G.P.

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Wednesday 13 July 2016

My Comeback to Pori Sinfonietta

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Rehearsing Mendelssohn with the Sibelius competition winner Christel Lee

Pori Sinfonietta holds a very special place in my heart, because it was with this orchestra that I conducted my graduation concert when I finished my studies with Leif Segerstam at the Sibelius Academy (this was after my studies in St. Petersburg). I had already conducted several Russian orchestras, but my first full classical concert with a Finnish professional orchestra was in Pori back in 2007. Then my soloist was the up and coming clarinet virtuoso Olli Leppäniemi.

I did not return to conduct in Pori for over nine years, but when I returned it felt all worth the wait. My soloist this time was the recent Sibelius Violin Competition winner Christel Lee, whom I had met once before, when she played in the festival orchestra at the Great Mountains Music Festival in Korea in 2014. This competition being very popular in Finland, the ticket sales took off right away. When it was showtime we heard that some extra chairs were carried in, but still some people had to be turned away from the door!

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Sold out hall. A job well done.

Christel played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in the first half, and the second half was Beethoven's 3rd symphony "Eroica". This symphony is very close to my heart and I have performed it several times before - really a cornerstone of the western musical heritage. That night I was also very proud of the Pori Sinfonietta musicians for all their hard work through the rehearsals, because at the concert we really took off with this piece. I could not have wished for more for my comeback to Pori. Let's hope I'll be back sooner than in 9 years this time!

Tuesday 12 July 2016

World Premiere in Bilkent

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My first debut this year was with Bilkent Symphony Orchestra in Ankara, Turkey, and with a French program (Chausson Poème, Ravel Daphnis & Chloe) plus a world premiere, "Töresel Çeşitlemeler" by Turkish composer İlhan Baran. Working on a never-before-heard piece is always a lot of work, since especially with modern music it is very hard to imagine the end result before you actually hear it. Luckily we had a lot of rehearsals, and also I got help from Dr. Mahir Cetiz who had helped the elderly composer to finish his orchestration of the piece. Given Baran's reputation our performance was considered a major musical event in Turkey - it was attended by a lot of composers and we got a lot of press afterwards.

Also the French half of the program was all firsts to me - the Daphnis & Chloe suite I had studied during my conservatory years, but never performed before. For Chausson's Poème my violin soloist was the lovely Rachel Kolly d'Alba.

This was my first proper visit to Turkey in general, and just at the moment when there were a lot of political tensions in the air - especially with Russia. My trip happened without any commotion, luckily, and I even was rehearsing in two languages, English and Russian, since so many musicians came from the former Soviet Union and were more comfortable hearing Russian. The orchestra took very good care of me and the atmosphere was positive throughout. I hope to return to Bilkent soon - maybe with a Finnish program?

Monday 11 July 2016

My 8th International Conducting Masterclass - Midwinter in Mikkeli

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This January I taught my traditional winter masterclass in Mikkeli for the fourth time, and had altogether eight participants - four from Finland, four from the United States. Two participants took part in my masterclass in Texas last year, but the rest were first timers. As I usually like to do it on my masterclasses, we had orchestra rehearsals at the daytime, and in the evening we worked with my favorite masterclass pianist Taru, trying to get the technical details and basics of conducting exactly right. This way we don't need to waste valuable orchestra time in solving elementary problems, and can concentrate on communication, rehearsing, and simply looking professional when we are in front of the orchestra. The masterclass culminated in two concerts where everyone could perform some masterpieces of the string orchestra repertoire.

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For people who come from warmer countries Finnish winter can be exotic, or even extreme. This winter I wanted to give a little bonus to my American students, and decided to take everyone ice swimming before the second concert. Next to the concert hall there is a little pond which of course is frozen since the temperatures get under -20 Celsius, but there is an ice hole for the local ice swimming club. Luckily our principal cello is a member, so we could all go and take a little dip in the icy water. I was very proud of my American guests who bravely followed the Finns into the water!

Thursday 26 May 2016

My Mariinsky debut - Sibelius 150

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Clara-Jumi Kang playing the Sibelius concerto

The absolute highlight of my year and a longtime dream come true was when maestro Valery Gergiev invited me to conduct an all Sibelius concert with the Mariinsky Orchestra as part of the celebrations of Jean Sibelius' 150th birthday in December. This was the orchestra I had been wanting to conduct since my student times at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and now I could do my debut with them in such a high profile event, which would be also webcast all around the world. I could also choose the soloist myself, and luckily my first choice was available - Clara-Jumi Kang who made a big impression in last summer's Tchaikovsky competition came to perform the Sibelius violin concerto with me.

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Before the dress rehearsal at the Mariinsky Concert Hall

I started my program with the seldom played Karelia Overture (not to be confused with the Karelia Suite, although the Mariinsky music librarian did just that). For the second half I chose Sibelius' Symphony No. 6 which has for a long time been my favorite among his symphonies. The rehearsal time was really at a premium - I have not been under this kind of stress fighting against the clock since my rehearsals with the Cleveland Orchestra when I was their assistant conductor! Nevertheless the concert was a big success and even the hall was sold out. I really loved working with such great players, and luckily I was immediately re-invited for another concert in 2016.

For those who want to take a look at the concert, it is available for viewing on RuTube. I am also giving a short interview (mostly in Russian!) during the intermission.

Monday 23 May 2016

Return to Siberia

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After performing Shostakovich 2nd cello concerto with Nikolay Shugaev

This season I also could return to Krasnoyarsk after my memorable debut there last year with Vadim Repin. The weather was unusually warm for November, I was told, so I still haven't experienced a proper Siberian winter. My program this time was Smetana's Bartered Bride overture, Shostakovich 2nd cello concerto with a young and brilliant Russian cellist Nikolay Shugayev, and the 6th symphony of Jean Sibelius, which currently is my favorite. The Krasnoyarsk Symphony Orchestra (which also goes by the name of Siberian State Symphony Orchestra) is very nice to work with, and there is always a great energy in our concerts. I would love to come back soon again!

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