While Finland and Russia share a geographical border, in contemporary music they might as well be on different continents. Recent Russian music is rarely heard in Finland, and performances of new Finnish works in Russia are not exactly common either.
The geography of contemporary classical music is not something you can read on a map. Influences do not trickle through national borders; they travel from one metropolis to another. The strong contemporary music institutions in central Europe attract both Finns and Russians, confining direct interaction in contemporary music between Finland and Russia largely to sporadic projects.
Building a network
The Moscow Forum, the Sound Ways festival, the St Petersburg Philharmonic, the Moscow Conservatory … the list could go on. Composer Tapio Tuomela must be one of the best-networked people in Finnish contemporary music as far as Russia is concerned, considering the list of his Russian contacts. In addition to having his music performed in Russia, he has given lectures and composition workshops, conducted orchestras and acquainted himself thoroughly with the contemporary music scene in St Petersburg and Moscow.
“I began to explore Russia as soon as I became artistic director of the Time of Music festival in 2000,” he says. “The first cooperation project was organising the visit of the Pokrovsky ensemble in 2002. Since then, there has been a cooperation project almost on a yearly basis.”
This networking bore fruit in the programmes of the Time of Music festival in the 2000s. Guest artists at Viitasaari included the Studio for New Music Ensemble from Moscow (2001), the avant-garde ensemble Zvukovje puti (2004) and the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble (2006). Composers such as Boris Filanovsky and Vladimir Tarnopolsky were featured. In 2006, Russia was the overall theme for the festival.
This interaction worked both ways. “As in our Soviet trade once upon a time, people prefer to repay favours with favours rather than with money. You can be sure that if you invite someone from Russia to perform here, you will be invited there in turn. So it promotes exports too,” says Tuomela.
Finnish music to over 30 Russian cities
One of the most important partners in Russia not only for Tuomela but for Finnish composers more generally is the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, the MCME. Founded by composer Yuri Kasparov in 1990, it specialises in performing music by young composers.
The ongoing collaboration between the MCME and Finnish musicians began in the early 2000s when the MCME’s General Manager Victoria Korshunova met the then director of the Finnish Music Information Centre, Kai Amberla, in Moscow.
“Cooperation had already been established between Finland and St Petersburg. But our meeting led to Finnish contemporary music spreading to Moscow and to almost all Russian regions, including the Ugrian regions,” Korshunova recalls.
Since 2004, Finnish composers have been included in a dozen MCME tours to more than 30 cities in Russia. The guest composer is invited to select Finnish works suitable for the ensemble, and Finnish musicians have also been invited along. Tapio Tuomela has been on these tours several times and is one of Korshunova’s trusted contacts. In recent years, Russian audiences have also been introduced, for instance, to Olli Virtaperko (2011) and Sebastian Fagerlund (2013).
Victoria Korshunova likes to keep Finnish music in the repertoire. “After all,” she notes, “we are neighbours and our cultures have many features in common.”
A new tour is being planned, and advance information indicates that its theme will have something to do with documentaries. The MCME is also planning a Finnish-Russian multimedia project for the Sound 59 festival in Perm together with the Finnish Embassy.
One of the MCME’s own projects is giving an international course for young composers in the town of Tchaikovsky in the Perm region. “Each September, more than 80 participants including 15 to 20 foreign musicians come to this small town to collaborate and to write new works that are then performed by the MCME,” says Korshunova. ln 2014, there was a Finnish participant, Timo Tuhkanen.
Tapio Tuomela cites meagre funding as a permanent challenge on the Russian contemporary music scene. After the active years in the 1990s, funding has largely depended on private and foreign sources. Indeed, judging by the scattering of logos in concert programmes, foreign funding is important for the entire sector, including the MCME -which, on the other hand, is one of the few contemporary music operators to receive funding from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.
Korshunova explains that many projects can only happen with support from foreign cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute or the Finnish Music Foundation (MES). “It is wonderful that the MES continues to support the promotion of Finnish contemporary music abroad,” she says. “lt is very important for cultural collaboration and development. Unfortunately, here in Russia we have no organisation to support the performing of Russian contemporary music abroad, except for the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.”
Festival concert programmes indicate that cultural exchange with countries in central Europe is alive and well even since the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and there are many foreign ensembles and soloists on the programmes.
Personal relations between musicians
Composer Pasi Lyytikäinen was impressed with Moscow when he visited the Moscow Autumn festival in 2012. “lt was an amazing cultural experience. Not just the music, the museums too,” he says of his first visit to the Russian capital. “I noticed that there are many cultures overlapping. The music produced during the Soviet era still maintains a strong presence on the contemporary music scene. The repertoire is very diverse.”
Three works by Lyytikäinen were performed at the festival, one of them a world premiere: Chamber Vocalise, dedicated to freedom of speech. He was invited to the festival by composer Anton Safranov, whom Lyytikäinen had previously met when Safranov was lecturing in Helsinki. They also had a common acquaintance, Keijo Aho, who at the time was a lecturer in chamber music at the Metropolia University of Applied Arts in Helsinki; his Ajassa! ensemble was also a guest at the festival.
Lyytikäinen does not speak Russian, so it was important for him to have someone in Moscow meet him, interpret for him and explain differences in operating practices. lt was a surprise that there were so many cultural differences, starting with concert practices, says Lyytikäinen.
Language barrier notwithstanding, he managed to establish direct relations with musicians and composers. Lyytikäinen notes that many Russian musicians and composers travel between central Europe and Russia a lot, building international careers. He has since maintained contact with the GAM Ensemble, which performed his works at the festival, and accordionist Sergej Tchirkov. Lyytikäinen invited Tchirkov to be the headline performer at his own festival, Pasimusic, in 2014.
And what about the political circumstances? Do they influence relationships with Russians? Lyytikäinen says that he was prompted to think about this as his visit coincided with the Pussy Riot trial, and many people were boycotting performing in Russia. “My contacts with musicians are direct and personal, and politics plays no role in them”, says Lyytikäinen. “If anything, it has been interesting to hear about things from their perspective. Besides, music has always had the capacity to transcend conflicts.”
So close yet so far
Despite individual efforts, Russian contemporary music remains an oddity in Finland, rarely found on concert programmes. Although Finland has a large Russian minority, Russian composers or composition students are not much tempted to come here. Why not?
“St Petersburg is close to us, but very few composition students in that city are sufficiently modernist in orientation to be interested in what is going on here,” says Tuomela. “The St Petersburg Conservatory still has quite a few teachers left over from the old regime. In Moscow, on the other hand, there is also a fine tradition of modernism that was inaugurated by Edison Denisov and well represented even today thanks to Professor Vladimir Tarnopolsky.”
That Russian music is so unfamiliar in Finland is compounded by the fact that very few recordings are available. And, as Tapio Tuomela notes, establishing personal contacts between Finns and Russians has always been hampered by the language barrier.
So what does the contemporary music scene in Moscow and St Petersburg look like from the Finnish perspective? There are certainly a lot of musicians, composers, events and institutions. “But relative to the size of the place, contemporary music is much more passive than in Finland,” Tuomela notes.
To small places and new audiences
The field of contemporary music in Russia – as elsewhere – is in a state of flux, orientating itself towards new audiences, according to Korshunova. “lnterest in international contemporary art is high particularly among young people, and many clubs and unusual venues for contemporary music have emerged.”
Smaller cities are making a mark on the contemporary music scene; new initiatives may be found in Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, Yekaterinburg, Tomsk and Rostov, according to Korshunova.
The MCME tours have taken Tapio Tuomela to communities even smaller than that, and he has fond memories of those visits. “For instance, accordionist Niko Kumpuvaara and myself were once in a tiny village 200km east of Perm. Many of the people in the audience had never been to a concert of contemporary music in their life. They were enormously interested and curious. We were met by the town manager and given gifts. We were incredibly cordially received,” he says.
“All this has helped establish direct contact with people there. When you speak Russian, you can talk to people directly about their views for instance on political events,” says Tuomela. “Having seen all the receptions and been received like a celebrity, it seems all the more incredible that the situation at the level of national polities should be the way it is now. And because of that, it is increasingly important to maintain the personal contacts that we have.”
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi