The concerts of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic are a unique spectacle of sound, light, projection art and choreography, and its performances, under the electrifying baton of Music Director Kristjan Järvi, have a special passion and energy that’s infectious. But more than this, as a community of musicians from ten countries, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic transcends geographical and historical boundaries and has become a movement for bringing people together. Embodying all that is innovative and progressive about the Nordic region, this visionary ensemble is taking the traditional orchestral model further than ever before. ‘It is a living breathing creature, with boundless energy and enthusiasm for the new – an adventure in itself’, says Kristjan Järvi.
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic story began nearly ten years ago on the resort island of Usedom, off the northern edge of Germany. Thomas Hummel, the Director of the Usedom Music Festival, wanted to create a new multinational orchestra, and took the idea to Nord Stream AG, operator of the natural gas pipelines through the Baltic Sea. His proposal: what better way to reflect the cooperation between Baltic Sea nations than by bringing together the best young musicians from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden.
‘Right from the first concert of the newly inaugurated Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic, in Riga in 2008, it was clear that here was an orchestra with a powerful message’, says Thomas Hummel. Audiences felt it immediately, and politicians recognised its importance too. The musicians of the orchestra knew they had a special opportunity: not only were they part of a new, vibrant international community, but they also got to work with Kristjan Järvi, one of the most charismatic conductors in the business. In the Estonian-born Järvi, the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic had a leader with the energy and vision to realise its international ambitions. A curator and creator of genre-fusing projects and festivals from New York to Gstaad, Järvi instilled in the musicians a curiosity for new musical experiences, an entrepreneurial spirit and a zest for creative thinking.
As the orchestra’s reputation spread, it began regular tours, and was soon playing at the most prestigious concert halls and festivals in Europe, including the White Nights Music Festival in St Petersburg, the Bonn Beethovenfest and the Rheingau Music Festival. The finest soloists in the world, from Julia Fischer and Valentina Lisitsa to Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu, joined the orchestra in performances. In 2012 Kurt Masur conducted the orchestra in the opening concert of the Usedom Music Festival, a collaboration that was repeated at the festival a year later. Also in 2012, the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic performed at the Summit of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in Stralsund, on the invitation of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who praised the orchestra as ‘a compelling example of using music as a powerful medium for cooperation and integration across borders’. In 2015 its achievements were honoured with the prestigious European Culture Prize by the European Culture Foundation ‘Pro Europe’.
The increasing international importance of the orchestra was matched by the growth of its educational ambitions. Education and training have always been at the heart of the orchestra’s mission, and Järvi, together with a team of international coaches, has worked intensively with the musicians to develop their professional skills and expand their musical horizons. The creation in 2013 of the Baltic Sea Music Education Foundation consolidated a burgeoning education programme, which included chamber music coaching as well as workshops for young conductors and composers. Underpinning all this training is the knowledge that today’s young generation will be the musicians and educators to inspire the next generation. Nowhere is this more evident than with the orchestra’s continuing participation in Danish Radio’s ground-breaking ‘Into the Music’ project, which in 2015 began presenting symphonic concerts for thousands of schoolchildren from rural Denmark, many of whom had never experienced a live performance of orchestral music.
In 2016 the orchestra’s growing desire to connect people across the world and to make them reconnect with the environment led to a new phase of international touring and innovative concert experiences. Renamed the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, the orchestra performed in Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Russia in April, on its ‘Baltic Sea Landscapes’ tour with pianist Alexander Toradze. The ‘Baltic Sea Discovery’ tour of Lithuania, Russia, Poland, Denmark and Germany in September featured collaborations with Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica. In the same month, Sony Classical released the orchestra’s recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, arranged by Henk de Vlieger. At the end of 2016, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic debuted a thrilling concert experience in Vienna, fusing music with specially designed lighting and digital projection art. An entirely new show has been created for the orchestra’s ‘Waterworks’ tour of Germany and Denmark in May and August 2017, which celebrates the live-giving power of water and the orchestra’s continuous committement to the environment. At the same time, ‘Waterworks’ celebrates the 80th birthday of seminal American composer Philip Glass with performances of his Violin Concerto No.2 and Aguas da Amazonia. The orchestra also travels to Sweden, Germany and Italy in August 2017 on its ‘Baltic Folk’ tour, performing music by Pärt, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.