Victoria Borisova-Ollas: A Portrait of a Lady by Swan Lake

  • for violin and orchestra
  • 3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc(3), hp, pno, str
  • Duration: 19’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute
    2nd flute
    3rd flute (+picc)
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    3rd oboe (+c.a)
    1st clarinet in Bb
    2nd clarinet in Bb
    3rd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    3rd bassoon (+cbsn)
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    3rd horn in F
    4th horn in F
    1st trumpet in C
    2nd trumpet in C
    3rd trumpet in C
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    3rd trombone
    1st percussion
    2nd percussion
    3rd percussion
    piano (+cel)
    violin I
    violin II
    double bass
  • Composer: Victoria Borisova-Ollas
  • Dedication: dedicated to Baiba Skride
  • Commission: Commissioned by Konserthuset Stockholm / Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, co-commissioned by Lahti Symphony Orchestra and BBC Radio 3. UK Premiere given by Baiba Skride with the BBC Symphony

Work introduction

A Portrait of a Lady by Swan Lake
for Violin and Symphony Orchestra

Swan Lake is a timeless romantic ballet story that has it all - romance, tragedy, constant transformations of the main characters and the struggle between the good and the evil forces that control people's lives. Peter Tchaikovsky's music is also a timeless musical narrative that has it all. Despite all this, I felt tempted to try to look at the same story from a different angle.


Upon receiving the commission, I decided to make a violin soloist the main character in this tale. No other instrument perhaps can be better suitable for telling us how it feels for a young woman to be forced by an evil spell to the constant transformations between a swan during the daytime and into a human by night. Imagine this happening at every sunset and every dawn. Imagine all the physical pain and mental confusion when the feathers are falling off just for a few hours and breaking out again through the delicate human skin. Imagine the neck shrinking quickly and growing long again at the first signs of the rising sun. Imagine the human voice transforming again and again into an anxious cry of a bird. Imagine this happening night after night, morning after morning, for what seems to be an eternity until a foolish prince emerges from the enchanted forest. His unselfish love to a Swan Princess helps to finally break the spell.
There are various versions of the ending of this most famous ballet story of all time. The main characters either suffering a tragic death and ascending to heaven afterwards, or the Swan Princess, becoming a human again and living happily ever after with her Prince. The only component that exists in all versions and productions is the liberation of "the small enchanted swans". Regardless to how it goes for their Princess Odette and Prince Siegfried "the Small Swans" eventually become free from the curse. My storyteller is one of them. Many years after her final transformation into a human, she returns to the same lake. Standing on the beach, she relives the whole story in a considerably shorter time span, just around 20 minutes. All the memories are pouring over her. Water in the lake is moving slowly. The mysterious forest with all its secrets surrounds the lake just as it did many years ago. Is she longing to be transformed into a young beautiful swan once again? Who knows...

A Portrait of a Lady by Swan Lake for Violin and Symphony Orchestra was composed during the spring of 2019. The work is a co-commission between the Swedish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. The soloist is Baiba Skride and the concert is dedicated to her.

Victoria Borisova-Ollas

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Next performances

World première

Konserthuset, Stockholm (SE)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Sakari Oramo
Main soloists:
Baiba Skride, Vln

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