Sibelius & Beethoven, Sarah Chang & Marek Janowski – Naomi Yoran

What was it that unsettled me last concert?

That I was eager for Sibelius’s Violin Concerto is evident in my post of March 3, 06 ("In Anticipation of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto"). So why was I left with mixed feelings?

It took me a while to sort things out. Last week, having several
deadlines at work and not having a moment to write down my impressions
right away gave me some time to reflect on the program & the


Let me start with my initial impressions: Sibelius’s Finlandia,
the Finish "second national anthem", a passionate song composed for a
nation yearning for freedom, sounded harsh, almost brutal. This was not the Sibelius I know. His Violin Concerto with Sarah Chang’s expressive solo performance, lacked the full participation of the orchestra, as though all the instruments were somehow muted. This was not the Sibelius I loveBeethoven’s Symphony No.3
sounded wonderful! Each movement crafted to perfection.  At the second
movement I felt the composer’s melancholy & anguish. At the finale
I felt his triumphant spirit. This was the Beethoven whom I admire!

I have a habit (some of my friends find it quite annoying…) to
come up with a hypothesis whenever I am confronted with a problem to
which I have no ready solution. Having mixed feelings following a PSO
concert, is unusual for me. More often than not, I absolutely do not
want to leave the hall at the end of a concert– I wish the orchestra
would just start the concert all over again! This was not how I felt on
March 25 @ 10 o’clock…

So here is my hypothesis: Suppose Marek Janowski, the conductor, does not care for Jean Sibelius?…Sarah Chang, on the other hand, insisted on his Violin Concerto and being the STAR, won the battle! Janowski "got" Beethoven whom he knows & loves and Finlandia
was added to the program to create a theme. (The Finnish cry for
freedom relates to the Eroica’s rejection of tyranny). Result: the
orchestra lacked musical leadership at the first half of the concert
and I was left unsettled. Am I right? I don’t know but I suspect so.
The only man I can think of, who might answer my question is Robert Moir, the Artistic Planner of the PSO.
He is fond of telling interesting stories of how programs are put
together (two seasons in advance) and the delicate "dances" conductors
& soloists perform "around the calendar". The only reason I am not
asking Bob Moir, is that I love to toy with my theories…

"Taking off my gloves " I don’t want to stop here. Let me have a little crusade in honor of Jean Sibelius.
In Finland he was admired as a national hero at a time when the Finns
needed national heros. Trying to make a mark on the European scene
(19th Century Berlin & Vienna) was a different story. There he was
considered a "regional composer" who could not compete with Richard Strauss: the rising STAR!  Sibelius
(surprisingly?) won the admiration of American music lovers (who couldn’t
care less about the nuances of "regional", "national" or "European"
titles for composers) and flocked to the summer music festivals in
Newport where he conducted his music. In 1914 he was given an honorary
doctorate at Yale University. After WWI, however, the same public (a
little more "sofisticated" following victory & exposure to European
culture?)  "needed to take a stand" in the debate, who is a greater
composer: Sibelius or Stravinsky?  For a long time Stravinsky had the "upper hand" in public opinion.

It is hard to believe that these attitudes and the need to rank composers continue to linger to these days. Anyone who read Mark Rohr’s concert notes, could not escape his ambivalence toward Sibelius. Anyone who read the notes about Marek Janowski could not escape noticing that "A recent project with the RSB has been the exploration of the great violin concerti of the 20th century — Berg, Bartok, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Britten, coupled with the great symphonies of Beethoven." Sibelius’s Violin Concerto,
composed at the very start of the 20th century is absent… Is it
possible that my hypothesis, is after all, not far from the mark?

I love Sibelius. His music (when played in the spirit of the
composer) penetrates my heart and offers unlimited material to my
imagination. Even if I would not know Finnish history I would react to Finlandia. For me, his Violin Concerto, is as though I listen to his conversation with angels. ( & I hope that one day Sarah Chang will discover that a bit less power and a bit more introvertive passion will bring her closer to the stars…)

Last sentence: Once, Sibelius was asked what he thought about
the critics. He answered: (I paraphrase) " Have you ever seen a statue
erected in honor of a critic?"

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