Mikkelin Kaupunginorkesteri

Windows for the winter (recording)

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WINDOWS FOR THE WINTER, Thursday, 18th March 2021 at 7pm

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James Kahane, conductor
Hedi Viisma, kantele

On 18th March, the Michel Strings will be conducted by James Kahane, a French-based conductor living in Finland, who will arrive in Mikkeli for his first visit. The concert program includes Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite, Five windows on winter by Canadian composer Matthew Whittal, for chromatic kantele and string orchestra with soloist Hedi Viisma and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's classic Florence Memories, Op. 70. Welcome! The concert will be streamed at semilive.fi.

In addition to composing, Gustav Holst did his day job as a music teacher in schools. For the longest time, he worked at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, which is also accompanied by the opening work of this concert. The four-part series for string orchestra is one of many works that Holst composed for the students of his school. Holst liked his work at the school and appreciated the fact that the school built a soundproof studio and workspaces for him. The first part of the St. Paul series is a lively jig with roots in 16th century English folk dance. The second part is supported by a repetitive melody line, ostinato, which is first heard by the concertmaster. The main theme of the third part, called the interlude, is played by a solo violin accompanied by other strings on a pizzicato. The melancholic melody alternates with vivid episodes throughout the orchestra. The finale -series is an adaptation of one of Holst’s earlier works for wind ensemble. The Dargason folk tune, which gives the part its name, is heard softly in the introduction, followed by the well-known Greensleeves tune, that will be played by the cellos. Although the St. Paul series was originally composed for student use, it is charming and worth exploring.

Winter has fascinated me a long time as a subject of art. It's my favorite season. My childhood memories of the Canadian winters are dear, and I experienced refreshing them when I moved to Finland. For years I've thought about the winter and read what is written in the symbols and meanings of winter, winter music and its philosophical dimensions. I am a winter person; in the words of the poet Wallace Stevens, I have a “a mind of winter” My wife [Hedi Viisma], on the other hand, says of her instrument: “The soul of winter plays in the kantele”. So when I finally composed a concert for her, it was clear what its theme would be. This is how composer Matthew Whittall describes his work Five Windows on Winter from 2018.

The eloquent work of Memories of Florence offered Russian Pyotr Tchaikovsky a welcome variation on the composition of the masterpiece, as around 1890 the opera The Queen of Spades was under construction. Tchaikovsky, known to his descendants for his operas and symphonies, also proved to be a skilled creator of chamber music. however, the string sextet in D minor heard today was not easily created: The composer was seriously struggling with a type of work that required six independent, yet compact set of voice. Tchaikovsky feared that the end result would sound like an orchestral work, where some of the instrumentalists are missing.

In 1890, Tchaikovsky stayed in Florence in a villa owned by his mysterious patron Nadezhda von Meck. On this journey, he sketched the first melodies of the sextet, from which the work’s adjective “Memories of Florence” comes from. Tchaikovsky finished the piece after returning to Russia and edited it several more times based on feedback from his colleagues. The end result is a naturally flowing and masterful work in which Italian influences are limited to a few melodies while the music is plusher Russian-inspired.

The sextet opening part bursts feverishly in D minor with a strong and passionate spring texture. The serenade-like side theme of the section brings a breath of Italy before the energetic development cycle takes the main theme to a fugue-like approach. the second slower part begins harmoniously with a rich choral fold, followed by a lightly melancholic melody sketched in Florence with pizzicato accompaniments. The third part is the scherzo, where you can feel traditional Slavic music in both light and shadow tones. There are also folk music influences in the final part, but the material is also processed counterpoint from the time of the fugue art. Sextet brilliantly concludes with a long and passionate effort by six players.

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