March 30, 2006

An eye for humour

Last week in a nutshell:
Recovering from Dominante's three-day recording session. Paid 1,10€ extra for the salmon at school, which tasted like crap. Taught in Laajalahti, took bus to Otaniemi in a big hurry - took wrong bus which didn't stop where I wanted to get out. Despite Dominante finishing earlier than usual (20:59) did not make it to fast bus back home - because of that bumped into Martin who was waiting for the next bus.
Sang Bartok's piece for womens' choir in solfège. Better lunch than on Monday. Practised the harp at home and made new compilations of Ecuador pictures. Taught in CM and went to Lauttasaari, where LL performed to an audience of seven (I prefer performing to seven people who are genuinely happy of the gesture than a hundred people who couldn't care less)
Slish-slosh day. Trousers soaked, shoes soggy through and through, buses driving through monsoon weather. Once again dished out 3,45€ for the pizza slice at school. Depressing harp lesson. Reinvigorating choral conducting lesson. Interesting performance of Händel's "Almira" at our school.
Thursday (today)
Singing lesson. Best lunch of the week (for now). Group lesson with choral conducting colleagues. Two hours conducting CM rehearsals. CM Swing rehearsal. Home for more harp practise.
Friday (tomorrow)

And to top it off, some pictures from the last days:

The view from the tram on my way home

Some from our choir preferred to enjoy the sunny weather, so extra microphones were brought outside so that the work could go on.

The first performance of the piece "The Neverending Tuning" for harp sextet.

Some of my candidates for most beautiful piece of music ever composed:
1. "Dove sono" from Mozart's opera "Le nozze di Figaro"
2. "Bogoroditse Devo", the last number of the evening service in Rahmaninov's Vigilia.
3. The "Abendsegen" (evening prayer) from "Hänsel & Gretel", the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck.

March 18, 2006

My favourite Finnish choral works

This is a top three list which is, naturally, subject to changes. But, if I needed to pick three Finnish songs for choir to take with me to a deserted island, they would probably be:

1. Toivo Kuula: Siell' on kauan jo kukkineet omenapuut (V.A.Koskenniemi)
A piece practically anybody in Finland who has ever had anything to with choral music in his whole life should know by heart, this smash hit of Toivo Kuula was composed in 1908. Kuula's choral work is very extensive and varied; some might argue the harmonies and music are straight from the other side of the eastern border but the texts he used are Finnish to the bone, and "omenapuut" with its utter longing and desperation is no exception.
The hearer is gripped from the very beginning as the tenors begin their lament, after which the other voices gradually swim in. The apple trees are already in bloom and the birds are singing, but our narrator is unable to reach them. The women voices lead the choir into the ultimate wish of the poem: for winter to come and snow to cover everything up again so the narrator would have piece again, and the very last minor chord must be one of the most tragic and haunting moments in Finnish music.
This piece is currently number 1 on the "top listened to"-list on my iPod.

2. Leevi Madetoja: Suvi-illan vieno tuuli (Eino Leino)
It's impossible to separate Finnish national romantic music and male choirs - these two just belong together, and one could argue that the repertoire available for male choirs in Finland is among the best and varied in the world. And as for romantic nationalism, it doesn't come any better than music by Madetoja (1887-1947) set to Leino's (1878-1926) text.
Composed at a time when Finnish people were struggling to establish their own identity, "Suvi-ilta" seems to underline the essential connection between man and nature. It's all about a silent wanderer listening to the far-away hoot of a bird, feeling the gentle evening breeze on his face and trodding onwards in a forest which is given an almost spiritual element in the music. "Mielen myrsky nukkuu": "The storm of the mind sleeps" - an incredible example of portraying silence with music, and what better instrument for that than a translucent and clean male choir. Time just stops.

3. Einojuhani Rautavaara: Die erste Elegie (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Thank God for Rautavaara's choral music. It's fresh, exciting and vibrant, and (you might have guessed) at parts insanely difficult, ranging from Biblical texts and large-scale works (Rautavaara's Vigilia is in every way comparable to that of Rachmaninoff) to secular music like this 10-minute work to the German text of Rilke.
Indeed, "Die erste Elegie" is hardly a piece of cake to be sung by any choir of the firemen, nannies and elementary school teachers of Northeastern Siberia.
This is a song I discovered fairly recently. Frankly, I was sort of apprehensive of listening to such a long piece without getting to know the score and the text first, but after pressing "play" I've realised there's something pretty captivating and downright spooky about the music, starting right at the haunting first bars of descending minor chords of the discant voices and ending in a jubilant yet somehow restrained major section.
I still haven't got the score or analysed the text. Somehow the images the music paints are compelling in themselves and I'd like to wait a while before I start staring at the music, because, after all, shouldn't music be so good that we would love it even though the composer had never put it down in notes?

March 09, 2006


When it comes to copycards, I'm cursed. I don't know what their real name would be but I mean the cards I buy for inserting in copying machines in universities everywhere here for taking copies. They come in denominations of 20, 150 and more copies. Anyway, it's definitely more sensible to get one of 150 copies but since the cards are always mysteriously vanishing from my wallet, I've given up. And it's infuriating to have only two seconds to take that one precious copy and realise you don't have the card. When this happened to me last time, I asked the girl next in line whether she could lend me her copycard just for taking one single copy.
I couldn't believe it when she asked me how much I would then owe her. I told her, probably less than 5 cents and left it at that. I just counted that it's actually seven cents, but I just can't believe that person. So much for camaraderie among students.

Today's metro trip from Ruoholahti to Kaisaniemi, which I make at least once a week, was suffused with an ethereal quality when a black small feather started flying infront of me in the carriage. It appeared out of nowhere and floated in the air, swaying back and forth just one meter from my eyes. When it headed in another direction I almost felt like following it. I'm quite sure I did not imagine this. Maybe I should look up "black feathers" in a book on symbols and omens.

Other extraordinary happenings during the last days include one of my neighbours marching into my apartment with a huge floorplan of my apartment. She had just bought one of the apartments under mine and wanted to check whether my walls were the same as hers because she wanted to do some tearing down. Until we figured out what exact wall she was talking about (I used to be good at making floorplans but looking at a floorplan of a place where I've lived for one and a half years now isn't as straightforward as you'd think) she had been given a tour of the place (except for the bathroom, although we almost used that for orientation). To cut a long story short, I don't have the wall, and she's ecstatic because that means she can tear it down, too. Whatever.