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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!

Sunday 3 April 2016

My 7th International Conducting Masterclass in Pärnu, Estonia

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Hands-on teaching, Arash Ertefai in the hot seat.

In November I traveled to Pärnu for the second time to teach an international conducting masterclass with the Pärnu City Orchestra. This time I had five lucky conducting students who shared the rehearsals and the concert. The program was Schubert's 6th symphony, Mozart's violin concerto No. 2 - with Lila Watanabe as soloist - and some classical overtures. Besides working with the orchestra, we had feedback sessions with videos every evening, and on top of that (as always on my masterclasses) we spent time together during lunches and dinners and continued the discussion about conducting technique, rehearsing, developing a career etc.

The masterclass got very good publicity in Estonia. We were featured in the local newspaper, but also in the Estonian Russian language news, and you can see some rehearsal footage on their website. The Pärnu City Orchestra did an excellent job as a workshop orchestra - I hope to return to Pärnu soon again with my students.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Back in the R.F.

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Conducting my first concert in St. Petersburg since seven years

After my concerts in Mikkeli I headed to east across the border, to my favorite city St. Petersburg. I was invited to perform a Scandinavian program with the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, which was better known as "Martynov's Orchestra" during my studies. For a long time it was headed by the formidable Ravil Martynov, whose son Timur Martynov is currently the principal trumpet of the Mariinsky Orchestra.

My program opened with Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture, the concerto was Grieg Piano Concerto with a young Russian virtuoso Arseny Mun, and the program ended with the magnificent second symphony of Jean Sibelius. This for me was the first time conducting the second symphony, although it was one of the first scores I studied when I first got excited about conducting, and I had also played it a couple of times in the cello section as a student.

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Arseni Mun and the SPBSSO

Our first performance was in the White Hall of the St. Petersburg Technical University. I never imagined this kind of "mini-filharmonia" could exist so far from the centre of the city, and I was even more delighted to see the hall full to the last seat. I gave also an interview which you can read parts of on the official website of the White Hall.

The following day we performed the same program in the palace of Beloselskih-Belozerskih at the Nevsky Prospekt. Again, the hall was sold out and some extra chairs were carried in the hall. One friend of mine had to attend to the concert standing! It felt great to be back working in St. Petersburg and make contact with the cultured and enthusiastic public of the Cultural Capital of the Russian Federation.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Mikkeli highlights

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Joonatan Rautiola receives 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.

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