Worthy of a 150th Birthday – Lahti International Sibelius Festival 2015 (and 2014)

To hear Kullervo in the land of its birth.

The press release revealing, for the first time, details of the 2015 Sibelius Festival in Lahti, Finland, came out yesterday.  And…. tell you what, let’s just get to it:

Sib web(Image Source: www.sibelius150.fi)

16th International Sibelius Festival 2015

31 August – 6th September 2015 (150th Anniversary of Sibelius’s Birth)

Most of Sibelius’s major orchestral works will be performed, among them “all seven symphonies, Kullervo, the Violin Concerto, the Lemminkäinen Suite and numerous symphonic poems”.

Lahti Symphony Orchestra, with guest appearances by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra (London)

Okko Kamu (Festival Artistic Director), Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakari Oramo and Leif Segerstam.


15th International Sibelius Festival 2014

4 – 7 September 2014

Original versions of Sibelius’s orchestral works, including the Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony.

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The concept of the 2014 programme  is apparently to act as a “prequel”, preparing the way for the jubilee programme of 2015. I was initially a little more excited by the 2014 programme, because the privilege to hear the original versions of the Violin Concerto and the Fifth is supremely rare. In my case, certainly, the chance of a lifetime. In particular, the original 1915 version of the Fifth Symphony – which in an old Inkpot review I described as being darker, and represents a sort of missing link between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (which are so very different). I look forward to hearing this “live”, even if I do feel a little guilt hearing something Sibelius wouldn’t want us to hear.

As for the 2015 programme, it is as it should be. Nothing less than all the major works have to be played, principally the seven symphonies, as well as the other “symphonies”, Kullervo and the Lemminkäinen Suite. I’m pretty sure Tapiola will be played, and that completes the picture.

Will you be going to Lahti in 2014 and 2015? I will. Look for me if you’re going.

Here’s the press release for further details:

Source: Sinfonia Lahti

BBC Symphony Orchestra (London) to make guest appearance at the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius Festival in 2015


In 2015 the musical world will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). The Lahti Symphony Orchestra will play its part in the celebrations by organizing its annual Sibelius Festival on a larger scale than usual, in terms both of the music played and of the artists taking part. The festival will last a week, from 31st August to 6th September 2015, and there will be concerts not only by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra but also by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

The total of six orchestral concerts at the sixteenth International Sibelius Festival will be conducted by Okko Kamu (artistic director of the festival), Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakari Oramo and Leif Segerstam. Of these conductors Vänskä and Saraste, during their own periods in Lahti, have previously served as artistic directors of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Sibelius Festival, before Kamu took over as principal conductor in 2011. In particular during Vänskä’s twenty-year reign as chief conductor the Lahti Symphony Orchestra gained world renown, to a large extent as a result of its work with the music of Sibelius.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra will give two concerts, one conducted by Okko Kamu and the other by its principal conductor Sakari Oramo; the concert by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra will be led by its principal conductor emeritus, Leif Segerstam.

At the festival’s concerts most of Sibelius’s major orchestral works will be performed, among them all seven symphonies, Kullervo, the Violin Concerto, the Lemminkäinen Suite and numerous symphonic poems. In addition there will be chamber concerts and other Sibelius-themed events. Further programme and soloist details will be announced later.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s first visit to Finland was in 1956, then too in a Sibelian spirit

‘The 2015 festival will offer Sibelius enthusiasts a unique, week-long opportunity to hear performances of the composer’s most important works by conductors who have earned world renown for their Sibelius interpretations. My fellow conductors have been happily unanimous in agreeing to the programme that I suggested’, says the festival’s artistic director Okko Kamu, and goes on: ‘It is fantastic that the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which played Sibelius in Finland already in the 1950s, has accepted our invitation and will be coming to Lahti at its busiest time, during the Proms. And it goes without saying that we also invited the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, with its great history of playing Sibelius; my own father played in the orchestra in Sibelius’s time, and I myself have a close personal relationship with it. It is also excellent that we shall present such a major event in the obvious setting of our splendid home, the Sibelius Hall.’

‘It is a great honour for the BBC Symphony Orchestra to be invited to appear in the 2015 Lahti Festival most especially in such a significant year of celebration of the music of Sibelius. We are very excited to be appearing with our Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo and a rare opportunity to work with Okko Kamu, performing alongside our colleagues in the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’, says Paul Hughes, general manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He goes on: ‘The BBCSO first visited Scandinavia on a four-country tour in June 1956. They gave two concerts in the Sibelius Festival, Helsinki, under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent on 10th and 11th June and the repertoire was all-Sibelius, including Symphonies 1 and 3, three Historical Scenes, Finlandia, Tapiola and En saga. And the orchestra and Sargent were entertained by Sibelius himself at his home in Järvenpää.’

‘The invitation to perform at Lahti’s famous Sibelius Festival in our national composer’s jubilee year is a great joy and honour for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’, says Gita Kadambi, general manager of the orchestra. Founded in 1882 by Robert Kajanus, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has throughout its long history regarded it as a matter of honour to nurture the tradition that arose from the many decades of collaboration between Kajanus and Jean Sibelius. Between 1892 and 1923 Kajanus’s orchestra gave the first performances of most of Sibelius’s symphonic works, conducted by the composer himself. Sibelius was also present on the orchestra’s first foreign tour in the summer of 1900, on which occasion his music was heard for the first time in European concert halls.

Single tickets for the 2015 Sibelius Festival will be available from 1st September 2014; group and advance bookings begin in the spring of 2014.

The Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius Festival

The Lahti Symphony Orchestra, widely appreciated internationally for its Sibelius interpretations both on disc and on concert tours, organizes its annual Sibelius Festival in September, in the hall that bears the composer’s name. The festival has taken place ever since the hall was completed in 2000. The idea of the festival is to offer Sibelius enthusiasts from all over the world a long weekend (Thursday to Sunday) of wide-ranging programmes reflecting various aspects of the composer’s music, played by the finest performers. In the same way that the famous Bayreuth Festival is devoted entirely to the music of Wagner, so too the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius Festival offers exclusively Sibelius.

Right from the start the festival has attracted international attention. Members of the audience – both groups and individuals – have come from all over Europe as well as such countries as the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia. Up to 20% of tickets have been sold to international visitors.

Each year the festival also attracts international press coverage. In 2003, for example, the prestigious Austrian newspaper Die Presse named the festival as the most important of its kind anywhere in the world. Over the years the festival has been featured by The Times (London), Die Welt (Berlin) and by New York Public Radio (WNYC).

The Sibelius Festivals in 2013 and 2014

This year’s Sibelius Festival will begin with a concert at the Sibelius Hall next Thursday, 5th September 2013, conducted by Okko Kamu, the orchestra’s principal conductor and artistic director of the festival. The festival’s theme is Sibelius’s music for the theatre.

The 2014 festival, conducted by Okko Kamu, will take place from 4th to 7th September 2014. The programme of the festival will prepare the way for the jubilee programme of 2015 and its focus will be on the original versions of Sibelius’s orchestral works, including the Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony.

Source: Sinfonia Lahti

CD Review: The Tempest, The Oceanides, Nightride and Sunrise

The Oceanides, Op.73. The Tempest, Suite No.1, Op.109 No.2
The Tempest, Suite No.2, Op.109 No.3. Nightride and Sunrise, Op.55

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam
ONDINE ODE 914-2 [69:25] full-price

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An original review by The Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase™

The Oceanides (1914) inhabits an auditory realm that fuses the fundamental energies and pulses of nature with the kinetic and tonal resources of the symphony orchestra. It evokes the sea, from calm breezy moods to thundering gusts of tempests. But it is not seascape music of the Romantic variety; it is closer in spirit to the impressionism of Debussy. Yet, Sibelius maintains his own distinctive magic.

In the album notes, Timo Virtanen describes the tone poem as comparable to “a single breaker, slowly gathering force, foam forming on its crest and, on reaching its destination, quickly abating and sweeping the sand on the shore.” In it, one does not merely hear the sea as an observer, but is thrust into the being of the ocean waves. The massive orchestral climax in the work seems like nature herself heaving a breath, a living surge of terrifying ecstasy. In many of Sibelius’ works there is often a palpable sense of some primal force – nature herself, but also as if the music is driven by the ghostly energies of some ancient mythical memory. The music, typical of Sibelius, exists in multiple layers of material swimming over and under each other, like different sea currents on and below the water surface, weaving their myriad ways across the ocean.

Sibelius originally called it Rondo der Wellen – “Rondo of the Waves” on account of its rondo-like organic repetition of the thematic material. The work was premiered across the Atlantic Ocean in the USA, where Sibelius was invited to conduct his music in Norfolk. After conducting the rehearsals of the piece and before its actual premiere, the composer decided to change its name to Aallottaret – the “Spirits of the Waves”. The Oceanides was picked as the English name. It was under these titles that the tone poem reached the shores of the public on June 4, 1914.

Over a characteristic quiet timpani roll, the strings shimmer mysteriously with a rising and falling motif. Over this murmuring seascape, flutes flutter in with a tentative 2-note “chirp”. Immediately, the sense of distance, of horizon and expanse, is depicted. The sensation of slow but inexorable movement is undeniable, and also the feeling of something vast breathing… the flutes, without saying any word, immediately evoke not just the image but the sensation of seabirds soaring above the winds above the waves. Even the tiny turbulences which buffet their wings are portrayed in the way the flute “tune” skips and turns. The bubbling motifs seem to echo the sizzling water, the sunlight scintillating, glittering over the wavelet-faceted sea surface. After the wave breaks, the music dies down, returning to the calmness of the opening, as the sea gathers again to continue its journey.

Segerstam’s reading here opens with much quiet magic. I think nowhere have I been so taken by the opening of this rarely recorded tone poem. The Helsinki PO’s opening timpani pedal drone, with the rising and falling of the waves makes the perfect picture for the entry of the fluttering flutes. The progression of the waves proceeds with natural flow, like a subtle concentrated drama.

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This recording of The Tempest Suites is a triumph. Many movements which have escaped my full attention have suddenly got me now. The Oak Tree, highly respected by Sibelius scholars, evokes its ominous mysteries and colours with great atmosphere. The performance here is breathtakingly awesome – after the dark opening, the violins shimmer with magic as the flute rides in in slow motion, mysterious, almost intoxicated with enchantment. The orchestral accompaniment is incredibly atmospheric – glowing strings, looming contrabassoon and other strange sounds. Very impressive. Segerstam’s handling of the breathing lines is pure Sibelius. Even the harps have a peculiar tone that fits into the picture of sorcerous quiescence perfectly.

Near the end of Suite No.1 is the Entr’acte (originally titled “Rainbow Interlude”) which leads into Ariel’s Song. This begins mistily, with woodwinds humming quietly like some dissonant foghorn in the distance. Ariel’s pained song – “Full fathom five” – is evoked darkly; the gloomy wind ideas seem to sink deep into the waters as Ariel sings to Ferdinand of his father’s “death”.

Throughout these performances, it is the attention to the middle and lower lines which bring out so much in the music. Try also The Harvesters, with its hazy harmonic swirls in the background, the precise scoring for wind instruments, harp and distantly placed percussion. I am amazed by the Helsinki Philharmonic’s brilliant performance of this simple-looking, 2-minute piece; they’ve really turned it into an orchestral showpiece demonstrating balance and colour.

The Humoresque, depicting the entry of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, is a light merry procession, snaky clarinet tune over pizzicato strings, with a dark edge of mischief (listen for the muted trumpets). This preceeds Caliban’s Song, a raucous swirling dance of sardonic darkness quite unlike Sibelius, which is another must-hear. The various sections are handled with dramatic presence and purposeful timing; the orchestra responds to their conductor brilliantly – and what a snare drum!

The music to The Tempest is full of dramatic contrast which takes a skilful conductor and a highly responsive (and not to mention well-rehearsed) orchestra to pull off. Here, Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic outdo all other versions I’ve ever heard. The “sequel” to Caliban’s Song is the Scene, also from Suite No.1 – listen to how the Helsinki Philharmonic once again makes the contrast between the pleasant dance of the opening and the Calibanesque middle section so natural. Such theatrical evil in the music!

The other notable example is the Intrada-Berceuse, where the dissonant and torrential cries of the Intrada connects to the beautiful lullaby of the Berceuse. In the latter, the violins of the Helsinki Philharmonic evoke fairy magic, creating an atmosphere of serenity drifting sensuously over the glittering, blossoming harp. The same strings conjure so many different colours and voices as they hum the compassionate lullaby of the Second Suite’s Intermezzo.

The Tempest music has more than its fair share of memorable tunes. In fact, it is the balance of the lyrical and the formal which fascinates me to no end. The faint gaiety of the Dance of the Nymphs is well-matched in the Helsinki Philharmonic’s readings of the two Songs as well as the sunlit joy of The Naiads. There is such a light, sylvan sense of happiness to these performances. The musicians also bring out the crucial innocence of the music for Miranda.

The Suites naturally find their roots in the original theatre version (reviewed here) – I like the original version of Prospero more, the reading here of the Suite version is marked with impassioned nobility, right to the end of the superb string diminuendo.

The showpiece of Sibelius’ Tempest music is the raging seastorm of the Overture, which unfortunately isn’t recorded here (but The Oceanides makes a perfect alternative if you think about it). The second Storm, however, is included in Suite No.1, essentially the Overture abridged. The storm music of The Tempest – the strings’ chromatic augmented fourths, the keening chords of winds, the humming, growling brass, the booming thunder of basses and lightningbolts of snare-drums – has been described as “the most onomatopoetic stretch of music ever composed”. Everyone I play it to blind inevitably hear the wind and sea in it. Bring your raincoat and preferably a strong chain for your ankles!

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Painting by Matthew Harvey
Painting by Matthew Harvey

Nightride and Sunrise is widely known as a depiction of a nocturnal journey ending in sunrise, as the title and the two-sectioned music suggests. Sibelius is said to have been inspired by such a vision.

Segerstam’s reading is expert and pointed, with much orchestral detail. Occasionally, the reading becomes a touch too “sharp”. Compared to say Neeme Järvi ‘s DG recording (453 426-2), it is somewhat harder in tone and less subtle. But mainly, I felt it wasn’t so attentive to the mood of anticipating the dawn. There is so much in this music which must make you anticipate, and hold your attention. Not the best version in terms of the spirit of the work, but very well-played nonetheless.

In the final analysis, this is a superb album. I’ve played it through a gazillion times in the last two months, enjoying first The Oceanides then marveling at the stunning performance of The Tempest. The compilation obviously pays tribute to a sense of progression and of nature in that. Beginning with the misty beauty of The Oceanides, we sailed into the magic realm of The Tempest and emerge victorious through a Nightride into glorious sunrise. A journey I shall definitely take again.