When the Swedish Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1995 as the country’s only full-time chamber ensemble, no one really expected the group to become an international sensation.
“It met with a lot of skepticism in Sweden especially when they took the name,” said Gregor Zubicky, the SCO’s artistic manager. “There was some question about the content of what it would play. Certainly, I never thought I’d be here so long — only a couple of seasons.”
On Wednesday, the SCO will debut at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as part of the Troy Chromatics Concerts series.
From the beginning, the intent was to make the orchestra a real job for the sometimes up to 42 players. Most of the musicians are Swedish with a smattering of others from North America, Great Britain or Norway. The orchestra is based in Örebro, about 100 miles west of Stockholm. After going through the usual birth pains of any ensemble, the SCO struck gold in 1997 when it hired Thomas Dausgaard as its conductor.
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
HOW MUCH: $45, $40
MORE INFO: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org
As the chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, which had a regular schedule of recordings, commissioning and tours and had won several awards, Dausgaard was an international conductor of much repute and had been awarded the Cross of Chivalry in Denmark.
“He wanted us to record all of Beethoven’s orchestral works,” Zubicky said. “I said to him, shouldn’t we become a good orchestra before we record? He said the orchestra would become good by recording.”
The facts that no Swedish orchestra or chamber orchestra had ever done that and the recording on the Simax label could have been a flop were never even considered, Zubicky said.
“It was the making of the orchestra,” he said. “The project was greatly successful.”
Since then, the SCO has gone on to record all of Schumann’s symphonies, and several of the symphonies of Dvo˘rák, Schubert, Bruckner and Brahms as part of the “Opening Doors” series on the BIS label. They also do at least four commissions each year from such composers as Stephen Mackey, Mark-Anthony Turnage, H.K. Gruber of Germany, Brett Dean of Australia and several Scandinavian composers. They often work with Andrew Manze, a Baroque specialist, to extend their repertoire to earlier works.
Among the soloists who have been featured are pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Leif Ove Andsnes, violinist James Ehnes and, this season for the Troy concert, pianist Garrick Ohlsson. This is Ohlsson’s debut with the SCO and the first time he has appeared with an orchestra at the hall. In the past three appearances on the series, Ohlsson has given only recitals.
“He’s of Swedish heritage,” Zubicky said, “and we’re very excited to be working with him. Thomas asked him.”
Ohlsson will perform Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto in G Major. The rest of the program is Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor.
“Brahms works well for our size orchestra. We’ve done it a lot,” Zubicky said. “And the ‘Coriolan’ is a fantastic start to the program — a snappy beginning.”
Zubicky credits the SCO’s success to several factors. One of those is where the orchestra is based.
“Every orchestra strives to have its own dialect but the more players, the more variables and in a large city you don’t have a focus,” he said.
“Örebro has a population of 130,000 and is two hours west of Stockholm — far enough away from its magnetic energy. It has a university and a 1930s hall. We’re the only show in town, so we can focus on getting an individual, characteristic sound.”
It also helps that there is little turnover. Most of the founding musicians are still with the group. And, since most of the musicians all live locally, with few teaching, their energies are completely directed on the music.
“It’s absolute,” Zubicky said. “With fewer players, we get a speedy reaction and have a tightness of ensemble. Clarity is easier. The sound is more vulnerable rather than lush. You can’t have the weight of a big orchestra, but it depends on the kind of ride you like.”
To more clearly define what he meant, Zubicky said the size of the SCO compared to a full-size orchestra is like a sports car compared to a Mercedes.
“You might get a weight and lushness in a Mercedes, but you’ll feel every bump in the road and the wind in your hair in the sports car,” he said laughing.
Opening of tour
The Troy concert opens the ensemble’s four-concert tour, which includes Lincoln Center in New York City, Cornell University in Ithaca, and Toronto. This is the third time the SCO has visited the United States in the last decade.
“We were invited to play at Lincoln Center, so we asked management to make it a mini-tour,” Zubicky said.
A four-concert tour seems pretty short for all the hassles it could produce.
“It’s not just getting them on the plane,” he said laughing. “It’s getting them with their instruments. The airlines have become very touchy.”