May 30, 2005

Smashing Sunday

Today can be clearly divided into two distinct halfs: the first part of the day (noon to four) and the rest (from four onwards).
The eagerly awaited picnic at Martin's which Sanna has been advertising for the past month was a success, although, sadly, not many people could come. In fact, the only ones along were Sanna, Martin and me. This, however, did by no means spoil the feeling of going out to sea on the Richters' boat and having a packed lunch on an isolated, unexplored island far from inhabited land (well, okay, it was Iso Vasikkasaari and just about 5 kilometres from the mainland... and we had a hard time finding a place to anchor the boat). Especially Sanna's avocado-tuna fish- cheese- cucumber- pickle-tomato-sandwiches were just the thing on this breezy and cloudy day. In fact, Sanna's efforts were doubled by the fact she apparently only slept 15 minutes last night. On our way back to mainland Espoo, we made friends with a duck mother and her SIMPLY ADORABLE!!!!!!!! children. Sanna's sandwiches came to the rescue and we fed bits of the bread to the little birds, who swam so quickly after them they almost took off from the water. Martin couldn't start the boat because we would have run over them, and so a sad parting followed: the last bit of bread was thrown far away, and the birdies swam after it in a flash. Lovely pictures can be found at Martin's blog! (Skip the pictures from their beach party and scroll down to the second half of his today's entry ;)
In the morning, I was being pushed by Sanna via Microsoft Messenger to "make a move", "leave the computer and get ready to go" and asked "how on earth I was going to be at the Richters' on time"... Sanna was supposed to catch the 11.31 bus, but she called me at 11.45 and told me she might not make it to the 11.51 bus. Change of plans, apparently! Anyway, just as I was running out of the Ruoholahti metro station to the bus, Sanna called again to tell me bus number 132 left infront of her nose. In a panic, I ran to the bus station at Ruoholahti, expecting the bus to appear there any minute. I was just as unlucky as Sanna and the bus made a dash past the stop just as I was breathlessly emerging from the underground passage in Ruoholahti. That's right, breathlessly. Maybe joining Anna and Mikko for their morning swim tomorrow wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Instead of leaving for the island at 12 o'clock sharp, Sanna and I made our entrance at Martin's at around 12.45. After the island picnic, Martin and Sanna stayed to watch the DVD of Finding Nemo (after we told her the whole story of the movie she felt like she should watch it herself - apparently she fell asleep instead) and I left towards Meritulli, where we had a CMS rehearsal for our open-air concert on Thursday. The concert will be held in the courtyard of Cafe Engel (opposite the Cathedral) and as it probably will be packed (everyone has invited at least ten friends, many even more) we are now considering moving the concert to nearby Senaatintori. We are already contacting the police so they can make preparations, such as halting the traffic and preparing for a mass onslaught of people. There's only one thing I can say: be there, or you just might not get that best seat.

May 25, 2005

Today, I.....

...Enjoyed a tender moment with my harp together with Bruckner's eighth symphony. The symphony lasts over 70 minutes and the harp part altogether around 3. It consists of slowly but brilliantly arpeggiated chords, and is one of the very few harp parts I can already play... roll on, Berliner Philharmoniker!!

...had an exasperating 30 minutes which consisted of trying to get out of the house - first, the washing machine took much longer than I thought, then it wouldn't open, then my travel card was missing, then I threw the garbage, then I remembered I had to return my parents' vacuum cleaner, then I remembered I had to make my shopping already in the morning because I was going to have a late day, then I tried to adjust my sunglass clip-ons onto my glasses but they wouldn't stick........

... Spent the whole day in a t-shirt, trousers and sandals. Yesterday, my thermometer put the temperature at 36 degrees celsius, but then on the other hand, I am on the highest floor....

... Spent six hours working at Cantores Minores. It was my last day of work before the summer. First, together with Timo Pihkanen, we wrote, printed and signed about 30 certificates which we later gave out to the students in a traditional ceremony. Then, I listened to entrance exams - out of 10 boys, we took nine. After that, we had a teachers' meeting.

...Came home as the sun was setting behind the clouds, made two sandwiches, sat down at the computer and started seriously looking forward to my three-and-a-half weeks in Syria, which will begin in a month.

May 19, 2005


I started and ended my day with Anna and Mikko.
The first hour of the morning (10.00-11.00) was spent swimming at the stadium's open-air swimming pool. After that, a discussion with Timo Veijola, the principal of Espoon Musiikkiopisto, about my harp studies there. It doesn't look very good and I'm now searching for ways to continue having lessons in the autumn. After that, my boys at CM made their theory exam. They made really well and I was quite proud of them! Then, Galante's spring concert at Ressun lukio (conducted by Anna). I accompanied this girl choir in a couple of pieces, and after that we went with Anna to have a pizza, and Mikko joined us. After that, we paid a visit to Mikko, who lived in the same building as the pizzeria. We ended up chatting several hours there. Among other subjects we talked about how people always seem to remember things which have happened - but if every subject is meant for remembering, what's the meaning of this moment now? Or the hours which I spent today with these friends - is it just so I could remember about it now or so I could experience it then?
Good night! Anna asked me to accompany her choir again tomorrow morning in Temppeliaukion kirkko, and I'd better get ready.

May 15, 2005

Concert Review: Horrendous Harpistry

Still going over this evening's solo concert by Dutch harpist Priscilla Pluckheart (note: the artist's name has been changed to preserve anonymousity in this blog), I feel a nice review coming up. The recital was certainly interesting and varied, but on the whole, there were some things which really made me question whether Mrs. Pluckheart really can be one of the most distinguished harpists from the Netherlands.
Confident and stylish, the harpist immediately captured the audience with her warm smile and dazzlingly turquoise trousers.
The first piece, Gabriel Pierné's Impromptu-Caprice op.9, set the perfect mood for an evening of harp music, but already here there were omens of curiosities which certainly could not fail to catch the attention of any non-professional harpists in the audience (admittedly, these were in very short supply). First of all, the soft and meditative arpeggios of the introduction must have been interpreted by Mrs. Pluckheart as trying to convey something quite aggressive and frightening. One could not help feeling sorry for the poor nylon strings, which must have been on the verge of snapping under the harpist's powerful touch. Some of the most difficult passages of the piece could certainly have been practised a bit better. The next piece, G.B. Pescetti's sonata, was a quaint Italian piece, comparable to Scarlatti's music in its baroque touch. Apparently, Mrs. Pluckheart was confused with her ages, as she seemed to want to give the piece a touch of romance, which made her very generous with her rubato, especially in passages which required multiple pedal changes.
Which brings me to the fascinating subject of the artist's pedal technique. Although the fascinating secrets of these pedals are supposed to be kept to the harpist himself, Mrs. Pluckheart was greatly more indiscreet with her footwork. Pedals are usually worked noiselessly and with small movements. Tonight's performer must have missed that part of her studies, since she alarmingly often lifted her foot high into the air and then jammed the things down with violent, stomping movements. One would have thought she could at least take care when putting a pedal back up, but, alas, her foot slipped during Grandjany's heavenly Rhapsody. There was a jolting bang as the pedal crashed into the upper slot, which must have been a real fright to the harpist herself. Of course, the harmony at this moment was also particularly interesting.
Mrs. Pluckheart kept the audience interested by also talking about her programme in broken English. She explained how Grandjany was the "Paganini of the harp" and told us about Cardon's "Russian Rondo", in which you could distinctly hear the balalaikas of Russia (not surprising, as both instruments are plucked). Interestingly, she told us about W.F. Bon's modern piece Allegorie, composed in 1972. She had just given the work's world premiere at Amsterdam a week ago, which would surely have made the composer sad to know that it had to wait 33 years before being performed. The music was, naturally, horrible.
The decisive E flat major chord at the end of Grandjany's Rhapsody finished the first half of the concert and was actually a promise of something better to come. However, the second part consisted of a single piece by Canadian R.Murray Schafer, "The Crown of Ariadne", for solo harp and percussion. This piece, which lasted half an hour, must have had the whole audience squirming uneasily, since it consisted only of interesting but also rather horrible-sounding effects one can produce by, for instance, hammering away at the strings with a huge stick, making the bass strings buzz away with the pedals (no problem for Mrs. Pluckheart), and tuning some of the strings 1/4 of a tone lower than the rest. The harpist herself managed the percussion instruments, which were conveniently placed at her reach. Definite highlights of the music included the tying of jingling bells to her ankles and using a cardboard pipe to howl into the soundboard. A particularly embarassing moment was when Mrs. Pluckheart caused her music to fall from the notestand by striking the triangle which was tied to it a bit too hard. An uneasy pause followed as she bent down to collect the music and herself.
All in all, a rather interesting evening. After all, it is not so often one can experience a solo harp recital in Helsinki. And although, admittedly, this review must have painted a rather negative picture of the concert, there were truly delightful moments when Mrs. Pluckheart managed to pluck the right strings of her instrument and the hearts of her audience with her sympathetic expressions and elegant gracefulness.

May 12, 2005


Today is my choral conducting exam. This is what my studies of the year have been leading up to and it's the time to show what I have learned. Jani, my teacher, told me that I will just do my best and, whatever mark the jury decides to give me, I can't change it anyway, so I have to concentrate on myself and not of them. Yesterday, we had a rehearsal of three hours, where Kati, Mikko and I took turns conducting the choir. We went through almost all our pieces, and in the last hour, an orchestra I put together from friends and people I know came to play the 19th number from Mendelssohn's "Elijah"-oratorio, which is our obligatory piece for the exam. The choir is doing a great job, but some of the pieces are still scarily unsecure, and because of lack of time we couldn't go into them more effectively. However, as Jani says, the jury is not stupid and they will see what are our mistakes, and what are the choir's.
Conducting the orchestra, particularly as friends of mine were playing in it, was an amazing experience and I feel very confident about today! It sent an rush of adrenalin through the whole body, and in memory of that moment, here is a list of some moments in music which always create that same feeling. Everyone knows what I mean - if heard in a concert, these are the parts which make you either jump out of your seat or want to jump out of your seat, which suddenly make time stop still and make you become completely absorbed in what is happening. Here are some parts which always make it for me. I'll start with what I'm conducting today.
Mendelssohn: Number 19-20 from Elijah. There hasn't been any rain for years and the people are starving. Elijah sends a boy to search the skies for any speck of cloud. Repeatedly, the boy cries back that he can't see anything. As the people gather together to pray for rain, suddenly the boy sees a small cloud rising from the sea.. the sky gets darker... the wind starts blowing... and the people are covered in a torrent of rain. Hesitantly at first, each instrument joins the tremolos of the strings, mounting into a huge crescendo, after which the choir erupts into their jubilant praise and thanks. (Sadly, we will have to stop the music right at the part when the allegro con fuoco choir starts.... boohoo). The countdown to Dominante's performance with Sinfonia Lahti of Elias in October has begun!
Puccini: Obviously, Puccini's music is full of breathtaking music, but perhaps one of the scariest moments is the merciless hammering of the drum when we realise Madama Butterfly is going to kill herself. At the moment she dismisses her servant, the audience realises what they have actually known all along - the only solution for Butterfly is to die with honour - and the strings accompany the timpani with their haunting death-harmonies. This is the part where the sleeping grannies will be jolted out of their seats and which, if performed with style, never leaves a dry eye in the audience.
Mozart's Marriage of Figaro:
The finale of the second act must be some of the most exciting music Mozart ever wrote. Seven singers and the orchestra erupt into a passage in E flat major which lasts about five minutes. The sheer perfection of the polyphony, the dazzling scales up and down and the magnitude of so much happening at the same time surely bring a smile to the most stone-faced listener. And just when you thought it had reached its absolute climax, Mozart ups the tempo just that one little bit.....
Bach: This might not be hard to guess - while the B minor mass is a real rollercoaster, the part in "Et resurrexit" where the choir sings "Cujus regni non erit finis" (Whose reign shall never end) is some of the happiest music ever composed. Bach was able to make the choir sound almost instrumental with their jubilant triplets and ornaments. You have to hear it to know what I'm talking about. As for the orchestra? To quote Händel's Messiah: "The trumpet shall sound"
Rachmaninoff: The cadenza of the 3rd piano concerto's first movement. If you hear this on a recording or at a performance -wherever - you will realise at this part that the only thing you have been doing is listening to the gradual crescendo and the ultimate climax, which must feel like something of a live's achievement for the pianist himself. Best of all, you'll want the music to go on and on... until suddenly you realise that everything must end sometimes, and the flute playes its consoling melody.
Marcel Grandjany: The last two minutes or so of his Rhapsodie pour la Harpe. Brilliantly arpeggiated chords and glissandi on just about every string the instrument has, this is the perfect climax to this impressionistic work, making full use of everything that can be done on the harp.

Questions? Then what are you waiting for? Listen to these works NOW. Also available per Messenger from my computer ;)

May 09, 2005


The best ten books I read last year, in no particular order!
Donna Tartt: The secret history (1992) A chilling suspense story without all the clichés. Very slick and stylish.
DBC Pierre: Vernon God Little (2003) Winner of the MAN Booker prize. A highly entertaining parody involving school shootings, reality tv shows, small-town life in America and the growing up of a teenage boy caught in the town which invented the barbeque sauce.
Haruki Murakami: Naokos Lächeln Originally published in Japanese (English translation: Norwegian Wood), a very touching love story and study of relationships. A cult classic in the country where it was first published.
PD James: A certain justice PD James is definitely the best British crime writer still writing today. Her novels never seem superficial because of their believable characters and plausible plots.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire The second time I read this book was almost better than the first. Absolutely breathtaking, and I've already pre-ordered the sixth book.
Leena Lehtolainen: Tappava säde Intelligent, entertaining and thought-provoking, this novel by Finnish crime writer L.Lehtolainen does not quite live up to its predecessors in suspense, but definitely makes you think about moral issues and paints a tragically realistic picture of domestic violence in Finland.
Tennessee Williams: A streetcar named desire
This is definitely one of my favourite plays. Tennessee Williams has a scary way of showing how the mind can play tricks on us, and how the sudden reappearance of a long-forgotten sister can change the lives of almost everyone involved.
The Lonely Planet Guide to Germany Lonely Planet guides are my favourite travel books, and with their recent make-over of all guidebooks, they are even better than before, offering information for before, during and after the trip, as well as some perfect sitting-room travel reading.
Metro maps of the world A breathtaking collection of all of the world's metro maps, including planned networks.

Good night!

May 06, 2005

Hurrah for choral conducting!

For many people, studying conducting automatically means working with an orchestra.
Here are some replies I can always expect when I tell people I study choral conducting: "Choral conducting? That's actually a subject?" or "Choral conducting? Where does one study that?" or even "You can study choral conducting at our school????". Many conductors themselves look down at those who work with choirs rather with orchestras, thinking that's something for amateurs. Of course, it is true that conducting a choir usually means working with amateurs. With only two professional choirs in Finland, choir singers are usually people who have just joined to have some fun with music. Sometimes, their ability to read music is appalling, and sometimes you wonder what on earth they are doing in a choir.
But beyond practising parts, keeping in tune and trying to get some people to open their mouths, there is a fascinating world waiting for anyone who decides to join a choir, or for anyone who decides to study choral conducting.
I am strongly of the opinion that the social life of a choir goes way further than that of the orchestra. While orchestra players usually are people who get paid for playing the right notes at the right time, choir singers are people for whom attending rehearsals is only one part of singing in the choir. Finland has a great deal of very good choirs, and although their singers may be amateurs, the choir itself can certainly reach a professional level.
Working with a choir is working with the music, the text (perhaps the biggest difference between an orchestra and a choir) and with people's emotions. The human voice is the most intimate instrument existing, so conducting singers often means crossing into the musicians' most personal sphere.
However, it will always be that the general cultural public will never be able to appreciate choirs as much as they appreciate orchestras. You could gather some of the best choirs from all over Scandinavia for a week-long festival of a cappella concerts, and still the music critic will choose to visit an organ recital in Lapland. Whenever a choir performs a highly demanding work with an orchestra (such as the B minor mass), the review usually dismisses the subject with a sentence like "The choir made a good job" or "Even the choir was able to create a very emotional atmosphere in the third number of the second part, but, otherwise, sang rather quietly".
Saara made her B exam of choral conducting yesterday. She conducted a whole concert with her own choir (Savolaisen Osakunnan Laulajat) and Audite. Finland now has one more excellent conductor of choirs. Hurrah for that!

May 04, 2005


Dear friends! Avid readers, most beloved fans.
I am sorry to have kept you in suspense for so long. I am sure you will all be relieved to know that this blog is still alive and kicking! - I have just been having trouble finding time to record my exciting adventures on this website. So much to do, so little time!
Where to begin?
Last week's definite highlites were the B minor mass concert in Lahti and Vappu, a celebration which is considered the highlight of a Finnish student's life. I'm not sure I can sign to that, but in any case vappu certainly was a lot of fun this year! My celebrations started in Kirkkonummi on Saturday, where I performed with the local amateur orchestra, which actually is not that amateur when you consider many of the players are students either from the Academy or from the Conservatory. The audience was thrilled with the "mainstream"-program, consisting of Strauss walzes, Bizet's Carmen-suite (there's that Nokia ringing tune again!) and new orchestrated/composed jazz tunes, where I got to test my ragtime/saloon piano player -skills on the piano.
From Kirkkonummi, I proceeded via Museokatu to a house party of some of our students. On Sunday morning, I boarded a totally packed tram to Kaivopuisto, the traditional picnic spot for more or less 45 000 people (mainly students) each year. Cruising between picnics hosted by Dominante, CM Swing and Sanna, I was stuffed by the time we went to have lunch with Mummy, Daddy and Dea in Raffaello. The afternoon was spent pretty much cooling down.
Performing the B minor mass with Dominante in Lahti was an exhilarating experience!! Here some of the definite highlights from the evening:
- The look on Helmut Rilling's face before the choir exploded into "Et expecto resurrectionem" after a totally freaky modulative slow section.
- Mezzosoprano Anke Vonding's rendition of "Agnus Dei" - time seemed to stand still.
- The first chord of the mass. After the organist quietly played a b for giving the choir the pitch, players and singers erupted into the haunting first bars, crying "Kyrie Eleison".
- Fireworks wouldn't have been inappropriate during the choir's basses' jubilant solo during "Et resurrexit", which, we later found out, made the women of our choir go weak in the knees.
- The applauses following the concert, which seemed to go on and on.

In exactly two weeks, my summer holidays will start. Tomorrow, Saara from our choir conducting class is making her B exam, which means she will conduct a whole concert with Audite, after which - naturally - a huge party will follow. This won't cause any problems, as Thursday morning is not a working day.
Book of the day: Virpi Hämeen-Anttila: Suden vuosi. An interesting novel about the extraordinary relationship between an epileptic student at Helsinki university and her divorced teacher. It sounds tacky, but it's not.
Piece of the day: Richard Wagner: Liebestod (from Tristan und Isolde) - sweeping romance and tragedy and, above all, a breathtaking harp part.