With 2020 around the corner, and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s first concert of the new year coming up fast on 4 January, there’s just time to reflect on what’s been another landmark twelve months for the orchestra. Building on the success of our 2018 tenth-anniversary year, 2019 was another year of innovation for the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. For the first time, the orchestra performed an entire programme not just from memory but with no breaks, creating a continuous flow of music with the addition of improvised transitional sections. New collaborations with guest soloists included the orchestra’s first-ever partnership with a singer-songwriter. And the Baltic Sea Philharmonic gave its debut performance in Budapest, one of the great European musical centres.
Three major tours in 2019 took the musicians to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary, with the orchestra performing twelve concerts for a total audience of 13,000. The ‘Nordic Pulse’ tour of the Baltic States, Finland and Russia in March featured the orchestra’s first collaboration with Estonian singer-songwriter Mick Pedaja, whose flowing, electronic-tinged songs evoked the mysticism and beauty of Nordic landscapes. Swiss violinist David Nebel also joined the orchestra as soloist in works by Kristjan Järvi, Pēteris Vasks and Gediminas Gelgotas. A highlight of the programme was Kristjan’s new concert suite of music from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. This 70-minute symphonic drama was performed completely from memory.
Our ‘Midnight Sun’ tour in June and July featured concerts in Germany and Austria, with Mari Samuelsen as soloist and Mick and Angeelia Pedaja as special guests. Musical highlights included Rautavaara’s magical Cantus Arcticus and Stravinsky’s The Firebird, with the orchestra playing the whole two-hour programme from memory, as a single unbroken ‘track’.
During the ‘Nordic Pulse’ and ‘Midnight Sun’ tours, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic held a concurrent ‘Talent Tour’ to recruit new members and refresh the pool of outstanding musicians who perform in the orchestra on tour. We welcomed a total of around 100 players from across all the orchestral instrumental sections to auditions in Palanga, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Berlin.
In September the ‘Divine Geometry’ tour imaginatively intertwined arrangements of Baroque masterpieces with major new works by American minimalists Philip Glass and Steve Reich. At the Merano Music Festival and Usedom Music Festival, Simone Dinnerstein was the soloist in Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and in the Usedom concert the orchestra gave the German premiere of Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra. Both concerts were sold out and were recorded for broadcast.
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic closed 2019 with a ‘Midnight Sun’ concert in Budapest on 19 November. Making its Hungarian debut, the orchestra was joined by Budapest-born pianist József Balog for a programme including Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Away from the concert hall, there was one more special event in November – the world premiere screening in Tallinn of Nordic Pulse, a new documentary starring the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi. This fascinating portrait of the orchestra received an enthusiastic reception at the Black Nights Film Festival on 28 November, and is set for international release in 2020.