Guest conductors include names from across the orchestra’s history, and a number of Oulu soloists are featured in the performances. If there is one overarching theme for the autumn, it must be simply Celebration.
The Oulu Music Centre and Oulu Sinfonia’s home venue, the Madetoja Hall, will turn 40 in the autumn. It is only appropriate that the orchestra’s autumn season echoes with the spirit of Oulu and the history of the orchestra. The programme of the season is most significantly influenced by the music of Leevi Madetoja (1887–1947), the celebrated Oulu-born composer. The orchestra will also look back at its own history. Guests include its former principal conductors Arvo Volmer and Anna-Maria Helsing, as well as John Storgårds, the principal visiting conductor from 2000 to 2002, whose celebrates his 60th anniversary this year.
“Two of our well-loved, long-serving musicians are due to retire, so they also participate as soloists,” says the programme’s chief designer, Oulu Sinfonia’s current Chief Conductor Rumon Gamba. “Not all concerts fit into this theme, but the autumn months are predominantly all about a warm, Oulu hug.”
The sojourn into the orchestra’s history of personalities culminates at the concert of 14 September, titled Legends on Stage. Arvo Volmer, the Chief Conductor of Oulu Sinfonia in 1994–2005, conducts and the featured soloists are some of the orchestra’s most reliable hands, the solo cellist Arto Alikoski and the principal clarinet Markku Korhonen. Add together the years the three have spent in Oulu’s orchestra, and you will need three digits.
Leevi Madetoja’s music will be heard at several concerts. Thursday, September 7, allows the audiences of the Oulu Music Centre’s festival week witness a true rarity – a performance of the ballet pantomime Okon Fuoko, set in ancient Japan, considered Madetoja’s most important work. The soloists for the performance will be Saara Rauvala and Tuomas Miettola, accompanied by the Oulu Chamber Choir under the coaching of Kristian Heberg. On Saturday, September 9, the same week, the Gala Concert will showcase Oulu talent on a grand scale. Oulu Sinfonia has the privilege of accompanying a young talent, the 12-year-old Lilja Haatainen, who started playing violin at the Oulu Conservatory and won the Louis Spohr violin competition in Germany at the end of last year. Other soloists at the gala concert include Virva Puumala, Oulu University of Applied Sciences graduate and winner of the 2019 Lappeenranta National Song Contest; pianist Mika Rännäli, a recent returnee to Oulu following a long tenure in New York; and saxophonist Pope Puolitaival, who emerged from Oulu’s musical school pipeline to appear in numerous successful jazz ensembles and musical television shows.
October will see Madetoja celebrated in Oulu through a mini festival from 18 to 19 October, where a broad cross-section of the composer’s work will be performed. At the Wednesday, October 18 Autumn Stories Rain Down concert, the latest composition of the Oulu-born American Lara Poe’s song cycle to L. Onerva’s poems will also be performed, a work jointly ordered by Oulu Sinfonia and Sinfonia Lahti for the autumn season. The mezzo-soprano Virpi Räisänen, a native of Kiiminki who has since returned to Oulu, will be the featured soloist. L. Onerva, born Hilja Onerva Lehtinen (1882–1972), was not only one of the great figures of Finnish literature, but also the spouse of Leevi Madetoja. The concerts will be conducted by chief conductor Rumon Gamba and will also feature the Madetoja Music High School Girls’ Choir as well as Soma Ensemble under choir master Elina Kärki.
“My relationship with Madetoja’s music is still at an early stage,” says Gamba. “Last year, we recorded his Overture, and I was quite amazed at the skill with which he utilised the orchestra. Of course, I have studied him a lot, listened to and read the sheet music for many of his works, and I find that I am attracted to his music. I am always very interested in a material that is more rarely performed, so getting to know Madetoja’s music has been a real joy, and I can’t wait to be able to perform it.”
Madetoja’s perhaps most-performed musical composition, Kullervo, will open a concert of exclusively Finnish music (titled Finland, Fatherland) on December 7, conducted by Anna-Maria Helsing.
Jukka Eskola will perform the Flugelhorn Concerto, which first premiered at the April Jazz festival in Espoo, for the Elojazz festival concert on August 2. The concerto is by his fellow Jukka, Jukka Linkola, who this year celebrates 50 years as an artist. Composer Jukka Tiensuu will turn 75 in the autumn, and Kari Kriikku will perform his Missa for the Clarinet and Orchestra at the Memories concert on August 31. Niko Kumpuvaara, an Oulu native, performs as the soloist at the concert of the Independence Day week (December 7’s Finland, Fatherland), where a new arrangement of Kirmo Lintinen’s Accordion Concerto. The Ostrobothnian Contemporary Music Festival is also reflected in Oulu Sinfonia’s regular concert on Thursday, October 5, titled Peculiar Sounds. Another artist with an Oulu background, Eriikka Maalismaa, will perform as soloist for Veli Kujala’s science and horror fiction inspired Violin Concerto, and the various forms of the element of water can take will turn into melody in Water, a joint work by Tapio Lappalainen and Sanna Ahvenjärvi that won the Teosto Award this spring.
The autumn is also devoted to young talent. The concert of 28 September, titled Up to the Heights!, will see visits from Luka Faulisi, a French violinist comet in his early twenties, as well as Joana Carneiro, the artistic director of the prestigious Gulbenkian Orchestra, both making their Oulu debuts. On Thursday, November 2, the concert titled Brahms’ Final Works will feature Otto Antikainen and Senja Rummukainen performing Johannes Brahms’ double concerto for the violin and the cello. Janette Leván, a talented flautist studying at Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, will perform Carl Nielsen’s concerto for the flute on November 16’s Rejoicing Under the Whip concert, conducted by conductor class students from Sibelius Academy. November will culminate on November 23 with a concert of all-American music, performed by two Oulu Sinfonia regulars. Melodies of Joy and Sorrow features the Malaysian bass trombonist Wen Hong Low and is conducted by the Taiwanese I-Han Fu.
In addition to its traditional concerts, Oulu Sinfonia once again offers some special sparks of light among the darkening autumn. On 17 August, the Oulu Sinfonia Open series of three concerts will be performed free of charge to anyone wandering up to the Hupisaaret Summer Theatre: at 5 pm a programme tailored for children, at 7 pm classical dances invite listeners, and at the end of the evening at 10 pm, the seldom heard experimental cult work by Gavin Bryars, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, will be performed.
In October, the great names of the Finnish pop and rock are featured in the traditional Entisten nuorten sävellahja LIVE concerts on 13 and 14 October. Laura Voutilainen, Mikko Alatalo and Ilkka Alanko, will appear on the stage of Madetoja Hall, presenting the hits the theme calls for, and the songs they have made known, all in symphonic arrangements conducted by the father of the concept Jukka Myllys. The concert is hosted by Paula Jokiniemi and Jorma Hietamäki, familiar to fans of the “Enska” radio show.
This year’s Christmas season will be at least as memorable as ever. November, the time of Christmas parties, will see a rendez-vous with the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Tribute to Burt Bacharach concert will be performed under the baton of its arranger Teemu Takanen. The featured soloists are Nina Mya and Tuomo Prättälä. Takanen has also arranged a medley of the music of native Oulu jazz singer Johanna Iivanainen, which will be performed at the Elojazz festival concert.
The autumn season will end on 14–15 December with a Christmas classic, a showing of the film Home Alone accompanied by a live symphony orchestra. The Christmas story directed by Chris Columbus sees the sprawling McCallister family leave their Chicago home empty, at the mercy of burglars, as they embark for Christmas festivities in Paris. The resourceful Kevin is left alone to defeat the bad guys. In addition to the performance of young Macauley Culkin, the films is fondly remembered for John Williams’s score, here performed by the live orchestra conducted by Anthony Gabriele.
Text: Oulu Sinfonia
Photo: Chief Conductor Rumon Gamba, c Kati Leinonen