I remember last time, before I departed for Finland, the immense emotional weight bearing on me. It was joy and terror. It wasn’t that I thought it the trip would go wrong, or that it would be difficult. It was the emotional weight of having a lifelong dream squeezed into a one-week journey, in fact, into that one moment when I finally placed my hand on his final resting place. I brought the emotional weight of some 20 years of being moved by his music “back” to his home, and truly, it felt amazing to bring it home. Ainola was beautiful, shimmering with elation.
It is a little strange now, listening to Sibelius’s music. Music is a sometimes strange thing for us modern people. It comes out of plastic speakers, and plays without musicians present, without composer alive. As I imagine myself approaching Finland, it is as if the music becomes more and more real, like going to the source. Sibelius was a synesthete – he had a condition called synesthesia where the stimulation of one sense (such as seeing a colour in a landscape or even the smell of hemp drying) evoked sounds in his hearing. He often said that the silence spoke – and it appears he meant it literally.
I wonder often how this experience must be like. Since I do not have synesthesia, I can only imagine it as having a sound buzzing in my ear or head – rather like hearing the whirr of the air conditioner or the ticking of the clock in my room now – if one thinks about hearing it. But I suspect it isn’t that simple. Sibelius, I guess, probably heard real tones and harmonies, when he looked upon and drank in nature. I’m reasonably certain this is why 1) he took walks in the forest so often, 2) he demanded absolutely silence when he composed and 3) he said, “[Here at Ainola,] the silence speaks”.
I find that it remains difficult to share with others, my friends and even family, why I love, appreciate and believe so passionately in Sibelius’s music. I’m beginning to think that it is my own synesthetic experience. I experience something – something beautiful, something serene, something emotional, something cosmic – when I listen to Sibelius. And it is not something I can explain to someone who doesn’t get it; someone who doesn’t (yet) experience this with Sibelius.
This year, 2014, I make my way to Finland again, for the International Sibelius Festival in Lahti, Finland. Besides the festival, I have the great honour of being invited by my host, eminent British Sibelius scholar Andrew Barnett, to witness a recording at Ainola, featuring the pianist Folke Gräsbeck and Satu Jalas, Sibelius’s grand-daughter who also plays on the composer’s own violin. I cannot begin to express my gratitude and the immensity of this rare privilege. During the trip, I will also be part of a special group (more on that in a couple of week’s time) who will be granted another special privilege – access and a private tour into areas of Ainola not open to the public. I will write about this at dustofhue.com. And that’s not all. We will also have something new and exciting to announce soon for Sibelius fans all over the world – mark this date: 6 September 2014.
I have much to look forward to, and one of the greatest – both a joy and a privilege – is to meet so many fellow Sibelians in one place. People with whom I do not need to explain.
“Music begins where the possibilities of language end.”
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.
* * * * *
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”, Kullervoand 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.
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.
And do have a look! It loads swiftly, looks beautiful and even has sounds for page turns.
The piano and chamber programme has also been revealed (see page 10 on the brochure). And oh my, what a rare treat. On 7th September, at the Kalevi Aho Hall in Lahti’s Music Institute, pianists Folke Gräsbeck and Peter Lönnqvist will be playing a 4-hand arrangement of Sibelius’s Symphony No.3, as well as excerpts from the theatre music for Jedermann and Scaramouche.
In addition to this, a tribute to Mrs Sibelius, in the form of the Adagio “Rakkaalle Ainolle” – To My Beloved Aino.
I shall regret having to miss the Symphony, a chance to hear Sibelius’s “most unfortunate child” in a version for piano.
For the Sunday programme on 8th September, “Sibelius on a Sunday Morning”, mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi will join the same pianists (with Lönnqvist also playing the harmonium) as well as violinist Jaakko Kuusisto and cellist Sanna Palas-Lassila in a programme of songs.
In all, a very fascinating programme for this year centred on the theme of theatre. At this moment, this Sibelius Nutcase still can’t afford to go this year. Ah well, life’s like that.
The grave of Jean Sibelius is cold. It is monumental and simple, a great bronze square whose expanse bears nothing except his name and Aino’s. It exudes the grandeur of a hewn rock, as if nature’s forces had sculpted it, shaped it to represent the final resting place of one of her greatest musical avatars.
Yellow twigs, needles and leaves gently litter the bronze skin, now green with age. It lies amongst the trees, the centrepiece in a painting of quiescence. As I gently sweep my hand over the metal, it is the stark cold that I remember most. A beautiful cold, a metallic intensity, radiating quiet. This is the closest I will ever be to the master.
Four days before I flew from Singapore, I had begun a terrible descent into depression. I felt an immense pressure over me, the huge weight of some 15 years of championing Sibelius on my head. The anticipation was numbing. I could not sleep well. My family, whom I could not bring to Finland, had instead flown to Australia for a holiday. The loneliness of my house was deeply alienating, staggeringly heavy. Opening the door to emptiness was heart-breaking. It was unbearably silent.
Shouldn’t I have been happy? I felt as if I was going to change – as if I was going to die from reality and visit a longed-for place which, as if it was heaven, something that I only dreamed about. That in doing so, I would be transformed forever. It was an awe-ful feeling. Or maybe, it was because I wasn’t prepared for this journey that I wanted so much – I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how much to expect. I felt and knew this was something very big – and of course it is – but it didn’t seem right to feel I should loudly celebrate or even be excited about it. It was a strange uneasiness.
When the day came, my heart was heavy, my skin almost feverish with anticipation. The weight of it all continued to drown me in terrible emotions as I locked the door to my house and went on my way to the airport. The taxi ride and the flight was my Night Ride and Sunrise – my flight departed near midnight. Freezing and lonely, with the in-flight entertainment system down in my section (Finnair kindly sent a notice the day before), I went to sleep after a late supper, wrapped in a Zara jacket I bought purposely for this trip.
Perhaps the lack of the TV screen was a blessing. I woke up some hours later at 4am, and as we flew northwestwards towards the lands of the midnight sun, the sun chased the plane. It rose for three whole hours -the dawn-touched horizon speared with magical colours from crimson to vermillion to cobalt.
I arrived at the same time as the dawn. Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport was cool, tranquil and in blues and whites, like the Finnish flag. The first thing that struck me was the absence of a crowd. Spaces were empty, open, quiet and untouched by the chaos and bluster that is typical of where I come from. It was a complete breath of fresh air. I felt free. I sat down at a small empty cafe in the airport and had a Finnish sandwich and coffee.
I felt the usual lightness of arriving in a new land. After I located the Finnair Bus to the city, loaded up and sat down, I realized all the stress was gone. Everything was new, everything not yet experienced. And yet, 20 years of listening to Sibelius – and months spent perusing tourist guides to Finland – made everything feel faintly familiar. I know this realm. I smiled to myself as I spotted Helsinki Cathedral, the modern lines of the Finlandia Hall across the road, the stone guardians of the Helsinki Central Railway Station,or the vertical STOCKMANN sign of the famous department store.
I’ve spent many years asking myself what makes Sibelius Finnish? But as a Sibelius nutcase in Helsinki, my automatic sense was to ask myself – what is so Sibelian about Helsinki? There is a certain old-time grace, which you might sense in the buildings. The streets have an unspoken neatness. Helsinki is clearly a modern city, people walking among buildings, trams and cars following its logical streets. She has a certain regal elegance, an unassuming nobility – it speaks for itself without having to make a loud noise. Things seem to just work without asking, things seem to be just in the right place. I was told my luggage case was too big to be kept at the bus ticket office, but perhaps I could try the cobbler just down the corridor. “I think they can take it.” And sure enough, they did. As a first-time visitor, I am not disappointed. Helsinki is full of little touches of graceful purpose and artistic surprise – flowers on a post, stark modernist architecture sitting amidst tradition, like a bronze square in a forest.
It was noon. I decided I had to do something Sibelian on my first day in Finland, so I took a walk to the Sibelius Monument. The sun was shining bright, and remarkably warm. Approaching from a distance, I discovered the monument wasn’t far from the main road. It was as if it was calling me. Or perhaps it was just the buzz of the throng of tourists around it. The road was filled with their coaches.
Many Finns are proud of Helsinki’s 24-ton monument to their greatest composer. But someone forgot to explain to the tourists why. Many tourist guides, books and the like, mark the Sibelius Monument as a must-see, citing its modernity and artistry. But you can’t explain Sibelius in two paragraphs, so the result is that the monument sees a lot of touristy galavanting around it, not just taking photos but hollering into the echoing pipes, rubbing the nose of the bust and general tomfoolery. It was noisy and it was rude, but I wasn’t surprised and I can’t blame them, but neither was I impressed. All I wanted was for someone to help me take a photo.
Two different men with DSLRs failed to take nice shots of me. I approached a Japanese group, and practised my rusty Japanese a bit with a lady. She apologetically said her husband is a better photographer but took the shot anyway, and it was not bad at all. Arigatou gozaimashita!
Finally, I met Iker – an amiable young man from Pamplona, the historical capital city of Navarre, in Spain. We chatted for some time, and I explained to him the purpose of my trip. He showed interest instead of the usual confoundment when I spoke about Sibelius – what a relief. We helped each other take photos, and agreed to find one another online. We parted as my bus journey neared. It was a good meeting.
Usually when I have to explain to people about my favourite composer, the response is a polite unfamiliarity. It’s difficult to put it in words. But during this trip, I expected to and did meet people, fellow Sibelians and nutcases, for whom no words are necessary to explain.
We know. We know why he sounds like that. We know what he “means”. We know why he stopped after the Seventh. We know what is the dust of hue. We don’t have to explain. I suppose it is the same for many composers and their fans. But for Sibelius, the group of people on this Earth who share the understanding of his musical idiom is small but dedicated. We often find ourselves in spot, a little frustrated that it’s not possible to explain Sibelius to those who haven’t heard. We may even feel a little sympathy (for them and often for ourselves).
It is especially wonderful then, to step into the quiet dining hall of my hotel in Lahti in the morning, and spot an elderly British couple already there. We would introduce ourselves and sit together to have toast, karjalanpiiraka, sausages, juice and talk Sibelius within 15 minutes of seeing each other for the first time. It feels as if we knew each other from symphonies past. Did humanity never notice the binding power of the arts?
My new friends, esteemed members of the United Kingdom Sibelius Society (UKSS), are best summed up in one word: jolly. Joining the group of seven (with one Australian), we made the journey to Ainola on the morning of September 6th, 2012. They do this every year, the society, but it was to be my first trip to Ainola, which is located in Järvenpää, 70 km south of Lahti.
I was happy, obviously, to be finally on the way. And a little tense. The hour-long train journey from Lahti to Järvenpää was pleasantly full of sunlight, chatter with new friends, laughter and Sibelius. I sat opposite the magnificent and very funny John J. Davis, who looks exactly like Sibelius, but would otherwise be happy to be called King Kristian II (you can see his very Sibelian hairstyle in the photo above).
From Järvenpää, we take a 2.4 km walk to Ainola. Amidst fields and trees and lakes, the sky threatened to rain and indeed for a while, in the middle of the walk, it did. I was a little worried. But it was not to last. Walking through the carpark at Ainola which I’d seen on Google Streetview, the rain simply stopped. The sky shifted, painted itself blue and the sun came out. Looking at the nature around me, I felt welcome and privileged.
The group headed to the Café Aulis first, which also acts as the ticketing booth. I could sit here everyday. The veranda looks out into a simple but resplendently sunlit garden. The interior was warm and inviting – pillows and chairs, tables with autumn leaf decor, cakes, pies, coffee and Sibelius. While I struggled to absorb as much as the cafe’s ambience as possible, the rest had already sat down with their cakes and coffees.
I like cakes, but I don’t usually have them. But this morning, I did not feel like having a healthy sandwich. I saw a muffin with a chocolate treble clef, named “janneleivos” and ordered one. As I put it on the table, Janet of the UKSS point out that this was Sibelius’ favourite muffin that Aino often made for him. I was more than a little quietly delighted. And Aino was at the cafe in more ways than one. Her personal embroidery lay in a small exhibition at the entrace. They were woven of home. A home of quiet, sunshine and a birthplace of music.
As I walked out of the Cafe back in to the sunshine, my shoes crunching in the gravel, I followed my companions as they turned right towards Ainola.
“It’s there, can you see it?” And suddenly, there it is, through the trees it appeared, a house. It must be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, this house among the forests. All around it, morning light, sky-reaching trees and serenity. Every step I took along the gravel path carried something like a musical purpose. The tall tree trunks went by, each one revealing the house in greater and greater detail. We stopped by the house’s exterior for a while, our hearts filled with unspoken greetings. I looked and stared, trying to examine every single detail of roof, window and woodwork, before realizing my companions had gone on ahead. I hurried to catch up.
Down again the gravel path, with the guardian trees watching, I see ahead my destination. I could not help but slow down. This point had been in my dreams for many years. It didn’t seem real, and I felt the lightheaded weight of surreality over me. I was kept on Earth only by a strange sadness, because I knew it was a grave I walked towards. Now, more than ever, every single step I put down held an immense weight of purpose. I stopped at the edge, where two stone walls parted and gave way to the grave. I took a deep breath, knowing that the next time I breathed, it would be a different me, one that had fulfilled a lifelong dream. There was a reverent hush around the grave. A stillness in the centre, like noteless bars in a music score, but surrounded by the rustle and whispers of nature.
The grave, as I have described, is cold and beautifully so. Aino’s apple trees surround it, a wife’s quiet, living, lifelong support for her husband, still alive and growing fruit, even as her name lay inscribed in cursive in one corner of her husband’s grave.
I came to Ainola expecting to say a lot. I wanted to tell him things. I thought I would have a lot to share with my friends. Instead, the weight of emotions while I was there kept me quiet. No, it was not that I spent all my time there silent and emotional – in fact, I shared much cheer and wonder with my companions, who happily showed me everywhere around. We took photos in the back garden. While there, I was asked to listen – listen: if not for the faint hum and whoosh of cars on the nearby highway, the place would be completely silent.
That silence, I think is what struck me the most. For the longest time since coming home, I could not express exactly what I wanted to say about this journey. It has been over four months since I returned home as I write this. Maybe like Sibelius, Ainola is a contrast. It is a place of silence and also a place of music. It is a home for the happy noises of family, and also a home for the quiet of rest and retirement. Sibelius demanded absolute silence when he was composing. He spun symphonies out of a certain cosmic nothing – though if you listened closely, you will realize something remarkable: that silence is filled with the chords of the universe.
In the very trees of Ainola, Sibelius’ search for a home came to an end. Within Ainola, his music reached its logical conclusion and his own journey as a composer ended. His symphonies soar in the concert halls, his home is all quiet. I found myself having nothing more to say, except to smile. My journey too, was done.
I knew that when I left Singapore, I wasn’t prepared for Ainola, spiritually. I did not know what to expect on a journey of such emotional weight, I could not know how to face my hero until I made the journey. And when I finally met Sibelius, and all the spirits in the sunlit forest, his birch trees, his wife Aino, his family, his favourite chair, his piano in the corner, the bed where he breathed his last, his hat and walking stick, his green fireplace; when I met his people, his land, his music, and when I laid my hand as close to him as possible at his home in Ainola – all he said to me was silence. And it is a beautiful silence, this Silence of Järvenpää.