Composer Jean Sibelius’ works have rarely received an airing in these parts, but a recent show at dewan Filharmonik Petronas was a truly welcome experience.
LOOKING back, it is strange that one of the earliest classical composers I encountered was Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). After all, the line from early interests like Vivaldi and Beethoven to the Finnish composer is separated by centuries and is hardly a straight one.
He was a man of contradictions: a cultural ambassador for his country, where he is revered, yet he rarely strayed outside his door. Sibelius was a perfectionist – he apparently burned his final symphony because he didn’t think it was good enough – who also wrote an alarming amount of trite music.
He was also a failed virtuoso violinist who, nevertheless, wrote one of the greatest violin concertos. And, in the modern age, he is probably about as famous as the computer score-writing program that bears his name.
Yet, when he was good, Sibelius was very good: from the very beginning, I was drawn to his dreamy, bleak landscapes, the gorgeous melodies and the music’s deep pathos, and remain haunted by it to this day.
While his recordings occupy a large space on my shelves, I have rarely heard Sibelius in the concert hall, which is also one of my pet peeves with Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. Every year, as soon as a new season’s programme is published, I would search for Sibelius and, usually, end up disappointed.
He has, of course, been featured in the DFP before, but his appearances have been few and far between. This new 2011/12 season, however, DFP surprised me by granting one of my most fervent