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touko 29, 2015

FinnFest 2015: Walking in the Steps of Sibelius

Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, was designed by Eero Saarinen with his father, Eliel Saarinen in the International Style.

As the Buffalo Philharmonic began planning its 2015-16 season, we knew the celebration of the 75th anniversary of our home, Kleinhans Music Hall, would be an important focal point. Designed by the Finnish architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Kleinhans is renowned for its acoustics and is widely regarded as one of Buffalo's architectural gems.  Since the season also coincides with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most revered composer, we set about creating a program to celebrate the art, design and music of Finland.

 Sometimes we plan concerts years in advance. In this case we started in 2012 by meeting with Magdelena Herrgard at the Consulate General of Finland in New York. We knew it was essential to gain a broader perspective on Sibelius, and she gave us encouragement and many good suggestions.

 Ultimately, we decided to go see Finland ourselves to absorb the culture and walk in Sibelius’ steps. In September 2013, a small group including Music Director JoAnn Falletta and Board member Cindy Abbott Letro landed in Helsinki for three days of meetings. The overnight flight was exhausting, but upon arrival we made a bee-line to the Ateneum Art Museum to see the collection of fantastic Askeli Gallen-Kallela paintings.

Our first meeting was with Timo Virtanen, Editor-in-Chief of the Sibelius Works at The National Library of Finland. Timo has devoted his entire career to the critical editions of the Sibelius’ output so he is one of the world’s foremost scholars on the composer.  Tuula Sarotie, General Manager of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and her staff provided us with an overview of the contemporary Finnish music scene. She kindly treated us to the opening concert of the season.  We got to see Hannu Lintu conduct in the newly constructed Music Centre, a facility that houses two orchestras and the Sibelius Academy, Finland’s top music conservatory.

Kaarlo Hilden, Faculty Dean at the Sibelius Academy, provided a tour of the building and gave us an overview of the Sibelius150 Celebration. In our first "small world" moment, we discovered that Dean Hilden knows one of Cindy's close friends very well.   At the offices of Music Finland Heli Lampi and Tuuli-Maria Gronroos introduced us to Jari Eskola of the Society of Finnish Composers. Their advice about composers and music was invaluable. Jari surprised us when he told us he actually knew and had met our own BPO music librarians!

Our trip also included coffee with Kati Laakso, who was preparing to head to New York City as Cultural Attache at the Finnish Consulate; Gita Kadambi at the Helsinki Philharmonic, who in yet another “small world” moment, reported she had an uncle in Buffalo; and a meal shared with Marianne Wargelin, President of FinnFest USA, who happened to be in Finland. 

With our meetings complete, we headed for Ainola, Sibelius’ home in Jarvenpaa.  It is a short train ride from Helsinki and was well worth the time.  Back in Helsinki, we marveled at the Saarinen-designed train station and wandered Market Square and the Esplanade. We toured the surrounding islands by boat, and made a pilgrimage to the famous monument to the composer in Sibelius Park. We were truly inspired by our time there and by the people we met. The result of it all is two exciting BPO programs:

 On October 3 & 4, concerts will include Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund’s Isola and Sibelius Symphony No. 5, and will feature the young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen. On October 9 & 10, which will occur during FinnFest USA, the concerts will include Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Symphony No.1, Jaakko Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto performed with the phenomenal Finnish-American violinist Elina Vahala, and Sibelius Symphony No.1.  We understand the Fagerlund and Kuusisto works are North American premieres, so we are thrilled!

 There will be much more music performed during FinnFest USA; the weekend will also include tours of our hall, lectures and symposiums on art and architecture with literature, education, films, dancing and more happening at other sites.  Just as Helsinki opened its arms for our visit two years ago, Buffalo will warmly welcome visitors in October! 

Daniel Hart

Executive Director,

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra