As fellow Scandinavians, born in the same year, who both gave the symphonic form a hefty shove, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen might be expected to have been bosom pals, but they met only once. This hasn’t deterred Sakari Oramo from scheduling two programmes of these composers’ music in a joint celebration of their 150th birthdays. Sibelius—whose music this Finnish conductor has long championed—is well established in the repertoire, but Oramo feels there’s still a big promotional job to be done on Nielsen’s. “He was often far ahead of his contemporaries, looking forwards not backwards.”
Oramo started out as a fiddler, and still sometimes performs as a soloist. He may be a quiet operator, but he’s hugely effective. After taking over the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from Simon Rattle, he pushed them to dizzy new heights, and it’s largely thanks to his proselytising that Elgar’s music is now household listening. Oramo has fought for music in British schools, and with his wife, the soprano Anu Komsi, has founded an experimental opera festival in northern Finland. Under the catchy title “Close Encounters of the Cultural Kind”, Sibelius and Nielsen are now having their moment, first with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, then with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in the spring. ~ Michael Church
BBCSO Barbican, London, Dec 12th, Jan 16th, Feb 18th
RSPO Stockholm Konserthuset, Apr 14-26th
CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE
Matthias Goerne (Konzerthaus, Dortmund, Dec 11th; Kurhaus, Wiesbaden, Dec 12th; Cité de la musique, Paris, Dec 17th-18th). Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. This great German baritone, supported by the Kammerorchester Basel and the Deutscher Kammerchor, should do it justice.
Un ballo in maschera (Royal Opera House, London, Dec 18th). Katharina Thoma’s new production of Verdi’s take on the assassination of King Gustav III has a fabulous cast, with Joseph Calleja as Riccardo, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Renato, and the amazing Liudmyla Monastyrska as Amelia.
Park Lane Group Artists (Southbank, London, Jan 5th-9th). While most promoters hibernate, this enterprising group bring out an army of young instrumentalists, offering a chance to spot the musicians of the future.
The Merry Widow (live relay from the Met, New York, Jan 17th). A new production of Lehar’s operetta, directed by the Tony-winning Susan Stroman in her Met debut. The cast, led by Renée Fleming, includes that inveterate boulevardier Thomas Allen.
Amore e morte dell’amore (Wigmore Hall, London, Jan 3rd). With the soprano Roberta Invernizzi and the electrifying contralto Sonia Prina backed by lute, cello and harp, the love-and-death music of Monteverdi and Handel promises a steamy soirée. ~ MC