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Conductor Dalia Stasevska: Music That Changed Me

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's principal guest conductor gives her musical recommendations of the recordings she can't live without

Conductor Dalia Stasevska

Dalia Stasevska studied the violin and composing before turning her attention to conducting at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. Since July 2019, she has been principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and has been named as chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland from the 2021-22 season. She also regularly conducts opera and has a particular passion for contemporary music.

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I am the first professional musician in my family, but my father’s Ukrainian heritage meant we grew up singing folk songs and music from the Orthodox church. We lived in Tampere, Finland, and I studied violin at the conservatory. By the time I was 16, I was desperate to play in the Tampere Philharmonic; I auditioned as an extra player and was thrilled when they put me in the third desk for Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony and Holst’s The Planets with conductor Eri Klas. They were so kind to me and I felt such a collegial hug and encouragement at that young age.

It was listening to Puccini’s Madam Butterfly that turned me into a musician. I fell in love that moment not only with classical music but opera and the orchestra. I adored the voice of Jessye Norman, her artistry and the passion of everything she did. I listened a lot to her recording of Strauss‘s Four Last Songs – one of the greatest pieces ever. The first time I conducted it was with the soprano Lise Davidsen. We are still close colleagues and hope to work together again soon.

Strauss
Four Last Songs
Jessye Norman (soprano); Leipzig Gewandhaus/Kurt Masur
Philips 475 8507

Sibelius is a huge part of Finnish musical heritage. I grew up with Osmo Vänskä’s groundbreaking Sibelius recordings with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and I am so proud to be their designate chief conductor. The Fourth Symphony would be my desert island choice – it’s such an honest piece, the most private of his symphonies. It is sometimes criticised for lacking the great uplifting moments, but I think it’s a gorgeous symphony and it’s become my mission to introduce it to audiences and orchestras.

Sibelius
Symphony No. 4
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS BISCD861

I’m married to the composer and electric bass player Lauri Porra, the great-grandson of Sibelius. We met by accident in a hamburger joint at 4.30am after a night of partying and we felt an instant connection. I’ve chosen his album Dust as it’s an amazing melting pot of styles. He’s found a new language, a contemporary sound that blends things and opens up new possibilities. He is in a power metal band, Stratovarius, and being with him has brought me close to the contemporary music scene – pop, rap, metal and film music. I see the same passion and intelligence there as in classical musicians.

Lauri Porra
Dust
Lauri Porra & Flyover Ensemble
Ranka Kustannus RAN1381964

Lauri and I discovered the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson together while watching the film Sicario. We loved the soundtrack and wanted to hear more. Jóhansson’s music for Bill Morrison’s archive film The Miners’ Hymns is amazing, so deep and beautiful in the way he uses brass and electronics and organ and samples them. I want to play his music with an orchestra, so keep an eye out for that!

Jóhann Jóhannsson
The Miners’ Hymns
Fat Cat Vinyl LP1313

By coincidence, Lauri’s family was going through letters to Sibelius recently and discovered one praising the talent of the 13-year-old Ginette Neveu. It reminded me that Neveu’s recording of Sibelius‘s Violin Concerto is one of my favourites. I admire her intense playing and phenomenal musicality. There’s something so hypnotising in the way she plays – it feels like it is the only way to do it.

Sibelius
Violin Concerto
Ginette Neveu (violin); Philharmonia/ Walter Susskind
Warner Classics 476 8302

When I was studying at the Sibelius Academy, I was amazed to see a woman student conducting the orchestra. I knew immediately I wanted to try it and the great teacher and conductor Jorma Panula agreed to let me join one of his masterclasses. That was it – I couldn’t let go of the baton! I seem to have done a lot in a short time. I’ve been lucky, but it’s also a combination of hard work and a focus on what you want. I look forward to being back with the BBC Symphony soon and making plans for Lahti Symphony’s 2021-22 season. I’m also due to make my debut in spring 2021 with Washington State Opera conducting Renée Fleming’s production of Così fan tutte, my favourite Mozart opera. That will be a dream.

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Interview by Amanda Holloway