The Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a new paradigm for music making in the 21st century. Its concerts are a unique spectacle of sound, light, projection art and choreography; its passion for playing orchestral works from memory transforms the musical experience for both players and audiences; and its performances, under the electrifying baton of Music Director Kristjan Järvi, have a special passion and energy that’s infectious. But even more than this, as a community of musicians from ten Nordic 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.
In 2018 the Baltic Sea Philharmonic celebrated its tenth anniversary. The orchestra’s story began 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 ensemble, and took the idea to Nord Stream AG, operator of the natural gas pipeline 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 June 2008, it was clear that here was an orchestra with a powerful message’, says 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 around the world, 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, the Rheingau Music Festival and the Merano Music Festival. The finest soloists in the world, from Julia Fischer and Valentina Lisitsa to Jonas Kaufmann and Gidon Kremer, 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. In 2015 the orchestra’s 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, and special concerts for school students.
Renamed the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in 2016, the orchestra partnered with Sunbeam Productions to create ‘Waterworks’, a thrilling new concert experience fusing water-inspired music with cutting-edge lighting, sound design and projection art. Equally revolutionary was the orchestra’s new commitment to memorised performances; in August 2017 the ensemble made history by becoming the first orchestra in the world to perform Stravinsky’s The Firebird entirely from memory. In 2018 the orchestra celebrated both its tenth anniversary and 100 years of independence for Finland, the Baltic States and Poland with a new programme called ‘Nordic Pulse’. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s concert at the Usedom Music Festival was attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in her opening speech praised the orchestra’s ‘depth and elegance’ and said: ‘The members of the orchestra embody international understanding; they use music as a timeless language that can be understood across borders.’ Making its first ever tour outside Europe, the orchestra took ‘Waterworks’ to the United Arab Emirates, and for the first time performed the entire programme from memory in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. By the end of 2018, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic had given a total of over 100 concerts since its inception in 2008, performing to more than 110,000 concert goers in 15 countries (the ten Baltic Sea states, Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland and the UAE).
In 2019 the Baltic Sea Philharmonic will once again travel thousands of miles around Europe, beginning in March with a tour of ‘Nordic Pulse’ to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Russia. In June and July the orchestra will tour Germany with a new programme, ‘Midnight Sun’, which will be performed entirely by heart. And with its ‘Divine Geometry’ tour of Italy and Germany in September, the orchestra will bring together music by Baroque masters and American minimalists in an exciting programme that includes a major new work by Steve Reich, which the Baltic Sea Philharmonic co-commissioned with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.