14 December 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur: Solastalgia

The past few days have been full of indulging in new recordings, new-ish or less familiar composers, and hunting out recordings of various new works. Sadly, due to not being wealthy enough to just fly from Glasgow to Amsterdam, I was not able to see the premiere of Erkki-Sven Tuur's brand new work for piccolo and orchestra. The premiere took place on the 7th December in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and was co-commissioned by the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Thankfully, the wonderful KlassikaRaadio stream their radio online so I was able to listen to it! Thank my stars!

The title Solastalgia comes from a term that was coined by Glenn Albrecht, and is derived from the Latin solacium (comfort) and the Greek -algia (pain); so naively pain in a place of comfort. So the idea essentially comes from the feeling of pain one gets at the change/destruction/desecration of somewhere that you have an emotional connection to. This subject matter ultimately shows the composer's intent when you notice the fact it is a concerto for piccolo - the metaphor of a songbird is quite a poignant move. It is overt that the composer is concerned about the change of the environment, be it on the personal level of fear for his rural home in Estonia or the larger problems facing the world. The composer's own programme notes detail his thoughts beautifully:

'Where I live, the impact of global climate change manifests itself in that winters are no longer winters and summers no longer summers. In my childhood it was ordinary for cars to drive to mainland on a 25 km ice bridge in the winter. There was a lot of snow. And summers were so warm that swimming in the sea was the most natural thing in the world. Today’s reality is that the difference between winter and summer equinoxes is often only 4-5 degrees. There is no place to hide from the ubiquitous environmental change caused by human activity.

An inexplicable anguish creeps into my soul when I see the vast areas of chopped down forests; the onslaught of oil palm plantations when I travel in Southeast Asia; when I read about gigantic ice blocks breaking off the mainland in Antarctica; the fields of garbage floating around in the ocean, etc. Why am I writing about this here? Do I have any solutions to offer? No, I don’t. And this composition won’t make the world a better place either. At best, it’s a lone voice in the wilderness – something that echoes the most burning conflicts of contemporary reality. The above was just to explain that I didn’t choose the title on a whim or due to the word’s peculiar sound...' -- Erkki-Sven Tuur programme notes

 What instantly appeals to me within the context of this piece is the fact it is almost an anti-Romantic concerto; namely it isn't a heroic victory, it isn't even necessarily salvation, but a lone figure disappearing out of significance. Its also intriguingly anti-Romantic in the way many Romantic/Nationalistic figures tended to celebrate nature or the wilderness; whereas this is fear for the environment itself.

The work starts from a rather beautiful shimmering place. Our soloist singing unashamedly enjoying itself within its wonderful home. However, as time progresses elements and ideas get more and more evocative and challenging; changing and mutating. The once content creature now struggles to survive, getting more animated and fractious at the loss of its familiar home. The energy and sheer strength of the orchestra becomes increasingly powerful, but the soloist keeps singing. The sheer expanse of the orchestration is exquisite and intensive. The driving rhythmic force really pushes the orchestral backdrop to a point of complete dominance where the soloist has only brief glimpses of respite. These moments of 'calm' never feel peaceful or like a resolution but more a point of complete desolation. The finale is eerie. The fog is clearing and almost nothing remains. Is this a prophecy or epiphany? Has the desolation of this 'home' happened or is it going to happen? Its hard to say the exact intent at this point, but all we know either way, the composer is desperate to voice his fear for the future and for the rural world in general.

The premiere was astounding. I was blown away by what I was hearing. Erkki-Sven Tuur is definitely a new period of his compositional life, and a part that I am truly excited to see where it heads. The 
Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra were on particularly brilliant form and really bought the work to life. I can only imagine how wonderful it would have been to write for Vincent Cortvrint (piccolo), his mastery of the instrument and sheer tenacity in the premiere was glorious. What a wonderful performance, what a glorious piece; I can only congratulate everybody involved. And for those curious, you can hear the work on KlassikaRaaio here.