My first concert this year was almost as far from anywhere as you could possibly think - in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Just take a look at the map and you will see what I mean. No wonder Russians say "in Karaganda" when they mean "in the middle of nowhere". Although, I am still waiting for a trip to Urumqi, China, which is said to be the city farthest in the inland (meaning farthest from any sea) on this planet. I'm sure that day will come soon. Anyway, this was not my first trip to Karaganda. Two years ago I also visited the city and had programmed some French music to delight the audiences.
This time the first part of the concert was dedicated to Jean Sibelius (who would be celebrating his 150th birthday this year if he had not been smoking so many cigars), first number being the rarely played Karelia Overture. It is played so seldom in fact, that people usually confuse it with the Karelia Suite in three movements, and no wonder when I arrived in my first rehearsal, the orchestra had the music for Karelia Suite on their desks! Luckily the matter was resolved before the next rehearsal. We also performed the Sibelius violin concerto, and my soloist this time was a young violinist from Astana, Askar Duisembaev. For the second half we played the 6th symphony of Franz Schubert. I fell in love with this piece after hearing the Chicago Symphony perform it with Riccardo Muti sometime ago.
Just like last year, the hall was full to the last seat and the audience of Karaganda was very appreciative of our music making. I heard an interesting thing about the ticket sales for the orchestra though. There really is no subscription system, and also the sales at the concert day are very small. So where does the majority of the audience get their tickets from? Well, the tickets are sold to them by phone! The administration makes hundreds and hundreds of phone calls every week and tells their regular and semi-regular concert goers about the program, artists, etc. and persuades them to reserve a ticket in the concert. I wonder if I should try this approach with my own orchestra in Mikkeli!
My second concert project this season was a joint concert with my orchestra St. Michel Strings and the students of Tampere Music Academy. For a performance of Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings and Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite for strings and percussion we were joined by a group of enthusiastic young string players and percussionists from Tampere. We also had an excellent concert master for this project, the violinist and conductor Jaana Haanterä, who has played as concert master in several Finnish orchestras and just recently has accepted a permanent teaching position at the Tampere Music Academy.
Metamorphosen is a work that I had been waiting to program with my string ensemble, and what would have been a better timing for performing it than this. The piece was one of the last pieces Richard Strauss composed, and he composed it exactly 70 years ago. Of course that was not the only thing that happened in 1945. Actually during the week we were rehearsing the world was also remembering 70 years since the Soviets liberated Auschwitz. There could be endless speculation about the circumstances in which this piece was created and their effect to the piece itself, but let's leave it to that. What cannot be disputed is that it is a perfect display of the contrapuntal skill of Strauss.
Carmen Suite, on the other hand was a collaboration between the famous ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya, her husband Rodion Shchedrin, and well, Georges Bizet who at that time had already been resting in peace for awhile. Shchedrin called the result "a creative meeting of the minds" of two composers. While Strauss in his piece gave no instructions to the players except "espressivo" and an occasional "appassionata", Shchedrin has in his adaptation used almost every possible playing technique from col legno to "Bartok" pizzicato. The percussion parts of course are highly creative and demanding, and the students who played the parts did an excellent job - so much as to have their names individually listed in the subsequent concert review!
We performed this program twice, both in Mikkeli and in Tampere, and the reception of this kind of collaboration was so good that we are planning to repeat it next year. We also got a very positive review in the Tampere newspaper Aamulehti!