The Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi’s ‘Nordic Swans’ tour of Belgium, Germany and Poland ended last night with a heartfelt Freedom and Solidarity Concert in Gdańsk. After making a memorable Belgian debut at Antwerp’s Queen Elisabeth Hall on 23 March, the orchestra returned to a sold-out Berlin Philharmonie on 24 March before giving an inspirational performance at Gdańsk’s European Solidarity Centre in which Russian artists also performed together with the Ukrainian musician Ruslan Trochynskyi. This closing concert was held under the patronage of the German Consulate General in Gdańsk and the City of Gdańsk. With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic was finally able to return to the stage as a full-sized, 65-strong orchestra, and the ‘Nordic Swans’ tour saw it perform its completely memorised, swan-inspired progamme to a total of around 3,200 concert-goers.
Solidarity with Ukraine
As an ensemble that brings together musicians from ten countries around the Baltic Sea region, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a force for unity and collaboration in Europe. With war in Ukraine, the orchestra stands with the Ukrainian people, and this solidarity found powerful expression in Gdańsk, the city that gave birth in 1980 to the Solidarity movement which would play a major role in ending Communist rule in Poland. The concert was broadcast as livestream on the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s YouTube channel, as well as on Channel Aid and ERR Kultuuriportaal. The German Consul General in Gdańsk, Cornelia Pieper, also paid tribute to all those in Ukraine fighting for freedom: ‘Over 40 years ago Polish heroes stood up for their rights resulting in freedom for many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.’. She appealed to the audience to fight for freedom again and again. Kristjan Järvi, who as a child fled Soviet-ruled Estonia with his family, spoke of the power of dialogue and understanding as a force against aggression and oppression: ‘In music we are all equal. There are no borders, no nationalities. In music we are all brothers and sisters. The orchestra and the place, the European Center of Solidarność are the best examples of this idea of humanity and unity against violence and oppression.’.
Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic brought to Gdańsk their own musical tribute to Ukraine in the shape of a new piece, Child of the Nightingale, co-written by Järvi and Ukrainian musician Ruslan Trochynskyi. The nightingale is the national bird of Ukraine and often appears in Ukrainian folk songs and folk tales. Trochynskyi joined the orchestra on stage in Gdańsk for the world premiere, which also marked the launch of Järvi’s new digital music project #musichainforukraine. This initiative, which builds on the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s recent series of collaborative music videos, will invite musicians around the world to record and post their own versions of the Child of the Nightingale melody on social media, and thus create a virtual musical chain as a powerful expression unity and solidarity.
The livestream of the Gdańsk concert will be available on the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s YouTube channel for one week, and Estonian television channel ETV will broadcast a recording of the concert on Thursday 31 March.
‘Nordic Swans’ – a spectacle of light and dark, of grace and dance
Inspired by the majestic swan, a bird cherished in many Nordic cultures for its strength, purity and grace, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s ‘Nordic Swans’ programme comprised Arvo Pärt’s contemplative Swansong, Sibelius’s haunting The Swan of Tuonela, and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, strikingly arranged as a Dramatic Symphony by Kristjan Järvi. As one of its encores, the orchestra introduced an uplifting new work, The Dream of Tabu-tabu, composed by Liis Jürgens, an Estonian harpist in the ensemble.
In signature Baltic Sea Philharmonic style, the orchestra performed the entire 100-minute programme completely from memory, with most of the musicians able to move freely and truly embrace the dance essence of Swan Lake. This unique style of stage presentation was complemented by atmospheric lighting design and bespoke concert outfits in black and white, evoking the shapes and movement of swans on dark water. In his review for Der Tagesspiegel of the Berlin concert, Fredrik Hanssen highlighted the energy and verve emanating from conductor and orchestra: ‘Without a podium or baton, Kristjan Järvi acts in the midst of the ensemble as primus inter pares, dancing the score, letting the sounds flow through his body and translating every musical turn into movement… The atmosphere in the sold-out Philharmonie is so swan-tastic, as the streams of energy flow so happily from the stage into the hall and back!’ Rainer Balcerowiak wrote for the magazine for political culture Cicero: ‘The orchestra follows him [=Kristjan Järvi] attentively and has recognizably great fun. And some choreographed movement sequences and the discreet but precise lighting design turn this already breath-taking concert experience, presented without a break, into a multimedia experience… After just two hours, you leave the Berlin Philharmonie with a relaxed smile and a liberated head flooded with light and sound. It is such relatively brief moments of pleasure, in which there is no war, no Corona and no climate crisis in the mind that are so indispensable for mental health.’