Bold strategic thinking, innovative programming and heartfelt performances have helped boost the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra’s global status in recent years. The Swedish orchestra’s tally of high artistic achievements, extended since 2008 under the leadership of its Music Director, Sakari Oramo, is set to grow this season with major festivals devoted to the work of three Scandinavian composers. International attention is guaranteed for the RSPO’s ambitious double cycle of the complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, presented from 14-26 April 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the two composers’ birth year. It will also be drawn to the orchestra’s annual International Composer Festival (13-20 November 2014), which offers a five-concert exploration of the music of Sweden’s leading contemporary composer, Anders Hillborg.
The music of Nielsen and Sibelius is central to Sakari Oramo’s repertoire and to that of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Their recent recording of Nielsen’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5, the first release in a complete cycle for BIS, was praised by The Guardian for its ‘irresistible momentum’ and by Gramophone for ‘music-making of such clear-headed purpose and intelligence’. Nielsen himself conducted the orchestra twice in 1918 and once more a decade later, in performances of his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5; Sibelius, meanwhile, conducted the RSPO four times in 1923 and returned for three concerts the following year. He directed the orchestra in the world premiere of his Symphony No 7 on 24 March 1924 and also conducted his Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6.
“When it comes to Sibelius and Nielsen, I humbly believe we play their music better than anyone,” asserts Stefan Forsberg, Executive and Artistic Director of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. “The orchestra, which was founded in 1902, has been tied to so many of their works since birth. The two composers both conducted the RSPO and their music has always been central to the orchestra’s programmes. That is why we wanted the world’s largest 150th anniversary year celebration to take place in Stockholm. The orchestra, under Oramo’s leadership, is ready to further strengthen its position on the world stage. I believe we have a very good story to tell about orchestral music-making here.”
Orchestras from Denmark, Finland and Sweden will join the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra next April to create the twelve-concert Sibelius/Nielsen Festival. Works by Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Ives, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Walton will be presented in company with the seven symphonies of Sibelius and the six symphonies of Nielsen.
“There has never been anything quite like the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic’s Sibelius/Nielsen Festival before,” notes Sakari Oramo. “The programmes couple a symphony by Nielsen or Sibelius with works by other composers that reflect their influences and time when they were written. Our audience will be able to hear 24 symphonies within less than two weeks. We look forward to collaborating with other orchestras and conductors to create this landmark event, one that invites the world to recognise the special qualities of what we are doing in Stockholm.”
Sakari Oramo’s long association with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra began in the mid 1990s and survived a long gap while he served as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. “The love never went away and has grown since I returned to Stockholm in 2005 to conduct the Nobel Concert,” he recalls. “What I like so much about this orchestra is its open, musically-minded working atmosphere. It is a fantastic orchestra, warm hearted, hard working and outstanding in quality.”
Oramo pays tribute to the work of his predecessor, Alan Gilbert, the RSPO’s Music Director from 2000 to 2008 and today its Conductor Laureate. Oramo also praises the conditions that underpin his orchestra’s work, which include permanent residency in its own concert hall, secure public funding and a strong presence in Sweden’s cultural life. The orchestra, he explains, connects with a wide audience thanks not least to its work at the world unique annual Nobel Prize Concert and occasional performances for the Swedish royal court; an extensive education programme that delivers the Swedish version of El Sistema to deprived areas of Stockholm and beyond; schools concerts and community projects; and the ever-growing reach of RSPOplay.com, its new digital platform with free online concerts, featuring the orchestra playing with Riccardo Muti, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Eschenbach and Martin Fröst among many others. The RSPO’s acclaimed International Composer Festival, founded in 1986, also attracts a large and loyal following.
Stefan Forsberg notes the vital contribution of strong programming to the organisation’s artistic excellence and audience appeal. The choice of Anders Hillborg for this season’s International Composer Festival, he explains, flows naturally from the eloquence and world-class standing of his work. Hillborg is the latest addition to the festival’s distinguished list of composers. Past events have focused on the art of, among others, Lutosławski, Schnittke, Penderecki, Pärt, Sariaaho, Gubaidulina, Dutilleux, Salonen, Henze, Adams, Adès, Reich, Brett Dean and Unsuk Chin. “Our audience recognises that what we offer in the International Composer Festival is of the highest quality,” comments Forsberg. “This is why the event has such a huge following.”
Anders Hillborg, born in Stockholm in May 1954, is widely known in Sweden through his collaboration with the chart-topping pop artist Eva Dahlgren. His international profile rests on a series of acclaimed orchestral works, often hard edged yet marked by humour and intense beauty. In 2011 he became the first Swedish composer to be commissioned to write for the Berliner Philharmoniker; he has also created new scores for, among others, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Renée Fleming, Martin Fröst, Anne Sofie von Otter and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Recent commissions include a duo piece for Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, a composition that is yet to be premiered. This year’s International Composer Festival will see the world premiere of Hillborg’s fourth commission from the RSPO, a piece entitled Beast Sampler. Previous commissions from the RSPO have been Hillborg’s Violin Concerto, Exquisite Corpse and Dreaming River, all of which will be performed at this year’s festival.
“I am so happy that Anders is our featured composer this season,” notes Sakari Oramo. “The programme is a retrospective as well as a celebration of his recent works. With 29 years of collective experience of the International Composer Festival, the RSPO understands what is needed to prepare and go deep into new scores. What we’re doing this season with Hillborg and our Sibelius/Nielsen Festival belongs to a broader strategy, which is about developing the orchestra and raising its international profile even further.”