With the Oulu Symphony Orchestra, March is different. Instead of its regular season concerts, the orchestra performs in several specialty concerts. The first of these takes place as early as on Wednesday, March 2, as the famous jazz and soul musician Tuomo Prättälä brings his synthesizer to Madetoja Hall. The concert, conducted by Jukka Untamala, presents orchestral arrangements of Prättälä’s work as well as the dedicated symphonic work MOD, Concerto for synthesizer and orchestra. Also featured is the increasingly internationally prominent Outi Tarkiainen, whose Midnight Sun Variations wowed London crowds when it premiered at the 2019 BBC Proms. The work by Rovaniemi native Tarkiainen is equally about polar sunlight and the journey to motherhood.
The Oulu Music Festival begins in mid-March and lends Oulu Symphony some new sights and sounds. The orchestra performs two events at the festival for a total of four nights. On Thursday, March 17, and Friday, March 18, the Madetoja Hall transforms into a cinema. A screening of the first instalment of the Star Wars saga, A New Hope, directed by George Lucas in 1977, is accompanied by a live rendition of the score. The soundtrack, composed by John Williams, has been compared for Wagnerian opera, and some of its most famous themes, such as the Rebel Blockade Runner theme heard over the opening, have become cornerstones of Western popular culture. Stefan Geiger conducts the Star Wars concerts.
The orchestra continues to perform for the festival in the following week, with Ella ja kaverit konsertissa, a concert for the whole family both on Thursday, March 24, and Friday, March 25. The concerts are inspired by Timo Parvela’s popular Ella ja kaverit series of children’s books, and feature Ella and her friends in Grade Two and A Half going to a real symphony orchestra’s concert. As you might guess, not everything goes according to plan. The concert lets kids get to know the orchestra’s different instruments in a fun way, as well as learn that a symphony and a flu are not necessarily the same thing, and that opera is not something you eat. Actors Lotta Kuusisto and Paavo Kerosuo perform the roles of Ella and her teacher, Iiro Rantala provides the musical score, and Parvela himself narrates the action. Maria Itkonen serves as conductor for the twin concerts.
On the last day of March, the Oulu Symphony Orchestra returns to its normal schedule under Chief Conductor Rumon Gamba. Thursday, 31 March, Moments of Destiny -concert offers another selection of the finest British rarely performed in Finnish climes. A more familiar performance is the Fourth Symphony, nicknamed “Fate”, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. It inaugurates a series of Tchaikovsky performances that are sprinkled throughout the rest of the spring.
“I wanted to introduce some works this season that are familiar to both the orchestra and its audience, so that we can get to know each other over common ground,” says Gamba. Over the spring, the last three symphonies of the Russian composer will be heard, making up a trilogy.
“I think Tchaikovsky’s work evolved in a thoroughly fascinating manner over his last three symphonies, and it is interesting to hear them all over a short period of time,” says Gamba. “These works must be performed by an orchestra that can truly commit to a performance in a flexible, uninhibited fashion. These are characteristics I look to introduce into every concert I conduct.”
Apart from Tchaikovsky, the concert features the Russian Funeral by Benjamin Britten as well as his Violin Concerto, overshadowed during its composition by the Spanish Civil War and the first rumblings of the Second World War on the horizon. The featured soloist for the concert is the 34-year-old star violinist Chloë Hanslip, a fixture of the world’s greatest stages since the age of 10. Among adjectives used to describe her rendition of Britten’s Violin Concerto have been “exemplary”, “touching”, and “blazing.”