In one of the most intense and exciting fortnights in its history, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic completed not one, but two international tours in August. In the space of just eleven days, the orchestra performed for 11,000 people in seven cities.
The ‘Baltic Folk’ tour took the ensemble first to Visby, on the Swedish island of Gotland, where on 19 August Kristjan Järvi conducted the opening performance of a folk-inspired programme of music by Pärt, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. ‘Baltic Folk’ continued with sold-out concerts at the Rheingau Music Festival in Wiesbaden, Germany (20 August) and the Merano Music Festival in Merano, Italy (23 August).
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic then returned to Germany to resume its groundbreaking ‘Waterworks’ tour, which it had begun in May. A spectacular fusion of music, light, visual art, sound design and fashion, ‘Waterworks’, which featured original arrangements of Handel’s Water Music and a new orchestration of Philip Glass’s Aguas da Amazonia, thrilled audiences in the sold-out Berlin Konzerthaus (25 August), the sold-out Peenemünde Kraftwerk (26 August), an open-air concert in Lutherstadt Wittenberg (27 August) and the sold-out Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg (29 August).
Conquering the Elbphilharmonie with ‘Waterworks’
One of the high points of the ‘Waterworks’ tour came at the very end, when the orchestra gave a special performance for hundreds of people outside the Elbphilharmonie, who had been watching the main concert on a giant screen. The impromptu mini-concert was a huge hit with both the audience and the local media. The Hamburger Abendblatt reported: ‘What a special evening! As the musicians and Kristjan Järvi performed further encores for an enthusiastic audience in front of the Elbphilharmonie Hall, there was an almost Mediterranean atmosphere. When was this last seen in Hamburg?’
With its ‘Waterworks’ tour, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic introduced a radical new style of performance presentation, combining music with cutting-edge lighting design, projection art and sound design. A 14-strong team from Sunbeam Productions, including lighting designer Bertil Mark, projection artist Philipp Geist and sound designer Ruben Ferdinand, transformed the musical performance into a fully immersive concert experience. The musicians also sported an exciting new look for ‘Waterworks’, courtesy of a clothing collaboration with Estonian fashion house Baltika Group. Designers from Monton, one of Baltika’s five international brands, created 13 different outfits for the men, and nine different outfits for the women, all of which were styled to reflect the water theme of the concert programme.
World-premiere: Starvinsky’s The Firebird from memory
The major highlight of the ‘Baltic Folk’ tour was the orchestra’s performance, at all three concerts, of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, in its 1945 orchestral suite version. In a world first, the musicians played the score without sheet music, entirely from memory. Critics praised the orchestra’s thrilling interpretation. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Guido Holze said: ‘The interaction between the players worked out amazingly smoothly in the rhythmically difficult work. The Russian fairytale about the fight between good and evil was given a vivid, multi-faceted performance.’
For Kristjan Järvi, the effect of playing the Stravinsky from memory was both striking and liberating: ‘Not only is performing The Firebird this way creating history. It is also incredibly empowering. It has been a great achievement for all of the musicians, to break through their limitations, to cast aside their doubts and fears, and to immerse themselves in a realm of possibilities and freedom.
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic welcomed an impressive range of musical partners for its tours in August. Fifteen-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev, one of the most exciting talents of his generation, joined the orchestra on its ‘Baltic Folk’ tour to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. For ‘Waterworks’, three members of the New York-based Absolute Ensemble – trumpeter Charlie Porter, bassist Mat Fieldes and percussionist David Rozenblatt – were embedded in the orchestra, and Russian-born violinist Mikhail Simonyan was the featured soloist in Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2 ‘The American Four Seasons’. And for the final ‘Waterworks’ concert, at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, the orchestra collaborated with the girls choir Mädchenchor Hamburg for a special encore performance of Arvo Pärt’s Kuus kuus kallike (Lullaby Song).
For photos and video highlights of the ‘Baltic Folk’ and ‘Waterworks’ tours, see the orchestra’s Facebook page. You can also watch a livestream of the Wiesbaden ‘Baltic Folk’ concert here, and a livestream by ARTE of the Berlin Konzerthaus ‘Waterworks’ concert here