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Monday 30 April 2018

Two Weeks in Siberia


In the end of January I flew again to Krasnoyarsk, where I hold the position of Principal Guest Conductor at the Philharmonic. As you know, Krasnoyarsk is in the heart of Siberia, where temperatures can be extreme. Just before my flight I checked the reports and it was -40 degrees Celsius in Krasnoyarsk! Luckily by the time I got there the weather was a bit milder - just around -37 degrees.

This time my plan was to stay for two weeks and conduct three concerts at the Philharmonic, but I was also invited to conduct the new premiere of Evgeny Onegin directed by Neeme Kuningas at the Krasnoyarsk Opera & Ballet Theatre. That meant, that practically every day I would spend the days at the Philharmonic rehearsing the symphony orchestra, and evenings at the Theatre working with the singers. This pace of working gave me a little hint about how the life of a certain well known Russian maestro must be (without administrative duties, of course).

My first concert at the Philharmonic was with a great Russian cellist Alexander Ramm (a prize winner in the previous Tchaikovsky Competition) who played the Rococo Variations and Pezzo Capriccioso by Tchaikovsky. The second half of the concert was Mendelssohn's 5th symphony, "The Reformation". As a side note, by the concert day my back muscles were really sore from working around the clock, although it's very rare that I would get tired or sore from conducting (I am proud of my good "conducting ergonomy"), and when I told about it at the Philharmonic I was right away directed to the masseuse of the ballet troupe who treated my back three days in a row!

The second concert at the Philharmonic was a parade of young pianists from the local music college, and all eight of them were playing different works, by Bach, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Schumann, Gershwin, Glazunov, Skriabin and Shchedrin. This was a lot of work since some of the pieces I conducted for the first time. Luckily the students were very well prepared and we had some really great moments at the concert.

The following day I had my third and last concert at the Philharmonic during this trip, and it was a children's concert we did with a narrator, and the theme was romanticism in music. We played of course Wagner, Brahms, Schubert etc. But during the same evening I had my operatic debut in Russia, conducting the new Evgeny Onegin at the Krasnoyarsk Opera & Ballet Theatre, as part of the Opera Stars festival, and about that I have some more things to say.

We actually had two premieres of the opera this same weekend, the other conducted by the theatre's staff conductor Alexandr Kosinsky, and the other by me. Kosinsky's cast was all local singers, but since my performance was part of the Opera Stars festival I had a cadre of guest soloists in my cast: Eugenia Dushina (Tatiana), Anastasia Lepeshinskaya (Olga) and Tomas Pavilionis (Lenski). Aleksandr Mikhalyov from Krasnoyarsk was an excellent Onegin, as well as another local talent Larisa Plotnikova in the part of Filipievna.

I enjoyed tremendously working with my cast as well as with the correpetiteurs and the orchestra, not to mention the chorus and the ballet which we did not have in our "student Onegin" in Helsinki a year ago. The staging by Neeme Kuningas was very respectful to the score and the epoch, and in his direction he wanted to emphasize the natural innocence of the young characters on stage. The minimalistic sets were created by Ervin Õunapuu, and the brilliant costumes by Anna Kontek. I wanted also to be as faithful to the original score as possible, which resulted in two quite different interpretations of the work tempo-wise, but luckily both conductors did not only have their own casts of singers but also different players in the pit.

Despite the mixed reviews we all felt that this Onegin was a great success to our team and just the right thing to do, bringing a new, more modern (and maybe more "European"?) angle of a standard repertoire piece to the musicians and the public alike. I hope to return to Krasnoyarsk to conduct this production still many more times.

Friday 19 January 2018

Looking back at 2017

Conducting the HMO. Photo by Jorma Airola.

It's again time to look back at the highlights (and other stuff) of the year in music 2017. Despite of being a free lancer again, I was reasonably busy with my usual masterclass and guest conducting activities, and I also started some very interesting projects I might have not started if I'd had a regular music directorship somewhere.

I started the year like so many times before, with my traditional winter masterclass in Mikkeli. I did not know that this would be actually my last masterclass in Mikkeli, so now I am looking for new orchestras to cooperate with. I had four talented ladies and one young man studying with me, and we played two concerts. In the summer I taught another masterclass in Pärnu like so many times before, and luckily this tradition is going to continue with the next masterclass planned for July, 2018.

In January I also returned to conduct the Finnish Guards Band, and this was my third concert with them. I have mentioned the two earlier concerts before here and here. My soloist for the Stravinsky concerto was the brilliant Martin Malmgren with whom I also have worked before.

I also returned to the Krasnoyarsk Symphony Orchestra (also for the third time) and worked with the young pianist Alexandr Malofeyev. And when I returned to Krasnoyarsk for the fourth time in September it was time for the big news - I became their Principal Guest Conductor!

In the autumn I also returned to conduct the Pärnu City Orchestra twice, and in December I did my yearly visit to conduct the Mariinsky Orchestra in a big Finnish program.

Opera has been my big love ever since I started studying in St. Petersburg and going regularly to the Mariinsky Theatre, and I was very happy to take part in a production of Evgeny Onegin in Helsinki. This was a very special project since we had practically no money for it, but managed to do it nevertheless and even got great reviews! And after the summer we had two more performances of the opera (with piano accompaniment this time), and we have further plans with this group as well.

My debuts this year were ERSO (The Estonian National Orchestra), the Sofia Philharmonic (the best concert of the year in my opinion!), Kirkkonummi Chamber Orchestra and the State Orchestra of Northern Ossetia-Alania in Vladikavkaz.

I should maybe count in as a debut also my summer project by the name of SMO. This was one of the best things to come out of this year of free lancing, since it lead to the founding of a brand new community orchestra in the Helsinki area, the Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra. This is a very promising group and we have already many interesting plans with it for this year. It's to me a great honour to carry the title of Artistic Director of the Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra from now on.

Monday 15 January 2018

Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra - the new group in town!

HMO performing in the New Pavillion in Kauniainen

You may remember the concert last summer I wrote about, where 60 enthusiastic musicians from Helsinki region joined me in a free concert in the Rock Church in Helsinki. Then we had the project name of SMO and we did not know whether this project will be a one-off or there will be more concerts. Well, now I am happy to announce that we have a new name for our group, Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra, we have registered a non-profit to support it, and we played two well attended concerts around New Year with 70 players onstage, one in Kauniainen and the second one in Helsinki.

For the program we decided to repeat the Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto which my friend Alina played last summer, and following the wishes of our musicians we played Sibelius symphony No. 5 in the second half. Even though our group is a mix of professionals, music students and amateurs (much like Benjamin Zander's Boston Philharmonic), our pace of rehearsing is professional, and we aim to play on a professional level. The rehearsal process was quite exciting, but everything came together marvelously for the concerts. Especially the second concert in my former place of study, the Helsinki Conservatory, left everyone happy both in the orchestra and in the audience (and the party afterwards was great!).

With HMO and Alina Sorjonen after Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto

There are many exciting plans in the future for this group - I am going to teach an international conducting masterclass with them in February, then we are going to play some opera in May, in the summer we make another series of summer concerts, and there are even plans to record and to tour. Since the group started so organically we are still in the beginning stages of figuring out all the tasks and responsibilities needed to make these projects happen. Luckily we have managed to gather a board for our non-profit, and with Alina taking the huge responsibility of being the general manager, or "intendant" of the orchestra, and me in the much easier role of Artistic Director we are now on a steady way to success. I will keep you posted about the coming plans for the Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra, so check back soon!

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Finland 100 years at the Mariinsky Theatre

Celebrating Finnish music at the Mariinsky Concert Hall

The highlight of my fall season was returning to the Mariinsky Theatre, and since we are celebrating this year 100 years of independent Finland, I could plan a completely Finnish program. We opened the concert with Lemminkäinen's Return from the Four Lemminkäinen Legends by Jean Sibelius, and then a young Japanese-American violinist Mayumi Kanagawa played the Sibelius violin concerto. The second half was Einojuhani Rautavaara's 7th symphony "Angel of Light", which I wanted to include to commemorate the composer's passing away a bit more than a year ago.

We had a very short and intense rehearsal period with the orchestra, and I was happy to see them like Rautavaara so much. Another happy surprise was, that the hall was sold out. St. Petersburg public seems to be curious about Finnish music! I was also happy about the record number of my personal friends who decided to attend this concert in St. Petersburg - some of them even came all the way from Finland.

Surprise debut in Vladikavkaz


Since the beginning of September this year the Vladikavkaz opera theare and its orchestra have been part of the "Mariinsky brand". This is the town where Valery Gergiev spent his childhood, and that's why he has emotional ties to the city. And I think that is the main reason behind this theatre becoming a filial of the Mariinsky Theatre. I had the pleasure to travel to this beautiful part of Russia and conduct my debut there. It all happened very fast. Just two weeks prior I was asked if I am available for an "all Mozart concert" and the final confirmation came just one week before.

The orchestra performs symphonic concerts in a former catholic church which has been renovated and made into a concert hall which seats approximately 300 people. Their opera theatre has also undergone a recent renovation, but I had no time to check it out. Our program was "Impresario" overture, violin concerto No. 3 with a local young soloist Ilya Bekoev, and symphony No. 39. The theatre did a great job on advertising, there were big posters all around town, and the hall was full of enthusiastic public (I even gave autographs after the concert). The day after the concert I had some free time and could go out of town to see the Caucasus mountains a bit closer by. I hope to visit this beautiful region many more times.

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