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In a Vortex of Sounds: Visual Highlights from Sibafest

by Julius Töyrylä

Sibafest, an open-door event showcasing various artistic activities, education, and research conducted at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, was held in late January. The event, which celebrated its tenth anniversary, comprised concerts, engaging workshops, inspiring talks, and fascinating teaching demonstrations. As this collection of photographs demonstrates, classical repertoire and contemporary sounds took myriad fascinating and colourful forms.

It was a cold Friday. As the entrance of the Music Centre in Helsinki drew closer, I took a moment to inspect the booklet for the upcoming festival. As a first-timer, everything was new to me – and seemed quite interesting. 

Therefore, after reaching the warmth of the venue, I felt a bit flustered. Where should I go? I quickly decided to start with the first event: a talk and performance by Eero Saunamäki, characterized as a “recorder guru” in the programme.

Saunamäki convincingly demonstrated his unrivalled knowledge of the history of recorders. This presentation also included countless fascinating details. For example, did you know that during the Baroque era, the recorder was seen as an “instrument of jesters” and as an instrument for sonnets? Saunamäki’s demonstration was not only about talking, though; he showcased his expertise as a musician, demonstrating how the recorder can imitate nature by making hauntingly authentic bird-like sounds – an old technique as fascinating to contemporary listeners as ever. This was the impression one got, as some of the younger members of the audience laughed and eventually went hysterical – only to be shushed by their teacher afterward.

After enjoying my hour in the world of the recorder, the sounds of The Marriage of Figaro caught my attention. I observed an open rehearsal of this opera, performed by students of the Sibelius Academy. The singers’ strong voices made the whole room resonate with Mozart’s music.

One of the most intriguing experiences at Sibafest for me was Lambis Pavlou’s workshop, titled “Inside Piano’s Jaws – Extended Techniques”. Pavlou taught participants imaginary and experimental methods of producing sounds on the piano, such as adding various objects inside the instrument. I had the pleasure of briefly interviewing Pavlou, who originally comes from Cyprus. After moving to Finland a few years back, he started experimenting with unconventional playing techniques on the piano, resulting in the discovery of new sounds and techniques. Participants of the workshop were highly observant and active.

Another highly fascinating event combined nature and music – seeking a convergence of science and art. Musicians Melisa YıldırımManuel RosalesVija MooreDevina Boughton, and Iiris Tarnanen, along with Professor Raisa Mäenpää from the Natural Resources Institute Finland, compiled an ensemble called “Lahopuu” (meaning decaying wood). The performance took place in a large, dark room with an eminent screen projecting images of Finnish forests. The ambient-style music was performed on instruments such as the kamancha, marimba, and cello. Mäenpää talked about mushrooms and forests. After the show, many were intrigued to know more about the project – and especially, how it became part of Sibafest. Improvisation, inspired by the Finnish forest, had a prominent role in the making of this piece.  

The light painted the space green, creating a strong impression of the instruments coming from a forest.

After all the green embedded in the thought-provoking Lahopuu performance, it was time for a red-filled finale – a baroque concert featuring different instruments and singing. The musicianship was impressive, as reflected in audience reactions; I even saw some people silently crying to the tunes of Krieger and Purcell. When the last piece was played with an old piano, I felt like being transferred to a different era. 

The musicians of the concert were Kristiina HirvonenHelena HolmHardy HännikäinenJasper KoekoekKirsti ManninenTeuvo TaimiojaAleksiina Turtiainen, and Veikko Vallinoja.

All photos taken by Julius Töyrylä at Sibafest, an open-door event showcasing various artistic activities, education, and research conducted at the Sibelius Academy, held in January 2024.