The Baltic Sea Philharmonic completed a successful return to European touring on 12 September at the Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic in Szczecin, Poland. Last night’s performance with Founding Conductor and Music Director Kristjan Järvi was the culmination of the orchestra’s ‘Nordic Swans’ tour, its first major European tour after 12 months of unprecedented interruptions to live performance because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Between 3 and 12 September, 45 musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic travelled 3,660 km, beginning in Italy before journeying to Slovenia, Germany and Poland. A total of around 3,000 concert-goers – with audience numbers limited by Covid restrictions – experienced the orchestra’s unique style and energy at performances in Merano, Verona, Ljubljana, Peenemünde and Szczecin. The musicians played a new swan-themed programme of music by Arvo Pärt, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky entirely from memory. Together with dramatic lighting and sound design, bespoke concert outfits and video projections combined to turn the audience experience into a truly immersive spectacle.
‘Nordic Swans’ – a unique Baltic adventure
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s September 2021 tour celebrated the swan, a cherished bird of Nordic culture. The orchestra opened its programme with Arvo Pärt’s hymn-like Swansong, continued with Sibelius’s evocative The Swan of Tuonela, and brought audiences to their feet with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which Kristjan Järvi had arranged as a dramatic symphony. In signature Baltic Sea Philharmonic style, the musicians played the entire programme, plus two encores – the ‘Song of Praise’ from Sibelius’s Swanwhite Suite and Midnight Sun by Kristjan Järvi – by heart. And the orchestra showed itself truly as an ensemble of soloists, with starring roles for cor anglais player Victor Sjögren in The Swan of Tuonela, and in Swan Lake for violinists Kseniia Ivakina, Ilze Gagaine, Malwina Kulisiewicz, Laura Zimka and Evgenia Pavlova, and trumpeter Josep Gómez Alemany, among others. The orchestra’s performances combined exhilarating music making with atmospheric lighting and elegantly crafted sound effects. Special video projections enhanced the swan theme, and bespoke black-and-white concert outfits evoked the impression of swans moving on dark water.
Flying high across Europe
The ‘Nordic Swans’ tour was immediately preceded by rehearsals for the musicians in Bucharest, Romania, where the orchestra and Kristjan Järvi had given two acclaimed concerts on 30 and 31 August at the prestigious Enescu Festival. The orchestra travelled first to Merano in Italy, for its fifth appearance in as many years at the Merano Music Festival. The sold-out concert at the town’s Kursaal on 3 September was recorded by Italia Festival and the video is now available on demand from its website. Writing about the performance for Il Manifesto, Elfi Reiter was struck by the visual impact of the musicians’ outfits, and the pure energy of the playing: ‘The orchestra, in black and white tailored suits with little wings on their sleeves, create the kind of luminous atmosphere that moves body and soul, especially so in the case of Kristjan Järvi, who sometimes even jumps on the podium, the notes he conducts vibrating through the muscles of his body, just as they do in the musicians playing them.’
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic also sold out its next concert, at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona on 4 September. The orchestra had last performed at the Teatro Filarmonico in 2015, and this ‘Nordic Swans’ performance was the first concert to take place at the opera house since its closure due to the pandemic. Audience member Stefano Provero thanked the orchestra on Facebook for its return to Verona and for its inspirational reawakening of the Teatro Filarmonico: ‘Grazie! Thank you for coming! It’s still not that great having half audience, all in masks, etc. But after two years finally it’s time to see the light. And you, with your energy and joy in making music, brought light and a new hope. Bravi!’
Next up for the Baltic Sea Philharmonic was a debut performance in Slovenia on 6 September. The orchestra’s open-air concert in Ljubljana’s Congress Square, a historic square in the city centre with beautiful views of Ljubljana Castle, was livestreamed on the Ljubljana Festival website.
For the German leg of the ‘Nordic Swans’ tour, the orchestra returned to its spiritual home, the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, for a sold-out concert in Peenemünde on 10 September. This performance was a special concert of the Usedom Music Festival, where the orchestra has played every year since its founding in 2008, and marked the 30th anniversary of Peenemünde’s Historical Technical Museum. Reviewing the concert for the Ostsee-Zeitung, Cornelia Meerkatz wrote of the orchestra’s Swan Lake performance: ‘In Kristjan Järvi’s condensed, dramatic-symphony arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s enormous score, the ballet numbers emerged as fireworks. The orchestra sprang from dance to dance, from waltz to polka to pas de deux, one eruption following another, creating a tumultuous sensation. That the musicians played this enormously difficult score completely by heart, while standing, dancing and smiling, and in constant interaction with each other, bordered on the miraculous.’
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic closed a memorable and inspiring ‘Nordic Swans’ tour on 12 September with another debut, this time at the strikingly designed Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic concert hall in Szczecin.