Osmo Vänskä (b. 1953), if anyone, is more than familiar with the workings of a symphony orchestra, having first made a career as a clarinettist with the Turku Philharmonic and later as principal clarinet in the HPO. Turning to conducting and entering the class of Jorma Panula in 1977, he went on to win the Besançon competition for young conductors and was soon receiving invitations to conduct more and more orchestras. In 1988 he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, a post he would hold for 20 years. Under him, the orchestra and its annual Sibelius Festival won increasing international acclaim as a “small-town wonder”. His commitment to his orchestras has by no means dwindled with time. Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra for over 15 years, he stuck with the orchestra when the management locked out the musicians in a longstanding labour dispute, and in 2015 he took the orchestra on a tour to Cuba – the first Western orchestra to do so. The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra has announced that Osmo Vänskä will be its next Music Director for a term beginning in January 2020.
Finnish violinist Eriikka Maalismaa is already familiar to HPO audiences from the ten years she spent with it, some of them as co-leader, but in the past three years she has freelanced at European festivals and with, among others, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. She also runs a concert series and a festival in Finland and will begin streaming home concerts next year. The Schumann disc she released last year with pianist Emil Holmström has won great acclaim.
The Violin Concerto by Veli Kujala was commissioned by the HPO at her suggestion; as a member of the Jousia Ensemble she had played in the premiere of his organ concerto and been very impressed. Kujala had, he said, always wanted to compose a concerto for the violin, too, and Maalismaa gave him a free hand to do just what he liked.
In the autumn, when Eriikka Maalismaa is not playing the violin, she’s out picking mushrooms in the forest. As a child, she also contemplated a career in the theatre, and she has always wanted to be an artist, not a player; a performer, not just a musician.
Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome
Almost all the colourful compositions by Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936) have connections with Italian history and culture. The Pines of Rome (1924) is in four movements performed without a break and proceeds chronologically from midday through to morning. The first scene captures children playing under the pines in the Villa Borghese Gardens and imitating soldiers. The Pines near a Catacomb has an air of mystery about it as medieval hymn tunes issue from the depths. The Pines of the Janiculum (Hill) is an impressionist nocturne. The moon is shining and a nightingale is singing, when suddenly Roman soldiers are heard marching along beneath The Pines of the Appian Way, rising to the top of the Capitoline Hill in the bright morning sunshine.
The score specifies a gramophone playing a record of a nightingale, and includes parts for six “buccina” – a brass instrument used in the ancient Roman army. Aware that most orchestras do not possess such instruments, Respighi said that trumpets, for example, could be used instead.
Veli Kujala: Violin Concerto Auseil
Veli Kujala (b. 1976) has gained a solid reputation of an outstanding interpreter of contemporary music on the accordion. In 2010 he completed his Doctor of Music -degree with distinction from the Sibelius-Academy. He is a prizewinner of many international competitions for soloists and for composition in the field of classical music. Kujala’s compositional output covers a wide variety of genres ranging from electro-acoustic to orchestral works. His composer portrait CD ‘Hyperorganism’ (Alba Records) was nominated for the best Finnish classical album of the year 2016. From the beginning of his career Kujala has also been very active in the field of jazz and improvised music, with an open mind upon all genders of popular music, from progressive rock to tango, ethnic music to French chanson. Pipoka, Gourmet sextet and Kalle Kalima K-18 count among the most relevant bands he is involved in.
Kujala has performed as a soloist with ensembles including Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Insomnio, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta with conductors such as Stefan Asbury, Hannu Koivula, Hannu Lintu, Susanna Mälkki, Ari Rasilainen, Dmitri Slobodeniouk and John Storgårds. He has co-operated with a number of contemporary composers and has premiered accordion concertos by Pekka Pohjola, Markus Fagerudd and Olli Virtaperko. Moreover he has premiered concertos by Sampo Haapamäki, Joachim Schneider and Jukka Tiensuu for the quarter-tone accordion; a new instrument, which he developed together with Haapamäki.
Veli Kujala has performed in whole Europe, in major festivals and venues. He has also toured in the USA. Since 2005 Veli Kujala has been teacher of concert accordion and improvisation at the Sibelius-Academy.
His violin concerto Auseil (2019) was a commission from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and is in four movements (Rendezvous, Nocturne, At the Threshold and Post Scriptum: …to aUsEil). The title is an allusion to the horror short story The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) about a strange viola player who lives on the (fictive) Rue d’Auseil and works at a local theatre. The eerie story strongly influenced the mood of the concerto, as did events in Kujala’s own life. The solo part requires scordura tuning, meaning that the violin’s bottom string is tuned a whole tone lower than normal, giving the violin a slightly darker overall sound. “The concerto is dedicated to the fantastic Eriikka Maalismaa,” says Veli Kujala.
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13
The premiere in St. Petersburg in 1897 of the Symphony No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) was a fiasco. The conductor was drunk and had tampered with the score, and the music was much too modern for many in the audience. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov said it had nothing to commend it and César Cui that the rhythms were peculiar and the harmonies sickly and perverse. Rachmaninoff later recalled: “The despair that filled my soul would not leave me. My dreams of a brilliant career lay shattered.” For the next three years he composed nothing at all. Luckily, his second piano concerto of 1901 became a world-wide hit and he decided to revise the symphony. The score got left behind in Russia when he fled from the Revolution and was at some point lost, but the orchestral parts were found soon after his death and the symphony got a second premiere in 1945.
The symphony is dramatic and romantic and seems to be carrying a message. This is borne out by the repetition in each of the four movements of a short motif derived from the Dies Irae melody.