Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Shamanistic virtuoso

The Finnish musician and composer Kimmo Pohjonen has been nicknamed the Hendrix, Björk and Batman of the accordion but – as someone so aptly put it – to call him an accordionist would be like calling Encyclopaedia Britannica a book.

As a child, he was ashamed his father made him play the accordion, an uncool instrument suitable for old men. Now a few decades later he is a supercool celebrated virtuoso who has travelled the world with his instrument for years having charmed and astounded audiences in more than 600 international concerts and festivals all over the globe. 

Pohjonen has revolutionised both the handling and sound of the accordion with his custom-made electrified piece. He can generate most amazing music and noise with his instrument and some electronic aids but that is not all. He may tap it, scratch it, drum it. He may accompany it with his non-vocal shamanistic humming, clucking, shouting and what not. His performances are unique theatrical cross-artistic experiences, above all of music and sound, but also of movement and light. He can offer you anything from highly avant-garde to perfectly traditional but his projects can neither be categorised nor copied.

On Friday, we attended the special gala concert Pohjonen arranged in Tampere to celebrate his 50th anniversary. What a spectacle of sound and vision it was! 

He showed a sort of a retrospective bringing on stage collaborators from many past and present projects, including the retired prima ballerina Minna Tervamäki; the Proton String Quartet; dancer Reijo Kela; professor emeritus Heikki Laitinen, his former folk music teacher at the Sibelius Academy; and the Rämsöö Motormen, that is farmers from the village of Römsöö with their earth machines.

We even saw a bit of accordion wrestling: wrestlers from Helsinki Nelson throwing each other on the mat accompanied by the maestro’s furious accordion. Pohjonen first started to develop this concept when he learnt that accordion used to be played at wrestling matches when Greco-Roman wrestling was very popular around here during the first half of the 20th century. 

Of all the fabulous compositions and improvisations we heard it was the one Pohjonen performed with Ismo Alanko that touched me the most. Alanko is one of the leading musicians of the popular scene in our country and a versatile character in his own right. I’ve always loved his deep baritone. He sung his own piece ‘Syvä maanantai’ (‘Deep Monday’) that is about apathy and greed, two great vices of modern times. I had never heard it before and couldn’t quite catch the lyrics. Nevertheless, the intense performance caused me such powerful vibes I couldn’t help a couple of tears running down my cheek.

Bright Shadow, project with Minna Tervamäki
If you are willing to widen your musical horizons and if you enjoy the kind of rhythmic sound that makes you stamp your feet and move your body I do hope you will be able to hear and see Kimmo Pohjonen live one day. We and our fellow countrymen are lucky: the concert will be broadcast on YLE Teema channel on Christmas Day. Not that any film could ever match the real thing, not even the award-winning documentary on him entitled ‘Soundbreaker’ released a couple of years ago.

“When Kimmo Pohjonen plays the accordion, it is no longer an accordion – it becomes part of the man.” (Riikka Hiltunen, Editor, Finnish Music Quaterly)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Apples but no oranges

The other day we took some 160 kilos of apples to be pressed for juice. That is about the amount it is wise to transport in our car without risking road safety in terms of visibility.

This pile produced some 100 litres of juice that is now stored in our cellar nicely packed in 3-litre plastic bags with taps. A couple of years ago some pressers started to provide a bag-in-box alternative. This is such a fantastic improvement we are happy to pay the extra cents for the pastorisation and packaging.

Two litres of healthy and ecological juice per week throughout the year from your own garden is not a bad crop at all even though we’ve had to throw away at least as many kilos as we managed to save. Every few years, such as last year, the crop has been so minimal there has been nothing to press.

Our apple juice has always been reddish in colour. This time it shows a shade of orange, making it an even greater delight to your senses. It certainly is the best kind of juice I have ever tasted.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My idol is gone

Pets have an amazing ability to conceal their ill health. Jack had lost some weight but this was nothing unusual. This had happened to him every summer season because of the more active outdoor life he always led the warmer half of the year.

We had noticed a slight extra murmur in his purring but didn’t worry much. We thought he was in the process of getting rid of a hairball and gave him some liquid paraffin to speed up the process.

Last weekend we realized his condition had suddenly weakened. On Sunday, I had to take him to the University of Helsinki Veterinary Teaching Hospital. However, the X-rays and blood tests didn’t reveal any reason for his heavy breathing.

Finally, the endoscopy he underwent on Monday showed a tumour in his throat. As the prognosis was hopeless I didn’t have any other option than to give permission to put him to sleep.

I am happy the end was so sudden although we would have done anything to keep it from coming so soon. Last year when Jack had a thorough senior’s physical examination the vet didn’t find any indication of any problems. We were hoping we could enjoy his company, if not for another 12 years, at least for several years to come.

For the first time since we made the decision to sell the house – yes, that is why I have been so busy lately – for the first time since the decision I am convinced this is the time to move on. This place would never feel the same for me now that the sweet king of this hill in the fields will no longer hurry to greet you when you drive to the yard, follow you around whatever you are doing outdoors, walk with you to the mailbox, drowse in his little cat house, sleep on his bed on the porch table, tap on the hall window to be let in, scratch the side of your mattress to be let out...

I never would have thought how incomplete a good hectare of land and a big house would feel without such a small and undemanding creature. Should there be an afterlife it must be the kind where Jack will be joined with his best pal the Shetland sheepdog we lost six years ago.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Mushroom toast

Mushrooms have started to pop up, especially those belonging to the Boletus species. We haven’t had any time to visit the nearby forest yet but luckily I found a few pieces behind our barn.

Just chop them up, sauté with some onion in a drop or two of olive oil, add a bit of freshly ground black pepper and a hint of sea salt and you’ll get a delicious toast topping. This will be perfect as a light lunch with some soup, such as the creamy salmon soup below. Yummy!