The orchestra’s new artistic leader, conductor extraordinaire Jukka-Pekka Saraste, took up office in August and the few months that have elapsed since then has proven to be a uniquely positive period for the institution. Since Saraste’s appointment was announced almost two years ago the mood has been very optimistic in an institution that despite international renown had been experiencing a period of set-backs and uncertainties about facilities, artistic direction and leadership. All this anticipation has now been released into a busy season where a reinvigorated orchestra is hurrying from triumph to triumph.
An important redirection of the orchestra this season has been introducing more contemporary Norwegian music to the program. The omission of such works in previous seasons was a cause for some disgruntlement in the classical milieu, a milieu which wields quite a say, indirectly, in a small city such as Oslo: when the audience-potential is limited is decisive to attract and inspire the core concert-goers and classical devotees. Another, even more important facet that many had found missing from the orchestra’s program the past few years was a repertoire of Nordic late romanticism. This is of course due to the fact that non-Nordic conductors, like Saraste’s predecessor André Prévin, will necessarily be less prone to focus on the Nordic segment of any era of style. But as long as it remains a truth that Norwegian audiences want Norwegian and Nordic music it only emphasizes the importance of a Nordic artistic leader.
Saraste accommodates these considerations to the utmost: He has recorded the complete symphonies of Carl Nielsen with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and as a Finn, Sibelius is naturally an integral part of his entire artistic constitution. He is also considered one of the word’s great Mahler interpreters. For the musicians as well as for the audiences it is a special grace to hear such music performed in the hands of someone like Saraste: One musician claimed that playing Sibelius with Saraste is the ultimate dream come true, and the Mahler concerts that have taken place this week in Oslo have been met with the warmest commendation.
As one critic wrote: Halfway through his first season Saraste is about to surpass himself: “There were moments underway when we felt that now, right now, everything is possible; when Saraste managed balancing between caring for every little nuance while also meeting the demands of the long stretches; those that bring us to terminus and closure.”
When Saraste’s appointment first was announced to the orchestra in January 2005 word has it the musicians burst out in spontaneous applause. This gesture was repeated earlier this month when the conductor was awarded the prestigious Sibelius prize by Prime Minister Stoltenberg: The orchestra spontaneously performed a touché, the orchestral fanfare that is reserved for only the most important occasions. (Often years pass between occasions)
Next week the orchestra heads off to Germany and Luxembourg to perform Mozart, Mahler, Berg and Sibelius. And there is every reason to believe that the continentals will be enchanted too, for this is a musical entity at the height of its form, with a conductor continuing to surpass his already grand renown.
The orchestra will perform works by Mozart; Mahler, Berg and Sibelius, in Hamburg Musikhalle, Berlin Philharmonie before rounding off in Luxembourg sd
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