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Tampere Biennale - sights and sounds

by Aarne Toivonen

The Tampere Biennale, this year being held on 9–13 April, is the festival that shows where Finnish contemporary classical music is at. This is the second festival for composer Olli Virtaperko as Artistic Director.

A festival of Finnish contemporary music is held in Tampere every other year. This spring, visitors will discover surprising combinations of film, multimedia, astronomy and linguistics with music.

The Tampere Biennale, this year being held on 9–13 April, is the festival that shows where Finnish contemporary classical music is at. This is the second festival for composer Olli Virtaperko (b. 1973) as Artistic Director. His first festival in 2012 left quite a few surplus ideas for the next one.

“In 2012, I explored the theme of patronage. Two of our seven commissions were financed by the Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation: Mielen tasapainolajit (Mental Balance Variants) by Maija Hynninen (b. 1977) for male choir and Conter fleurette, a trio by Harri Vuori (b. 1957).

The Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, based in Mänttä, is known for its art gallery and visual arts week.

“But only the music was premiered two years ago; the commission included a visualisation, which is now being completed for this spring’s Biennale. The visualisation for Hynninen’s work is by Pirjetta Brander (b. 1970), mostly known for her drawings, paintings, videos and installations. Vuori’s trio was provided images by internationally recognised photographer Elina Brotherus (b. 1972). Both works will be performed in their final, multimedia version on the opening day of the festival, 9 April.”

The programme of multimedia works at Galleria Himmelblau will also include Virtaperko’s breakthrough work Kuru (Ravine, 2009) for orchestra, which was the basis for the cinematic work Lummelampi (Lily Pond) directed by Tuulia Susiaho.


Premieres from orchestra to duo

Two films will be screened with live music at the concert of the Tampere Philharmonic on 11 April. The music for Super M – konsertto murhaajalle (Super M – a concerto for a murderer, 1982) directed by Arvo Ahlroos was written by the founder of the Biennale, composer Usko Meriläinen (1930–2004). Hanasaari A (2009) by Hannes Vartiainen and Pekka Veikkolainen has been given a new soundtrack, with the permission of the original composer, by Perttu Haapanen (b. 1972). Both scores are premieres: Haapanen’s is newly written, and Meriläinen’s orchestral work has never been performed in concert.

“The films have to do with the demolition of industrial districts in two cities. Super M comments on the destruction of a traditional industrial district in Tampere with great pathos and a 1970s-opinionated angle. Hanasaari A, set in Helsinki and in our own time, is completely different. The directors took more than 500,000 high-quality still photos and built a handsome collage from them.”

The concert, conducted by Anna-Maria Helsing, will also include Hou (2012), a concerto for violin and ensemble by Jukka Tiensuu (b. 1948). The soloist is Cho-Liang Lin, who premiered the work in New York in summer 2012.

The Finnish headline guest of the Biennale, Uusinta Ensemble, will appear in three concerts and will premiere a commissioned work by French composer and musicologist Antonin Servière (b. 1977). He has studied Sibelius and Saariaho and has written articles on both composers for FMQ (1/2010 and 1/2012).

The festival commissions also include a guitar duo by Sami Klemola (b. 1973), to be premiered by Ismo Eskelinen and Jarmo Julkunen at the opening concert on 9 April.


Antithesis and hard science

The Biennale has always had a foreign headline guest: this year, it is the distinguished Kairos Quartet from Berlin. They will be performing the string quartet Connection (2007) by Sampo Haapamäki (b. 1979) at one of their two concerts, but the principal number on their programme is In iij Noct (2003), the Third String Quartet of Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas (b. 1953).

“The work is performed in complete darkness. The score exactly specifies what the darkness should be like and how it should be gradually created. The performance is also a spatial experience, the musicians being placed at the corners of the venue with the audience in the middle. Haas’s Quartet is the complete antithesis of the festival theme, as it completely deprives the audience of visual impulses.”

Virtaperko reveals himself to be a science buff. “I am a secular humanist and swear by the scientific world view. The people holding the purse strings have traditionally dictated where a composer should seek inspiration. There are already plenty of works written to the glory of God, so it is inspiring to find different approaches to creating music. I am interested in combining hard science with music.”

There will be two lecture-concerts at the Biennale focusing if not on hard science then at least on dialogue between science and music. Astronomer Esko Valtaoja and accordionist and organist Susanne Kujala (b. 1976) will be exploring connections between music, astronomy and religion. Janne Saarikivi, Professor of Finno-Ugric Languages, will be paired with the Uusinta Ensemble in a discovery of contact points between linguistics and music.


“A centre bursting with vitality”

The Tampere Biennale is one of the three music festivals maintained and administered by the City of Tampere, the other two being the annual Tampere Jazz Happening and the Tampere Vocal Music Festival, a biennial event that alternates with the Biennale.

“Tampere has a complete musical infrastructure except a permanent opera company. Tampere Hall is the largest conference and concert hall in the Nordic countries, and an excellent one too. The Tampere orchestra is one of the finest in Finland,” says Virtaperko.

“The city also has its unique features. It is a traditional industrial city, and the industrial legacy is still very much visible in the cityscape, in the workers’ culture and in the left-leaning culture of arts and philosophy. Tampere is a centre bursting with vitality.”

What does the City of Tampere want from the Biennale?

“Mainly more visibility on the streets and more use of local resources. We have done our best towards both of these aims,” the Artistic Director affirms.


Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Photo: Hanasaari A by Hannes Vartiainen & Pekka Veikkolainen.