Lapland Chamber Orchestra/Storgårds

Bach, arr. George Benjamin
Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV1080 – Canon in Hypodiapason; Contrapuntus 7
Five Songs
Concerto in D minor, BWV1052
David Matthews
Capriccio for Two Horns and Strings
Four Songs, Op.2
Wilma Suite for accordion & small orchestra
Three Airs and Dances

Julia Pihavainio (soprano)

Väinö Jalkanen (piano)

Heidi Luosujärvi (accordion)

Lapland Chamber Orchestra
John Storgårds

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 2 October, 2008
Venue: Rovaniemi Church, Lapland, Finland

Rovaniemi from the airThe Lapland Chamber Orchestra is based in Lapland’s (Finland’s) capital city, Rovaniemi, which is perched on the very edge of the Arctic Circle. When you fly into the airport you are on the Circle! Concorde used to do this, bringing winter visitors to Lapland’s most famous resident, Father Christmas.

The orchestra has played for 37 years, travelling throughout the region to towns, schools and small communities, sometimes with reduced forces and led by the front desk violinist. It comprises 17 permanent players and will grow to 21 over the next couple of years with the consent of the City Council. It can look forward to its own Concert Hall in 2010, seating 323 people.

Beyond Finnish Lapland the orchestra heads south to Helsinki and Tampere and north to Norway and the Russian city of Murmansk. It is a busy orchestra with 70 concerts a year in Rovaniemi alone. It plans to tour North America in the coming years, once its international stature is consolidated through various recordings, including the premiere recording, on BIS, of Kalevi Aho’s amazing Symphony No.12 for open-air performance and Aho’s specially commissioned Symphony No.14 due to appear in 2009.

John StorgårdsBoth recordings are under the orchestra’s Artistic Director of 12 years, John Storgårds, a Finn with a growing reputation at home and internationally. He is urrently Music Director of both the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra (until 2009) and newly appointed (from 2008) to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

This concert was held to honour the centenary of Rovaniemi’s Lyseonpuisto High School. There were, in fact, two identical concerts: the first at noon for 400 pupils, the other at 7 p.m. for the regular audience of nearly equal size.

For such an auspicious occasion the concert planning could have been forgiven for being safe and conservative, perhaps some Sibelius and other European giants. Storgårds is not your normal, safe planner, however. So no Sibelius, only the great J. S. Bach with his D minor Harpsichord Concerto under the swift fingers of former school pupil, pianist Väinö Jalkanen and led from the front desk by Storgårds.

Two contemporary Britains were played: George Benjamin in his invigorating and inventive Bach arrangements for flute, two horns, three violins, two violas and cello and David Matthews with his Capriccio for Two Horns and Strings, written in memory of Dennis Brian. This work was recently performed at the Presteigne Festival under George Vass and Matthews attended both occasions. The horn players gained confidence for the second outing at Rovaniemi and were more conspicuous. This was a highly successful shop window for Matthews’s music in Finland under such an inspiring and influential conductor.

The two-hour programme included a new (revised) piece for soprano (again a former pupil, Julia Pihavainio) and strings by the school’s Head of Music, Esa Tikkala, writing in a style that Sibelius would have recognised; Four Songs by the 18-year-old Erwin Schulhoff, also sung by Pihavainio in exemplary German; and, featuring as accordion soloist another former pupil, Heidi Luosujärvi, the Wilma Suite by Markus Fagerudd, currently the Artistic Director of Nordic Music Days Festival. Perhaps each of the three movements in this last work was overlong, but they all contained some striking ideas.

The concert finished with a flourish, Rodrigo’s rarely heard but thoroughly enjoyable Three Airs and Dances for chamber orchestra, at last allowing the full complement of the very talented musicians of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra to communicate the joy of music-making in the Far North.

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