Discovering the next generation with the Lahti Symphony and Slobodeniouk

Chief Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk with Lara Poe, Stephen Webb, Olli Moilanen, Petros Paukkunen and Dante Thelestam at the Sibelius Hall. © Jari Kallio

Though the acoustically celebrated Main Hall of the Lahti Sibelius Hall is still closed, Lahti Symphony Orchestra and their Chief Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk resumed live performances at the hall’s atmospheric foyer, also known as Forest Hall, on Thursday evening.

The concert was an intriguing one, featuring six new works by young (more-or-less) Finnish composers, tutored by their mature colleagues, as a part of the Nursery Garden scheme of the Sibelius Festival.

As a result, following a rehearsal period from Monday to Thursday, the safety-distanced, enthusiastic audience got to hear six fascinating ten-minute works, embracing a wonderful variety of styles and ideas. Performed with the usual high-level dedication and craft of the Lahti Symphony musicians and Slobodeniouk, the evening provided delightful insight on the creative activity of a new generation of professionals.

Narrated by Slobodeniouk, the evening included a short interview with each composer, followed by a performance.

Olli Moilanen’s Väylät (Passes, 2020) leaps into being with a busy opening section, bristling with instrumental activity. Unexpectedly, the music calms down into luminous, quasi-meditative string textures, extended in time.

Coloured by percussion, the textures permute trough various timbral spheres. Gradually joined by winds and brass, the piece is brought to a captivating close.

An inventive mixture of various idioms, Väylät is a compelling study of contrasting moods, with both abrupt and gradual transformations. A befitting concert-opener, Moilanen’s score bears the allure of instant communicativeness.

There is formidable allure in the translucent textures of Lara Poe’s Kaamos (Polar Night, 2020) as well. A musical tableau marvellously reflecting that unique limbo between darkness and daylight, Kaamos displays Poe’s formidable textural craft, clad in intriguing sonorities.

In the midst of the orchestral hue, musical subjects are manifested, en passant, before evaporating and re-emerging in surprising guises. There seems to be a distant relationship between Kaamos and Jean Sibelius’s enigmatic Fourth Symphony (1910-11), at least in terms of textural elusiveness.

Halfway through Kaamos, abrief oboe solo is heard, functioning as a bridge into the second section of the piece. Here the music assumes more kinetic guise, while maintaining its transparent essence. These new sonorities inhabit the same half-lit universe, while gazing into a different horizon.

A sonic image of the North, on many levels, Kaamos is a veritable discovery.

Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony performing Lara Poe’s Kaamos. © Jari Kallio

Stephen Webb’s My Grievance with Nostalgia (2020) has its roots, at least to some extent in the music of Charles Ives, manifested by quarter-tone harmonies and spatial elements. Scored for an offstage string quartet and orchestra, My Grievance with Nostalgia may be seen as a contemporary formulation of The Unanswered Question (1906/1930-35).

However, it should be noted, that Webb’s musical language is, in many ways, very different from Ives’s. My Grievance with Nostalgia unravels in sublime, almost gentle manner, with darker undercurrents. Musical ideas are exchanged and transformed in dialogue between the onstage and offstage ensembles.

Emerging organically from the sonic fabric, there is bittersweet beauty in Webb’s quarter-tone textures. My Grievance with Nostalgia may be analyzed in terms of meditation, albeit far removed from trendy Mindfulness practices.

Rosverk (2020) by Dante Thelestam is a curious case, in the most positive sense. It is a case in point of music that simply defies any kind of verbal description. Rosverk exists between the lines, marvellously untouched by words.

Yet, Thelestam’s piece is, in its gradual emergence, compellingly tangible, almost physical thing. There is a fascinating paradox between the utmost sublime, almost frail appearance of the music and its intense, charged presence.

Both serene and gripping, light and heavy, Rosverk is an amazing experience, both aurally and mentally.

As a tour-de-force finale to a wonderful evening, Petros Paukkunen’s Prometheus-inspired Touched by Sacred Fire was unleashed. Based on a fast-slow-fast scheme with extended coda, the score is challenging thing to play, due to its tricky rhythms and fierce beat, contrasted by a graciously sonorous middle section.

In a way, Touched by Sacred Fire could be descried as a younger sibling of the opening movement of John Adams’s Harmonielehre (1985). Both works combine relentlessly propulsive main sections, with a seductive oasis of sound in the middle. Yet again, Paukkunen’s musical idiom constitutes its own, brilliant entity.

While not programmatic per se, Touched by Sacred Fire does reflect the eternal duality of all inspiration and invention. On a purely musical level, the score provided a perfect close for the joyful evening.

Lahti Symphony and Dima Slobodeniouk. © Jari Kallio

All in all, the Sibelius Festival, together with the mentor composers, Perttu Haapanen, Sebastian Fagerlund, Riikka Talvitie, Lotta Wennäkoski and Matthew Whittall, had succeeded in providing a substantial platform for the young professionals. Together with the extraordinary Lahti Symphony and ever-committed maestro Slobodeniouk, five splendidly original new works came into being in the most delightful way.

Looking forward to the next chapters.

Lahti Symphony Orchestra

Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor

Sibelius Festival Nursery Garden

Olli Moilanen: Väylät

Lara Poe: Kaamos

Stephen Webb: My Grievance with Nostalgia

Dante Thelstam: Rosverk

Petros Paukkunen: Touched by Sacred Fire

Forest Hall of the Sibelius Hall, Lahti

Thursday 17 September, 7 pm

© Jari Kallio


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