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.

  * * * * *

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

The sounds we’re not meant to hear: is this Sibelius’ 8th?

News is emerging in the English language world of music that significant parts of Sibelius’ Eighth Symphony may have been truly found. Not only that, but they’ve been played and recorded. My friend KH alerted me via Facebook, quoting the English version of the report by Finnish music critic Vesa Sirén, who ponders if they have indeed found “the Holy Grail of Finnish classical music”. Words that I’ve used myself to describe this lost work, a work so shrouded in legend and awe that it has indeed attained the status of “Even if we found it, its light would be impossible to behold”.  The article was written for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper some two weeks ago – gosh, I can’t believe it takes two weeks for the information to travel out to the English-speaking world. This story really begins in 1982, when the Sibelius family handed a massive collection of manuscripts to the Helsinki University and the National Library of Finland. It took the Sibelius scholar Kari Kilpeläinen the next decade or so to complete the cataloging of these manuscripts.

  Among this body of material are a good many unidentified drafts dating from the time Sibelius was supposed to be working on the Eighth Symphony, but there has been no prima facie evidence to link them to the work itself. One page does admittedly bear the words “Sinfonia VIII commincio”, suggesting the beginning of the work, but the reverse of the sheet of music paper contains nothing more than a sketch for a few bars of orchestral music. Another page contains drafts for the Seventh Symphony and the cryptic “VIII” attached to a particular fragment of melody. Basically, that was all that was assumed to exist.

“Is this the sound of Sibelius’ lost Eighth Symphony?” By Vesa Sirén

Subsequently, Sibelius scholar Nors Josephson, while examining a large collection of unidentified manuscripts in the collection, concluded that fragments of the Eighth do survive. Enough, he argued in a 2004 paper, to reconstruct the entire symphony! This point fills me not with joy, but with fear. It may seem a little strange for a Sibelius advocate to say, but I’ve always believed Sibelius destroyed the Eighth Symphony for good reasons. It was not good enough, I always argue. He could not write a symphony better than the Seventh or Tapiola, so he consigned it to the flames of the fireplace at Ainola. In doing so, he meant that these are sounds we are not meant to hear. It may even pain or offend him if we did. I know the counter-argument: Sibelius was enormously self-critical, perhaps too much so. He was critical even of works we may deem to be exemplary today, like the original Fifth Symphony. Would the Eighth Symphony have been a work as remarkable as we imagine it might be, even if Sibelius rejected it? Yet another Sibelius scholar,  Timo Virtanen, editor-in-chief of the critical edition of the collected works of Jean Sibelius – does not quite agree with Josephson’s conclusion.  “It is not possible to patch together Sibelius’s entire symphony from these sketches”, he argues. And I am inclined to agree.  In Virtanen’s view, Josephson may have simply jumped to too far a conclusion. Siren writes:

      In Virtanen’s view, Josephson drew some interesting, bold, and ultimately probably also false conclusions from what were basically only a few isolated instrumental lines for a couple of bars of music. At the same time, Josephson did not take any account of sketches found in another file of archived documents that hinted at orchestration. “These [other] sketches could well point us towards the Eighth Symphony, and they indicate that Sibelius had taken off in a quite startling direction”, says Virtanen.

 “Is this the sound of Sibelius’ lost Eighth Symphony?” By Vesa Sirén

Words like these, “Sibelius had taken off in quite a startling direction” are to me, however, spine-tingling.

Possible score of Sibelius Eighth Symphony
Is this Sibelius’ 8th?

Screen from video at Helsingin Sanomat.

Virtanen assembled “from the later sketches and drafts a fragment that Sibelius has worked up for orchestration and a couple of other drafts with hints at an orchestral treatment” and copied them out. He then brought them to  Sakari Oramo, Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and to John Storgårds at the Helsinki Philharmonic.

“Phew. This is pretty heady stuff” , says a dazed Oramo. “It stops right there just as Aino [Sibelius] has called from the kitchen to tell Janne to come and eat”, he jokes. But then he tries out the harmonies on the piano and his mood grows altogether more serious. “There is a sense of searching and exhaustion in here. The material has an archaic dissonance to it.”

 “Is this the sound of Sibelius’ lost Eighth Symphony?” By Vesa Sirén

The turn in mood is telling. Even Oramo has sensed something familiar, spine-tinglingly familiar – exactly the sort of feeling you get when you hear the unique sounds of a Sibelian orchestral score.  In Sibelius’ music, it is sometimes not the tune that marks it as Sibelian, but the peculiar combination of tone and harmonies – layers of being, whiffs of the organic, and yes, that sense of searching, and sometimes of inevitable collapse and exhaustion as the music winds down. It is conductor John Storgårds who brings us a little closer. When the drafts are presented to him, he agrees to give them a try with the Helsinki Philharmonic.

The clip begins with an interview by Siren with Virtanen. The musical experiment begins around 2:07.  Siren later described the almost fearful atmosphere inside the hall of the Musiikkitalo  as the fragments were played. The orchestra’s press officer burst into tears.

The Helsinki Philharmonic
The Helsinki Philharmonic playing the drafts

Screen from video at Helsingin Sanomat.

The sound is indeed familiar, then startling. I hear, very soon, Tapiola-resque woodwind – it is as if the Seventh has fused with Tapiola, both light and darkness together. It is definitely the sound of Sibelius. The second fragment has sounds from the Sixth Symphony. Next fragment… First? Woodwind figures from the Fifth?

“Whoo. Chills going up and down the spine there”, confesses John Storgårds after it is all over. “You can recognise the composer’s late style from the fragments. But particularly in that opening passage the harmonies are so wild and the music so exciting that I’d really love to know how he went on with this.”

 “Is this the sound of Sibelius’ lost Eighth Symphony?” By Vesa Sirén

Indeed, that first passage is the most astonishing. and definitely sounds like something Sibelius might have written anytime between 1920 and 1940. I feel as if we are amateur astronomers looking through a powerful telescope in the backyard, staring into infinite space, looking for a fabled alien planet, and one particular twinkling light seems to beckon us. Is this it? But it is too far away, too far away in time, too far away for details and verification. We can only stare through the telescope of best educated guesses, and wonder whether we are staring at truth or merely hope. Either way, we know the field of stars we are watching, scrutinizing the tapestry of constellations,  is home to the seven symphonies. Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty god, and wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.