AUF: Avanti!, UMO Helsinki & FiBO feat. Uri Caine, Paleface & Sounds of Mercy

Bach to Jazz – Bach-Goldberg Variations by Uri Caine

Tuesday 12.9.2023, 19.00, Concert Hall


Uri Caine, arrangement and piano
Sounds of Mercy, dir. Jepa Lambert
Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, dir. Ed Partyka
Finnish Baroque Orchestra (FiBO)

Greetings from Uri Caine

The Goldberg Variations were composed by J.S. Bach (1685–1750) in 1741 at the request of J.G. Goldberg, a talented pupil of Bach. Goldberg’s job was to entertain Count Keyserlink, the Russian Ambassador to the Saxon Court and a notorious insomniac who desired music in the night. Goldberg presented Bach with a 32 bar Aria consisting of four-eight bar phrases. From this simple theme, Bach fashioned 30 diverse variations, all based on the same harmonic structure. Some of the variations refer to the various dance forms of the time including a gigue and the formal French overture. Some of the variations are among the most technically complex recalling the keyboard writing of Scarlatti. Variations of the most diatonic nature are juxtaposed with the most chromatic. Every third variation is a canon in which the two upper voices imitate each other at every interval from the second to the ninth over the bass line. The final variation combines two drinking songs which would have been sung at the end of a party and signify the end of the piece, a comic touch the listeners of the time would have well appreciated. Throughout the Goldberg Variations, Bach exemplifies the compositional freedom of the theme and variation form, that is, generating pieces of extreme diversity from one basic idea. He provides a comprehensive, encyclopedic view of his musical world through the narrow focus of a single harmonic form.

Tonight you will hear many of the original Goldberg Variations rearranged for various instruments and usually with improvised counterpoint. But in addition you will hear new variations interspersed and juxtaposed with Bach. All of these variations follow the harmonic form of the Aria. But as Bach included dance forms in his variations, I wanted to add other dance forms like the tango and the mambo. As Bach refers to various composers from Vivaldi to Scarlatti, I refer to other composers from Stockhausen to Monk to Rachmaninov. Canons and other contrapuntal devices are included in various styles. And in a sense I also wanted to include a concise history of jazz as various members of the ensemble improvise on the harmony as if it were a “standard”. Because religious exaltation is so important in all of Bach’s music, I also wanted to add the religious ecstasy of Gospel music. The inclusion of all these different styles of music that I love exemplifies the idea of theme and variations, that of deriving the greatest variety of music from a single chord progression.


  1. 1. Aria
  2. 2. Variation 1
  3. 3. Uri’s Variation
  4. 4. The Hallelujah Variation 
  5. 5. The Rachmaninoff Variation
  6. 6. The Boxy Variation 
  7. 7. Variation 2
  8. 8. The Wrap Me Up in Your Love Variation
  9. 9. The Free Speech Variation
  10. 10. The Thad Variation
  11. 11. Variation 4 
  12. 12. The Hold on Variation 
  13. 13. The Duke Variation
  14. 14. Variation 7 
  15. 15. The Nobody Knows Variation
  16. 16. The In Memoriam Kaija Saariaho Variation 
  17. 17. The Giant Steps Variation 
  18. 18. Variation 8 
  19. 19. Variation 9 
  20. 20. Variation 10
  21. 21. Variation 12
  22. 22. Variation 13
  23. 23. Luther’s Nightmare Variation 
  24. 24. The Vivaldi Variation
  25. 25. The Tango Variation
  26. 26. The Count Variation
  27. 27. Variation 15 
  28. 28. The Verdi Variation
  29. 29. The Paleface Variation 
  30. 30. Variation 21 
  31. 31. Variation 22
  32. 32. The Mozart Variation
  33. 33. Variation 24
  34. 34. Variation 25 
  35. 35. The Clap Your Hands Variation 
  36. 36. Variation 30 Finale

Concert introduction

On the recording, Uri Caine’s (b. 1956) The Goldberg Variations (2000) is an over two hour long great work consisting of 72 tracks. The stylistically astonishingly diverse and constantly joyous work isn’t primarily an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685–1750) Goldberg Variations. Rather, the work is an overview of the principles behind the variations and the musical variation form as well as the reality of the 21st century, saturated by recorded music and where different styles, cultures and eras are ever present.

Caine has performed the variations before in Finland at the Pori Jazz Festival when they were new in 2000 as well as in Avanti’s production in 2011. The version performed this time is a selection arranged for Avanti, UMO Helsinki and FiBO.

Caine has told that as for some many other, his interest for Bach’s Goldberg Variations was piqued by Glenn Goulds recording from 1955. In this first of his recordings, Gould presented a relaxed way of performing Bach on a modern piano, highlighting the lines of the counterpoint. In his later recording from 1981, Gould instead plays for an audience already familiar with historical performance practice and period instruments. Here, his viewpoint is in places slow and meditative, focusing on relations between the tempi of the variations and on the overall structure.

As an artist, Gould strived to represent the emancipation of the performing artist in relation to the interpretation faithful to the composer, with the recording studio as his means. This artistic freedom also resonates with Caine’s way of ignoring the boundaries of styles and concert practices.

The Goldberg Variations are from the 1740’s but they are characteristically music of the 20th century. Instead of the original function as salon music and intellectual gymnastics for connoisseurs, they became a challenge for top pianists and harpsichordists, well suited for modern recital practices. The collection of variations is an exceptionally coherent work compared to Das Wohltemperierte Klavier or smaller keyboard suites – it is in fact comparable only to the unfinished Die Kunst der Fuge.

One of the earliest Goldberg Variations mile stones of the 20th century is Wanda Landowska’s recording of the work on harpsichord from 1933. With Gould and the emergence of the early music movement the amount of recordings has exploded, and on the other hand the work has been adapted for organ, string quartet and even saxophone quartet. In jazz circles, Jacques Loussier has recorded his own version of the work for jazz trio (2000). Iiro Rantala has in his turn used the variations as the backbone of his own work covering the history of jazz (My History of Jazz, 2012).

The central idea in Caine’s variations is to juxtapose the different principles of variation – be it Baroque, Romanticism, jazz improvisation, electronic versions and sampling or the verbal freestyling of hip hop. Caine compared Bach’s 32 bar long harmonic pattern with improvisations on jazz standards and considered the variation form as an opposite of the sonata form. The brilliant and rich variance is of importance, not the development of the motives.

The hiphop artist Paleface and the gospel choir Sounds of Mercy, conducted by Jepa Lambert, bring new colour to this concert’s version of Caine’s variations. Paleface is known for his artistic openness in music as well as cultural debate, and the original work also contained spoken word, phonetic acrobatics and rough rap beats. Along with classical music, the second frame of reference of the variations are musical genres of Afro-American origin. Gospel is a part of the work besides different jazz styles and hip hop.

Rap and verbal art is a meeting point with the history of the variation form in classical music. The theme and variations based upon it can be compared to the principles of classical rhetoric, and especially in Baroque music the expression was based on mastery and creative use of established musical figures. Achieving the desired affect required knowledge of rhetoric.

During his long career as pianist and composer, Caine has recorded over 30 albums and as a young musician he performed with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard and Grover Washington Jr. Even as a composer, it is impossible to place Caine in a single stylistic genre. His teacher of composition was the central character of the U.S. avant-garde, George Crumb. The different orientations of contemporary music are also present in the variations, and this time Caine has dedicated one piece to Kaija Saariaho who passed away in June.

In addition to everything mentioned above, the stylistic blend also contains features from waltzes, tango, late Romanticism and Viennese classicism, and it is based on attributes of Bach’s original work. Bach wrote his variations with regard to the different genres of the Baroque and national traditions, and furthermore included two folk songs (Ich bin solang nicht bei dir g’west and Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben) in the last variation. It is a so called quodlibet, where well known melodies are treated in counterpoint – mixing high and low, for the sake of musical ingenuity.

According to Bach’s first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, the Goldberg Variations was composed to ease the sleepless nights of the count Keyserling, a Russian diplomat. The story might not hold true, but it still affects how the work is received. The sleepless listener of Caine’s variations demands to listen to a completely different swath of styles than the people of the 18th century. Bach’s solution to repeat the aria at the end of the variations radiates throughout Caine’s work in a way. As the difference between the styles of the different variations is substantial, hearing Bach’s material feels like a homecoming every time.

Justus Pitkänen
Translation: Sebastian Djupsjöbacka

Uri Caine

Uri Caine (b. 1956) is a versatile composer and pianist, well versed in classical music and jazz alike. He was seven years old when he started playing the piano, and he started studying composition at the age of twelve. He has studied composition with among others George Crumb. Caine has made diverse recordings of classical music as well as jazz, schlager, Brazilian pop music and several solo albums. In 2009, he was nominated for a Grammy for his album The Othello Syndrome. Caine has made versions of classical pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Wagner. Caine’s wild, free and challenging interpretation of the Goldberg Variations is a luscious collision of Baroque, classical music and jazz.


The pioneer of Finnish rap Paleface, a.k.a. Karri Miettinen, is one of the most esteemed and internationally known Finnish rap artists. During his almost 25 years long career he has blazed his path to the forefront of the genre as well as to the throne of Finnish hiphop. Paleface released his first album The Pale Ontologist in 2001. After that he has released 9 other own albums, of which especially the ones in Finnish have been received immensely positively and brought in fans from outside the boundaries of the genre. In addition to his solo career, Paleface has also been part of several ensembles such as Ricky-Tick Big Band and GG Caravan. Paleface has also written several books about Finnish rap music. He is an anti-racism activist and defender of human rights, and he has received the state award for information publication as well as the Emma awards for best male soloist, best hiphop album and best ethnic album.

Sounds of Mercy

Sounds of Mercy is a Helsinki-based gospel choir formed in 2021. The choir joins 25 singers with a shared love of African-American gospel music, and voices welded together in numerous productions and choirs. Mercy, like the name suggests, is a central value to the choir, being the very essence of Gospel. Each of the singers has their own story and experience of mercy, and this is what they want to share with their audience.

Sounds of Mercy offers a unique contribution to the Finnish Gospel scene by producing original music as well as renditions of gospel classics, both old and modern. The choir director, Jepa Lambert, is a professional singer and session musician who has made a career in arranging harmonies and backing different vocal sounds. She has led various choirs since the age of 14, and sang in Times Square Church’s mass choir while living abroad in New York City. These days she is seen on almost every music program on Finnish TV, working as a trusted backing vocalist.

The Avanti! Chamber Orchestra

The Avanti! Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1983 by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Olli Pohjola and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and operates with ease across different eras and genres. As the founders saw it, the focus should be not on the orchestra but on the works to be performed, and the Avanti! lineup accordingly varies from one concert to another. Many of the main new trend in classical music have found their way to Finland via Avanti!, and it continues to subscribe to its original ideology under its Artistic Director clarinetist Kari Kriikku. Avanti! faces its listeners with bold choices: the familiar sounds new, and the new soon sounds familiar.

Musicians 12.9.2023
Niko Kumpuvaara, accordion
Kari Kriikku, clarinet
Petri Piiparinen, percussion
Tero Toivonen, french horn
Ville Herrala, double bass

UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra

UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra is the only professional orchestra in Finland specialised in jazz and new rhythm-oriented music. The big band of 16 musicians plays about 100 concerts every year in Finland and abroad. The orchestra plays a diverse range of modern music that is on the pulse of the times. The programme consists from jazz to soul and classical music, mixing old and new in surprising way, from children to senior citizens.

Musicians 12.9.2023

Ed Partyka

Ilmari Rönkä, alto
Max Zenger, alto
Casimir Ekman, tenor
Olli Ojajärvi, tenor
Mikko Mäkinen, baritone

Teemu Mattsson
Timo Paasonen
Tero Saarti
Mikko Pettinen

Kasperi Sarikoski
Pekka Laukkanen
Mikko Mustonen
Juho Viljanen, basstrombone

Rhythm section
Uri Caine, piano
Juho Kivivuori, bass
Markus Ketola, drums

Finnish Baroque Orchestra (FiBO)

Founded in 1989, the Finnish Baroque Orchestra (FiBO) has been a pioneer in many ways throughout its history. The orchestra is known in Finland and abroad for its skilful performances, its creative approach to concert programming and groundbreaking partnerships, such as the Nordic Baroque Scene. At the core FiBO is a Baroque orchestra, but they also venture into early Baroque and Romanticism as well as Sibelius’ works and new music for period instruments. In addition to its own FiBO Records series, FiBO has made recordings with several record labels. The latest record, Il labirinto armonico (BIS), featuring Locatelli’s violin concerts with soloist Ilya Gringolts, has received significant international recognition such as Gramophone Editor’s Choice (3/2021) and Diapason d’or (5/2021). 

Musicians 12.9.2023
Anthony Marini, 1st violin
Irma Niskanen, 2nd violin
Laura Kajander, viola
Tatu Ahola, cello
Petri Ainali, double bass
Anna Orasmaa, harpsichord
Eero Palviainen, lute
Hanna Haapamäki, traverso & recorder


Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
Artistic director: Kari Kriikku
Executive director, substitute: Tuomo Huhdanpää
Producer: Lotta Vartiainen

UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra
Artistic director: Ed Partyka 
General Manager, substitute: Henriika Steidel-Luoto 
Stage Manager: Ilkka Ferm 
Production Manager: Terhi Siirala 
Marketing Manager: Niina Eeva

Finnish Baroque Orchestra (FiBO)
Artistic planners: Marianna Henriksson & Anthony Marini
Executive Manager: Laura Kajander
Production Manager: Outi Kartano
Marketing and Communications Manager: Aino Jalkanen

The concert is part of the AUF co-operation of Avanti!, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra (FiBO) that was started in the fall of 2017 together with Musiikkitalo. The first grand co-operation concert was held in the fall of 2019.

Check out upcoming concerts in the events calendar: