The Lahti Symphony Orchestra has been described as a ‘small-town wonder’. Its collaboration with the Swedish record company BIS was the first clear signal that its aspirations were no longer those of a provincial ensemble but were oriented towards the wider orchestral world, and the orchestra fulfilled many of its wildest dreams together with its principal conductor Osmo Vänskä (1988– 2008). Since the autumn of 2008 until the spring of 2011 the orchestra’s artistic advisor – and artistic director of the Sibelius Festival – was Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Since the autumn of 2011 until the spring of 2016 Okko Kamu was the orchestra’s principal conductor and the artistic director of the Festival, and in the autumn of 2016 Dima Slobodeniouk began his tenure in these positions.
In the early 1990s various goals were set: to start touring internationally, to acquire a new concert hall and, by means of unconventional projects, to build a reputation for the orchestra as a ‘trailblazer with a difference’. Since 2000 the orchestra’s home has been the Sibelius Hall, known for its excellent acoustic. Numerous awards for the orchestra’s recordings (including a Grand Prix du Disque 1993, Gramophone Awards in 1991 and 1996, Cannes Classical Awards in 1997 and 2001, the MIDEM Classical Award in 2006 and the Diapason d’Or de l’Année in 2011) have also opened the doors to an international arena. The orchestra’s first major tour to Japan took place in 1999, and that year it also made its successful début at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York.
These successful performances gave rise to repeat invitations, and tour destinations have included the United States (January 2005) and Japan (2003, 2006 and 2015). Japanese critics chose the orchestra’s Tokyo performance of Sibelius’s Kullervo in 2003 as the year’s best classical performance in Japan. The orchestra has performed at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg, twice at the BBC Proms in London and at six concerts in the Musikverein in Vienna. In addition, it has given concerts in China, France, Spain, Poland and Belgium, and its performances have been warmly received by the international press.
The orchestra’s broad-minded attitude can also be inferred from the many exceptional recording projects that it has undertaken. Its first disc of Finnish hymns reached gold record status in about one month; overall, the orchestra now has seven gold records to its credit. Its soundtrack disc to the film Sibelius and its ABBA and Queen recordings together with the group Rajaton have all become platinum discs.
Alongside the music of Sibelius, the core of the orchestra’s work has been its collaboration with Kalevi Aho, composer-in-residence since 1992: among the works Aho has composed for the orchestra are five symphonies. The orchestra has also recorded a major part of Aho’s extensive orchestral output. Without exception these recordings have been favourably received by the international press, as indeed have almost all of the discs in the orchestra’s close collaboration with BIS Records, which now extends to some seventy recordings. In the autumn of 2009, international sales of the orchestra’s BIS recordings passed the million mark.
Working with children and young people is an especially important aspect of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s work. For the past ten years, for example, the orchestra’s task forces have visited Lahti’s schools and day care centres, composing together with children as part of the project ‘Hei, me sävelletään!’ (‘Hey, Let’s Compose!’).