The 70th anniversary concert of one of the world’s most esteemed contemporary composers is also part of  The Ostrobothnian Contemporary Music Festival.

The composer Kaija Saariaho turns 70 in October. Saariaho, a winner of the world’s foremost composition prizes and selected the best contemporary composer in the world by BBC Music Magazine in 2019, is celebrated in several concerts across Finland during the autumn. The Oulu Symphony Orchestra will perform her music in the Focus Kaija Saariaho concert on Thursday, October 6, as the composer’s daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière debuts as the orchestra’s guest conductor. The Focus Kaija Saariaho concert is also part of the Ostrobothnian Contemporary Music Festival that takes place annually in the Oulu region.

The programme features one of the landmark works of Saariaho’s career, the concerto Graal théâtre dedicated to the violinist Gidon Kremer. In Oulu, the concerto will be performed by the Norwegian virtuoso Peter Herresthaal, a specialist in contemporary music. Another work to be performed is one of Saariaho’s newest: Vista, inspired by the landscapes of the coast of California. The concert opens with The Ring of Fire and Love, a work completed two years ago by the originally Rovaniemi-based composer Outi Tarkiainen.

The Saariaho celebration continues in chamber concerts

The celebration of Kaija Saariaho continues on Friday, October 14 in Kaija Saariaho 70: The Sound of Visions concerts given by the Oulu Symphony Orchestra Chamber Musicians. In the Pikisaari island’s unique milieu, there are four destinations where it is possible to hear Saariaho’s chamber music. The audience is welcome to the concert locations between 5 pm and 8 pm. Each concert is performed multiple times, allowing visitors to plan out their journey from one destination to another, stopping to immerse themselves in sound and find their own way towards new music – and the unknown. Sophomore students from the Oulu University of Applied Sciences dance instructor course join the musicians in the performance. Admission to the concerts is free of charge.

E.T. touches down in Madetoja Hall

The Oulu Symphony Orchestra resumes its series of audience-favourite film concerts in October. This time, we view and hear Steven Spielberg’s science fiction film E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, which first premiered 40 years ago this year. The film tells the story of a friendly alien who becomes separated from his family in California and makes friends with the human boy Elliott. E.T. won four Oscars for its sound, special effects, and, pertinently, its score.

The film will be shown on the Madetoja Hall screen on Wednesday, October 12 and Thursday, October 13. The Oulu Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Gabriele, presents John Williams’s legendary music live to the film, for the first time in Finland.

The bagpipes play out October

Chief Conductor Rumon Gamba returns to wield the baton on Thursday, October 20, with a programme themed after various dances. The concert At the Edge of Madness presents no less than six works, with two different soloists: the Spanish violin superstar Leticia Moreno presents two virtuosic works for the violin and the orchestra, and the Scotsman Robert Jordan plays the bagpipe solo from Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding. Both of the soloists are making their debuts with Oulu Symphony Orchestra.

This evening seeks to present a smorgasbord of hits from three different centuries. The concert begins with one of the most beloved works from the American minimalist John Adams called The Chairman Dances. It is a sonic depiction of a state dinner that culminates in a hypnotic partner dance between Chairman Mao and his wife. The work is a sort of a spin-off of the composer’s breakthrough opera Nixon in China.

Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances are also beloved classics, and here three of perhaps the best-known are presented, followed by Pablo de Sarasate’s 1882 rollercoaster ride for the violin, the Carmen Fantasy. This breathtaking virtuoso fantasy is pieced together from the dances in the opera Carmen, including the legendary Habanera, the Aragonaise and the Seguidilla.

The concert concludes with An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise by Peter Maxwell Davies. One of the more light-hearted works from Davies, the late Queen’s official composer who passed away in 2016, the composition is the soundtrack to a wild wedding party in the Scottish archipelago. A night of ecstatic dancing finally concludes with a bagpipe solo at sunrise.

Text: Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Photo: Kaija Saariaho, c Christophe Abramowitz