Magnus Lindberg's EXPO

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Magnus Lindberg is a composer who has been on my radar for a long time without me ever really getting familiar with his work. This is perhaps quite a shameful admission to make when one considers that he is often heralded as the most successful, and most well known, Finnish composer of our time.

However, determined to cure my ignorance, I've spent my days off between the Swansea Festival, and rehearsals for Friday's concert commencing, reading up on Lindberg, watching interviews with him on YouTube, and listening to recordings of his music.

And also attempting to get the passage work in the work we will play, EXPO, up to speed. To my neighbours, and my long-suffering metronome, I apologise.

Magnus Lindberg (born in 1958, in case you like to know things like that) is quoted as saying: "The orchestra is my favourite instrument."

Undoubtedly, this would appear to be the case, as works for symphonic orchestra make up the vast majority of his output.

When Alan Gilbert became musical director of the New York Philharmonic, he was instrumental in appointing Magnus Lindberg to the newly created post of Composer-in-Residence, a residency Lindberg held for two years (2009-2011). It was for this ensemble, and for Gilbert's inaugural concert with the orchestra on 16 September 2009 at Avery Fisher Hall, New York, that EXPO was composed.

The title, EXPO, is something of a play on words, imbued with greater significance due to the occasion for which it was composed; the title suggests both exposition and introduction, ideal for an inaugural concert that would bring new people, new ideas, and new directions to an established audience. It is, therefore, fitting that this should be the work that Thomas should choose to open his tenure as principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales here in Cardiff.

And what a work it is. At the time of its premiere, news website Bloomberg (as quoted on Lindberg's publisher, Boosey & Hawkes' website) reported 'what a charmer it is ... all sections of the orchestra [are] handsomely revealed'.

I am inclined to agree with Bloomberg's reviewer. From the initial whip crack, fizzing, manic string lines are contrasted with chorale like brass, somewhat reminiscent of Britten's swelling brass chorales in Peter Grimes' Dawn.

Throughout the work, there is a constant juxtaposition of the frenetic with the tranquil. At times, the music has a pulsating rhythmic drive, whilst at others it seems to be almost in a state of suspended animation. One also hears the marriage of the old with the new; while the music sounds mainly tonal, in the way that we understand tonality, with tonal centres and harmonic direction, Lindberg's musical language is strictly his own.

Above all, the music has a definite beauty, and soul to it - elements I feel are very important for contemporary composers to maintain. If this is the sort of new repertoire Thomas is keen to bring to us, I, for one, am both excited and optimistic for his tenure as principal conductor.

Thomas Søndergård conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for the first time as principal conductor on Friday 12 October, 7.30pm, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff. Tickets are available by calling 0800 052 1812 or 02920 878444.

The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and will be available on BBC iPlayer for 7 days after the initial broadcast.

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