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Radio Philharmonic Orchestra & Great Broadcast Choir: ecstasy in concert

Traditionally, the AVROTROS Friday Concert marks the end of the season with a joint concert by the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Groot Omroepkoor. On 9 June During the final concert, US star conductor David Robertson leads them through the compelling ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. In addition, the orchestral work L'Ascension by his compatriot Olivier Messiaen and a selection from the Vespers By Rachmaninov.

Ecstatic love

Ravel composed Daphnis et Chloé in 1909 for the Ballets Russes. This dance company of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev caused a furore in Paris in the early 20th century. He had a good nose for young talent and initiated numerous adventurous, often groundbreaking compositions and choreographies. These were not infrequently accompanied by a touch of scandal. - But the Parisians feasted on them.

For the ballet Daphnis et Chloé Diaghilev brought together choreographer Michel Fokine and composer Ravel. It was inspired by a story from Greek mythology about the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé. When Chloé is kidnapped by a group of pirates, the god Pan comes to the rescue of the inconsolable love couple. After an ecstatic dance of love, the two lovers fall blissfully into each other's arms.

Climax for choir and orchestra

Fokine developed a new ballet form, with stylised body movements that he based on the angular-static depictions on ancient Greek vases. At the same time, Ravel set a new standard for instrumentation art with his refined sense of sound. He drew inspiration from his dreams of "the ancient world as depicted in eighteenth-century paintings".

Ravel wrote Daphnis et Chloé for large choir and orchestra, and the music is full of woozy cursive and filtered sunlight. This was not always easy for the dancers, as the music excels in rhythmic irregularities and unusual time signatures. To master a five-quarter beat that was difficult for them, the dancers therefore scanned Ser-ge-Dja-ghi-lev, Ser-ge-Dja-ghi-lev'.

Daphnis et Chloé is usually performed in the two orchestral suites that Ravel later distilled from it. But this concert features the original version, with one of the very best climaxes ever written for choir and orchestra.

Heavenly ecstasy

A very different kind of ecstasy exudes from the two pieces before the interval, both related to Christian holidays. True, those are just behind us, but the music is no less beautiful for it.

Sergei Rachmaninov wrote his Vespers in 1915, on the occasion of the Easter vigil. In it, an unaccompanied choir calls for God's blessing. It is based on Russian Orthodox church chant and, with its distinctive low basses, is one of Rachmaninov's best-loved works.

The deeply religious Olivier Messiaen sings of a form of heavenly ecstasy in L'Ascension  (Ascension) for symphony orchestra. Each of the four movements of these 'meditations for orchestra' highlights a different aspect of our longing for union with God. This becomes almost tangible in the ethereal second movement: 'Serene hallelujahs of a soul searching for the heavenly.'

Messiaen composed L'Ascension in 1933. It is considered one of his most important early orchestral works, even though it became better known in the version for organ he later made of it. That the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is now performing this remarkable piece under the baton of modern music specialist David Robertson is something to look forward to.

Good to know

The concert will be broadcast live on Radio 4.

Info and maps 

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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