Condensing and transforming the near three-hour score of Tchaikovksy’s fairytale ballet Sleeping Beauty into a dramatic symphony of around 70 minutes, Kristjan 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.
From ballet to dramatic symphony
The new album follows in the spirit of Kristjan 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, not only interpreted. Making a dramatic symphony from a ballet is a step in this direction of constant reinvention, because times change and technology evolves. We need to keep these masterpieces alive by modernising them; we could call it a more involved form of interpretation.’
Sony releases three singles showcasing celebrated moments and characters from the ballet:
‘Pas d’action: Desiré sees Aurora’ (release date: 9 October 2020)
‘Garland Waltz’ (release date: 23 October)
‘The Blue Bird and Princess Florine’ (release date: 6 November)
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 Kristjan 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 Kristjan 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 set about adding titles for the untitled sections. I sourced these titles 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. I think having all the titles was helpful for everybody, and I’m absolutely sure that I couldn’t have memorised the whole piece without having the story connected to the music I had to play.’
Memorising the score and playing it by heart turned the Baltic Sea Philharmonic players 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.’ Find out more about Sleeping Beauty in the album booklet.
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.’