Osmo Tapio Räihälä is the Artistic Director of Nordic Music Days, one of the world's oldest music festivals – founded in 1888 when "Grieg was in top form and Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen still unknown composer students".
Because the Nordic Music Days were originally initiated in 1888 one might think that history dictates and even shackles many aspects of the proceedings.
However, this is not the case. One important factor in keeping the setup fresh is the permanently revolving arrangement responsibility. No Nordic country organises the event two years in a row.
”This way, a clean slate is always a given. And also a mandatory precondition. Because this happening takes place in Finland only every five years, it is impossible to create a similar continuity that annual or even bi-annual festivals are associated with and can fall back on. Events like Musica nova Helsinki or Tampere Biennale occupy a very different position”, says Osmo Tapio Räihälä who will curate the 2018 Nordic Music Days.
When the inaugural festival was arranged all those years ago, Grieg was in top form and Sibelius and Nielsen still unknown composer students
On the other hand, hearing how the winds of history blow can also be a positive experience.
”When the inaugural festival was arranged all those years ago, Grieg was in top form and Sibelius and Nielsen still unknown composer students”, smirks Räihälä.
446 pieces of music
Choosing the participants for the program of the Nordic Music Days is no wanton mission as composers submit their works to the curator themselves. Räihälä says that he sifted through a massive bulk of 446 pieces.
”I am certain that at this very moment I have the best feel of what kind of new music comes out of the Nordic countries. My finger truly is on the pulse.”
After the task was concluded, some 40 composers had passed the test.
In 2013, the festival was curated by a three-person executive artistic board. One of the members was in charge of chamber music, the second oversaw all orchestral and choir works and the third handled the clubs.
I am certain that at this very moment I have the best feel of what kind of new music comes out of the Nordic countries. My finger truly is on the pulse.
Räihälä admits that taking responsibility of the entire gamut has been a taxing chore.
”All submitted compositions deserve the best possible treatment. But if one sets a goal of going through 20 or even just 10 pieces a day, their attentiveness will inexorably begin to deteriorate towards the end of the session. My solution was to dedicate two to three days a week to this assignment and spend the rest of the week doing entirely other things. When I eventually reached the finishing line, I swore to myself I would never ever open another score again.”
Of course, this promise was bound to fail.
Noise a la mode
At this year’s Nordic Music Days, Räihälä is completely sure of only one composition that will be premired at the event: Guttorm Kittelsen’s sound installation at contemporary art museum Kiasma.
”Premieres are of course handy for catching the eye in program books or getting media attention in press releases and I did want to make sure all the pieces this year are fresh. Most music coming from outside of Finland gets its local premiere at the festival and in many instances the performance in Helsinki will be only the second overall presentation of the composition. Achieving even that is often difficult”, Räihälä points out.
One of the highlights for Räihälä himself is Helen Grime’s clarinet concerto in the Avanti! concert. Many composers offered outstanding pieces for the Helsinki Chamber Choir but in the end only four could be chosen for the concert at the brand new art museum Amos Rex. In addition, Räihälä has high expectations for the closing concert at Tiivistämö in Suvilahti where progressive rock will reign.
”Getting Anekdoten to play at the festival was a wonderful thing. They are one of the greatest bands in today’s Swedish prog scene and so far also the biggest attraction at the box office of Nordic Music Days 2018.”
Premieres are handy for catching the eye in program books or getting media attention in press releases and I wanted to make sure all the pieces this year are fresh.
Labeling and categorizing composers in different niches has not been topical for decades. However, new currents continue to ripple and storm through the community. Osmo Tapio Räihälä speculates that one important trend of the day is noise.
”Helmut Lachenmann has many disciples who nevertheless come from very different directions and backgrounds. The focus is not iso much in exploring new playing techniques as in the substance of the music.”
Räihälä recognizes certain differences in between countries but deems the extrapolation into Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian styles counterproductive.
Time to don the composer’s hat
Besides his career as a composer, Osmo Tapio Räihälä has worked as a music journalist for the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation YLE. After twelve years of service in 2016 he decided to take more time for composing.
”Some get their income from teaching, others are skilled at performing. And then there are people like me who have a predilection for verbal and written communication and production duties.”
The Nordic countries are really quite an oasis. Our societies build and uphold structures for talented people to be professional artists and express themselves.
Räihälä has also written music reviews and a large number of concert programme essays.
”I finished writing texts for hand programmes last spring. My main motivation was to concentrate on composing even though the financial risks are far greater.”
Räihälä’s career as a composer has been dotted with substantial grants and bursaries.
”In this sense, the Nordic countries are really quite an oasis. Our societies build and uphold structures for talented people to be professional artists and express themselves”, Räihälä praises.
These thanks are not extended to the current regime of the Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo), however. Quite the opposite. Räihälä laments the fact that the only concert of this year’s Nordic Music Days at Musiikkitalo is produced by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
”The administration model of Musiikkitalo makes no sense at all. Festivals like ours are practically outplayed by their ridiculous contracts and prices. A concept where a music hall governs only its own walls is stillborn.”
The Nordic Music Days will be held between 7th and 10th November 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.