In summer 1882, on his return from Germany, Robert Kajanus was strolling down Helsinki’s Esplanade in the company of Martin Wegelius when they spotted Waldemar Klärich, a wealthy merchant, in the Kappeli Restaurant. Klärich was a friend of Wegelius’s, and thereupon introduced Kajanus to Klärich, reckoning that the latter might be inclined to help found a new orchestra in Helsinki. Klärich did agree to finance an embryo orchestra, but only with the support of Nikolai Sinebrychoff, a renowned patron of the arts. Luckily, Kajanus managed to talk Sinebrychoff into seconding the idea, and steps could thus be taken to initiate the practical arrangements.
Kajanus himself contributed an initial sum equal to that put up by Klärich; among other things he charged no fee for conducting the orchestra in its first year. The orchestra gave its first concert on 3.10.1882. Among the items on the programme was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
Some of the players were recruited from Helsinki’s former amateur orchestras, the last of which had been disbanded in spring 1882, but most of them came from abroad – from St. Petersburg, the Baltic lands and Germany. Only one of the wind players in the first ensemble was a Finn, since most of the trained Finnish musicians at that time were string players.
Histories of the orchestra give the impression that foreign musicians were hired for the simple reason that there were not enough good Finnish ones available; not until 1882 was the first music college proper founded in Finland. The hiring of foreign musicians would, however, cause friction in the future among the players and, specially, the Finnish Musicians’ Union, since the Finnish musicians regarded it as an insult and an excuse to pay low wages.
To begin with, the orchestra mostly gave ‘popular’ concerts, but not to the exclusion of symphony concerts. The latter were mainly held in the University Hall and the former at the Seurahuone (‘Assembly Rooms’, nowadays Helsinki City Hall) or at the since demolished Fire Station Hall.
Source: Einari Marvia & Matti Vainio – Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri 1882–1982