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.
Dalia Stasevska, conductor
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.’
Andrew Foster-Williams, baritone
Born in Wigan, near Manchester, Andrew Foster-Williams is one of the most respected bass-baritones in the world, specializing in large-scale roles. In the early days of his career, he gained a reputation above all as an interpreter of Classical and early Romantic music – for example music by Weber, Handel and Mozart – but in recent years his voice and stage presence have grown to the extent that he is at home in Wagner’s operas. As a soloist with symphony orchestras he has sung Verdi’s Requiem, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with some of the world’s best orchestras, such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Concertgebouworkest.
It was probably a whim of fate that sparked Foster-Williams to become a singer, when he was 15. It happened after a school play. He had just performed a duo from Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera The Gondoliers, singing the role of Don Alhambra, when a local music teacher named Roy Dillon came backstage to congratulate him. Dillon urged the young Andrew to start singing lessons as soon as possible. As Foster-Williams’ family could never have afforded such lessons, and in fact he was set on becoming a mathematician or doctor, Dillon showed how much faith he had in the young man’s talents that he offered to teach him free of charge. ‘One man’s insight, and generosity of time and spirit, changed my entire life’, Foster-Williams recalls on his website. ‘Without it, I might never have known the complex beauty of singing a Schubert Winterreise or the joyous excitement of playing such wonderful characters as Telramund in Lohengrin, Méphistophélès in La damnation de Faust, or Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande.’
Just before Foster-Williams gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, his teacher Dillon died after a brief battle with cancer at the age of just 39. ‘He never got to know how his simple act of kindness so profoundly changed my life,’ writes Foster-Williams, ‘but I’d like to think that his legacy is somewhere there in every single note I’ve sung since.’
Eva Tigerstedt, music 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.