Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
When composers Martin Wegelius and Robert Kajanus established an orchestra in Helsinki in summer 1882, their ambitious plan was to gather together the city’s best musicians and others recruited from abroad – some 36 in all – in order to give the people of Helsinki a chance to hear great musical masterpieces at a series of weekly concerts.
The principle of putting on regular concerts given by an orchestra of top musicians has remained right up to the present day in the close to 140 years since the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra was formed. It premiered most of the symphonic works by Jean Sibelius with the composer himself conducting, and continues its commitment to contemporary music by commissioning works by composers both Finnish and foreign. The series of Helsinki Variations commissioned from 12 composers during the period 2019–2025 is forging a link between the music of today and works on a Helsinki theme composed before 1945.
Now a band of 102 musicians, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra annually performs to a total audience of over 110,000 and has become an important constituent of its host city’s cultural capital. It also reaches people who for one reason or another cannot attend concerts at Musiikkitalo, for in addition to making international tours, it sends small ensembles out across the city, provides opportunities for young people to perform and, through its active education programme, is able to make contact with special groups. Now, for the third time, it is inviting an entire age group – all the children born in Helsinki in 2020 – to enjoy music with their families over the next seven years as members of the HPO Kids -program.
The HPO concerts and background interviews screened live or recorded on the Internet and, for example, at the Helsinki Central Library Oodi make the process of creating a piece of music even more readily accessible. The orchestra’s partnership with the BIS label further ensures that HPO performances are available to all both now and well into the future in state-of-the-art recordings.
The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has had 13 Chief Conductors. Under Susanna Mälkki, who took over in 2016, the orchestra has developed into an increasingly impressive actor on the international scene with a distinctive sound that is a notable element of the Helsinki soundscape.
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
By 1927, it had become apparent that the Finnish broadcasting company Suomen Yleisradio would not be able to produce musical content for radio broadcasting without its own in-house orchestra. Accordingly, the decision was made to establish a small ensemble of ten players for the state broadcaster. Over the years, this ensemble has grown into a full-size symphony orchestra.
The purpose of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO) is to promote Finnish musical culture. Alongside the great Romantic masterpieces, the FRSO’s repertoire also features contemporary music. Every year, the orchestra performs new works commissioned by Yleisradio and records Finnish orchestral music for the broadcaster’s archive.
Currently serving as the FRSO’s Chief Conductor is Hannu Lintu. He was preceded in the role by Toivo Haapanen, Nils-Eric Fougstedt, Paavo Berglund, Okko Kamu, Leif Segerstam, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Sakari Oramo. Nicholas Collon has been appointed as his successor and is due to take over the role in spring 2021.
Since its inception, the FRSO has made a distinguished contribution to Finland’s musical success story. The orchestra has commissioned, performed and recorded music by Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka
Salonen from the very beginning of the artists’ careers. The works have also been performed internationally, helping to raise the composers’ profile across the world. The FRSO remains committed to discovering up-and-
coming Finnish musicians and offering them a springboard to professional careers internationally.
FRSO’s concerts are all broadcast in Finland by Yleisradio. In addition to live broadcasts on Yle Areena and Yle Radio 1, concert recordings are screened on Yle Teema and Yle TV1 and are available to listen to on Yle Areena’s RSO Back Catalogue.
Sibelius Academy, Uniarts Helsinki
Sibelius Academy’s live concerts are an unforgettable musical delight and an opportunity for audiences to discover the rising musical stars of the future. It is one of the largest conservatoires in Europe and consistently ranks among the top performing arts schools internationally.
Performing is a key part of the learning experience at Sibelius Academy. Students perform more than 700 concerts each year, the majority of which take place at Musiikkitalo. The concerts serve as a showcase for established international artists as well as up-and-coming talent.
Every year, the Sibelius Academy concert season features a wide range of genres from electronic to classical music. Some concerts are free to attend and ticketed concerts are reasonably priced, offering accessible and affordable musical experiences for all.
At Musiikkitalo, our “walls speak softly” to lend focus to what really matters here; the music. The architects have created a venue that is designed to facilitate openness and exchange.
The international architectural design competition in 2000 was won by LPR Architects with their proposal titled A Mezza Voce. The title refers to a musical direction meaning “softly” or “quietly”. The LPR team was led by
Marko Kivistö, Mikko Pulkkinen and Ola Laiho, with around 30 other architects contributing to the design.
A mezza voce
In the architects’ vision, the new scheme was to foster a sense of place and visual cohesion for this central Helsinki site. The design engages in dialogue with the existing architecture around Töölönlahti Bay by dynamically aligning the main building mass with the nearby Finlandia Hall and Finnish parliament building.
The highest parts of the Musiikkitalo structure have been placed in close proximity to local green space, allowing the building to link into a broader visual continuum where the high-profile public buildings in this area appear as if enveloped by parkland. The rich green hues of the plain copper clad exterior facing Mannerheimintie and Töölönlahdenkatu resonate with both the surrounding green space and the historic building stock in nearby Etu-Töölö.
The glazed facades facing south and east connect Musiikkitalo with other more recent developments here. Although separated from Musiikkitalo by a thoroughfare, the parliament has been incorporated as part of the wider layout here, allowing sweeping views from the building’s iconic granite steps towards the parkland.
The green roof sloping southwards over the lower part of the building defers to the distinctive architecture of the Kiasma Museum of Modern Art building beyond.
The aim has been to create a building imbued with a sense of openness that will facilitate dialogue and interaction between the professional musicians, students and audiences that gather here. At the heart of the building is a vineyard-style concert hall, accessed through the circular foyer wrapping around it. The soundproof glass walls afford views of the crater-like interior from the foyer and lobby areas, which during daytime serve as a café and exhibition space.
In addition to the main concert hall, Musiikkitalo comprises a further five smaller auditoriums with seating for 140–400. The acoustics in each space have been designed with their particular use in mind.
The main concert hall stage, rehearsal rooms and loading area are found on the ground floor. The basement floors house green room facilities for both resident orchestras, with natural light provided by two lightwells. Administrative offices used by the orchestras and the team responsible for running the building are found in a separate section of the building, above the foyer.
Sibelius Academy classrooms and offices are spread over seven floors around the semi-enclosed courtyard overlooking Karamzin Park. The first two floors are home to the university’s recording studios and library, which is also open to members of the public.
As darkness falls and the quiet sets in, the building site takes on a mystical quality. The city that surrounds it might still be awake, buzzing with life and energy, but here the calm feels like a sign, a promise of what’s to come. This will become a sanctuary, an oasis. During the day, this building site is busy, hectic, overwhelming even. Come the evening, the tools go down, the problems fall away, the noise settles. Even the inescapable fact of the project’s incompleteness hangs in suspended animation for now, making no demands. Musiikkitalo has a purpose. That purpose is to generate impulses, to create energy. In physics an impulse is defined as the integral of force with respect to time. Derived from the Latin pulsus, it can also mean thrust and drive, a sudden force or a strong wish to achieve something.
The impulse for any pursuit that seeks to effect change and make a difference must come from within. The same, I think, applies to our efforts to recognise beauty and create it, sustain it.
The concert hall organ is scheduled to be built in Musiikkitalo in 2024. The
unique instrument will feature 123 registers.
Designed with a new and modern look, the instrument is set to transform our perceptions of what the organ has to offer. Unusually, the organ’s 10,000 or so pipes will be positioned inside the instrument case, while the wind system will be visible to the audience. The aesthetics have been carefully chosen to complement Musiikkitalo’s magnificent architecture.
The new organ is currently being built by hand in Austria by Rieger Orgelbau.
Once complete, the instrument will be characterised by its rich versatility. The vision has been to create an instrument of the future that effortlessly lends itself to any era, genre or style of music. Created with a range of new accessories and technical solutions, we are confident that contemporary composers will find much to fascinate them here, including microtonal pipes, a fully adjustable air pressure system, and numerous stops. The instrument will have two consoles: one on stage and another within the organ case itself. This means that the organist can choose to be seated next to the conductor and remain visible to the audience during the performance.
This major acquisition was made possible by a EUR 1 million donation by Kaija Saariaho.
Alongside music and architecture, you will also be able to enjoy visual art on your visit to Musiikkitalo. Reijo Hukkanen’s Song Trees and Kirsi Kaulanen’s Gaia were both specifically commissioned for this building. Works from the Finnish State Art Deposit collection are also on display here, including Antti Immonen’s Black Smoker at the Sibelius Academy entrance and Laila Pullinen’s Spring Within which can be found indoors at the corner of Mannerheimintie and Kansalaistori Square.
A monumental hanging sculpture, Gaia is displayed suspended from the Musiikkitalo ceiling. Named after the ancient Greek earth goddess, it is a tribute to the natural world and life itself. In addition to its organic shapes, this artwork powerfully forges a connection with nature by featuring 28 of the 150 plant species
currently at risk of extinction in Finland. The sculpture can be viewed and interpreted from many different vantage points, variously taking on the appearance of a horn, saxophone, landscape or an abstract winding shape.
Song Trees are a totem for everyone, whether they’re just passing by or actually visiting Musiikkitalo. Featuring a series of highly recognisable visual elements, this playful work is guaranteed to catch your attention
but also offers plenty of opportunities for personal reflection and interpretation. The familiar features – a grand piano lid, a log pile and a fish head – resonate with the urban landscape surrounding the Music Centre and the
wider Töölönlahti Bay. Lighter than its shadow, the sculpture blends effortlessly into its setting, continuing to influence people’s experience of it whether they are actively stopping to take it in or not. Song Trees is inspired by The Pike’s Song (1928), a poem by Finnish writer Aaro Hellaakoski (1893–1952).
State Art Deposit Collection
In addition to the sculptures by Reijo Hukkanen and Kirsi Kaulanen that were commissioned for Musiikkitalo, further artworks from the State Art Deposit Collection have also been placed on display here. At the Sibelius Academy entrance, visitors are greeted by Antti Immonen’s Black Smoker, while those passing along Mannerheimintie will be treated to Laila Pullinen’s Spring Within. Further works by Kirsi Kivivirta, Kari Soinio, Susanne Gottberg and Maiju Salmenkivi are also to be found here.
Tahtipuikkotaulu (The Conductor’s Batons), an artwork auctioned in December 2014 to raise funds for the New Children’s Hospital 2017 initiative, is now on permanent display at the Musiikkitalo foyer. The artwork was acquired by the Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation and raised EUR 41,000 for Helsinki’s New Children’s Hospital.
This unusual display comprises 12 batons, donated by Finland’s best-known and most well-loved conductors; Atso Almila, current professor of conducting and orchestral training at the Sibelius Academy and his predecessors Professor Emeritus Jorma Paunula and Professor Emeritus Leif Segerstam along with Okko Kamu, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakari Oramo, Osmo Vänskä, John Storgårds, Mikko Franck, Susanna Mälkki and Hannu Lintu. It is the work of graphic designer Antti Hannuniemi, who donated his time and expertise to complete the project. The materials were donated by Muotoplate Oy, ArtWay and Oy Werner Ab.