Notes & Interviews

Nov 5, 2017


Beethoven spent his childhood and adolescent years in the electorate of Cologne; in Bonn. He was breathing a new air of freedom, as the elector of Cologne, Maximilian Franz, the brother of the Emperor of Austria, encouraged the spirit of enlightenment and independent thinking. It’s fascinating to think that Beethoven’s first impulses towards becoming a musician happened in this environment, and in this location close to where we are based, in Cologne.

He was from early on acutely aware of the fact that he was the sole successor to Mozart and Haydn, and he was conscious of his role in bringing music forwards and of developing the symphonic format. Beethoven is an important composer for both the past and the future, for even today, the orchestral symphonic tradition always goes back to him: his music provides a source of meaning and purpose for the symphonic idea. We can hear the connections, or Beethoven’s message of what a symphony is, in the music of all composers who wrote symphonies after him – most obviously Brahms, Bruckner and Sibelius, but we can also hear his motivic messages in Mahler and Schoenberg’s music.

I think every orchestra, whether it is chamber or symphonic, period or modern, Romantic or Classical, has to have its own perspective on Beethoven. When I started performing Beethoven’s symphonies with the WDR Symphony, the idea of making a complete recording cycle started developing in my mind. The idea also had a positive response from the orchestra, and together we decided that our performances should be documented.

Our musical collaboration was actually developing through performing Beethoven’s symphonies, and the conviction we felt in performing his work was also reflected in our performances of other composers’ music. In the past, I was always the most happy with the performances of Beethoven’s music with chamber orchestras – notably with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra many years ago – and these experiences gave me the courage to try his music also with symphony orchestras without compromising his message, style, or characters. Now after eight rewarding years with the WDR Symphony, I feel that the time is right to record this cycle, with this orchestra.

To me, Beethoven has always been a symbol of what a single individual with great strength and independence can contribute to this world. He has always held this meaning for me, but I feel that his music has become even more relevant today, when we need to strengthen the values of humanity and culture more than ever.

Sep 30, 2016

Bartók – Going to the Roots of Music

Jukka-Pekka discusses this season’s composer-in-focus with the WDR Sinfonieorchester and the importance of seeking authentic musical roots and expression
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Aug 16, 2016

“These vast spaces without gravity”

WDR Chief Conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste on the Sibelius anniversary and his Sibelius concert at the Cologne Philharmonie


Mr. Saraste, you have just rehearsed Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Are German orchestras able to do Sibelius?
It always depends on the tradition. And it is obvious: The Fourth is still rather “new” in Germany – as opposed to the First or the Second or even the Seventh which contains much Wagner. But the Fourth is really difficult – the musical language is so “plain” and at the same time so profound – this has nothing to do with Brahms or Mahler.

Have you been able to make this accessible to the orchestra?

It gets better and better. We have done much Sibelius together after all. But once again: The Fourth is something special, in fact there is no model. It is somewhat similar to Webern – one has to find these exact sounds.
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Apr 8, 2016

Me and my Sibelius

— How did you first get interested in Sibelius?

It was actually the Fourth Symphony that made the biggest impact on me, and I think contact with some interpretations, for example Paavo Berglund, reinforced my interest, and the way he was conducting made me convinced that there’s an incredible truth in the music, which I didn’t discover so early in the other symphonies – with No. 2, for example, it took a long time before I was completely ready for it.

— What was the first work by Sibelius that you ever conducted, and what was the occasion?

It must have been No. 2, when I was in the music camp of Lapua, and had a youth/student/festival orchestra at that music camp.
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Mar 30, 2015

Axel Carpelan: mentor and spiritual ally of Sibelius


Axel Carpelan was a nobleman; a lonely individual who was too frail and weak to work. Yet he was very highly educated and was self-taught in the arts. He became acquainted with Sibelius, embarking on a friendship with the composer which involved not only being an admirer of his talent, but also intuitively seeing where he should be going and which choices he should make. He even offered his personal opinion on the different versions or solutions in the compositions which Sibelius presented to him.

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