Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Avanti! with respect

Monday night we checked out the Helsinki Music Centre inaugurated some six months ago. These days it seems every major public construction project provokes controversy and this was the case also with the Music Centre. After years of planning and debate, it was finally built as the home for two major classical orchestras and the Sibelius Academy music university.

The owners are hoping the Centre would become a meeting point for music lovers of all fields, a sort of living room easy to pop in or just walk through. What struck me was that the interior was smaller than I had expected, probably because we are used to the vast spaces of the neighbouring Finlandia Hall by Alvar Aalto about whose architecture I wrote in an earlier post just recently. Nevertheless, I found the building most appropriate. And the acoustics of the main concert hall have received nothing but praise from musicians and audiences alike. I do hope people who feel a need to criticize the decision makers for ‘extravagant’ use of public money would go and see the place first.

The steel sculpture hanging from the ceiling is by Kirsi Kaulanen and called 
Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth. 
We went to listen to Avanti!, the renowned Finnish Chamber Orchestra, a flexible ensemble performing in any kind of formation up to a symphony orchestra. Locally they specialize in music that would perhaps not be otherwise heard here and internationally they act as ambassadors for Finnish music.

The concert featured Brett Dean, an Australian violist, conductor and composer, the whole programme being by him. We do not follow any genre on music closely, let alone contemporary composers, so Mr Dean was unknown to us. However, we know Avanti! will always be superb and didn’t hesitate when I noticed the advert in Thursday’s newspaper on Sunday.

I’m generally a few days behind with the papers and it often happens I read about an event only after it has taken place but this time we hit the nail. It may have been the familiar face of the celebrated conductor Hannu Lintu that caught my eye or the appealing slogan ‘Respect your ears!’ but whatever it was that made us leave our current state of hibernation for a few hours we enjoyed every moment.

The concert will be broadcast tonight and we are planning to stay by the radio to compare whether the experience is very different when you can’t see anything that is happening on stage. I’m especially looking forward to the ‘Twelve Angry Men’ tormenting their 12 cellos and the ‘Pursuit’ between the viola and the orchestra in the ‘Viola Concerto’. (And I do hope the sound technicians have managed to delete the ringtone of a cell phone and the more than annoying load cough at the exact moment a piece came to an end. Shame on those two!)

Look at me, here I am writing about the concert as if I had understood anything about it. But isn’t this one of the best joys in life, coming across something you didn’t know anything about and loving it there at that moment. In the words of Mr Dean, the composer, “You don’t need to understand the music. Just enjoy!”

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