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Thursday 28 January 2016

Mikkeli highlights

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Joonatan Rautiola gets a message from Glazunov

My season 2015-16 took off with three concerts in Mikkeli with St Michel Strings, all of which had some really interesting repertoire in them. First one was the season opener, which we did with just our usual string ensemble. I had again a chance to work with the wonderful Finnish saxophone player Joonatan Rautiola who played the Glazunov concerto. We also played two Mendelssohn string symphonies, and the Sibelius rarity, incidental music to the play "Lizard".

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Timo Riihonen singing Filip's aria from Don Carlo

Our next concert was a collaborative "Saimaa Sinfonietta" effort with the Lappeenranta orchestra, and it was dedicated to the memory of the great Finnish bass singer Martti Talvela. The program was an ambitious mix of opera overtures, and arias sung by the promising young bass Timo Riihonen, and we "unfinished" it with Schubert's B minor symphony. To my memory this was the best Saimaa Sinfonietta concert ever as long as I have heard and conducted these projects - the orchestra was truly on fire!

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Mozart's Requiem in the making

My third concert in Mikkeli required some ingenuity, because we wanted to perform Mozart's Requiem - again with just our string ensemble without hiring any extra players. I made an arrangement for string orchestra myself by re-orchestrating the most important woodwind and brass parts for the strings. I did not take any risks with the solo quartet, but invited people I had worked with before - Anna Immonen, Teppo Lampela (countertenor!), Simo Mäkinen and Janne Sundqvist. The chorus, Cantinovum, came from the nearby city of Jyväskylä.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Orchestra Conductor Summer Holiday Part III

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Despite a lot of music related traveling, I had also time for my hobbies this summer, and this time I want to introduce you to the newest nerdy hobby of mine, naginata. I started this Japanese martial art less than a year ago, because I wanted to complement my aikido training with some other art which uses a weapon. Naginata looked exotic and hard to handle, so I was ready to take on the challenge.

I have been practicing this art in Helsinki Kendo Club which has a small but dedicated group of naginata enthusiasts, and my teacher advertised us a weekend seminar in St. Petersburg with the highest level of Japanese naginata teacher, Sumi Kaoru hanshi. Since I have a Russian visa I decided to give it a try. The seminar itself was three days long, but since I arrived a day early I could take part in a special keiko (practice) at the local dojo, Zanshin and got to know the Russian team a little bit.

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The seminar itself was really fun, and Sumi Kaoru sensei was working very hard with us. We had five to six hours of training both on Saturday and Sunday, including basics, kata practice and practice with bogu (armor). In the end of the seminar there was a little competition too (and unfortunately this time I was left without a medal to bring home).

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During the same weekend I also visited the Mariinsky Theatre, where my old professor Leonid Korchmar was teaching a conducting masterclass. I myself was on the same kind of summer masterclass way back in 2003, which led to my first professional engagement. I was feeling very nostalgic watching my professor initiate the next generation of conductors into the Russian style of conducting.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Summer Festival Flashbacks

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George Li and Valery Gergiev performing at the Mikkeli Festival

After I returned from the US, I stayed in Finland for a few weeks (and celebrated my birthday) before making an impromptu trip to Paris, where I heard both Orchestra National de France and Orchestre de Radio Philharmonique in concert. I also spent time with many of my Parisian friends, and visited Versailles for the first time in my life (the royal gardens were just amazing). After that, the next stop was the 23rd Gergiev Festival in Mikkeli.

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Enjoying football with Mariinsky Theatre musicians. Principal trumpet Timur Martynov on the right.

This summer I was not performing in Mikkeli myself, but I could enjoy listening to a parade of Tchaikovsky competition prize winners, including George Li, Yu-Chien Tseng, Yulia Matochkina and Jonathan Roozeman. The festival treats included the traditional football match (where I decided to play in Mariinsky colours this year) and smoke sauna for artists at Puustellin Paikka. After Mikkeli I rushed on to Savonlinna Opera Festival to hear Boris Godunov with Leif Segerstam and Matti Salmela, and to catch up with many good friends who were working at the festival too.

In St. Petersburg the White Nights festival was still in full bloom, so I of course had to visit the hometown of my conservatory times. I managed to see a great performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Tsar Saltan" at the Mariinsky I (you know, the one with the Flight of the Bumble Bee).

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Lieksa Brass Week, Jacques Mauger, and a world premiere by Timo Forsström

My only proper work this summer was at the Lieksa Brass Week, a brass music festival in the north of Finland, very close to the Russian border. There I was entrusted with one world premiere - a trombone concerto by Timo Forsström - and one Finnish first performance, "Motus contrarius" by J-P Lehto. My trombone soloist was the easy-going French virtuoso Jacques Mauger. The orchestra I worked with was the premier amateur symphonic wind ensemble in Finland, Sisu. The whole week was very relaxing and inspiring at the same time, and I was also surrounded by dozens of familiar Finnish brass players I know from different wind bands or from my student years.

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Amused and surprised by my 3rd place in the Lieksa Brass Run 10K

After our concert there was a little postlude before I left Lieksa - the local sports club arranged a 10K race for the first time in connection with the brass festival. I thought it would be fun to take part, and so I did. Even more surprising was that I came 3rd in my age category and returned home with a bronze cup!

Saturday 17 October 2015

Conductors Guild Conference in Boston

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At the Boston Symphony archives with my conductor colleagues

I've been a member of Conductors Guild for at least ten years, and since my appointment in Cleveland I have also served this fine organization as a Board member. Conducting is such a solitary profession that you rarely meet with your colleagues, and that's why I always like to attend the events and conferences of the Conductors Guild - even though these days it means overseas travel to me. This time I managed to schedule my masterclass in Texas very close to this year's conference in Boston and could make it there during the same trip.

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At Cirque de la Symphonie

This time the conference schedule was packed with interesting things and people. We started with a tour to the Boston Symphony archives, followed by a keynote speech by Keith Lockhart, then a meeting with Benjamin Zander, and finally a performance of "Cirque de la Symphonie" with Boston Pops.

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Diana Burgin telling about his father Richard Burgin

The second day was full of presentations, and the one I enjoyed the best was by Diana Burgin, telling about the life of his father and a long time concert master of BSO, Richard Burgin. Before Boston Richard Burgin was also a concert master of the Helsinki Philharmonic in Finland. I guess musicians' world has always been small. We also tried an interesting software called Notion, which can be used in teaching conducting.

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George Clinton explaining ins and outs of movie soundtrack conducting

There was also a mini-workshop with George Clinton about conducting movie soundtracks. This is an interesting sub-category of conducting which works completely by its own rules. You are subservient to click track and the picture, and efficiency is more important than ever because studio time is involved. It reminded me of my experience conducting for screen in Aspen back in 2009. I wouldn't mind doing this kind of work too, now and then!

Being based in Europe now I don't know how often I'll have a chance to attend Guild events in the future, but if you are a conductor or a conducting student living in the US, I strongly recommend you to join the organization. You will meet cool people and see and hear interesting and helpful things that will help you grow as a conductor.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Long time no blog

It's been way too long since my last post, so I really need to renew my promises both to myself and to my readers. Don't give up hope - there will be new content soon! I did some nice projects during the summer and in the beginning of this season, so I will start by uploading some photos, plus doing my traditional summer holiday write-up as well. According to the blog statistics I still get around 150 hits every day, so it seems to me that I have written some content that is of interest to my fellow musicians. Whenever I update I have gotten over 300 hits/day for some time, so I guess I also have some pretty regular readers! That makes my happy but I also feel the heavy responsibility on my shoulders. So, once again my sincere apologies for not posting new entries. I'll fix it soon!

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