When composers Martin Wegelius and Robert Kajanus established an orchestra in Helsinki in summer 1882, their ambitious plan was to gather together the city’s best musicians and others recruited from abroad – some 36 in all – in order to give the people of Helsinki a chance to hear great musical masterpieces at a series of weekly concerts.
The principle of putting on regular concerts given by an orchestra of top musicians has remained right up to the present day in the close to 140 years since the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra was formed. It premiered most of the symphonic works by Jean Sibelius with the composer himself conducting, and continues its commitment to contemporary music by commissioning works by composers both Finnish and foreign. The series of Helsinki Variations commissioned from 12 composers during the period 2019–2025 is forging a link between the music of today and works on a Helsinki theme composed before 1945.
Now a band of 102 musicians, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra annually performs to a total audience of over 110,000 and has become an important constituent of its host city’s cultural capital. It also reaches people who for one reason or another cannot attend concerts at the Helsinki Music Centre, for in addition to making international tours, it sends small ensembles out across the city, provides opportunities for young people to perform and, through its active education programme, is able to make contact with special groups. Now, for the third time, it is inviting an entire age group – all the children born in Helsinki in 2020 – to enjoy music with their families over the next seven years as members of the HPO Kids -program.
The HPO concerts and background interviews screened live or recorded on the Internet and, for example, at the Helsinki Central Library Oodi make the process of creating a piece of music even more readily accessible. The orchestra’s partnership with the BIS label further ensures that HPO performances are available to all both now and well into the future in state-of-the-art recordings.
The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has had 13 Chief Conductors. Under Susanna Mälkki, who took over in 2016, the orchestra has developed into an increasingly impressive actor on the international scene with a distinctive sound that is a notable element of the Helsinki soundscape.
Information on every concert ever given by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra since 1882 can be found as open data in the Helsinki Region Infoshare database.