Friday, 5 February 2010

Music of the North

No, not Scotland, but the snowy expanses of Finland. I've just got back from hearing the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the 6th and 7th symphonies of Sibelius. Like Mahler who told the conductor Bruno Walter not to look at the mountains around him because it was all in his music, so Sibelius seems to capture the essence of the northern European wastes of Finland. There is something about his music that paints pictures of bright snow, ice crystals, cold water, gloomy pine forests in the mist, and dark mountain peaks. But at the same time it is playful and full of positive energy.

Like many great artists Sibelius was wracked by self-doubt, to such an extent that the last 30 years of his life were virtually silent musically. But he had become a hero of Finnish independence from Russia, giving his countrymen that stirring orchestral piece Finlandia, and in 1940 he was voted by the audience of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra their 'favourite living composer.'

I've only lately come to appreciate the music of Sibelius. Maybe because it takes some time to unfold, and you're never quite sure where it is going. Tonight's performance was all the better for the fantastic playing of the LPO. In their encoure - 'Valse Triste ' - I've never heard such quiet playing from orchestral strings before: absolute pianissimo. It even stopped the audience coughing - you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

No comments: