Fifty years after his death, one of composer Fartein Valen’s most central orchestral works has been performed in his spiritual home city, Berlin. Valen’s Berlin-period marked his transition from tonality to atonality as well a long period of studies. Throughout his life, Berlin remained an important mental reference for Valen, says MIC/Ballade’s Magma reporter Nicholas H. Møllerhaug who returns with another dispatch from the German capital.
Last night saw the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra performing Valen’s The Churchyard By The Sea. Perhaps unknowingly, the orchestra thus completed a visible as well as an invisible tribute to Valen. Fifty years after his death, one of composer Fartein Valen’s most central orchestral works has been performed in his spiritual home city, Berlin. Valen’s Berlin-period marked his transition from tonality to atonality as well a long period of studies. Throughout his life, Berlin remained an important mental reference for Valen.
Berlin presented to Valen most of the music that was to create his compositional foundation; Bach, Mozart, Brahms etc. Like all students, Valen attended the concert hall and visited church after church to experience organ concerts. His Berlin stay filled his mind with other impulses such as visits to the Berlin Zoo and the Aquarium. Valen later relocated to the small village of Valevåg in western Norway and his Berlin influences gave him a rich spiritual reservoir from which to replenish.
Many composers dream of having their works performed in a large format in the German capital, perhaps Valen shared this dream? He had himself been introduced to the great composers the same way. Such dreams come into fruition easier these days – much to the Magma festival’s credit. As Valen strolled the streets of 1920s Berlin, such a dream must have appeared a much loftier proposition.
Still, last night the dream came true: a near sold-out Berliner Philharmonie saw the Oslo Philharmonic perform Valen’s The Churchyard By The Sea. In my opinion an historic evening – at least for Valen-fans (myself included).
I have to admit that the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra performed a brilliant and extended programme that included other works than Valen’s. Olav Anton Thommesen, Magnus Lindberg, Torkell Sigbjörnsson and Sibelius were among Valen’s featured colleagues.
It is about time Valen receives increased display abroad – the international audience deserves to be able to experience his music. Ashkenazy deserves respect for choosing Valen and presenting him to a wider international audience. Proof of Valen’s audience in Norway and abroad can be found in the reception of Rune Grammofon’s Valen release: The Eternal. Not without reason, this release was regarded as one of 2000s finest contemporary records. Renowned publication The Wire conducted this award, and it’s very positive when this is followed by opportunities to experience his music live.
Nicholas H. Møllerhaug is MIC/Ballade’s very own Magma 2002 reporter. Nicholas reports on a daily basis during Magma, and returns tomorrow with another dispatch from the German capital.