Last week I attended the 36th Nordic Orchestra Conference which took place this year in Helsinki, Finland. Most orchestras from Scandinavia and Finland were represented, and we had also some guests from Baltic countries as well. I was there as representative of my orchestra, St. Michel Strings, but I noticed that I am a bit of an odd bird in the middle of all the administrative people! Except for me, there was only one other musician taking part, the principal oboist from Kymi Sinfonietta which I conducted just a month ago. The participants were mostly intendants, general managers and marketing people. Also some people from artist management agencies took part.

The main themes of the conference seemed to be on the other hand the Asian music market, and on the other hand the new trends in digital media, downloading and streaming.

On the first day of the conference we heard Matti Raekallio tell about the recent influx of highly skilled Chinese and Korean pianists coming to study in the US. He said already 80% of his students are now either from Asia or born in the US of Asian immigrant parents. The reasons to this upsurge in numbers are the fact that classical music is now really in the vogue in China, and on the other hand traditionally brought up children are more likely to spend time in the practice room compared to their western peers... We also heard about the huge volume of music students in China - millions and millions of piano students guarantee that the top is wider than in the west.

On the second conference day we heard first some interesting information about the Danish commercial radio channel Radio Klassisk and how it works with the Danish orchestras. Then we had the keynote speech from American writer and blogger Alex Ross. After him we were supposed to have a panel discussion about "Surviving the Trends" but I have to say that was the low point of the otherwise great conference. The moderator (let him stay anonymous) used this opportunity to showcase himself and crack politically incorrect jokes, and he hardly let anyone else speak. The day finished with a presentation about the legal aspects of downloads and streaming, after which we had a bus tour around Helsinki and a fancy dinner at Kulosaari Casino.

The third day was the most interesting, and it started with the President of the China Symphony Development Foundation and the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras, madame Guo Shan telling us about the growing classical music scene in China. We hear lots of interesting details, like the fact that China has around 60 symphony orchestras and the same number of concert halls, and a further 50 concert halls are in the works. We also learned about the audience, which is mostly young people, and about the ticket prices that are very high compared to the average salary, but nevertheless the concerts are frequently sold out. Her presentation was followed by miss Chui-Inn Lee's presentation which concentrated around touring Asia and the concert scene in Hong Kong and Macao. For several interesting reasons the classical music market in Hong Kong is so saturated that there is actually plans to build a new performance center just to respond to the growing demand of live classical concerts. I wish we had similar problems in the west!

The two last presentations of the day were an economist's view on "Who Should Pay" for classical music, and a description of the Sibelius 150 celebrations in 2015. After that the delegates could enjoy a concert of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the first concert of the new Helsinki Music Centre Chorus. All in all, the conference was a very positive experience and I made several new friends during the three days in Helsinki. Looking forward to the next event already!