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Towards the Sky

Thu 09/11/2023 19:00 - 21:00


Pekka Kuusisto gathers Sibelius' birds into the same flock of notes. The solo violin gives character to Pēteris Vasks’ lonely angel.

Swan, robin, peacock, cranes. Pekka Kuusisto gathers Sibelius' birds into the same flock of notes. The solo violin gives character to Pēteris Vasks’ lonely angel, who hovers over the broken world, fretting and tirelessly guarding it. Anna Clyne composed Within Her Arms in memory of her mother, in which grief leads from cutting pain to comfort and peace.

Pekka Kuusisto

Pekka Kuusisto (b. 1976) is one of Finland's most renowned and internationally successful musicians. With the opening of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2023/24 concert season, Kuusisto will begin a three-year term as Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Co-director as a member of the Artistic Leadership Team responsible for planning the programme.

”The planning of this concert season has been a wonderful adventure, and I hope it brings the joy of both discovery and homecoming to our listeners,” Kuusisto says. In the HPO’s concerts, Kuusisto will appear as conductor, violin soloist and lead, meaning he will be conducting the orchestra while playing the violin instead of holding a baton.

Pekka Kuusisto grew up in a musical family and started playing the violin at the age of three. His solo career really kicked off after he won the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in 1995. Since then, his work has taken him at an accelerating pace to all continents throughout the world. His regular workplaces currently include Oslo (Norwegian Chamber Orchestra), Bremen (Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie), Berlin (Mahler Chamber Orchestra) and San Francisco (San Francisco Symphony) – and now also Helsinki.

Pekka Kuusisto is known for his bold and innovative approach, and his repertoire extends from folk music through classical to music that defies genre boundaries. Kuusisto combines, creates new things and moves widely in different art fields, also renewing concert traditions and the interaction between musicians and the audience without detracting from the hard core of tradition, for example as an instrumentalist or – increasingly often – as a conductor.

Kuusisto plays the Antonio Stradivari “Scotta” violin of 1709 generously loaned by a patron through the Tarisio auction house.


Pēteris Vasks: Lonely Angel

Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946) is a Latvian composer of the “sacred minimalist” school in which slowly shifting harmonies and mournful melodies evoke images of spirituality and religiosity. People today, he says, have lost their spiritual dimension. His intention is, in his music, therefore to nourish the soul. Lonely Angel (2006), composed for Gidon Kremer, seeks to spread hope and light in the darkness and is subtitled Meditation for violin and string orchestra. During its composition, Vasks had a special image in mind: “I saw an angel, flying over the world; the angel looks at the world’s condition with grieving eyes, but an almost imperceptible, loving touch of the angel’s wings brings comfort and healing. This piece is my music after the pain. The solo part of the violin lends a sonorous voice to the lonely angel who tirelessly watches over the Earth.”

Janne’s Birdworld

Judging from his diaries, Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) took an almost childlike delight in the sounds of nature, and especially of birds. The best-known manifestation of this is no doubt the theme in the last movement of the fifth symphony, which he sketched after watching the flight of sixteen swans and described as one of the great experiences of his life. The “Birdworld” suite compiled by Pekka Kuusisto presents four birds immortalised by Sibelius in music.


The Scene with Cranes, op. 44 is from the suite arranged by Sibelius from his incidental music (which also includes his famous Valse Triste) to a play called Death by Arvid Järnefelt. The first part of the Scene introduces the character Elsa in the play, the young woman with whom Paavali is in love. Cranes bring the young couple a child, and in their song Paavali hears the voice of his dead mother.

The Robin and The Peacock 

Sibelius composed the incidental music for the Helsinki premiere of Strindberg’s play Svanevit (Swanwhite) in 1908, and later arranged some of the highlights for a larger orchestra. The fairytale story tells of a princess whose father, evil step-mother and three maids aim to marry her off to a neighbouring king, but who falls in loves with the king’s messenger, a prince. Also living with her in the castle are a peacock, robin, swans and other creatures. The robin in the suite’s fourth movement is part of a pantomime scene in which the king turns out to be cruel and the prince is Mr Right. The scene relies greatly on the music: the pizzicatos are the prince, the harp the swan mother, the three tings on the triangle indicate the early hour, and the flutes are the Robin’s call. The opening movement depicts the fabulous Peacock, its pecking represented by castanets.

The Swan of Tuonela

The Swan of Tuonela (1893/1900) was originally intended as the overture to an opera that was never composed and instead became the third movement of the Lemminkäinen Suite. Rather than trying to imitate the bird’s cry, Sibelius sought to symbolise its innocence and purity. He was also inspired by the painting by Akseli Gallén-Kallela in which Lemminkäinen’s mother mourns the fate of her dead son on the murky banks of the river leading to Tuonela, the realm of the dead in Finnish mythology.

Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor, “The Farewell”

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) had been composer and Kapellmeister at the court of the Hungarian Prince Nicolaus Esterházy when, in 1772, he decided the time had come for his orchestra to take action. For his patron refused to give them any time off despite all the overtime they had worked. He therefore slipped an extra symphony into the programme for the next day’s concert, and though otherwise in his familiar style, it had a surprise hidden in it. Instead of the typical resounding cadences, it ended with a dreamy Adagio during which the players, one by one, blew out their candles and disappeared backstage. Which is why the symphony is nowadays known as The Farewell. The ruse makes a good story, but The Farewell is in no way less inventive than all Haydn’s symphonies. To start with, it is one of the few by him in a minor key, and at times quite dissonant for its day.

Anna Clyne: Within Her Arms

Within her Arms (2008/2009) was composed by Anna Clyne (b. 1980), an English composer now resident in New York, as the result of a spontaneous reaction. She was working on a commission from Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic when she received the news of her mother’s sudden death. Returning to her home in London, she sat down at the piano, lit a candle and gazed at a photo of her mother taken only a couple of days before she died. Within Her Arms, a setting of a poem by the Vietnamese author, monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, is, says Clyne, music for her mother, with love.

“Earth will keep you tight within her arms dear one / So that tomorrow you will be transformed into flowers / This flower smiling quietly in this morning field / This morning you will sleep no more dear one / For we have gone through too deep a night. / This morning, yes, this morning, I kneel down on the green grass / And I notice your presence. / Flowers, that speak to me in silence. / The message of love and understanding has indeed come.”

Violin 1
Jan Söderblom
Siljamari Heikinheimo
Mari Poll-Novakovic
Maiju Kauppinen 
Helmi Kuusi 
Elina Lehto 
Ilkka Lehtonen 
Jani Lehtonen 
Petri Päivärinne 
Elina Viitasaari 
Totti Hakkarainen
Tuomas Ikonen

Violin 2
Terhi Paldanius
Kari Olamaa  
Heini Eklund 
Teppo Ali-Mattila
Siiri Rasta
Krista Rosenberg
Harry Juho Rayner
Tatevik Ayazyan
Aada Kuoppa
Eleonora Oswald

Atte Kilpeläinen 
Petteri Poijärvi 
Lotta Poijärvi
Aulikki Haahti-Turunen
Kaarina Ikonen
Mariette Reefman
Hajnalka Standi-Pulakka
Mari Viluksela

Lauri Kankkunen 
Beata Antikainen
Basile Ausländer
Veli-Matti Iljin
Fransien Paananen
Joanna Hanhikoski

Adrian Rigopulos
Mehdi Nejjoum-Barthélémy
Paul Aksman
Jani Pensola
Jenny Villanen
Annaleena Jämsä

Nils Rõõmussaar
Paula Malmivaara

Osmo Linkola 
Heikki Nikula

Mikko-Pekka Svala 
Erkki Suomalainen

Ville Hiilivirta
Mika Paajanen 
Miska Miettunen
Pasi Tiitinen

Anu Fagerström
Jussi Vuorinen
Joni Taskinen

Mikael Sandström 

Pasi Suomalainen

Minnaleena Jankko 


Pekka Kuusisto


    Pēteris Vasks
    Lonely Angel – Meditation for Violin and String Orchestra
    Jean Sibelius
    Crane Scene / The Peacock and Hark, the Robin from Swanwhite Suite / The Swan of Tuonela
    Joseph Haydn
    Symphony No. 45 "Farewell"
    Anna Clyne
    Within Her Arms
Series III
Musiikkitalo Concert Hall
Pekka Kuusisto
Pēteris Vasks
Lonely Angel – Meditation for Violin and String Orchestra
Jean Sibelius
Crane Scene / The Peacock and Hark, the Robin from Swanwhite Suite / The Swan of Tuonela
Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 45 "Farewell"
Anna Clyne
Within Her Arms