carpet pomp aside and knuckle-down to one of the 20th century’s most prized offerings.
Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 4’ joins ‘Lyric Suite’ on the Sinfonietta’s opening-night program. Robert Schumann called it “a supple Greek girl, standing in between two giants from the West.” These “giants” are Beethoven’s third and fifth symphonies—formidable neighbors for the fourth. Although separated by some 120 years, ‘Lyric Suite’ and the ‘Fourth Symphony’ have common features. These pieces are born of the same Austro-Germanic musical tradition; they are distinctive and disparate voices of the same dialogue.

It’s with Finnish Composer Magnus Lingberg that the Sinfonietta strikes contrast. Premiered only in 2006 while Linberg was the New York Philharmonic’s Composer in Residence, his ‘Violin Concerto’ became an instant requisite of the violin repertoire. The musical language of Lingberg’s ‘Violin Concerto’ is completely foreign to that of the either Berg or Beethoven’s. It promises to be tremendously emotive, exacting, and exploratory—particularly so in the agile hands of Latvia’s own Eva Bindere, who will navigate the solo violin’s tenacious passages.

‘El Cid’ (named after the Castilian Nobleman and military leader in medieval Spain), by Latvian composer Juris Karlsons, opens the Latvian National Symphony season one week later on Sept. 27. Karlsons’ early academic career began in choreography, pointing to the enigmatic, physical, and expressive capacity of his music. ‘El Cid’ is delicately placed before two larger scores by Russian composers: Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Songs and Dances of Death’ and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘Symphony No.2.’

The Latvian National Opera open their season on Sept. 5-6 with 150th anniversary celebrations of the company and concert hall. These celebratory concerts will feature excerpts from popular ballet and opera, performed by the company’s leading roles. Thereafter, many of the opera’s productions, both musical and ballet, will be familiar to opera goers, beginning with Swan Lake on Sept. 7. The LNO’s new productions include ‘Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess,’ a drama drenched in Cold War themes based around the 1960 Moscow World Chess Championship by the young Latvian of Kristaps Petersons. And in an exchange of the Soviet Realism ‘baton,’ Sergi Prokofiev’s satirical opera, ‘Love for Three Oranges’ will take to the stage as the Ballet’s production of Shostakovich’s ‘The Bright Steam’ has its final performance.
Promoting music of contemporary Latvian composers falls to Riga’s musical intuitions—who else will? Last September The Latvian National Opera opened their season with the inspired music of ‘Dauka’ from Latvian composer Andris Dzenitis, but this year the gauntlet is thrown down by the LNSO.

In Tallinn, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra celebrates 100 years of its concert hall. The Estonian National Opera, Eesti Kontsert, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Estonian National Male Choir, Hortus Musicus, Latvian National Ballet will all participate in a festival titled “Estonian Theater and Concert House 100.” One of the festival’s most compelling performances will be its opening concert, throughout which several pieces performed at the hall’s opening concert 100 years ago will be performed again.

The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra follows suit with an equally rigorous season opening concert. Two living composers feature on their opening night program. Alla Pavlova, an American-based composer and musicologist of Ukrainian decent, whose early musical interests included the writing of Anna Akhmatova, has her Concertino for violin, piano and orchestra on the program. Alongside Pavlova’s Concertino is Argentinian-born, Italian-based pianist, composer, and teacher, Sergio Calligaris’ Concerto for the same instruments. In the trustworthy hands of Russian violinist Sergej Krylov and Rostislav Krimer, both pieces have much to recommend. Beethoven’s herculean ‘Fifth Symphony’ is the grand finale for the Symphony’s program.

The diversity and array of programs in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius are as robust as innovative. These are programs neatly designed to be both a challenge and to entertain audiences, and constructed to leave a lasting impression.