CULTURE: Decade of Perfection-With Unique Performance to Come; Sakari Oramo Conducts His Final Concert as CBSO's Music Director at Symphony Hall Tonight. He Talked to Terry Grimley about the Orchestra and Plans for His Future Role as Principal Guest Conductor

The Birmingham Post (England), June 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

CULTURE: Decade of Perfection-With Unique Performance to Come; Sakari Oramo Conducts His Final Concert as CBSO's Music Director at Symphony Hall Tonight. He Talked to Terry Grimley about the Orchestra and Plans for His Future Role as Principal Guest Conductor


Byline: Terry Grimley

This is supposed to be an article marking the end of Sakari Oramo's decade as music director of the CBSO, but when we met during his concerts with the orchestra earlier this spring the conversation turned out to be very much about the future.

For while Oramo ofKcially signs off from the CBSO's top job tonight with a programme combining Janacek's Sinfonietta and Beethoven's Choral Symphony, he will be back on the Symphony Hall rostrum in his new role as chief guest conductor in almost exactly six months time, with a concert which really does justify that overworked word "unique".

It features CBSO principal horn player Elspeth Dutch in the UK premier of the Horn Concerto by leading American composer Elliott Carter. The day is December 11 - Carter's 100th birthday - and all the signs are that he is likely to become the Krst signiKcant composer in history to reach this milestone while still active.

"It's quite incredible, actually," says Oramo.

"I happened to be at a concert in Carnegie Hall where this very jolly, very modest man was treated almost like a king. He's living proof that living your whole life in New York is very, very healthy!"

The concert also includes L'Ascension by Messiaen, who was born within weeks of Carter, and Elgar's Symphony No 1, which was premiered in 1908. It would have been perfect if Elgar had taught Carter: he didn't, but - astonishingly - Gustav Holst did.

Though a big name in American music, Carter still needs champions with British audiences.

"The pieces I know range from the 1950s, when he was already a mature composer," says Oramo. "I think they all have this very crisp, wonderfully integrated musical language. But it's not easy listening, it's music about music."

The other concerts Oramo will conduct in Birmingham in the second half of the 2008/9 season focus on two major themes. There is the continuation of the long-running Stravinsky project, IgorFest, with pieces ranging from The Flood to The Rite of Spring, and the other is a complete cycle of the six Nielsen symphonies to be shared with Halle Orchestra. Oramo will be conducting numbers 2,4 and 6, with Mark Elder and his orchestra taking over for 1, 3 and 5, with both orchestras playing in Birmingham and Manchester.

The programming, alongside Andris Nelson's debut season as music director, has been co-ordinated through chief executive Stephen Maddock, and Oramo says it has fallen into place quite easily.

"Doing the Stravinsky Kts in naturally because it's part of a project that started years ago. The idea for the Nielsen cycle has also been around for a long, long time, but it required a lot of organisation."

Nielsen's Fourth Symphony Kgured in one of Sakari's Krst concerts with the CBSO, coupled with Brahms' First Piano Concerto in an eerie and entirely coincidental repeat of the only programme Simon Rattle conducted with the orchestra in Birmingham before he was appointed conductor. The Danish composer is far more familiar to British audiences today than he was at the time of his centenary 40 years ago, but Oramo thinks some advocacy remains to be done.

"I still think large audiences don't really get his message in quite the way we musicians would like to present it. I read once some famous conductor said of Nielsen's music that it has mastery, but it lacks mystery - which is perhaps how you can explain the difference in his reception to Sibelius, whose music doesn't lack mystery.

"Maybe it's the Hellenic clarity of Nielsen's music that betrays him slightly. There's always an athletic feel to a Nielsen piece. The poetic nature is there but it's playing second violin to this athletic strength."

How will Oramo's relationship with the orchestra change with his now more distanced role?

"In everyday terms it's actually exactly the same, but of course there will be less planning involvement. …

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