Opening concert of the Turku Music Festival, 11 August, 2016, Turku Concert Hall
Opening concert of the Helsinki Festival, 19 August, 2016, Musiikkitalo of Helsinki
Classical Trancelations in Concert (Helsinki Festival), 26 August, 2016, Musiikkitalo of Helsinki
Within fifteen minutes of going on sale, the concert by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra at this year’s Helsinki Festival was sold out. Another concert scheduled for that evening proved equally popular.
The reason for the rush for tickets was not 20-year-old conductor comet Klaus Mäkelä, or even the soloists; it was the programme – EDM classics of the past couple of decades arranged for large symphony orchestra, choir and soloists. The eager audience was not disappointed. From time to time the applause reached such a pitch that the conductor had to cover his ears.
Undergoing an audio makeover in a project entitled “Classical Trancelations” were such hits as Faithless’s Insomnia from the golden years of trance, the 1990s, Sandstorm by the Finns’ pride and joy Darude, and such more recent numbers as Eric Prydz’s Opus. The arrangements were by Petri Lowland Alanko, one of the fathers of the idea, and composer-songwriter Pessi Levanto.
Best of all were the pieces where the boundless energy of the trance originals, with a big orchestra firing on all cylinders, could still be discerned. The arrangements were nuanced and entertaining, but too many of the pieces had travelled so far from their original character as to resemble a soft cinematic blanket. They, too, nevertheless appealed to the audience and the hazy ambience certainly contrasted well with the electric beat of the originals.
One of the project’s missions was to prove that trance pieces are in themselves interesting as compositions and can work with any line-up. For the audience, particularly, there was a carnivalesque element: here was music taken from the clubs to a temple of classical music and high culture, and this in itself was fun. The concert was also a sign of the respect – manifest in hundreds of hours of hard work and dozens of performers – paid by musicians committed to giving their very best. Seeing that the result was furthermore entertaining, no wonder the audience were entranced.
In view of the context, the Helsinki Festival’s classical music slot, it is tempting to examine the concert from the genre perspective, too. For “Trancelations” was not the only genre flirtation at this summer’s Finnish festivals. The soloist in the orchestral work at the opening concert of the Helsinki Festival was a rap artist, and there were street dancers performing to Mendelssohn. At another prestigious event, the opening concert of the Turku Music Festival, the solo instrument in the brand-new work was a cello spiked with effects familiar from metal.
Though these commissioned works differed greatly, their genesis had such obvious similarities that they are clearly part of a wider phenomenon. The two concerts both eagerly explored the territory that lies between genres in the hope of discovering something fruitful, something new.
The Turku Music Festival had commissioned a new work from Olli Virtaperko. The solo cellist in Romer’s Gap was Perttu Kivilaakso of Apocalyptica metal fame, who got to use every trick of the trade. The cello’s electric sound integrated to the full with Virtaperko’s own musical language and skilful orchestration. The effects were a natural element of what was, for a concerto, actually a very classical expression, adding roughness, growls and grit but also sensitivity and a certain brittle quality.
For Virtaperko, such things as stylistic pluralism and communication are of fundamental importance to his music. Romer’s Gap did indeed demonstrate how crossing borders can add something to a composition without in any way watering it down. On the contrary: transferring the effects from their home in rock to a contemporary music context gave the concerto an edge and a touch of the experimental that raised it to a new plane.
The work commissioned for the Helsinki Festival’s opening concert, Lauri Porra’s Kohta, was a completely different stylistic kettle of fish, gliding sovereignly through inter-generic waters without permitting any clear categorisations or definitions. Porra’s background as a composer of film scores was very obvious, but Kohta also had the rhythm typical of rap, electronic experimentation and a firm, dramatic structure to hold it all together.
Cast in the leading role was the text penned by the young, critically acclaimed rap artist Paperi T, who also performed it. Equally important was the omniwerk played by Porra. This is a unique instrument with a soft, brittle yet fascinating sound that brought with it a strange yet pleasing vulnerability. At the opposite pole was a completely different sound world: that produced by powerful, robust orchestral instruments at the zenith of their evolution.
Crossover has been like a red rag to a bull for many a serious-minded contemporary music buff. Though readily associated with dumbing down and pandering to audiences, the crossover products of the present decade nevertheless carry a greater significance. They speak of a respect for difference, and of the multidimensional aspect of both the present day and ourselves. They are fragile and delicate, while also possessing the exuberance and energy of different expressive devices. This does not necessarily mean abandoning a specific style but rather being open to new combinations.
Translation: Susan Sinisalo
Main photo by Heikki Tuuli: Classical Trancelations at Helsinki Festival 2016.