The Baltic Sea Philharmonic completed a successful return to European touring on 12 September at the Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic concert hall in Szczecin, Poland. The performance with Founding Conductor and Music Director Kristjan Järvi was the culmination of ‘Nordic Swans’, the orchestra’s 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 orchestra travelled 3,660 km, beginning in Italy before journeying to Slovenia, Germany and Poland. Around 3,000 concert-goers – with audience numbers limited by Covid restrictions – experienced the orchestra’s unique spirit and energy at its entirely memorised performances in Merano, Verona, Ljubljana, Peenemünde and Szczecin.
‘Nordic Swans’ – a unique Baltic adventure
Celebrating a cherished bird of Nordic culture, ‘Nordic Swans’ opened with Arvo Pärt’s hymn-like Swansong before continuing with Sibelius’s evocative The Swan of Tuonela. The orchestra then brought audiences to their feet with Tchaikovsky’s breathtaking Swan Lake, which Kristjan Järvi had arranged as a dramatic symphony.
In signature Baltic Sea Philharmonic style the musicians played the 100-minute programme (including encores by Sibelius and Kristjan Järvi) completely 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.
Exhilarating music making fused with dramatic lighting and elegantly crafted sound design to create an immersive spectacle. Special video projections enhanced the swan theme, and the musicians wore bespoke black-and-white concert outfits that evoked the impression of swans moving on dark water.
Flying high across Europe
The ‘Nordic Swans’ tour was immediately preceded by rehearsals in Bucharest, Romania, where the orchestra and Kristjan Järvi had performed at the prestigious Enescu Festival on 30 and 31 August. 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 on 3 September was recorded by Italia Festival and the video is now available on demand from its website.
Reviewing the Merano 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 played here 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. Next came the orchestra’s debut in Slovenia on 6 September, with an open-air concert in Ljubljana’s Congress Square that was livestreamed on the Ljubljana Festival website.
For the German leg of the 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. In her review 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 like 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 in Szczecin. ‘Nordic Swans’ will take flight again in 2022, with concerts at the Queen Elisabeth Hall, Antwerp, on 23 March and the Berlin Philharmonie on 24 March. Tickets for these performances will go on sale later this autumn.