The Carice Singers’ performance at King’s Place on 3 June pairs two musical giants of Twentieth century Europe, Edward Elgar and Jean Sibelius. Conductor George Parris spoke to us about the upcoming performance.
What’s the story behind Nordic Reflections?
It was important to figure out what kind of music people might like to hear at the moment when music and art aren’t necessarily our first priorities. I wanted to find music that is theatrical and grabs peoples’ attention. I picked Elgar and Sibelius, two giants of the European music scene of their time. Despite coming from opposite ends of Europe, they both wrote choral works that reflect and contrast their individual responses to the mainstream currents of their time.
How did you come to connect Elgar and Sibelius?
I didn’t know any of Sibelius’ choral songs before I came to Finland, I was of course acquainted with his symphonies. The choral works aren’t often performed outside of Finland due to being written in Finnish or Swedish. These two composers are very often paired in orchestral programmes and it makes for a thrilling concert, but I hadn’t seen their choral works paired.
As you’ve alluded to, you currently live in Finland and have studied at the Sibelius Academy. Tell us about your experience of living and studying in Finland.
I hadn’t studied choral conducting before moving to Finland so this was a fantastic place for it considering the facilities and the amount of contact hours afforded with colleagues and singers. It’s given me a new perspective on music-making in the UK that I can build on, as well as providing me with a glimpse of how singing and its place in people’s lives can subtly vary between different countries.
What does this cross-cultural approach contribute to Nordic Reflections?
First of all, it’s exciting to have English musicians and singers singing in Swedish and Finnish. I’ve come to value the importance of language especially considering how sometimes we can take the Anglosphere for granted. It’s fun to challenge the singers to consider language in a new way, not only pronunciation but also in terms of the meaning behind the words of a language the singers are new to.
How has the planning and preparation of this performance been impacted by the pandemic?
It’s been a difficult process with much more planning needed than normal. Planning a performance under normal circumstances already involves a significant amount of risk management but this has been accentuated by the pandemic. Having said that, this gives the singers an opportunity to perform in front of a live audience. That live connection brought about by the interaction between the performers and the audience is invaluable.
How are you looking to develop this project?
We want to keep performing Nordic choral works, there’s a lot of interesting music to discover. I find strategically pairing music from different cultures immensely rewarding together with the idea that parts of a programme can reflect each other no matter their original contexts. These are central ideas guiding the work of our group.
Text: Volter Rechardt, Image: Kai Bäckström