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This should be good: Finland’s weird but wonderful festival summer

by Kare Eskola

"The five festivals listed below should be good, but connoisseurs should take their cue from these as regards what to look for and prepare for more generally in the festival summer."

The peaceful idyll of the provinces and the unpredictable summer weather have been the rather surprising pull factors of Finland’s music festivals ever since the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival began to attract world-class stars and eager audiences to the middle of nowhere in the 1970s. The festival industry is always in a state of flux, currently leaning heavily towards the personal, the local and the surprising, but where can we find the most powerful experiences? The five festivals listed below should be good, but connoisseurs should take their cue from these as regards what to look for and prepare for more generally in the festival summer.

Hiljaisuus 2022 C Jouni Porsanger
Thais Julia, Linda Suolahti, Elisar Riddelin, Hanna Pakkala and Lukas Stasevskij performing at Silence Festival 2022
Photo: Jouni Porsanger

Silence Festival 8–12 June 2022, Kaukonen, Kittilä

In a tiny, dilapidated village in the wooded lowlands of Lapland, Finland’s most abundant natural resource – silence – transforms into highly refined art in the blink of an eye: art music and contemporary circus rub shoulders with communal art. The festival’s unique atmosphere stems from how committed the entire village is to this week of weird and wonderful.

For the full experience: Make sure you stay at the festival and do not stray into the tourist slums of Levi.

Highs: Transport connections, surprisingly. Lots of unpredictable stuff on the programme.

Lows: Lots of unpredictable stuff on the programme.

Soinillinen2022 C Jaakko Paarvala
Soinillinen 2022
Photo: Jaakko Paarvala

Soinillinen 17–19 June 2022, Soini

Combining a wide range of music with gastronomy, this diminutive village festival is so far out in the sticks that it makes the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival seem like a metropolis by comparison. A meditation concert on a ridge surrounded by a bog is definitely par for the course, as is performing Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps in the run-down tiny village hall, which was designed by a world-famous architect.

For the full experience: Book an accommodation with a local B&B, which are quite exotic, and visit the bog.

Highs: Ensemble Gamut. Nothing whatsoever happens before concerts.

Lows: Transport connections. Nothing whatsoever happens before concerts.

Haapavesi Folk2021 03 07 2021 Pauanne Kuva Seppo Aho
Pauanne performing at Haapavesi Folk 2021
Photo: Seppo Aho

Haapavesi Folk 30 June – 2 July 2022, Haapavesi

Smaller and perhaps edgier than Kaustinen, this folk music festival has its roots deep in Finnish soil, even when the music being played on stage is pop or Balkan or Irish.

For the full experience: Attend a folk music course at the local community college during the festival, and you will find the best jam sessions and the best parties.

Highs: Maija Kauhanen, Tuuletar. The guaranteed light of early summer in Finland.

Lows: The probable weather of early summer in Finland.

Mantan Musiikkijuhlat Niklas2 20 C Ville Hautakangas
Niklas Pokki, the Artistic Director of Mänttä Music Festival 2019
Photo: Ville Hautakangas

Mänttä Music Festival 2–6 August 2022, Mänttä

Known for its forest industry and art museums, this tiny town is invaded by piano geeks who spend the interval comparing what they just heard to the Sokolov recital in Berlin in 1981. The quality of the organisation and of the music performed fosters joy in realising that some of the old money in the forest industry in Mänttä has trickled down to music as well as to visual arts.

For the full experience: Visit the Mänttä Art Festival exhibition at Pekilo to inspect the current state of Finnish contemporary art, as a contrast to the conservative recital programmes.

Highs: Angela Hewitt, Seong-Jin Cho. Visual arts on display.

Lows: Wall-to-wall piano recitals and little else.

Viapori Jazz 23–27 August 2022, Suomenlinna, Helsinki

A proper Finnish summer festival is one that is held out in the countryside, but if you do not have the time or do not dare leave Helsinki, take a 15-minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna. At the lovely island fortress dating from the 18th century, Finnish quality jazz sounds better than ever.

For the full experience: Before the concert, walk on the picturesque ramparts of this UNESCO World Heritage Site to note that the best military installations are those that are ancient and have become tourist attractions.

Highs: Perko/La, a cracking combination of viol, electronics and sax. The atmosphere in the venues and on the islands.

Lows: Jazz at a tourist destination.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo by Jouni Porsager: From the opening of Silence Festival in 2022.