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Tuusula. Pekka Halonen Academy. 28-VII-2019. Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980): Death Valley Junction; Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927): String Quartet No. 6; Allan Pettersson (1911-1980): Concerto for Violin and String Quartet. John Storgårds: violin; Kamus Quartet (Terhi Paldanius, Jukka Untamala, violins, Jussi Tuhkanen, viola, Petja Kainulainen, cello)
Pettersson requires superhuman concentration and virtuosity from the soloist and this is exactly what John Storgårds brought to the table.
Like elsewhere in the classical music world, summer in Finland marks the end of the regular season for orchestras and opera companies and the beginning of the festival season. Finnish music lovers are spoiled for choice during the summer; festivals of just about every style and format are sprinkled throughout the country and often in beautiful and remote locales. Meidän Festivaali (Our Festival) is a chamber music festival that takes place in the Lake Tuusula region, just about an hour’s drive north of Helsinki.
The program began with the most recent work, Missy Mazzoli’s Death Valley Junction. Radiant yet dizzying false harmonics and glissandi and a strangely consoling beauty marked the opening pages; perhaps a sonic representation of the extreme heat in Death Valley itself. The music became more animated, culminating in an accumulation of tension over successive waves, which receded into music reminiscent of the opening.
At least from an expressive and harmonic standpoint, Wilhelm Stenhammar’s String Quartet No. 6 was the most conventional work on the program. The opening movement explored some mildly stormy landscapes, perhaps reminiscent of Sibelius. The brief, gently fleeting second movement was both serene and rustic, while the expansive third movement featured music of calm pastoral beauty perfumed with sadness. The vigorous final movement provided a satisfying conclusion to the work.
The main event of this evening’s program was the Concerto for Violin and String Quartet by the great (yet still underrated) Swedish symphonist, Allan Pettersson. The concerto was written in 1949, before Pettersson began writing the gargantuan symphonies upon which his reputation is based. Although the expressive, technical, and sonic territories explored in the concerto are generally not revisited in the orchestral works, Pettersson’s trademark qualities are nevertheless clearly apparent: the obsessive use of motives and gestures, the sense of extreme strain, and the unrelenting emotional and physical demands on the musicians involved.
Despite maintaining a busy international conducting schedule, Storgårds remains a violinist of the highest caliber. This afternoon’s performance provided indisputable evidence of this; Pettersson requires superhuman concentration and virtuosity from the soloist and this is exactly what Storgårds brought to the table.
Pettersson being Pettersson, the string quartet in the concerto does not provide simple harmonic support but plays an equally essential role with the soloist in the musical argument. In other words, the extreme demands that Pettersson places on the soloist are also placed on the quartet. It is here that the Kamus Quartet, having already shown their mettle in the first half of the program, further confirmed their status as a top-flight chamber ensemble. The precision of ensemble, focused intonation, unwavering concentration, and a willingness to embrace Pettersson’s often harsh and abrasive textures made for a thoroughly convincing and unforgettable performance of this extraordinarily powerful work.
One of the most rewarding aspects of chamber music is its intimacy; you can really see and hear the passion and commitment of each of the performers individually. None of the works presented this evening are standard quartet fare and it was clear that everyone on stage was a true believer in the greatness of each piece. Intense, joyful, revelatory.
Photo: © Heikki Tuuli