The orchestra war breaks out


The idea of the Philharmonic Society Orchestra being taken over by the City of Helsinki was first raised in 1912, the orchestra’s state aid having been suspended in 1911 due to the second wave of Russian oppression. The project was nevertheless aborted and the orchestra’s finances continued to be precarious. The City of Helsinki did, however, decide to grant funds for “some music association or private body” selected by the Music Committee.

Instead of Kajanus’s orchestra, the Music Committee nevertheless allocated the funds to Georg Schnéevoigt, who was appointed conductor of the new Helsinki Symphony Orchestra. Kajanus was passed over and was not even invited to join the orchestra. The reasons for this were the general lynching mentality in the case of Kajanus and the problems between the pro-Swedish and pro-Finnish factions. Another was the visit to St. Petersburg Kajanus had made on his own initiative to improve the orchestra’s finances, for the visit was regarded, particularly in press circles, as being unpatriotic.

As a result, an ‘orchestra war’ broke out in Helsinki. Schnéevoigt harshly criticised Kajanus’s orchestra in saying to the press: “…of the second violinists, only some know just about how to play, and not one of the violists”. The orchestra’s players and supporters nevertheless stood behind Kajanus. It came as quite a surprise to Schnéevoigt when some of the players declined to transfer to his orchestra and Kajanus’s orchestra announced its intention to continue as before despite the setbacks.

The Music Committee got fidgety and its members resigned because of their disagreements. Meanwhile, certain Finnish musical dignitaries, such as Heino Kaski, Leevi Madetoja and Toivo Kuula, loudly condemned the way Kajanus had been side-lined. A larger number of supporters, led by Jean Sibelius himself, later joined the throng.

So the Philharmonic Orchestra continued playing, but Kajanus temporarily stopped conducting it, hiring two deputies to take his place: Toivo Kuula and Leevi Madetoja.

To ease its financial problems, the Philharmonic raised funds by holding a Grand Draw in autumn 1912. Among the prizes were paintings and sculptures by Gallén-Kallela, Halonen, Järnefelt, Stigell and Sailo.

In the end, two full-sized symphony orchestras were formed, under Kajanus and Schnéevoigt; that of the latter consisted mainly of foreign players. That of the former was named the Domestic Orchestra and that of the latter the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra.

In autumn 1912, the orchestra war even acquired some comic aspects, because Helsinki audiences were now offered concerts by two orchestras with rival repertoires: if one added something to its repertoire, so did the other. The situation seemed crazy in a city of 150,000 inhabitants, and everyone thought it would somehow resolve itself. But it did not.

Source: Einari Marvia & Matti Vainio – Helsingin kaupunginorkesteri 1882–1982