At the beginning of September, the Oulu Symphony Orchestra will take its talents to Sweden and Norway under the direction of Chief Conductor Rumon Gamba.

Tour stop in Kuusisaari

The Oulu Symphony Orchestra’s September will start in a Nordic atmosphere, both in terms of its programme and venues. In early September, the orchestra will embark on a tour enabled by the Arctic Pulse project, performing in Luleå (Thursday 1.9.) and Piteå (Friday 2.9.) in Sweden and Harstad in Norway (Tuesday 6.9.), playing an Anglo-Nordic programme. Rumon Gamba, has chosen the music of William Walton, Jaakko Kuusisto and Jean Sibelius as his calling card for Oulu. Violinist Elina Vähälä will be the soloist in Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto.

The orchestra will also play in Kuusisaari on Saturday 3 September at 1:00 p.m. on the main stage of the Oulu Kylässä festival. The open-air concert will feature Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto, parts of William Walton’s music for the film Henry V and Sibelius’ Finlandia. Admission to the concert will be free.

The grand Fifth Symphonies and a viola competition

The orchestra’s autumn concerts will start on Thursday 15 September at Oulu Music Center. The Divine Mosaics concert features two landmarks of Nordic music: the Fifth Symphonies by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius. The orchestra will also perform Sibelius in its concerts in Sweden and Norway. Rumon Gamba is delighted that the orchestra will bring the audience a well-honed interpretation of Sibelius’ most famous symphony.

“We will play the Sibelius on tour before our Oulu concert, which is wonderful as a piece that really benefits from actual performance, and not just rehearsal,” says Gamba. “We have a chance to explore more and more in each performance and for me and the orchestra to go deeper into the piece with each other.”

The following week, the orchestra will play two concerts. Oulu has the honour of hosting the National Viola Competition, which since 1991 has been providing an important springboard for violists studying in Finland to launch their professional careers. On Thursday 22 September and Friday 23 September, there will be a final competition in which the successful players will have to choose between a Viennese classical concerto by Karl Stamitz or Franz Anton Hoffmeister. The second work in the finals is an entirely new work for the viola and percussion, commissioned for the competition from Panu Savolainen. The competition concerts will be conducted by Erkki Lasonpalo, Principal Conductor of the Mikkeli City Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Lapppeenranta City Orchestra.

Ravel and Fresh Spring Water

Hong Kong’s Lio Kuokman will make his Finnish debut in Oulu. Recently named Hong Kong Musician of the Year, Lio came to the attention of the music world at the 2014 Evgeny Svetlanov Conducting Competition, where he won special prizes awarded by both the audience and orchestra. Since then, he has conducted the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among others.

He will conduct a concert of French and Finnish music at the Fresh Spring Water concert on 29 September. Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun is one of the most beloved works in music history, while Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major is one of the first jazz-inspired European works. The piano soloist will be Mika Rännäli, who has returned to Oulu after his years in New York.

The concert will end with Jean Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony, completed in 1923. While Europe was experiencing the awakening of modernism, Sibelius stuck to tradition. Sibelius pointed out that others were making “colourful cocktails”, but he would offer the audience fresh spring water. Contemporary critic Cecil Gray added: “The purest and freshest water that has yet gushed from the Sibelius spring.”

Text: Oulu Symphony Orchestra
Photo: Elina Vähälä