Awe-inspiring symphonic drama in three parts

Holland Festival Proms:
Solar Trilogy

Poul Ruders, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest

For the first time in the Netherlands, the Danish composer Poul Ruders’ breathtaking Solar Trilogy (1997) will be performed in full. Scored for a large orchestra, this vast symphonic drama in three parts depicts in music the birth, life and, ultimately, death of the sun, our nearest star and the source of all life on earth. The three movements are characterised by their unparallelled impact and dramatic force. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra will perform this trilogy of cosmic proportions with chief conductor Markus Stenz at the helm.

Holland Festival Proms

Six concerts by world class artists in one day at the Concertgebouw, standing tickets for only 10 euros per concert, seating on the balconies and the stage. That is the Holland Festival Proms, the concerts held on the festival’s final weekend, hosted by Thomas van Luyn. Throughout the afternoon and evening, ensembles ranging from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra to American singer-songwriter Ben Folds with yMusic, and from the Kronos Quartet to a Moroccan Gnawa ensemble will perform on stage. Opening with a family concert from the Netherlands, the programme will journey through different genres round the world to conclude with a Malian version by Terry Riley’s minimal masterpiece In C. And if you still can’t get enough, you can join our festive afterparty.

Background information

The sun is not only the source of all life on earth, for centuries it has also been a source of inspiration to composers; ranging from “Und es ward Licht!” in Haydn's Die Schöpfung (The Creation, 1798)  to Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture (1903). Solar Trilogy (1992-1995) by Danish composer Poul Ruders (1949) is a fascinating addition to this tradition. 

Scored for a large orchestra, it comprises three symphonic poems of twenty minutes each, highlighting different aspects of the sun. It's a bold choice by Ruders to compose a symphonic poem, as the genre and its principal representative Richard Strauss have a dubious reputation among post-war composers. It underlines Ruders' artistic independence and stylistic versatility. Now and then, we can hear echoes of Strauss in Solar Trilogy, but there's atonal expressionism and minimalist music as well. Ruders uses this range of different styles to paint a richly varied picture of the sun. In the first part, Gong, one can hear the sun vibrating like a gong in a sandstorm. The gong is expressed by the extensive percussion section, the sandstorm by the restless rhythms and manifold dissonant chords. The serene second part, Zenith, offers a complete contrast. With its romantic harmonies it forms the slow middle movement of the score, conveying sunrise and sunset, and in particular the effect this has on people. The third part, Corona, is inspired by the image of a solar eclipse, which reveals a halo of solar beams encircling a black silhouette. The music is characterised by ominous, sizzling sounds, slowly working towards a majestic climax of brass chorales depicting the majestic breakthrough of sunlight after the eclipse and echoing the melodies from Zenith. However, the final gesture is a mysterious minor chord – characteristic of Ruders, who is not afraid to please but never takes the easy option either.



Without a doubt, Poul Ruders (1949) is the most successful Danish composer of his generation. Ruders studied with Karl Aage Rasmussen. Gradually developing as a composer, he found his true voice, according to Ruders himself, in 1980 with his chamber concerto Four Compositions

Ruders' music is characterised by the ease with which he combines different musical styles, ranging from ominous atonality to lyrical late-romantic figures, from pulsating rhythms to esoteric soundscapes. The authoritative New York music critic Alex Ross once described him as 'a lover of sweet melodies with a yen for dark chords, a comedian with a flair for apocalypse.'

Ruders' versatility is also evidenced by his rich body of work. He has written music in almost every genre and for a wide range of different instrumentations. Ruders has been most successful as an opera composer. His international breakthrough came with the resounding success of his opera A Handmaid’s Tale (2000) in Copenhagen, followed by commissions for new work by the Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Opera. In 2005, Kafka's Trial premiered on the festive opening night of the new Copenhagen Opera House. In 2010, at the same theatre, Ruders premiered Selma Jezková, which was based on Lars van Trier's film Dancer in the Dark. The opera’s fascination with the dark and the apocalyptic is a recurring theme in much of Ruders’ work, including the orchestral works Thus Saw Saint John (1984) and Nightshade (1987), as well as The Bells (1993), written for soprano and chamber music ensemble and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe.

Markus Stenz is Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (since 2012) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from the 2015/2016 season onwards. Trained at the School of Music in Cologne and at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, he was Principal Conductor of the London Sinfonietta (1994-1998), Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (1998-2004) and General Music Director of the City of Cologne and Gürzenich-Kapellmeister (2003-2014). 

Stenz made his debut as an opera conductor at La Fenice in Venice and has since conducted many world premieres and first performances including Henze’s Das Verratene Meer (Berlin), Venus und Adonis (Munich) and L’Upupa (Salzburg Festival). Markus Stenz has appeared at many of the world’s major opera houses including La Scala (Milan), La Monnaie (Brussels), Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Stuttgart Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bavarian State Opera Munich, State Opera Hamburg, Frankfurt Opera, and festivals such as Glyndebourne, Edinburgh, Bregenz and Salzburg. 
Markus Stenz conducts many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, Berlin Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the most prominent German radio orchestras. In the United States, he worked with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. This season Stenz, Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music, will conduct all over the world, from São Paulo to Shanghai, among others with the German premiere of a Cello Concerto by Pascal Dusapin.

The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra occupies a prominent position in Dutch music. With an unfailing commitment to artistic excellence and a balanced programme, the one hundred strong orchestra has grown into one of the Netherlands’ best orchestras. The orchestra was formed in 1945 by Albert van Raalte, who was succeeded by an impressive roll call of conductors, including Bernard Haitink, Jean Fournet, Willem van Otterloo, Hans Vonk, Edo de Waart and Jaap van Zweden. In 2012, Markus Stenz was appointed Chief Conductor. Since August 2013, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra has been part of the Stichting Omroep Muziek (Music Broadcast Organisation), along with the Netherlands Radio Choir and the production department of Dutch public broadcasters NTR and AVROTROS Radio 4's concert series.

The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra has worked with many distinguished guest conductors, including Leopold Stokowski, Antal Doráti, Riccardo Muti, Mariss Jansons, Michael Tilson Thomas and Valery Gergiev. The orchestra plays a prominent part in various concert series broadcast on Dutch radio and television, including the Saturday Matinee and the Sunday Morning Concerts at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, as well as Fridays at Vredenburg in Utrecht. The orchestra excels at adventurous symphonic programming and concert opera performances, including many Dutch and world premieres. The orchestra also performed at the BBC Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2011. The orchestra has created an impressive discography. Under Edo de Waart, the complete Mahler Symphonies were recorded. CDs with the works of contemporary composers Jonathan Harvey, Klas Torstensson and Jan van Vlijmen received several awards and honours. In 2012, the live recording under Jaap van Zweden of Wagner's Parsifal for the NTR Saturday Matinee was awarded an Edison Klassiek, one of the most prestigious prizes in Dutch classical music.



Poul Ruders
Markus Stenz

This performance was made possible with support by