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Friday 19 January 2018

Looking back at 2017

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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.

Monday 15 January 2018

Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra - the new group in town!

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HMO performing in the New Pavillion in Kauniainen

You may remember the concert last summer I wrote about, where 60 enthusiastic musicians from Helsinki region joined me in a free concert in the Rock Church in Helsinki. Then we had the project name of SMO and we did not know whether this project will be a one-off or there will be more concerts. Well, now I am happy to announce that we have a new name for our group, Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra, we have registered a non-profit to support it, and we played two well attended concerts around New Year with 70 players onstage, one in Kauniainen and the second one in Helsinki.

For the program we decided to repeat the Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto which my friend Alina played last summer, and following the wishes of our musicians we played Sibelius symphony No. 5 in the second half. Even though our group is a mix of professionals, music students and amateurs (much like Benjamin Zander's Boston Philharmonic), our pace of rehearsing is professional, and we aim to play on a professional level. The rehearsal process was quite exciting, but everything came together marvelously for the concerts. Especially the second concert in my former place of study, the Helsinki Conservatory, left everyone happy both in the orchestra and in the audience (and the party afterwards was great!).

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With HMO and Alina Sorjonen after Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto

There are many exciting plans in the future for this group - I am going to teach an international conducting masterclass with them in February, then we are going to play some opera in May, in the summer we make another series of summer concerts, and there are even plans to record and to tour. Since the group started so organically we are still in the beginning stages of figuring out all the tasks and responsibilities needed to make these projects happen. Luckily we have managed to gather a board for our non-profit, and with Alina taking the huge responsibility of being the general manager, or "intendant" of the orchestra, and me in the much easier role of Artistic Director we are now on a steady way to success. I will keep you posted about the coming plans for the Helsinki Metropolitan Orchestra, so check back soon!

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Finland 100 years at the Mariinsky Theatre

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Celebrating Finnish music at the Mariinsky Concert Hall

The highlight of my fall season was returning to the Mariinsky Theatre, and since we are celebrating this year 100 years of independent Finland, I could plan a completely Finnish program. We opened the concert with Lemminkäinen's Return from the Four Lemminkäinen Legends by Jean Sibelius, and then a young Japanese-American violinist Mayumi Kanagawa played the Sibelius violin concerto. The second half was Einojuhani Rautavaara's 7th symphony "Angel of Light", which I wanted to include to commemorate the composer's passing away a bit more than a year ago.

We had a very short and intense rehearsal period with the orchestra, and I was happy to see them like Rautavaara so much. Another happy surprise was, that the hall was sold out. St. Petersburg public seems to be curious about Finnish music! I was also happy about the record number of my personal friends who decided to attend this concert in St. Petersburg - some of them even came all the way from Finland.

Surprise debut in Vladikavkaz

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Since the beginning of September this year the Vladikavkaz opera theare and its orchestra have been part of the "Mariinsky brand". This is the town where Valery Gergiev spent his childhood, and that's why he has emotional ties to the city. And I think that is the main reason behind this theatre becoming a filial of the Mariinsky Theatre. I had the pleasure to travel to this beautiful part of Russia and conduct my debut there. It all happened very fast. Just two weeks prior I was asked if I am available for an "all Mozart concert" and the final confirmation came just one week before.

The orchestra performs symphonic concerts in a former catholic church which has been renovated and made into a concert hall which seats approximately 300 people. Their opera theatre has also undergone a recent renovation, but I had no time to check it out. Our program was "Impresario" overture, violin concerto No. 3 with a local young soloist Ilya Bekoev, and symphony No. 39. The theatre did a great job on advertising, there were big posters all around town, and the hall was full of enthusiastic public (I even gave autographs after the concert). The day after the concert I had some free time and could go out of town to see the Caucasus mountains a bit closer by. I hope to visit this beautiful region many more times.

Season opening and rap (!) in Pärnu

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Opening the Pärnu City Orchestra season with Mendelssohn "Scottish"

After returning from Siberia, my next concert was the season opening of Pärnu City Orchestra. I had as my soloist a brilliant young soprano Pelageya Kurennaya, who sang Mozart's concert aria "Bella mia fiamma" and Gliere's concerto for coloratura soprano. The second half of the concert was Mendelssohn's "Scottish" symphony - a work which brings back many memories, since I learned it from Kurt Masur who passed away two years ago.

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Two weeks later I returned to Pärnu for something very different - a concert aimed at youth where the main attraction was the Estonian rapper Kapa! He is clearly very popular in Estonia, because we had a full hall. The orchestra was in string formation, and we were augmented with a band and backing tracks also. In between the rap songs (are they songs?) we performed John Adams' classic Shaker Loops, a work I have been waiting for long time to perform.

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