Ready to begin our first rehearsal at Alpensia. Happy Finnish musicians! (photo by Mario Pak)

The highlight of my summer - and actually the highlight of my whole first season with St. Michel Strings - was the trip to the 10th Great Mountains Music Festival in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This year's festival theme was "Northern Lights" and we were extremely happy and proud to be chosen to represent Nordic artists on this festival which attracts some of the best musicians in Asia and in the world.

The hospitality we encountered during this trip was something we could not have prepared for, starting with direct flight from Helsinki to Seoul and staying at a 5-star hotel in Seoul before coming to Pyeongchang and to the Alpensia resort (home of the 2018 Winter Olympics). Same treatment continued there in the beautiful mountain surroundings. I was also so happy to see my players appreciate the traditional Korean cuisine which I myself have been very fond of since my first visit.

St. Michel Strings playing the opening concert of the festival at Alpensia Concert Hall

For this trip we had packed some of the best scores of Nordic music with us. We opened the festival's Distinguished Artists Concert Series at Alpensia Concert Hall with Grieg's Holberg Suite, then delved into the rustic tones of Rautavaara's Fiddlers, and concluded our performance with Wirén's Serenade - a neo-classical gem of the string orchestra literature. We were aided in this first concert by some excellent Korean string players and we were really sorry that we could not take them home to Finland with us after the festival (we tried).

GMMFS Symphony Orchestra playing Sibelius Finlandia at Alpensia Music Tent

The other concert venue at the festival is the Alpensia Music Tent, and there we performed a big symphonic concert with the GMMFS Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra was a happy combination of Finnish musicians from my orchestra and the Fantasia Quintet, and Korean musicians from different orchestras in Korea and abroad. With this group we performed a very varied program: Leifs Icelandic Dances, Marcello oboe concerto (with Concertgebouw principal oboe Alexey Ogrintchouk), Poulenc Gloria (with Korean National chorus and the wonderful soprano Hyunah Yu), the world premiere of Danielpour The Songs of a Wandering Darveesh, a selection of Verdi opera choruses, and Sibelius Finlandia. I cannot praise enough the excellent Korean National Chorus which surprised us all with their beautiful Finnish pronunciation in Finlandia Hymn.

We also performed at several venues outside of Alpensia resort. During the two weeks of our stay we performed altogether six concerts - all but one to capacity audiences! Our rehearsal and performance schedule was pretty intense, but we still managed to go to many wonderful concerts at the festival and hear superb performances from players like Jian Wang, Roberto Diaz, Kevin Kenner, Clara-Jumi Kang, Paul Huang, the Novus Quartet and of course the artistic directors Myung-Wha and Kyung-Wha Chung.

Final concert of the festival at the Music Tent. Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Kyung-Wha Chung and Maxim Rysanov

At the final concert of the festival St. Michel Strings first played a selection of Sibelius string orchestra pieces, and then we got back together with some of the best young Korean musicians to form the orchestra for Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with soloists Kyung-Wha Chung in violin and Maxim Rysanov in viola. It was such a fun and lively performance with these two charming players! After the concert it was time for sentimental goodbyes. We really loved every moment of our stay and we all made many friends among the musicians, staff and interns we worked with during the two weeks. But, sadly, we had to take our flight back to Finland the next morning. We certainly hope to come back to Korea soon! Thanks for inviting us to the Great Mountains Music Festival - the time we spent there this summer was simply unforgettable!