The Lahti Symphony Orchestra is an orchestra for Lahti, Finland and the world that is proud of its traditions but also has an innovative attitude.
At the heart of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s activity is a broad and wide-ranging series of symphony concerts, plus high-quality concerts of lighter music. Considerable emphasis is laid on work directed at children and young people in the Lahti area. The orchestra is based at the Sibelius Hall, the acoustics of which have been listed as among the best in the world by such publications as The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Die Welt.
For some decades the chief conductors have been Finnish musicians of worldwide renown – Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Okko Kamu and most recently Dima Slobodeniouk, who took over as principal conductor in the autumn of 2016. The same conductors have also served as artistic director of the Sibelius Festival that the orchestra has organized since 2000. In the autumn of 2021 Dalia Stasevska will begin her tenure as the orchestra’s chief conductor and the artistic director of the Sibelius Festival. Conductor Anja Bihlmaier took up the position of the orchestra’s principal guest conductor in the autumn of 2020.
The widespread worldwide acclaim of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra stems from its extensive catalogue of recordings, numerous international tours and online concerts. More than thirty years of recordings, mostly for the Swedish BIS label, have resulted in around a hundred discs, many international record prizes, three platinum discs and seven gold discs, which have sold a total of more than 1.2 million copies worldwide. Its Sibelius recordings with Osmo Vänskä – among them the original versions of the composer’s Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony – have been especially well received, and laid the foundations of the orchestra’s international reputation for playing Sibelius. Music by the orchestra’s composer laureate Kalevi Aho has also played a major role in its recording production.
The Lahti Symphony Orchestra has appeared at many prestigious festivals and at leading venues all over the world, including the BBC Proms in London, the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg, performances in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Concert tours have taken the orchestra to Japan, China, South Korea, the USA, South America and many European countries. In Finland the Lahti Symphony Orchestra has been a regular visitor to the Verkatehdas in Hämeenlinna since 2007 and is a familiar sight at other venues too.
The Lahti Symphony Orchestra was the first orchestra in the world to start regular concert broadcasts online at the ClassicLive website in 2007. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra Carbon Free project, which started in 2015, earned the international Classical:NEXT Innovation Prize in 2018.
During her ten-year career Dalia Stasevska (b. 1984), principal conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, has become one of the most internationally prominent Finnish conductors. Appearances with Finnish orchestras led to numerous invitations, first to other Nordic orchestras and opera houses, and then to Europe, Australia and Asia, and in recent years also to the notoriously hard-to-reach big-name orchestras in the USA.
Highlights of Stasevska’s 2021–22 season include first appearances with the New York Philharmonic and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the First Night of the BBC Proms in London as principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the opening concert of the Edinburgh International Festival. In the autumn she will also begin her first season as principal conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Stasevska had conducted the orchestra only twice before being offered this appointment.
Immediately after the first day of rehearsal with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Stasevska observed that the orchestra has a positive working atmosphere and a mindset that takes them a long way. ‘I like the attitude towards making music in Lahti. The musicians dive right in, they’re enthusiastic, they work hard and with ambition’, says Stasevska. ‘I found this very inspiring.’
The repertoire in Stasevska’s first season reflects her attitude to life and art. The concerts feature classics, rarities as well as novelties, forgotten works, music from all over the world. These form a whole in which the individual parts relate to each other.
‘I am passionate about dialogue. How the past and present, different cultures and people meet each other. I wanted to choose modern, international programmes that are up-to-date, and to remain open to everything.’
Stasevska is inspired not only by music but also by art, and is especially fond of contemporary art. She follows classical and light music with equal enthusiasm, and is inspired by opera and, for example, new pop music.
When travelling, too, she is always keen to seek out museums of contemporary art. She is also passionate about architecture and design, which always arouse her curiosity, whether the focus is on Italian architecture of the 1960s or on Finnish kitchen utensil design.
Stasevska is strongly drawn to nature. While living on a farm in Tuusula for a couple of years, she had two pet chickens named – fittingly – Clara and Alma. ‘And the rooster, Jorma, also spent his summer holidays in the henhouse’, says Stasevska. She sums up her attitude to both life and the job of a principal conductor: ‘I set great store by playfulness. If you are fearless and go with the flow, unexpected things and insights always follow. Children, too, learn a lot just by playing. I see that the Lahti Symphony Orchestra is equally open-minded.’
Pekka Kuusisto, violin
Pekka Kuusisto is Finland’s most celebrated violinist. In his career, Kuusisto has played not only with all the Finnish symphony orchestras but also as a soloist with, for example, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Chamber Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he has worked as an artistic partner of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra and as artistic director of Our Festival (Järvenpää/Tuusula). In recent years he has also become active as a conductor.
As a concerto soloist, Kuusisto is probably Finland’s most famous, but his reputation as a versatile and almost omnivorous performer, jumping across, between and over genres, is at least as strong – and fully deserved. It is equally natural for Kuusisto to play Tchaikovsky and Finnish folk music in succession at the Royal Albert Hall in London, to be responsible for the music of a new Moomin cartoon or to give a concert with Paula Vesala next to Helsinki Post Office. He has also played with bands such as Nightwish, Rinneradio and the Don Johnson Big Band.
Sibelius’s Violin Concerto has been the most important cornerstone of Kuusisto’s repertoire since 1995 when, sensationally, he won the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition – the only Finn to have done so in the competition’s more than 50-year history. He has also recorded the concerto with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam.
Johanna Iivanainen, singer
Born in Oulu and based in Mäntsälä, the singer-songwriter Johanna Iivanainen is one of the most important Finnish jazz musicians. Iivanainen, who studied music education at Oulu Conservatory and went on to the Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz Conservatory, began her extensive recording career with the Khamos ensemble in the 1990s. Since then, he has recorded with, for instance, Pepe Willberg, Eero Koivistoinen and Jukka Perko, and has made several solo discs. She has received three Emma nominations, one of which won the award. In total, Iivanainen’s discography includes more than 50 albums. She is most familiar to the public at large as the soloist with the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s SuomiLove studio band.
Iivanainen has gained a reputation as a musician whose down-to-earth interpretations and touching vocals bring out the natural qualities of the human voice to the full. Her songs are inspired by unvarnished rural landscapes: the birds building their nests; trees and lakes, especially Oijärvi in Northern Ostrobothnia, in the municipality of Ii, which dominates the landscape of her grandmother’s home, where she spent time during her childhood. Among her artistic role models Iivanainen acknowledges American roots musicians.
Johanna Juhola, accordion and vocal
The accordion player and composer Johanna Juhola is a complete master of her instruments – regardless of genre. Her comfort zone extends from Finnish to Argentine tangos, covering a wide range of ethnic styles as well as electronic and pop music. Her artist partners include Pekka Kuusisto, Lauri Tähkä, the Philomela Choir, the pop rock band PMMP, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Don Johnson Big Band, Oulu Sinfonia, the folk group JPP and the Tapiola Sinfonietta.
She performs her own music in the Johanna Juhola Trio and Johanna Juhola Reaktor, and often plays as a duo with Milla Viljamaa or with Timo Alakotila. In her compositions, Juhola uses the sounds from the environment – such as city noise and the clatter of trams – as inspiration. Her latest solo work, Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends, also includes everyday objects and video art. Juhola’s early successes included victory at the international Astor Piazzolla Competition with the Novjaro Quintet in 2000, and the Città di Castelfidardo Prize in duo with Milla Viljamaa in 2002. Juhola’s accordion playing found its largest audience to date in Helsinki in 2007 when she performed the opening number at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Mikko Iivanainen, guitar
Mikko Iivanainen is one of the most acclaimed professional guitarists in Finland. It would almost be easier to list people with whom Iivanainen has not yet performed – but here are a few of his partners: the Joensuu City Orchestra, Jyväskylä Sinfonia, Pori Sinfonietta, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen, Juhani Aaltonen and Klaus Suonsaari. Since 2017 Iivanainen has performed together with his wife Johanna, pianist Timo Alakotila and accordionist Maria Kalaniemi. In 2005 he won an Emma Award for best jazz album with his band Loco Motife, and in 2020 he released his first solo album, A River Runs Through It.
Iivanainen’s ‘awakening’ to the guitar took place when he was 11. He could barely play a couple of silly chords, which he had been taught by his sister, when he saw a documentary about Jimi Hendrix on TV – after which there was no going back. He essentially started his studies at the Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz Conservatory at the age of 13, and graduated officially as a guitar teacher in 1999. During his first year of study, he met his wife Johanna, with whom he has now been together for 25 years.
Timo Alakotila, piano and harmonium
Pianist. Composer. Arranger. Timo Alakotila, who was chosen as folk musician of the year in 2020, personifies total musicianship. Alakotila, who has received a state artist grant for almost 20 years, has been involved in so much, in a career spanning many decades, that a list of his recent projects alone would fill this entire programme.
As an arranger he recently won acclaim in Scotland, where the BBC Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conductor Thomas Dausgaard and Pekka Kuusisto performed a version of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in Alakotila’s arrangement for orchestra and folk ensemble. As a composer, for example, he won acclaim last year at the Umefolk Festival in Sweden, where his Fifth Violin Concerto was premièred with Elin Jonsson as soloist. As a performer he currently plays in groups including: Maria Kalaniemi & Timo Alakotila, JPP, Nordik Tree, duo May Monday, Tango-orkesteri Unto, Psalttamus and T for Three. To collect all the albums featuring Alakotila in one place would require about 2.5 metres of shelf space, for more than 250 CD releases. Alakotila is also a respected teacher at the Sibelius Academy and the Pop & Jazz Conservatory in Helsinki. He is also a visiting teacher at the University of Limerick, Viljandi Culture Academy and the Universities of Applied Sciences in Joensuu and Kokkola. As a teacher, Alakotila is especially known for his method of folk music improvisation, which he developed himself.
Eva Tigerstedt, journalist
Eva Tigerstedt is a music journalist of rare quality. In addition to possessing knowledge of music, she has extensive personal experience of the daily life of a professional musician at a high level. She graduated from the Sibelius Academy as a flautist and for ten years took part in productions by Opera Skaala and the Finnish National Opera, for example, until focal dystonia made playing the flute first difficult, and eventually impossible. After studying screenwriting, documentary film and financial management, Tigerstedt ended up as a journalist specializing in classical music. Today, she can be heard mainly on Yleisradio Radio 1, where she hosts her own shows, Klassikkoparatiisi (Classical Paradise) and Utelias Äänimatkailija (The Inquisitive Sound Traveller).
Tigerstedt is known in particular as a speaker who delves deep into the heart of music, who succeeds in evoking historical phenomena in the language of today, and making music into art that is a personal experience – in a way that is easy to understand, but still expert. Tigerstedt is a familiar sight everywhere where classical music is discussed with passion. The events she hosts have taken place everywhere on the symphonic map of Finland, both introductions to concerts and interval talks, either directly in front of the audience or recorded on camera.
Aino Porra, who has enjoyed a career as an orchestral musician for almost fifty years, is not only a skilled oboist but also a member of a world-famous musical family. She is a direct descendant of Jean Sibelius – daughter of the composer’s and Aino Sibelius’s second-youngest daughter, Margareta Jalas. Aino Porra’s father was the conductor Jussi Jalas.
Porra was ten years old when Sibelius died, but she still remembers his grandfather’s gaze and words. She has often said in the media what a warm-hearted, child- and nature-loving character Jean was. ‘I spent a lot of time at Ainola’, Porra told the newspaper Iltalehti. ‘It had a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere. Not only Grandmother and Grandfather but also the kitchen staff were dear to us. My grandfather was already 81 when I was born. He was often deep in his own thoughts, but was a warm and rather humorous person. He was immensely fond of us children; he would take us by the hand, and cherish us. We felt that he wanted to be a child too, and run around with us. He always told us go and run into the forest and enjoy ourselves.’
As a representative of the Sibelius family, Porra enjoys an even higher profile than she does as a musician, although during her career she has played with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Finnish National Opera and at many chamber music concerts. ‘Being the heir to a famous composer has somehow come naturally. I suppose I’ve grown into it’, Porra has said. Her memories are also recorded in the book Melody Forest – with Jean Sibelius. She is also the president of the collegium representing the Sibelius estate.