The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s latest album Sleeping Beauty will be released on 13 November. The new Sony Classical recording sees Kristjan Järvi conducting the orchestra in his own arrangement of Tchaikovksy’s fairytale ballet Sleeping Beauty. Condensing and transforming the near three-hour score into a dramatic symphony of around 70 minutes, Järvi gives new life to this most iconic of theatre music compositions. The musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic performed this version of Sleeping Beauty entirely from memory during their March 2019 ‘Nordic Pulse’ tour of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Russia, and the album was recorded in St. Petersburg at the end of the tour. Playing the score by heart transformed the musicians into storytellers who felt like they were telling the fairytale for the first time.
As well as releasing the complete album on 13 November, Sony will release three singles showcasing celebrated moments and characters from the ballet – ‘Pas d’action: Desiré sees Aurora’ (9 October), ‘Garland Waltz’ (23 October), and ‘The Blue Bird and Princess Florine’ (9 November).
From ballet to dramatic symphony
The new album follows in the spirit of Järvi’s previous Tchaikovsky releases on Sony – The Snow Maiden and Swan Lake – in reshaping sublime fairytale pieces for contemporary audiences. Järvi believes that masterworks such as Sleeping Beauty have lost some of their appeal in the theatre world with the evolution of technology. ‘Great music will always remain great music,’ he says, ‘but it constantly needs to be updated and modernised, not only interpreted. Making a dramatic symphony from a ballet is a step in this direction of constant reinvention.’
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic is the perfect partner for Järvi’s enterprising reinvention of Tchaikovsky’s music. The ensemble is constantly renewing the musical heritage of the Nordic lands around the Baltic Sea, and furthermore is reimagining what an orchestra can be in today’s society. Challenging classical music conventions, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic creates unique concert experiences that fuse sound, light, visual art and technology, and performs entire programmes from memory, with the musicians able to stand, move and interact more freely with each other, the conductor and the audience.
Storytelling and the art of memorisation
The musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic were no strangers to memorising complex scores when they started working on Järvi’s version of Sleeping Beauty ahead of the ‘Nordic Pulse’ tour in early 2019. However, for many of the players, this was the longest piece of music they had ever memorised. Adding to the challenge posed by the music’s duration, some of the many sections in Järvi’s adaptation were unlabelled in the score, offering the players no mental connection with characters or moments from the ballet. However, Polish principal violist Marzena Malinowska came up with a solution that helped both her and other musicians in the orchestra memorise the complete score. ‘I knew I needed to make more connections and signposts in the score to be able to memorise the music,’ she says. ‘So I added titles for the untitled sections, sourcing them from the original fairytale but mostly from the ballet itself. Adding in the names of dances, or of the other fairytale characters from Act III, helped complete the picture in my mind, and gave me a route to follow.’
Memorising the score and playing it by heart turned the musicians into storytellers who felt like they were telling this famous fairytale for the first time. ‘Performing from memory changed our relationship with Tchaikovsky’s music,’ says Malinowska. ‘When you’re playing ballets and operas in an orchestra you’re usually hidden in the pit, and the stars of the show are the dancers or singers, who are responsible for telling the story and making it strong. We knew it was our responsibility to be the storytellers. In that moment you feel incredibly connected to each other on stage, and to the audience. And you feel creative: you don’t feel that you’re recreating something that has been done hundreds of times already.’
A burgeoning Sony Classical discography
Sleeping Beauty joins the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s growing discography on Sony Classical. The orchestra and Järvi’s first recording for the label, released in September 2016, was The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure, an arrangement for orchestra of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In May of this year Sony Classical released an album of Stravinsky and Glass violin concertos featuring the young Swiss violinist David Nebel in his debut concerto recording, with Järvi conducting the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in Stravinsky’s neoclassical Violin Concerto in D major and the London Symphony Orchestra in Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Gramophone praised Nebel’s interpretation of the Stravinsky and the energetic playing of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, with the magazine’s reviewer concluding: ‘This is a tremendously impressive debut album, and the Stravinsky performance is among the very best.’
Listen to the first single ‘Pas d’Action: Desiré sees Aurora’ here.