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Monday 24 December 2018

Return to Vladikavkaz


At the beginning of March, I was invited back to the State Orchestra of Northern Ossetia-Alania in Vladikavkaz. Last time the theme was "all Mozart", and this time it was "all Mendelssohn", so I chose the Hebrides Overture and the 4th Symphony, "Italian", and an artist from the orchestra, Elena Khatagova, played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

Again I felt very welcome and appreciated by the orchestra, and the local TV was at my rehearsals to interview me. They made a little feature about me, "Sasha Mäkilä na bis", which you can see here.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Teaching a conducting masterclass in Helsinki


This February I organised a conducting masterclass for the first time in Helsinki. This winter masterclass replaced my traditional Mikkeli workshop, and although the surroundings in Helsinki are not as picturesque as around Mikaeli Concert Centre (ice swimming and all), there was a big interest towards the masterclass nevertheless. Maybe Helsinki as a location just seems easier to reach for the international students! Altogether nine students from all around Europe took part.


We held the masterclass in three locations, at Koskela church where we had the daily rehearsals, at Käpylä music school where we had the technique sessions with our amazing faculty pianist Taru, and at the Helsinki Conservatory where we could use their superb hall for the final concert. The masterclass orchestra was the recently founded Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra, which proved to be a super nice and motivated instrument for the students.


This was my 13th international conducting masterclass so far, and the experience was so good, that I am planning to continue giving the masterclasses in Helsinki with the HMO.

Photos by Rauha Mäkilä

Monday 26 November 2018

French music in Pärnu


Right after returning from Krasnoyarsk I traveled to Pärnu, where I regularly work with the Pärnu City Orchestra. This time my program was with French flavour, with a Pärnu-born saxophone soloist Ivo Lille playing the Glazunov saxophone concerto and Ibert Concertino. The other pieces in the program were Honegger's Pastorale d'ete and Bizet's Symphony in C. A day before our concert the orchestra manager dragged me to a local pub for a pop music quiz! Do I even need to say that our team lost?

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.

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