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"Peer Gynt" with the BSO at Symphony Hall

A collage of Georgia Jarman and Dima Slobodeniouk. Georgia (left) stands backstage with an illuminated vanity behind her. She wears a red dress and a diamond earring. She has her blonde hair tied back in a high ponytail and she wears red lipstick. She smiles, looking frame right. Slobodeniouk (right) sits in a black suit against a creme-colored wall. He has a brown beard and gray-brown hair. He stares at the camera with his brown eyes, smiling with excitement.
Claire McAdams: Jarman; Marco Borggreve: Slobodeniouk
Soprano Georgia Jarman; conductor Dima Slobodeniouk

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Encore broadcast on Monday, March 18

In the second BSO concert of the Music of the Midnight Sun Festival, Dima Slobodeniouk leads a performance of Peer Gynt by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and composer Edvard Grieg, reimagined by playwright and director Bill Barclay. This fantastical epic tale follows Peer from his home village through the Hall of the Mountain King to Northern Africa and back.

Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor 
Georgia Jarman, soprano
Actors from Concert Theatre Works 
Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Edvard GRIEG Peer Gynt

This concert is no longer available on demand.

For notes and a synopsis, visit the BSO.

Hear producer, writer, and director Bill Barclay describe the unique challenges of adapting Peer Gynt in an interview with Jared Bowen on GBH's The Culture Show.

To hear a preview of Peer Gynt with conductor Dima Slobodeniouk, use the player above, and read the transcript below.

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Dima Slobodeniouk, who's back in Boston for a presentation really, of Peer Gynt. I don't want to say performance. It's really a presentation, this theatrical adaptation of Peer Gynt from Bill Barclay. Dima, thank you for a little bit of your time today, I appreciate it.

Dima Slobodeniouk Pleasure. Great to be here again.

Brian McCreath The thing about Peer Gynt is that I would imagine you've conducted music from the suites on any number of occasions. I wonder how familiar you were with the rest of the incidental music that Grieg wrote for Ibsen's play.

Dima Slobodeniouk I must say, not familiar at all. And I dare to say that many of the concert goers wouldn't be familiar either.

Brian McCreath So when you took on this project, did you need to do a lot of research? And I guess maybe the more important question is, how did you find the incidental music that maybe was less familiar to interact with the play, to make the play text more meaningful?

Dima Slobodeniouk Well, the way it is constructed here, and the way Bill [Barclay, the writer, director, and producer] has created it, those two elements, they talk to each other. The music makes the play stronger and vice versa. So actually, the music that is hard to perform in a concert setting is the most interesting. The hits, so to say, are of course heard over and over, but all these, let's say, dramatic lines which build up or create atmosphere, not only in Grieg's music but generally in incidental musics – pieces – are mostly interesting, actually. And of course, these hits – I don't really like this word – but hits become hits because of the ease of their performance. So, it's not better music.

Brian McCreath Well, the thing about doing something that we hear in concert, but then you take it into a theatrical production – it might happen with ballet music, it certainly happens with opera – that what we hear in a concert hall sometimes has to be recalibrated for that theatrical setting. So, I hear you with the incidental music that is less familiar that interacts with the dialog, with the action. But what about those hits, like "Hall of the Mountain King," "Morning Mood?" I mean, do these have a different feel to you as the performer than they would in the concert suite that you might play in a more normal concert?

Dima Slobodeniouk Absolutely. Because, for example, "Morning Mood," it's an atmosphere. It's a miniature. It becomes a miniature. So, it is just one atmosphere in between many, so this becomes smaller, in a way. When we play it here, it's more compact, more fluent. It's not a substantial piece of landscape. It's a little picture. It appears and it disappears. And then the story goes on. In concert ,when you perform a suite, then pieces somehow get lots of attention. Maybe the weight, the time, even. They are performed in a more substantial way, whether or not you realize what Grieg meant only by performing the incidental music as it is.

Brian McCreath It sounds from that like the next time you perform the concert suite, you might bring a different sensibility to it, perhaps.

Dima Slobodeniouk Absolutely. And I already made that decision. And it's going to be in June.

Brian McCreath Oh, wow. Okay, fantastic. Well, that's really good to know. You have spent a lot of your professional life in the Nordic region, of Finland, specifically. The story of Peer Gynt is, in a way, an archetypal story that crosses cultures with the sort of prodigal son going off and having to come to wisdom before coming back, all that. What is it about this adaptation of Ibsen's play and/or the music that Grieg wrote that makes this Nordic? What character is there, or how do you see that reflected in this production, that this is from the Nordic region of Europe?

Dima Slobodeniouk Perhaps one element is a direct connection to nature. Everything happens in forests. Lots of it. Forests, caves. Finnish culture is actually not a Scandinavian culture, just like the language is not either. But, just drawing parallels, of course, in Finnish culture, it is Lemminkäinen, which is, in a way, Peer Gynt in Finland. And Sibelius obviously has the, the Four Legends [of the Kalevala], but it's very similar. So, it's rather raw, a bit dark. And that comes from the music. In terms of Ibsen's and Grieg's connection, that is a bond. You can't separate it. Especially the way it is done now, this week, with Bill. It jumps from the story to today and then to overall general big questions of life with such a rapidness that you actually don't realize that, "Oh, now we're talking about this; now we're talking about... Now it's back to story. Now he's doing this." So, it's very exciting, even just doing that on stage, it really takes you. And it's a dynamic process. But, going back to your question, Nordic generally is ... you always think about winter, because summer is very short. But it's nature and a certain humble relationship between human beings and nature. Because nature makes you humble, especially when you have to make your way through it.

Brian McCreath Excellent. One last question. Watching you and the BSO, as I experience many times, it takes on the look of – I don't want to say that it's easy, but, the difficulty is not apparent in what you're doing because it's so well put together. The musicians are so completely prepared. But tell me about my perceptions here. What is it that is difficult? What are the real challenges in this production of coordination between the action, the actors, and the music?

Dima Slobodeniouk Well, it is rehearsed in different parts, of course. There is no magic, but the musical part of it has to be put together first. And that's what we did yesterday. I rehearsed with the orchestra and with the choir. And, of course, the attitude and the level of preparation which the BSO brings here is exemplary, and it just creates so much positive energy, the way they come and they bring their material and their attitude to music making and the teamwork. So that's probably why it would look easy. And that's what I enjoy so much every time I'm working with the BSO. And I must say, the same goes to the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. I'm also really impressed by the preparation. But then of course, after this is put together, then my job is being one of the corners in the triangle, just like in the opera, you connect the pit with the stage. And that's a kind of a triangle, a kind of parabolic connection. So, I need to figure out what the dramatic line is and the timings between the speech, the songs and, let's say, the dances, and try to keep it together in a dense way, that one thing leads to another. That's basically my job. So, I would say it's a challenge, but that's what you do with any symphony, too, because that's just a construction. You need to have the drama line in any piece you do, even miniature.

Brian McCreath That's great. Well, Dima Slobodeniouk, it's great to have you back. Very much looking forward to your coming to Tanglewood again this summer. So once again, thanks a lot for your time today.

Dima Slobodeniouk Thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks.