Martti Similä (1898–1958) was a jovial man with a fine sense of humour. The atmosphere at his rehearsals was good and he was a great admirer and friend of Sibelius. He is described as having been an innately musical conductor passionately fond of music who was not too fussy about details. He had a humorous way with words and loved a joke – even the players in his orchestra regarded him first and foremost as a lively musician. Before being appointed conductor of the HPO, he was director of the Finnish Opera from 1927 onwards.
Similä was, however, criticised for being too soft and perfunctory. Under him, the orchestra did not achieve the best possible results, and some reckoned he was too keen to pander to the musicians. In 1951, when his fixed term ended, he transferred to the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
The HPO was, however, very active during Similä’s term in office (1946–1951) : the audience figures rose once the war had ended, as did the number of concerts. In 1947, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra launched its series of Tuesday concerts, thus once again triggering debate over whether there was too much music on offer in the Finnish capital. The HPO’s General Manager, Nils-Eric Ringbom, was this time the chief advocate for combining the HPO and the RSO as a single orchestra, and once again this proposal met with opposition.
Under Similä, the HPO looked increasingly abroad. The number of foreign guest artists rose considerably, and the concert at which both violinist David Oistrakh and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich were both soloists was a major occasion. On the programme was the Sibelius Violin Concerto and a Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto.
Sources: Einari Marvia & Matti Vainio – Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri 1882–1982 & Vesa Sirén – Suomalaiset kapellimestarit.