Over the past six months, the performing arts have went through a period of constant reinventing, due to the pandemic. This has applied to the Tampere Biennale as well, resulting in the festival’s rebirth in August, as a part of the Ung Nordisk Musik 2020.
On Friday evening, as a part of the redefined event, the Helsinki-based Uusinta Ensemble visited Tampere with a splendid all-Finnish programme, including no less than three world premieres.
The concert opened with Matilda Seppälä’s Vuolle (2018) for soprano saxophone and violin. Both intimate and intense, the music reflects its ambiguous Finnish title, referring to both whittling and a stream. The piece begins to take shape gradually, manifesting itself from the silence.
Once set into motion, the music flows seamlessly from one instrument to the other in a continuous flow, with intriguing timbral variations. Strings of musical ideas follow each other, with shifting perspectives. As a listener, one enters in an altered state of time, as if in a spell.
Luminously performed by saxophonist Sikri Lehko and violinist Maria Puusaari, Vuolle was given a memorable performance.
Lauri Toivio’s Valse Vanitas (2020) completes his quintet Dance Scenes, which was given a partial premiere at the Mänttä Music Festival in 2000. As the title implies, Valse Vanitas is a reflection of both the vanitas of the visual arts, with its perpetual presence of death, as well as the idea of a waltz as the dance macabre, in the manner of Jean Sibelius’s Valse triste (1903/1904) and Maurice Ravel’s La Valse (1919-20).
With its dark-hued, marvellously paced soundscape, Valse Vanitas paints an alluring panorama of all things transitory. Musical ideas come into being and evaporate, as the listener is swept into the quintet’s enthralling dance. Within its dramtic arch, the music encompasses various textures, provoking multiple associations, at least superficially, from Olivier Messiaen to Bernard Herrmann.
Dazzlingly performed by the Uusinta Enseble Valse Vanitas is an instantly enthralling piece, which will, hopefully, find its place in the contemporary repertoire.
In similar vein, Joel Järventausta’s Songs of Empty Landscapes (2020) transforms visual ideas into various aural guises, with vivid imagination. Scored for saxophone, violin, viola, cello and piano, and cast in seven short movements, the fifteen-minute piece evokes exquisite sounding pictures, to a riveting effect.
Each of the movements is based on a single musical idea, studied and developed with joyous invention and detailed finesse. Clad in luminous harmonies and textures, astonishingly brought to life by the members of the Uusinta Ensemble, Songs of Empty Landscapes is an adventure into sounding richness, rooted in an admirable economy of the source material.
While some of the movements are slowly transforming, almost static, others demonstrate tangible, kinetic energy. Out of the ensemble’s fabric, solo lines emerge, providing the songs refferred in the piece’s title. Based on the wonderful world premiere, one would assume that thses songs will be heard many, many times in the future.
Ari Romppanen’s piano trio Arcturus (2016) is an ingenious construction of musical material derived from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Archduke Trio (1810-11). While the thematic material itself is heavily reworked and seldom dirctly identifiable, Arcturus bears also many Beethovenian gestures, such as sudden twists and turns in the musical flow.
Although played without pauses, there are, in fact, three interconnected movements within Arcturus. As a whole, the trio is an uplifting tour-de-force, well served by Uusinta Ensemble’s inspired performance.
The evening concluded with the world premiere of Maria Kallionpää’s El Canto del Mar Infinito (2020). Written for an ensemble of seven musicians, the score calls for extended techniques including fragments whispered, ghasped and sung by the instrumentalists. This material is derived from two 2006 poems by the composer, both reflecting the sea environment and our need to proctect it.
According to the composer, the sea is also present in the music itself, in the guise of material generated from an analysis of underwater sound worlds. As a result, the twelve-minute piece is a multi-layered meditation on the nature of the sea, embracing both the soothing and the unpredictable qualities of our maritime experiences.
Ever transforming as the sea itself, El Canto del Mar Infinito is rooted in the most captivating musical narrative, giving rise to a fascinating portrayal of our complex relationship with nature. On a purely musical level, the score is a compelling study of texture and harmony, delightfully different from the various musical sea-portraits of the past.
Conducted by József Hárs, the Uusinta Enseble engulfed the audience with thrilling sonorities, bringing the evening to its wonderful close. A refreshing experience altogether.
József Hárs, conductor
Matilda Seppälä: Vuolle (2018)
Lauri Toivio: Valse Vanitas (2020), world premiere
Joel Järventausta: Songs of Empty Landscapes (2020), world premiere
Ari Romppanen: Arcturus (2016)
Maria Kallionpää: El Canto del Mar Infinito (2020), world premiere
Tampere Biennale @ Ung Nordisk Musik
Konsu Hall, Tampere
Friday 28 August 2020, 7 pm
© Jari Kallio