I had the great pleasure today to listen to the Violin concerto of Jean Sibelius in the same premises where it was performed the first time! The city hall of Helsinki, then still Seurahuone Hotel, features an impressive celebration hall and has hosted many balls, concerts and events since the 19th century till today. The free concert by two members of the Helsinki City Orchestra was a great performance of the incredible intensity and genius of Sibelius.
The first piece of music they performed was the violin concerto fis-minor by Frederik Pacius, a German composer who was appointed as music teacher in Helsinki in 1834. He is called the “Father of Finnish music”, as he founded the University choir and wrote the music that is today the national anthem of Finland (Estonia and Latvia as well, funny enough).
It’s a wonderful piece of music, but it only took the first few notes of Sibelius violin concerto to realize that this is something altogether different. It’s as if the sound cuts right through to your bones and gives you this typical Finnish feeling of quiet lakes, deep longing, loneliness and well, just Sibelius…
Helsinki city orchestra is the oldest professional orchestra in the North and Jani Lehtonen did a great job ! with his violin. He was accompanied by Jani Aarrevaara on the piano. I thought it was funny that three men with a similar first name contributed to this concert. “Janne” is actually the diminutive of “Johan”, which was Sibelius’ regular first name and “Janne” he was called by his friends and family and the Finns in general.
The concert was also a demonstration of the immense difficulty of this composition. Jani Lehtonen took to a cloth between the movements to dry his sweat. Already the première on 8.2.1904 was supposedly played slower than intended by the composer… to keep it manageable.
I thought it was impressive to listen to this wonderful music in a performance by 2 Finnish musicians in the capital of Finland in the same place where the première took place. It felt to me as if “Janne” Sibelius sat right between us, critically following the performance and already thinking about where to improve the piece for the next performance. I could see his grim face with the deep frown in his forehead. In case you don’t know the music, here is a version with Maxim Venegerov, Daniel Barenboim and Chicago Symphonic Orchestra: violin concerto
Finland is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’ birthday this year.