On 18 and 19 January Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted a Jubilee concert with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra celebrating the 70th birthday of Anders Hillborg, Sweden’s leading composer, at Berwaldhallen. The concerts followed the Swedish premiere, one week prior, of Hillborg’s Piano Concerto No.2 – the MAX Concerto from Emanuel Ax and Ryan Bancroft with the Stockholm Philharmonic. Watch the Jubilee Concert here.
A sumptuous all-Hillborg programme saw the orchestra joined by the Swedish Radio Choir, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and soloists Ida Falk Winland, Hannah Holgersson, Theo Hillborg, Jan-Erik Gustafsson, and Eldbjørg Hemsing. It opened with Liquid Marble (1994), a molten 10-minute work influenced by Xenakis’ use of string glissandi and a clarinettist Hillborg heard on the Stockholm metro. It was followed by Kväll for soprano and violin, and Hillborg’s 2016 Violin Concerto No.2 from Eldbjørg Hemsing.
The orchestra’s cello section was joined by Theo Hillborg on saxophone and both choruses for The Breathing of the World (2019 arr. 2023); Hillborg’s text for the 10-minute piece – here presented in a new arrangement transforming using a whole cello section rather than a soloist – is both a lyrical celebration of nature as well as a melancholic reflection on ecological peril.
The concert concluded with Sirens – at around 37 minutes duration Hillborg’s most substantial work to date. It was premiered by Salonen with the LA Philharmonic, who commissioned the work with the Chicago Symphony Association, in 2011; sopranos Hannah Holgersson and Ida Falk Winland previously gave the UK premiere of the work at the BBC Proms in 2017. Scored for two soprano soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra, the work is inspired by the seductive and terrible figures from Homer’s Odyssey. The work, recorded on BIS, dramatizes the sirens’ ever-increasing desperation in attempting to manipulate Ulysses with a sound world both beguiling and unsettling.
On 8 May Marie Jaquot conducts Hillborg’s Méditations sur Pétrarque with the Swedish Radio Symphony, in what will be the Swedish premiere of the 13-minute work for solo oboe, percussion, harp, piano and strings. It is followed on 17 and 18 May the Swedish Radio Symphony perform Hillborg’s Eleven Gates, conducted by Roberto González-Monjas, in the next instalment of the Jubilee series celebrating the composer.
Outside of Sweden, on 22 February Osmo Vänskä gives the US premiere of Hillborg’s Through Lost Landscapes with the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis, who joint-commissioned the work with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. The 13-minute piece begins with three ecstatic, monumental chords, a signature of Hillborg’s style. The same day the New Philharmonic will give the East Coast debut of the Piano Concerto No.2 – the MAX concerto – with Emanuel Ax and Eun Sun Kim.
Hillborg’s 2020 Cello Concerto receives its Finnish premiere on 26 April from Amalie Stalheim – who gave its first performances in Iceland and Norway in 2022 and 2021 respectively – and Emily Hoving with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra.
On 11 April Noord Nederlands Orkest conducted by Elvind Gullberg Jensen give the Dutch premiere of Mantra–Elegy (2018) in Amsterdam, with further performances in Groningen and Utrecht; the 6 ½-minute work is a homage to Stravinsky, premiered by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, expanding and reworking two famous chords from The Rite of Spring. On 1 February Martin Fröst – champion of Hillborg’s fantastical clarinet concerto Peacock Tales (1998) – returns to his music with a performance of Hyper Exit with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva – a spectacular 5-minute excerpt from the five-part The Genesis Project created with Fröst.