Take flight with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic as ‘Nordic Swans’ returns

‘The musicians almost dance as they play, they have swan wings sewn on their collars, on the sleeves of their white shirts, there are serious black swans in the ensemble – see the cellists, the flutist is a revelation, no, the violinist, no, another violinist! – In short, I’m amazed, overjoyed beyond belief’ – Florentina Tone from the Romanian newspaper Adevarul was thrilled on the orchestra’s ‘Nordic Swans’ performance at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest in August 2021.

After 12 months of unprecedented interruptions to live performance, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi returned to European touring with ‘Nordic Swans’ in September 2021. In March 2022, ‘Nordic Swans’ will make yet another triumphant return to the stage at the Philharmonie Berlin.

‘Nordic Swans’ – celebrating a Baltic bird of beauty
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s acclaimed and innovative programme is inspired by one of nature’s noblest creatures – the swan. This majestic bird is often visible on the Baltic coast, especially at sunset. For the Romantics, the swan was a symbol of loyalty, purity and elegance. A swan draws the hero’s boat in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and appears in the Finnish national poetry epic Kalevala. Kristjan Järvi explains his fascination with the bird: ‘Swans are creatures of great purity and beauty, and all the Nordic countries have them in their culture, which is why we’re focusing the repertoire in this way.’

The programme opens with Arvo Pärt’s contemplative, hymn-like orchestral piece Swansong, which is based on an earlier choral composition, Littlemore Tractus (2000), in which Pärt set a text by the influential English theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman. The piece exemplifies the Estonian composer’s ‘holy minimalism’, a style of musical expression far removed from the neo-classical and avant-garde works of his early output.

The Swan of Tuonela is the most well known of Sibelius’s Four Legends from the Kalevala, also known as the Lemminkäinen Suite (1895). The Legends describe various adventures of the young hero Lemminkäinen, and The Swan of Tuonela depicts the sacred creature he had been tasked to kill. Sibelius wrote at the top of the first edition of the score: ‘Tuonela, the land of death, the hell of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a large river of black waters and a rapid current, in which The Swan of Tuonela glides majestically, singing.’

The world’s most popular music on the theme of swans is undoubtedly Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, which was premiered in 1877 at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre. Tchaikovsky’s dreaming prince Siegfried falls in love with the enchanted Swan Queen, Odette, who glides over a magical lake together with her companions. Her rival Odile, known as the ‘Black Swan’, gives the tale its tragic turn, but true love ultimately triumphs over death. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic performs Swan Lake as a dramatic symphony arranged by Kristjan Järvi, who says his aim was to ‘highlight the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s epic work’. His arrangement combines famous melodies with rarer sections of the original ballet score. As Cornelia Meerkatz reviewed the concert at the Usedom Music Festival on 10 September 2021 for Ostsee-Zeitung, ‘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.’

A new kind of concert experience
‘Nordic Swans’ is a new showcase for our transformation of the classical concert experience. We perform the entire 90-minute programme from memory, with most of the musicians standing up and able to move freely on the stage. Specially devised choreography and bespoke half-black and half-white concert outfits subtly combine to conjure an impression of swans dancing and moving on dark water. Dynamic lighting design adds to the vivid atmosphere, and the performance features elegantly crafted digital sound effects created live on stage by a keyboards player and off stage by a sound designer. With this multisensory, multidimensional experience, we aim to take audiences on an exhilarating adventure to the North.

Join the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi on their ‘Nordic Swans’ journey at the Philharmonie Berlin on 24 March 2022. Tickets are available here.