Chamber Music Festival Kuhmo 2017 and follow-up – Part Two: The fascination of the “Salakamari”

December 21st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I started a series of posts looking back at the highlights of the year 2017 – and this time with a focus on the cultural highlights starting from the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival 2017. In my previous post I told of the background of this festival and how it became – against odds – a success story. I also told, how this particular festival in the year 2017 became a special event for us and what kind of highlights were performed on the stage. But, I also hinted that the concerts were not all that mattered in the Kuhmo experience. This brings us to the phenomenon ‘Salakamari’.

The meeting point Salakamari (Secret chamber) and its attraction

Indeed, a major ingredient in the Kuhmo atmosphere was the meeting point “Salakamari” – a pop-up restaurant built into an old barnhouse. In the evenings it served as the restaurant and it had an outdoor bar area with a open campfire. In the mornings Salakamari served as a pop-up conference facility. For each day there was a short opening lecture on the theme of the day by one of the artists. And this was accompanied by a short performance of music – eventually with guest artists. Below we have some pictures of these Salakamari sessions.

Kuhmo Salakamari 1  Kuhmo Salakamari 2

The Salakamari lecture 1: Information and impressions delivered by Sergey Malov

These early morning lectures at Salakamari turned out to be exciting sessions and the artists made their best as presenters and performers. My first experience was the lecture of Sergey Malov, who had already shown that he is a virtuoso as violinist (see my previous post). But in Salakamari he demonstrated that he is an accomplished music teacher who can reveal the secrets of music to beginners just as well as to students who want to become professionals. Sergey told about his own background and of his education in Russia, Austria and Germany – and how he refused to make an exclusive choice between violin and viola, then to add the baroc instrument violoncello da spalla to his instruments. He told us of the composers, whose music he is currently playing – and put them into group picture of predecesors, contemporaries and successors. In this way we got a feeling for continuity and development in a musical genre – not just insights into particular pieces of music. (This is also what he has delivered in his records – putting Paganini into context or even more: putting Ysaÿe into context.) Concerning the Kuhmo festival, he praised the opportunity for artists to come together, play together and try something different together. Also he emphasised the opportunity for younger artists to take more challenging roles. And indeed, he gave us an analysis on the next concert and a recommended us to join him and go to listen to it. As I said it, the great artist also proved to be a great educator and analyst – chapeau, Meister Sergey!

The video below was not exactly the music that Meister Sergey  played there, but it has probably been filmed in Kuhmo:

The Salakamari lecture 2: Daniel Rowland with guests and stories from the Netherlands and Argentina

My other great experience in Salakamari was with the English-Dutch violinist Daniel Rowland as the host. Indeed, he told something of himself and his background, growing up in a bilingual family in the Netherlands. And he had also a story, how he got attracted to Kuhmo and became fascinated. But he had also brought guests with him and with his guests he had special memories of playing together. The first guest was the Italian guitar player Alberto Mesirca and they played together Paganini. The story behind was that they had been playing in the Netherlands and a film crew insisted that they should play in the middle of a tulip field. And the artists obeyed, as we can see from the video below:

But then Alberto had to leave for the airport and gave way for the other guest, the Argentinian bandonion-player Marcelo Nisinman. And with Marcelo there had been a similar outdoor-performing session, again with a Dutch film crew but now in Kuhmo. The film crew wanted to have the musicians playing just before midnight, yet in daylight, at the lakeside. And again, the artists obeyed although they were surrounded by armies of Nordic mosquitoes. There were quite few also in Salakamari, when they played again, but not as many as you can see on the video below.

Well, we enjoyed the stories and the music. But Daniel topped it up by telling how Marcello got acquainted with the gran maestro Astor Piazzolla and invited Marcelo to tell more. So, the session became quite a learning journey delivering us influences and inspirations from here and there and everywhere. We gladly accepted Daniel’s characterisation of the festival as the “Planet Kuhmo” with its own atmosphere as a special place for encounters. Hartelijk bedankt, Meester Daniel!

– – –

I guess this is already enough of the encounters in Kuhmo and in the Salakamari sessions. It was quite an inspiration and I started my personal follow-up, tracing websites and communicating on Facebook. But that is already another story to be covered by my next post.

More blogs to come …

 

Chamber Music Festival Kuhmo 2017 and follow-up – Part One: Highlights of the Kuhmo program

December 20th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

This year I managed to start my holiday break early enough and with a firm decision to leave the work-related issues to the year 2018. Yet, little by little, the feeling creeps into your mind that you should say something about the highlights of the year 2017 that is soon coming to an end. And this time, it is clear, I need to report on a special cultural experience – our visit at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival 2017 – and how I turned into a passionate fan of classical music and of certain artists. And suddenly I find myself having a new priority area when writing updates on Facebook. But let’s start with Kuhmo and the festival and what it is all about.

Kuhmo … ? And Chamber Music Festival in Kuhmo …?

Once upon a time – over 40 years ago – a Finnish top musician Seppo Kimanen, who had already become an international celebrity, had a crazy dream. He thought of setting up a chamber music festival in such a remote place that the artists will come for a week or two without having a temptation to rush away after one or two performances. He looked at the map of Finland and found an ideal place – the municipality of Kuhmo in the Central North-East part of the country. Indeed, Kuhmo was remote from the ‘metropols’ of Southern Finland and of the relatively big cities of Northern Finland. It was remote from everything else except the Russian border, the wild woods and the nice lakeside landscapes near the centre of the municipality.

Kimanen managed to get the festival up and running and – after the difficult and ascetic beginning years it became a success story. Several years ago Kimanen handed over the responsibility to his successor, Vladimir Mendelssohn, an international musician, who is active in Finland. And in the course of the years faithful fans and committed artists have returned year by year and seen a marvellous concert hall being built to accommodate the main concerts, whilst part of the concerts are still going on in a school building, in the church and elsewhere in the region. Also, the Kuhmo experience has become a special concept, as the expression ‘the Kuhmo Planet’ indicates.

(This year the Dutch TV Channel produced a special program on Kuhmo in the series “Klasiek viert de zomer” following a Dutch couple and their ‘Kuhmo adventure’ . This program gives a lot of visual and musical insights into the life of festival tourists – and a lot of discussion in Dutch – have a look:

https://www.npo.nl/klassiek-viert-de-zomer/18-08-2017/VPWON_1274541)

For us – my partner Johanna and myself – Kuhmo has become a ‘must’ already long ago. Johanna, who comes originally from that region, has been a faithful fan of the first moments on. I have joined her later as an ‘avec’, who has gradually learned to enjoy the music. However, our participation had so far been based on commuting from the neighbouring Sotkamo and attending some selected concerts during one week. This has given some insights and impressions, but not much more. But this year we decided to take a ‘bigger package’. We took weekly tickets for both festival weeks and accommodation in the centre of Kuhmo. This enabled participation in a wider range of concerts and into other activities. And it provided us the possibility to follow the concerts with a focused approach.

Kuhmo 2017 – Highlights on the stage

For us, already one of the first concerts alerted us to something special that was coming up. The Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen (a renowned Beethoven-specialist) played together with the Russian violinist Sergey Malov (who was a new acquaintance to us) were playing Antonin Dvorak’s Sonatina in G. Op.100.  And it turned out to be an explosive show – two champions inspiring each other and getting the most and even more out of the masterpiece that they had chosen. But the ‘big bang’ was yet to come.

In a late evening concert shortly afterwards Sergey Malov was playing Caprices of Paganini – and how! He managed to stun us be his ‘entrée’ by having the stage darkened and only the front part of it lit with dim red lights that were gradually brightened. And then he appeared as ‘the man from the darkness’ and played the caprices in an unforgettable way.

To me (and to some friends of old who were also there) this brought into memory a scene in the Soviet-Moldavian film ‘Lautarii’ of the year 1972. In that scene a lautar (‘gypsy’) street-musician Toma Alistar has been smuggled to the house of a nobleman who is giving a concert on his premises and is clad like the professional musicians. The musicians start to play – in a routine-like way and the nobleman follows it with gestures of ‘dejà écoutée’. Then, the lights fall off and after a moment of chaos, Toma Alistar steps in from the darkness and plays the same music like a virtuoso. The lights reappear and the professional musicians join their new soloist. So much of the scene in the film. I managed to tell Sergey of this memory and then I found from Youtube the whole film as a Moldavian language version. At the same time Sergey had found it as a Russian language version – and seen the scene to which I referred. So, we had a common topic to discuss when we met every now and then. I got more interested of Sergey and he helped to find his CDs that were at sale and signed them for me. That was the start.

(This video was definitely not filmed in Kuhmo but it gives an impression of Sergey entering the stage and the sound of Paganini is exactly the same:

Another highlight on the great stage was the joint performance of the German-Turkish violinist Önder Baloglu and the Finnish pianist Marko Hilpo, who played a very challenging piece of music in a later concert – Darius Milhaud’s Cinéma-fantasie , Op. 58b “Le boeuf sur le toit” – with great success. A British music teacher next to us said that this was the first time he heard that piece played by only two musicians – and successfully. He characterised that as a high risk effort – if not suicidial. Later on Önder told that that was exactly how they had felt it – and the joy of success was great.

At a later phase, now in the church, there was a concert with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. One of the fascinations of that performance was that there were four female violinists as soloists for one of the seasons. Minna Pensola started with Spring in her explosive way, then Elina Vähälä continued with Summer in a more calm tempo to be followed by the similarly calm Autumn soloist Alissa Margulis and then by the explosive Winter soloist Priya Mitchell (who was filmed by the above mentioned Dutch film crew).

At the final phase we were deeply moved by the concert in which Daniel Rowland and his colleagues Hugo Ticciati, Gareth Lubbe and Julian Arp – the O/Modernt String Quartet – played Schubert’s “Der Tod und das Mädchen”. We had just received a very sad news and this quartet managed to do all in their powers to ease our sorrow.

– – –

To be sure, there were many more great performances. But these were  some of the striking moments that contributed to the very special Kuhmo experience. But it was not all about the concerts and on the performances of the artists on the stage. There is much more in the Kuhmo experience. I will try to illustrate some aspects in my next post.

More blogs to come …

 

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