Susanna Mälkki ja Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri

Bringing long-forgotten orchestra music back to life

The role of the symphony orchestra within the HUOM project

The history of music contains an endless treasure trove of orchestra music that, due to the boundless creativity of composers, has fallen into an enchanted sleep since its premiere – or indeed has never been heard before. What is the significance today of these works that fell by the wayside for one reason or another? The gems that have become established in the orchestral repertoire are most often cherished for good reason, but the sieve of history is not infallible. Whose voices have been forgotten – what have we failed to hear?

The “HUOM! – History’s Unheard Orchestra Music” project is focusing initially on Finnish composer women who produced orchestra music in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The life’s work of these composers has remained unnecessarily unknown to many. The detective work being done by researchers and archives to unearth these unknown works of music is of paramount importance. However, cleaning up and copying these old manuscripts, parts and scores is only the beginning of the road towards being performed.

When the orchestra convenes to rehearse the piece with the conductor, the sheet music is transformed into the physical process of actually playing violins, wind instruments, percussion and harps. This turns the piece into a reality: the sound and overall form of the piece take shape, and the phrases begin to breathe. The live experience of each musician playing the notes is vital, so workshop-based “reading days” are a key component of the HUOM project. Archive manuscripts return to the music stands of musicians, who bring the long-forgotten pieces back to life again.

Music tells us who we are and where we come from. A more diverse, equal and multifaceted picture of history will also lead to a richer musical life in the future. The aim of the HUOM project is to enrich the repertoire of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and other Finnish and international orchestras. Ultimately, a fair assessment of the significance of a composition as an independent work of art can only be made in a concert when the music can be experienced together by the orchestra and conductor, music professionals and the music-loving audiences. Music exists only when it is performed for listeners. It is the ultimate raison d'être of the orchestra.