Like the other Finnish cultural organisations, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius in 2015. The festivities began the previous year already, with a chamber music event entitled XVI Panorama Filharmonica tying in with an exhibition Sibelius and the World of Art at the Ateneum Art Museum, when the museum was filled with the music of Sibelius.
The year saw a steady supply of the HPO’s own ‘basic’ repertoire, the Sibelius symphonies, and some special concerts. In the first half of August the orchestra headed for the first time for Mexico, where Sibelius 150 concerts were held. Among the items performed there were the Violin Concerto and all the symphonies. The soloist was Baiba Skride and the concerts were held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
In August, the HPO performed at the Helsinki Festival: Sibelius’s Kullervo in Senate Square together with the YL Male Voice Choir. It also took part in the Lahti Sibelius Festival, playing Tapiola, Luonnotar and the Lemminkäinen Suite under Leif Segerstam. Anu Komsi was the soloist in Luonnotar. In November, the orchestra performed the Violin Concerto with Pekka Kuusisto as the soloist, reviving memories of the legendary Violin Competition in 1995.
In the HPO’s early years, Sibelius was present in person. He conducted works composed by him and whole concerts thereof with the HPO from the 1890s onwards. Thus it was that the HPO gave the premiere performances of a large proportion of the maestro’s works. Sibelius also taught music theory at Kajanus’s orchestra school. He was deputy conductor on the tour to Paris in 1900 and played host to members of the orchestra at Ainola, his home, on the eve of his 90th birthday celebrations.
Later, especially since Sibelius’s death, the HPO has maintained the Sibelius tradition at numerous concerts, on its discs and tours, playing works by him as far afield as South America and Japan.
Text: Salla Viitanen