I am so late with my concert reports, but what the heck, it's Holiday Time! So, exactly one week ago I came back from Mikkeli where I worked with the St Michel Strings. It is a 12-member string ensemble which sometimes performs on their own, sometimes with a guest conductor. This time they wanted to make a Xmas concert with a choir and an organ soloist, so they had to use a conductor. And I am happy that their choice was me!
I worked with some of these players last January, when Lappeenranta City Orchestra joined forces with them to play a very difficult program under my baton. That co-operation was a resounding success, and this invitation was one good thing resulting from that concert.
Organist and chorus master Matti-Veikko Kuusi
This time I did not only have rehearsals with the orchestra, but had rehearsals with the choir as well! Mikkeli Oratory Choir is a 40-strong amateur ensemble which sings a couple of concerts a year. Organist and chorus master Matti-Veikko Kuusi had rehearsed two Buxtehude works (Magnificat and Das neugeborne Kindelein) with them over the past couple of months and I took over two days before our first concert. I have to admit, it was more than a year since I last worked with a choir, but everything went well and the choir made a big progress in a matter of few days!
The program also included some instrumental music: Xmas Concerto by Giuseppe Valentini, Organ Concerto in B-flat Major by Händel (soloist Matti-Veikko Kuusi) and Allelui and Fugue by Allan Hovhaness. I especially enjoyed conducting Hovhaness - a new name for me, even though he had a close relationship with our Sibelius!
We performed the program twice. The first concert was played in the small Hirvensalmi church, where we had to fit the orchestra around the organ at the organ loft, and put the chorus on the side balcony! Poor singers could not rely on what they heard because of the distance, but with a little extra concentration the concert went surprisingly well. The second concert was on their "home ground", the St Michel's Cathedral in Mikkeli. The church was packed with people and everything sounded great!
Singers of the Mikkeli Oratory Choir after a successful concert
I really enjoyed working both with the orchestra and the choir. We had a very short and condensed rehearsal period and the program was nice and short and not too difficult. I am interested to see what happens if I get a chance to conduct something more challenging with the St Michel Strings in the future!