Finnlands Dirigenten

The Book

Finnish conductors are ambassadors of a very distinctive musical culture. Finland numbers just under 5.5 million people, but its classical music scene has been producing stars with a surprising and gratifying regularity unlike any other. Finnish conductors seem to be able to instil some rare magic into their batons. In his book, Vesa Sirén, a Finnish music journalist and expert on the international music scene, attempts to uncover the secret of the enduring success of Finnish conductors.

Vesa Sirén’s book is a monumental non-fiction achievement, which is concise, sensitive and written with a dash of wit like a good Finnish novel.

In ‘Finnish conductors - from Sibelius and Schnéevoigt to Saraste and Salonen’, Vesa Sirén tells a story in a highly accessible yet analytical style, with attention to detail and an eye on the bigger picture, how visionary artists and brilliant teachers made the Finnish conducting art unique. In his research, the author has come across previously unknown notes from Jean Sibelius and letters from Robert Kajanus, which have been thought lost until recently. These documents provide unique insights into the artistic vision and the daily work of these two founders of the classical music scene in Finland.

Sirén‘s book is also about the history of classical music in Finland, whose artistic agenda has always been closely intertwined with the emergence of the first Finnish State and the search for its own identity. The story begins in 1882, when the young composer and conductor Robert Kajanus returned to his hometown of Helsinki after completing his studies abroad and founded the first symphony orchestra in Finland. Kajanus supported a young colleague of his, Jean Sibelius. Both are considered to be the founding fathers of Finnish classical music, Sibelius mainly as a very influential composer.

Kajanus and Sibelius composed big orchestral works based on ‘Kalevala’, the Finnish national epic. Inspired by the heroic legends of the ‘Kalevala’, Sibelius developed his unique style of the symphonic poem and composed the first version of ‘Finlandia’ in 1899. At hat time the suite – which also includes ‘Finland awakens’, later renamed ‘Finlandia’ – is still called ‘music for the press-celebrations’, and it is a resounding protest against Russia’s attempts to cut down on Finland’s autonomy. When the work was performed at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900, conducted by Robert Kajanus, it not only became an important symbol of Finland‘s struggle for its own culture and independence from the Russian Empire but also made Finnish music and conductors famous. ‘Finlandia’s’ soundscapes illustrate vast open spaces and melancholy, struggle and conflict – until, after dramatic minutes, the music flows into a hymnal choir, which was added later: ‘Oh, Finland, rise and lift your head to glory...’ This call was finally answered in 1917, when Finland became independent.

Sibelius’ composition becomes the unofficial national anthem, and several lyricists try to write a choral version. In the 20th century ‘Finlandia’ becomes a highly popular Folksong reaching out from concert halls to the hearts of the common people. Sibelius feels his work taken from his hand by his compatriots and says: ‘It was composed for an orchestra and is not intended for singing. But if the world wants to sing, what can you do?’

Kajanus and Sibelius dominated the music culture not only as composers and conductors: Both artists also set new standards in the training of musicians, conductors and singers in Helsinki. They made the Helsinki Music Institute into what it is today. Composer and musicologist Martin Wegelius founded it in 1882. He was a contemporary and friend of conductor Robert Kajanus, who established his own orchestra school. Competition and mutual exchange inspire the quality of the lessons. Young Sibelius teaches at both schools until they finally merge in 1914.

In 1939, the music school was renamed ‘Sibelius Academy’, and it remains the go-to school for Finnish music and conducting art. Today, the art of conducting at the school is being passed on by the renowned conductor, Jorma Panula: 
All internationally successful Finnish conductors have learned their craft, amongst others, from him. The Finnish maestros of today base their art on his skills and teachings. Jukka-Pekka Saraste is the chief conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra. In Vienna, the performances of Mikko Franck are highly valued by opera audiences. Erkki Korhonen has been the head of the Opera Studio in Zurich for years. Leif Segerstam was director of the Radio-Symphony-Orchestra in Vienna, he has led the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in the 80s and remains in close touch with both until today. Pietari Inkinen, who is also an excellent violinist, is principal conductor of the Ludwigsburger Castle Festival.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is a frequent guest with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. With her guest performances, Susanna Mälkki has won many fans internationally among lovers of new music. They are all international classical music stars – and they all come from Finland.

Vesa Siren

About the Author

Vesa Sirén, born in 1967, is a music and culture journalist living in Finland‘s capital Helsinki. He is the editor of the arts section of the well-established, superregional newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. He covers classical music and Finnish cultural life. He is an internationally sought-after expert on the work of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Vesa Sirén also writes for the English-language magazine Finnish Music Quarterly. In Finland, his book ‘Finnish conductors – from Sibelius and Schnéevoigt to Saraste and Salonen’ was awarded the most important prize in Finland, the non-fiction Finlandia prize. ‘Finnish conductors’ has also been recognised as one of the most important non-fiction books in Finland.

About the Translators

Roman Schatz, born in 1960, has been living in Helsinki since 1988 as a journalist and writer. In his numerous books, his radio programme and as a popular presenter, he deals with various aspects of the German-Finnish relations.

Benjamin Schweitzer, born in 1973, is a composer and musicologist. He studied i.a. at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He lives in Berlin and Finland and writes about the Finnish music scene.

Editor of the German Edition

Felicia Englmann, born in 1973, is a freelance writer, a political scientist and a journalist. She works i.a. for Bayerischer Rundfunk and writes about culture, travel and current affairs. She loves the music of Sibelius as well as karjalanpiirakka (Finnish Karelian pies) and the Moomins.

Finnlands Dirigenten

Get ‘Finnlands Dirigenten’
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From Sibelius and Schnéevoigt
to Saraste and Salonen

A handbook for music professionals,
music lovers and Finland lovers
ISBN: 978-3-942073-42-4
In German language
Hardcover with dust jacket
17 x 24,5 cm · approx. 900 pages
Numerous illustrations · With edge colouring
Price: € 49.90 (G) | € 51 (A)


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