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Wednesday 25 January 2017

Finnish music with the Finnish Guards Band


My first concert this year was very special, because it was with the Finnish Guards Band. It is not only the flagship orchestra of the Finnish Armed Forces, but it also boasts being the oldest Finnish orchestra still active, being founded in 1819.


For this concert I was asked to compile a Finnish program, since this year Finland celebrates 100 years of independence and this concert opened the classical series of the Finnish Guards Band. My program was not completely Finnish anyway, since I wanted to take a historical approach and somehow take into account our neighbors Russia and Sweden. So, in addition of the Finnish pieces by Sibelius, Merikanto, Pisto and Eerola we performed the very original piano concerto of the Russian-born Igor Stravinsky, with a Swedish soloist, my friend Martin Malmgren.


The concert week was very intense, since I was working just ever so slightly outside my comfort zone. The wind orchestra is a very specific instrument and you have to know something about the issues of balance, timbre, dynamics, stamina of the players etc. The seating is different, the scores look different and so on. But these players (of whom I know many personally) are such a joy to work with that in the end I was very happy with the result. The audience seemed to agree with me - the Temple Church was again packed, and I was happy to see so many friends during the intermission and after the concert.

Photos by Marko Nevanperä/Finnish Armed Forces

Saturday 21 January 2017

Continuing the winter masterclass tradition in Mikkeli

With my students before the final concert

One thing has stayed the same during the past five years, and that is my traditional winter masterclass in Mikkeli. When I count all my masterclasses this is already the 11th I am teaching (in addition I have taught two summer masterclasses in Mikkeli, three masterclasses in Pärnu, Estonia, and one in Texas). I had five talented students come from Finland, the US, Switzerland and Poland this time, and we worked hard for six days. During this time we held four evening sessions with the faculty pianist Taru, five orchestra rehearsals and two concerts, one in Ristiina and the other in Mikkeli. In addition we spent a lot of time together sharing lunches and dinners, talking about music and life, and practicing giving our toasts (another tradition of mine). The program was all Nordic - Grieg, Rautavaara, Sibelius, Nielsen.

It is no secret that I really enjoy teaching conducting. I think, having had so many great teachers it is my duty to try to pass on the knowledge and experience I have acquired. I always welcome everyone on my masterclasses regardless of what kind of groups they conduct - whether it is a kids' string group or a professional symphony orchestra. And I applaud the courage of people who come, especially if they are no longer students. To me it is wonderful that people who already are experienced and working out there want to update their knowledge and learn new skills.

Did you attend my masterclass during past five years? What did you think? I am curious to see if my students have noticed some trends or special emphasis in my teaching. You can comment below.

Thursday 19 January 2017

My year 2016 in conducting


It is again time to look back at the previous year and remember all the exciting travels, concerts, cooperations and friendships that happened in 2016. I actually noticed that last year I forgot to write the summary of my concert activities in 2015, which is a pity since that was the year when I made my comeback to St. Petersburg and when I also conducted my Mariinsky Theatre debut which meant a lot to me personally. But that was the year when I was in general very lazy in updating my blog. Apologies, as usual.

My 2016 started like so many years before, with my traditional winter masterclass in Mikkeli. This time the improvement was that we got to conduct two masterclass concerts, one in a small town nearby, and one in Mikkeli in the big hall. I also made my conducting students try ice swimming in the pond next to the hall. A truly Finnish experience! This year I held two more masterclasses, a summer masterclass in Mikkeli and another in Pärnu.

I conducted some debuts with new orchestras, in Ankara, Turkey, and in Busan, South Korea, and returned to Pori Sinfonietta after a ten year break (and broke their audience record at the same time!). I invited some excellent soloists to my orchestra St. Michel Strings to celebrate my last season with them, and we joined forces with orchestras in Lappeenranta and Kuopio to present symphonic music to our Mikkeli audience.

One really great experience worth mentioning was conducting ballet for the first time in my life. A big thanks goes to my former teacher Peter Gribanov for inviting me to substitute for him for a week with the St. Petersburg Tchaikovsky Ballet. The other highlight of the year was returning to the Mariinsky Theatre less than a year after my debut.

The year was not without its shadows and one of the bigger ones was parting ways with St. Michel Strings. I truly enjoyed working in Mikkeli for the past four years, and our list of accomplishments is impressive. We attracted more local audience and made everyone in Finland aware of our existence. We traveled twice to Asia together. We started regular concert webcasts. We started new cooperation projects with conservatories and other orchestras both in Finland and abroad. The profile of our soloists was truly international, including such stars as Jian Wang and Clara-Jumi Kang, and we also regularly cooperated with singers and instrumentalists from the Mariinsky Theatre. For four years in a row we were guest performers at the Gergiev Festival Mikkeli (and coincidentally, the orchestra is not featured in the festival program in 2017). But as things went, not everyone agreed with my vision for the orchestra or the ways of realising it, and in those cases one way forward is to change the captain of the ship.

The second half of my year 2016 was spent as a free lancer, and without the administrational, marketing and personnel matters occupying my mind I have again used more time looking into my own methods of working and into the way I see the conducting profession in general. Maybe this thought process will lead into something concrete in 2017. A book, perhaps?

Saturday 31 December 2016

Mariinsky once again

The first rehearsal in the M2 rehearsal room.

The highlight of my year (second year in a row!) was my performance with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra at their new and beautiful concert hall. Just like last year, the rehearsal schedule was extremely tight, but this time just the first rehearsal was in the rehearsal room and already the next day we could rehearse in the proper acoustic.

Rehearsing in the beautiful Mariinsky Concert Hall.

My program was again a dream come true - Smetana's Vltava (or Moldau, as it was known earlier), Bruch 1st Violin concerto (with the Danish violinist Niklas Walentin) and Sibelius' 5th symphony. This symphony is one of his most popular, but still not much played in Russia - they prefer his 1st symphony, and sometimes the 2nd is programmed as well.

At the concert. Sold out hall.

Mariinsky Theatre is doing an excellent job promoting their concerts, and classical music in general. There is always a lot of public, and it seems lots of newcomers to the concerts too judging by how common it is to get applause between the movements of a symphony or a concerto. This time the hall was packed as well, and I was so happy that many of my Russian friends could attend the concert. Next year Finland is celebrating its 100th year of independence - I hope that I can return to Mariinsky with some more Finnish music to celebrate it!

Monday 19 December 2016

Working with Karaganda Symphony Orchestra


This year I was also again invited to conduct the Karaganda Symphony Orchestra in Kazakhstan. The program was quite serious and classical - we opened the concert with Verdi's overture to La forza del destino, and after that a young and talented violinist from Almaty, Aigerim Kartenbaeva played the Mendelssohn violin concerto (I think this was her concerto debut with an orchestra actually). The second half was Brahms' fourth symphony. As is commonplace here, the relatively small Shalkyma concert hall was full to the last seat.

With my soloist Aigerim Kartenbaeva and her teacher

After the concert we raised toasts with some of the players and they were hoping that I keep Karaganda in my schedule for the coming years as well. For my part, it would be wonderful to come back already in 2017 and play some Finnish music to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence!

UPDATE! I also found a little review of our concert - read here!

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