This summer I managed to organize two conducting masterclasses, one in Pärnu, Estonia, and one more in Mikkeli, Finland in cooperation with the Gergiev Festival Mikkeli. I had visited the Pärnu City Orchestra once before, but not as a conductor - I actually played cello with them in a joint concert with Finnish and Estonian musicians! But that was my previous life, more than ten years ago...

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Karl Tjensvoll from Norway conducting the Pärnu City Orchestra

For my 3rd International Conducting Masterclass in May 18-24 the students came from seven different countries from all over the world just like the last time. We had the Pärnu City Orchestra at our disposal for five rehearsals plus the concert, and every student got plenty of podium time. In addition we met in the afternoons to discuss conducting technique more in depth. The repertoire was very mainstream: Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro overture, Mozart's Violin concerto No. 4, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and Beethoven's 7th Symphony. A nice bonus was that we were able to practice accompaniments every day with the violinist Lila Watanabe.

Pärnu is a very charming city, and it is a hugely popular summer destination especially for Finns who want to enjoy the spas and the seaside. Next year I hope to attract more of the visiting Finns to our concert! Pärnu City Orchestra played very well for both the rehearsals and the final concert, and I really thank them for creating a good atmosphere for the masterclass. Also the administration headed by Tõiv Tiits was very helpful throughout the week. I will be glad to return to Pärnu next year with my students.

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Opening the Gergiev Festival Mikkeli in the Hirvensalmi church

A month later I came back to Mikkeli to first prepare a concert with my orchestra the St. Michel Strings, and teach my 4th International Conducting Masterclass in June 27 - July 3. The students arrived early enough to hear my rehearsal and the opening concert of the Gergiev Festival Mikkeli (Mikkelin musiikkijuhlat) which we played in the Hirvensalmi Church near Mikkeli. My program was Rautavaara's Divertimento and his Ostrobothnian Polska, Borodin's Nocturne, and Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. The acoustics of the church were very pleasant and we had a hugely supportive audience that did not let us out before we had repeated the Borodin.

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Ayrton Desimpelaere from Belgium working with St. Michel Strings

Next day I started working with my students who again represented four different countries in the world. Surprisingly, no Finnish students attended this time even though the workshop took place in Finland and we had a lot of perks! By perks I mean that this time the masterclass coincided with the Gergiev Festival, and I had specially asked a permission to take my students to Valery Gergiev's rehearsals and concerts provided there were unsold seats in the hall. Because of this arrangement there was no time for my usual afternoon piano sessions, but on one day the brilliant young pianist Martin Malmgren agreed to be the "orchestra simulator" for a technique session.

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Preparing to show the Mariinsky Theatre team how we play soccer in Finland

All in all this was a very fun masterclass, and on top of all musical challenges we also risked our health in a football (soccer) match between the Mikkeli festival team and the Mariinsky Theatre musicians (Mikkeli won by the way!). We also supported the local ethnic restaurants and practiced the good Eastern European tradition of giving long toasts at the table. Hopefully the festival would agree to a similar arrangement next year - it was a huge treat to hear Gergiev rehearse a world class orchestra and hear concerts with artists like Denis Matsuev, Leonidas Kavakos, Alexander Toradze, Sergey Khachatryan and Narek Hakhnazaryan.

Our masterclass concert concluded the festival and it was very well attended. All the students did an excellent job in the concert - and so did St. Michel Strings which again was a very nice and cooperative workshop orchestra. Special thanks to Seojung Park who agreed to play the Mendelssohn D minor violin concerto so that we could again practice accompaniments.

After I wrapped the masterclass up I returned home for luxurious five weeks off! In the meantime it would be nice to read the impressions of the masterclass participants and the festival audience, so feel free to submit some comments to this entry. Have a great summer everyone!