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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!

Saturday 12 November 2016

In Pärnu, again!


After enjoying the sunny Lissabon I returned back to the northeast of Europe, and my next concert was with the Pärnu City Orchestra. Pärnu is of course a familiar destination to me, since I have taught there several conducting masterclasses (the latest just a month before!) and performed there in a joint concert with my former orchestra St Michel Strings. In my cellist past I also visited Pärnu in the ranks of a Finnish-Estonian orchestra called Sinfonietta Odysseus.


The program for this concert was just great. The opener was "Orawa" by the Polish composer Kilar, and this is one of those crowd pleasers that are not so interesting to rehearse (because the idiom is minimalistic) but that really catches fire in the concert. For a long time I had wanted to program this piece, but in Mikkeli there was never a chance to do it. After that we performed Shostakovich piano concerto No. 1, with the trumpet player of the orchestra Karl Vakker, and a young promising Estonian pianist Johan Randvere, who happened to take part in my conducting masterclass in Pärnu a year ago.

I opened the second half with Glazunov's Serenade No. 2 for a small orchestra, and the final piece was Mozart's symphony No. 40. This famous symphony has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager, but this was really the first time I could conduct it in a concert, despite conducting it during my studies both in Russia and Finland and even assisting the late Kurt Masur in Paris when he conducted it. I was so happy finally to perform it, and the Pärnu orchestra did a great job with it. I hope to return to Pärnu many times in the future, both for great standard repertoire like Mozart, and new discoveries like Kilar.

Thursday 20 October 2016

PRÉMIO JOVENS MÚSICOS - Portugal’s national conducting competition

The jury giving feedback to the finalists

This fall I had my first chance to travel to Portugal, when composer Luís Tinoco contacted me and invited me to be a juror in the Prémio Jovens Músicos conducting competition. This competition has existed already from year 1987, but it has earlier only had categories for solo performers and ensembles. This year, to celebrate the 30th edition of the competition, a conducting competition was organized for the first time. It proved to be the most popular of all categories with 33 applications. Based on their application videos 12 young conductors were chosen to appear in front of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra and a four member jury.

Besides myself, the jurors were Jean-Marc Burfin, a French conductor who has made Portugal his home for a long time already, Joana Carneiro who is probably the most well known Portuguese conductor at the moment, and 90-year old Madame Teresa de Macedo who also was a patroness of the whole competition.

The first round included music from Debussy’s Afternoon of the Faun and Beethoven’s first symphony, and the participants all had 15 minutes to conduct without rehearsing the orchestra. Even though the time was short we could get a very good picture of each competitor’s manual skills, expressive capabilities and their podium charisma. With my experience of about a dozen competitions I thought the level was very high. From this round we chose six to go to the semi-finals and the decision was almost unanimous. The jury also had an advisory orchestra vote to help in the decision after every round.

Nuno Coelho da Silva, 1st prize

The next day we heard six candidates conduct the first movement of the Saint-Saëns cello concerto with Marco Pereira as soloist, and then we heard for the first time some rehearsing in varied repertoire (decided by lottery after the previous round). This time we could notice clear differences in the preparedness of the candidates, mainly judging by their technical solutions. The pieces were all standard repertoire (Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert) so in my opinion you should really use tried and tested methods when it is about a competition, and ask your professor or older colleagues for some advice. This time the jury was unanimous when it was time to decide who goes to the finals.

José Eduardo Gomes, 2nd prize

The final round was very interesting, and we heard for the first time a Portuguese classic - a freely chosen movement from João Domingos Bomtempo’s first symphony. The other repertoire we heard was Beethoven’s Eroica and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and some more Saint-Saëns cello concerto. This time it was not so easy to come to an agreement within the jury, because every candidate showed very good potential (and all of them actually work in the profession already), but they were so different that a fair comparison between them was really hard to make. Finally we decided to give the main prize to Nuno Coelho da Silva, the second prize plus a special orchestra favorite prize to José Eduardo Gomes and the third prize to Jan Wierzba. Congratulations!

Jan Wierzba, 3rd prize

After the competition I stayed for a while in Lissabon to enjoy the warm weather and go to some museums. I also went to listen to the opening concerts of the Festival Jovens Músicos in both the jazz category and the classical soloist category. The concerts were held in the hall of the Gulbenkian Foundation, which is a very interesting actor in the Portuguese cultural and scientific scenes, and this foundation also has a very good orchestra which accompanied the young soloists. Much could be written about Portuguese classical music scene, but I hope to do it when I have a chance to go back and learn more about it!

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