Okko Kamu as conductor of the HPO


For two years after Paavo Berglund, the HPO was once again without a regular conductor.

Installed in the post in 1981 was Okko Kamu (b. 1946). The Philharmonic had been familiar to him ever since childhood, for his father, Väinö Kamu, had been the orchestra’s double bass, and his first violin teacher at the age of two was the orchestra’s leader, Väinö Arjava. Naturally Kamu was already sitting in at rehearsals at an early age.

Kamu the violinist gained experience of playing in an orchestra in the youth orchestra founded by Tauno Hannikainen. The leader of this same orchestra was at one time Leif Segerstam. Finland’s musical circles still seem to have been small, as they had been when Kajanus and Sibelius were young in the 1890s.

In 1965, Okko Kamu played second violin in the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra when extra players were recruited for a European tour. After one season, he was installed as leader of the orchestra of the Finnish National Opera.

Kamu had first been paid to conduct at the Opera in 1967, while Leif Segerstam was abroad. The programme on that occasion was ballet. He made his debut as an opera conductor in 1968.

When Kamu began at the helm of the HPO in 1981, he was successor to Paavo Berglund, just as he had immediately followed Berglund as Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1972. As conductor of the HPO, he was described as talented and easy to work with. He conducted in a way that was natural and unforced and was not particularly demanding in rehearsal. He maintained a high work ethic in the orchestra.

During Kamu’s term (1981-1988), the orchestra had 95 players; in other words, the number had almost trebled with the passing of the years. There had also been other changes in the ensemble in close on a century.

In the early days of the orchestra, all the players were men – the orchestra school did not, after all, admit women – and the age structure was old. By the time a century had passed, there were women as well and the players were younger. This trend has continued, so that in 2015 about one third of the 102 players were women. Even today, there are, however, big differences in the gender distribution of the sections, women being particularly numerous in the violins.

Sources: Vesa Sirén – Suomalaiset kapellimestarit &  Einari Marvia & Matti Vainio – Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri 1882-1982 & HPO data from 2015