Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir, soloists, Chorus and Orchestra
Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir celebrates its 50th anniversary with a series of concerts that on November 25 brings to you Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82. The concert is recorded as part of the Boys’ Choir anniversary CD that will be published in spring 2022, featuring the Requiem by Fauré, “Three Sonnets on William Shakespeare’s Texts” by Sumera and the “Symphony of Psalms”.
Estonian National Opera Boys’ Choir was founded in 1971 by Venno Laul as the boys’ choir of the State Academic Men’s Choir, later also called Estonian Boys’ Choir. In 1997, the choir was adopted by the Estonian National Opera. Since 2001, the choir is lead by its chief conductor Hirvo Surva.
“Symphony of Psalms” (1930) is Stravinsky’s first large-scale sacred work. The work was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the first performance was given by the Société Philharmonique de Bruxelles on December 13, 1930. Six days later it was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Koussevitzky. Stravinsky had no intention of imitating the conventional nineteenth century symphony, consisting of four distinct movements. His intention was to create a dynamic three-movement work in which the orchestra and chorus should be on an equal footing. “It is not a symphony in which I have included Psalms to be sung. On the contrary, it is the singing of the Psalms that I am symphonising. The psalms are poems of exaltation, but also of anger and judgment, and even of curses. Although I chose Psalm 150 as one of the most popular ones, I regarded it as a song to be danced, as David danced before the Ark… I was requested an orchestral piece without chorus, but I had had the psalm symphony idea in mind for some time, and that is what I insisted on composing. The chorus plays the role of a community of believers who begin separated from God, but end reunited with Him”, said Stravinsky.
The first performance in Estonia took place on March 29, 1936 conducted by Eduard Tubin and performed by the mixed choir of the Estonia Music Department and the theatre’s symphony orchestra.
Symphony No. 5 received its first performance on December 8, 1915, conducted by Jean Sibelius on his 50th birthday. Despite its huge popularity, the composed was dissatisfied with the work and revised it twice. The final version in three parts was completed in 1919.
Despite its success, the composer was experiencing inner struggles with music composition, prompting the question, was he composing the way he was “supposed” to write?
Sibelius was keenly aware that composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg were producing strikingly modern new works, and Sibelius could sense that some people were starting to regard his music as old-fashioned. But Sibelius’s Fifth became and continues to be among his most beloved works. In its final part, Sibelius introduces one of his most memorable ideas, a swan-motif inspired by the flight of these majestic birds. “Today at ten to eleven, I saw a flock of 16 swans passing overhead. One of the greatest experiences!”