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  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

Francophonia Concerts 2024

Updated: Jan 16

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church (Helsinki) on March 5th 2024 and in Tammisaari on March 17th 2024. Helsinki Chamber Orchestra | James S. Kahane, conductor.

The French Institute of Finland and the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra invite you to the Francophonia Concert on Tuesday March 5th, 2024 at 7 p.m. Temppeliaukio Kirkko! The program will also be performed in Tammisaari on March 17th, 2024, at 7 p.m.

The annual Francofonia concert is a recurring yearly event that has taken place since the creation of the orchestra. It celebrates the “Month of Francophonie”, an important event for the French speaking countries around the world. The Helsinki Chamber Orchestra collaborates for the occasion with the French Institute in Finland and the French Embassy in Finland, to propose a concert centered around French and/or Finnish Music, as well as a guest country specially highlighted every year. This year, the concert will highlight known and less known works from the French repertoire. The culmination of the event, however, is the performance of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger's Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra, which was played on the orchestra's very first concert. As is the tradition for the Francophonia concert, the event will be entirely free to access. The concert will be conducted by the orchestra's principal conductor, James S. Kahane.


  • Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte (arr. for string orchestra)

  • Camille Saint-Saëns: Sarabande for Strings

  • Emmanuel Séjourné: Concerto for Marimba

  • Intermission (10')

  • Gabriel Fauré: Pavane

  • Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2


Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte (arr. for string orchestra)

An iconic work of Maurice Ravel's piano catalogue, the Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) was composed in 1899 when Ravel was still a student of Gabriel Fauré at the Paris Conservatory. At the time, the influence of Spanish music was pervasive in French compositions, and especially in Ravel's music, as seen with his Alborada del gracioso, l'Heure espagnole, the Habanera for two pianos, and many more.... The title refers to the danse of a Spanish princess, "…a pavane that a little princess could have danced, once at the court of Spain." as said by Ravel himself.

The Pavane refers to the traditional dance from the 16th century, characterized by a slow pace and somewhat sentimental character. Ravel's own composition is graceful, measured in pace and full of elegant melodic lines. Structurally, it features a warm recurring main theme that fully embraces the slow dance character, interspersed by more dark and mysterious sections.

Ravel, along with Claude Debussy, is often associated with the Impressionist movement in music, though the two composers famously disliked this appelation. In the Pavane for a dead princess, it's in the later "verses" that the modernism is more striking, with a dreamlike and ethereal quality unique to Ravel's writing. The use of extended and modal harmonies through the piece adds a layer of sophistication that contributes to make the music so striking despite its sobriety.

Initially composed for solo piano, the Pavane was nevertheless orchestrated in 1910. The orchestral version, while maintaining the intimate character of the original, adds a broader palette of colors and textures and is another perfect example of Ravel's unique talent for orchestration.

Ravel's Pavane for a dead princess has become one of his most cherished and frequently performed compositions, especially by Pianists around the world. They are part of an incredible output of works for piano solo, which require a well-developed technique to tackle their challenges - some of his works are said to be some of the hardest music written for piano solo. The Pavane has however enjoyed popularity among young students, especially in France, being much less technically challenging than most of his other compositions. With its emotional depth, exquisite melody, and impressionistic textures, it implemented itself as widely known and recognized pieces, on par with the famous Boléro.

The Helsinki Chamber Orchestra will be performed a version for string orchestra by Carl Simpson, in an orchestration that lies somewhere between the intimate solemnity of the Piano piece and the broad and nostalgic feeling of the later orchestra version.

See the full score here: Pavane pour une infante defunte (arr. from Carl Simpson)

Camille Saint-Saëns: Sarabande for Strings

Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, conductor, organist and pianist known for his prodigious talent and versatility. In fact, he was said by some to display even more talent from an early age than Mozart himself. Born in 1835, he lived through a period of immense artistic and cultural transformation in France, tumultuous at time and marked by wars and insurrections. Despite the somewhat chaotic nature of the period, Saint-Saëns' works are characterized by their clarity, elegance, as well as by their inventive orchestration.

Composed in 1890, the Sabande for Strings is extracted from his "Sarabande et Rigaudon, Op. 93". The two contrasting dance movements, the Sarabande and the Rigaudon, showcase Saint-Saëns' fascination with earlier forms and structures of music. Indeed, in many of his works, the structural idioms from the classical and renaissance period are strictly obseverd.

The sarabande is a triple-meter dance of Spanish origin, normally performed at a slow tempo. Saint-Saëns' version, scored for strings and incorporating a prominent violin solo, has a particularly expressive melody. The composer's sensitive orchestration, even with only a string section, creates an additional sense of nostalgia, refinement and introspection.

Saint-Saëns' Sarabande reflects his mastery in crafting miniature musical gems. The concise form of the movement demonstrates his ability to convey depth of emotion and vivid imagery within a relatively brief timeframe.

See the full score here: Sarabande

Emmanuel Séjourné: Concerto for Marimba

An internationally renowned musician, Emmanuel Séjourné leads a triple career as composer, percussionist and teacher. His career spans from classical music to improvised music. He won the prize for best stage music at the Avignon Festival, the French Record Academy Prize, as well as the Repertoire Prize, awarded by the French Music Publishers, for his composition “Khamsin”. He also participated in the album “The Concert” by guitarist Friedemann, for which he won “German Jazz Award Gold”. In tribute to his numerous activities, he was named “Doctor Honoris Causa” by the Bulgarian National Academy of Music.

His music is rhythmic, romantic, energetic, inspired as much by Western classical music as by popular culture (jazz, rock, non-European music).

His Concertos, especially, have enjoyed popularity worldwide. His concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra quickly established itself as an essential work in the marimba repertoire, played more than 600 times in its version with string orchestra. Commissioned by Bogdan Bacanu and written in 2005, it originally consisted of only 2 movements – the first features a nice opening cadenza and a slower tempo, the second movement features much more energy and flashy playing. In 2015, Séjourné wrote a new first movement to fill out the concerto to the standard three movement form.

Gabriel Fauré: Pavane

Fauré might not have been the most prolific composer when it came to works for orchestra, to which he often preferred the intimacy and compactness of chamber music and compositions for solo instrument. It is the same sense of closeness and sobriety that transpires in his few compositions for orchestra, and notably in his most famous one, the Pavane Op. 50. Composed in 1887, the Pavane is a nostalgic and musically refined work for orchestra and choir ad libitum that perfectly captures the musical esthetic of the French Belle Époque. Originally conceived for piano and later orchestrated by the composer, the Pavane became one of Fauré's most known and loved compositions, admired for its delicate beauty and subtly melancholic charm.

The late 19th century in France was marked by elegance, sophistication, and artistic refinement as well as excess of all kinds, following an eventful and chaotic period which sedimented France into the country it is today. Fauré's "Pavane" emerged during this Belle Époque, a time of relative peace and prosperity. It is based on the eponymous traditional Renaissance dance, characterized by a slow binary rhythm from the 16th century (here in one of the first modern revivals: the Pavane pour une infante defunte by Fauré's student Maurice Ravel is from 1899), that gained renewed popularity in the 19th century as composers sought inspiration from earlier musical forms. Fauré's treatment of the pavane, however, is distinctly modern, blending historical influences with his own unique voice. As many of Claude Debussy's works, the Pavane was inspired by the poetry of Paul Verlaine, and it is of little surprise that Fauré later asked the poet Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac to write a text for a choir part embedded in the work.

The names of the characters written in the Pavane's text (Lindor, Tircis, Myrtil, Lydé, Eglé, Chloé) are all typical of the tradition of pastoral poetry. The poet uses them to meditate on the eternal comedy (tragedy?) of love, with fine attention to the games of correspondences between word and music (“Pay attention! Observe the measure! The pace is slower! And the fall more certain!”). The sad and melancholy tone of the Pavane underlines the atmosphere of moral defeat of reason, subjected to an attraction which turns out to be ephemeral (“they are all our winners”) and, at the same time, the sad decision to take leave of love (“Farewell Myrtil! Eglé! Chloé! Mocking demons!”). The fact that the “good days!” » prevails over “Farewell!” » indicates, somewhat ironically, that the deceptive illusion of love will continue to reign regardless of the wounds it continuously inflicts.

From a structural point of view, the music of the Pavane follows a ternary (ABA) form, which is often found in various dance forms. The A section introduces the main theme, the famous melancholic theme that unfolds over a soft and minimalist accompaniment - there's rarely more than two notes overlapping in most of this opening section, let alone a full 4-voiced chord. The B section provides contrast with a more affirmed character, featuring a melody that is repeated several times in a descending motion. The return of the A section brings the piece full circle, concluding with a restatement of the opening melody, before a conclusive segment that emphasizes the ever recurring character of love-related sorrows.

Evoking a bygone era with its graceful dance form and melancholic harmonies, the Pavane reflects a longing for the past that was prevalent in the art and music Belle Époque, in stark contrast with the celebratory and modernist ideals that were emerging at the same time. The contemplative mood brings to mind the passage of time and the fleeting nature of beauty, and though the text written by Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac is slightly abstract at times, it's this nostalgia and acceptance that is conveyed by the words for the choir.

Text in French:

C'est Lindor, c'est Tircis et c'est tous nos vainqueurs!

C'est Myrtille, c'est Lydé! Les reines de nos coeurs!

Comme ils sont provocants! Comme ils sont fiers toujours!

Comme on ose régner sur nos sorts et nos jours!

Faites attention! Observez la mesure!

Ô la mortelle injure!

La cadence est moins lente!

Et la chute plus sûre!

Nous rabattrons bien leur caquets!

Nous serons bientôt leurs laquais!

Qu'ils sont laids! Chers minois!

Qu'ils sont fols! (Airs coquets!)

Et c'est toujours de même, et c'est ainsi toujours!

On s'adore! On se hait!

On maudit ses amours!

Adieu Myrtille, Eglé, Chloé, démons moqueurs!

Adieu donc et bons jours aux tyrans de nos coeurs!

Text in English:

It's Lindor! it's Tircis! and all our conquerors!

It's Myrtil! it's Lydé! the queens of our hearts!

How provocative they are, how proud they are always!

How they dare reign over our fates and our days!

Pay attention! Observe the measure!

O the deadly insult!

The pace is slower!

And the fall more certain!

We'll tone down their chatter!

Soon we'll be their lackeys!

How ugly they are! Sweet faces!

How crazy they are! Coquettish airs!

And it's always the same! And will be so always!

They love one another! They hate one another!

They curse their loves!

Farewell, Myrtil! Eglé! Chloe! Mocking demons!

Farewell and good days to the tyrants of our hearts!

The Pavane has endured as one of Gabriel Fauré's most popular and frequently performed works. Its beauty and emotional resonance gave it an appeal and presence far beyond the concert halls and music CD's: the Pavane is featured in the soundtrack of many movies, and has been used by numerous Pop and Jazz musicians in their own music. For this concert, the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra will be performing a reduced version of the work for string orchestra, arranged by Carl Simpson.

See the full score here: Pavane (arr. from Carl Simpson)

Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2

The Symphony No. 2 in D for strings and trumpet ad lib (Symphony for Strings) is a work commissioned in 1937 by Paul Sacher and composed by Arthur Honegger. Originally meant for the Basler Kammerorchester's 10th-year celebration, the completion of work got delayed, partially because of the outbreak of the Second World War. It was composed for string orchestra and received its first performance in 1942 by the Collegium Musicum of Zurich under Sacher on 18 May 1942. The work is for string orchestra, except for the addition of a trumpet in the concluding chorale: "like pulling out an organ stop", according to the composer. Despite the piece's dramatic and oppressive character, Honegger always insisted that the piece's musical idea was not connected to the war. Within the musical language of Honegger in his Second Symphony, we can denote in the character an extremely agile use of the dogmas and expressive tools established in the previous centuries, although some passages of the piece also seem to hint to atonal writing. Through the years, it has remained one of Arthur Honegger's most popular and widely performed works and is a fascinating example of the ties between the "ancient" tonal style and the "modern" atonal writing. By operating in a realm where both exist, the work showcases a third-way position that steers away from the apparent absolute positions on the debate concerning atonal and tonal music.


Marimba: Leïla Martin

After having completed her studies in the conservatory of Vire, Normandy, France, Leïla moved to Caen in order to study percussion with Yvon Robillard and Caroline Bernard. Meanwhile, she started a Bachelor of Northern Languages and Culture with Finnish language as a speciality. The discovery of Finland through its language, literature and culture led her to the Sibelius Academy, where she completed her Bachelor in percussion in September 2021. She is now continuing her Master’s studies with Jerry Piipponen and Kazutaka Morita as percussion teachers. She often performs as an orchestral musician; she played with Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, Opera Box Lapenrannan kaupunginorkesteri and Vaasan kaupunginorkesteri. As a chamber musician, she has been performing since 2022 with Duo Eclipse, and she has been organising concerts in churches, prisons, hospitals and retirement homes. Leïla's artistic career has been supported by the Sibelius Academy foundation and MES.

Conductor: James S. Kahane

A refined and passionate conductor, James S. Kahane has been invited to lead many first-class orchestras such as the Finnish Radio Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Strings and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra. He is a founding member as well as principal conductor of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, a Finnish orchestra born in the fall of 2018 and specializing in repertoire for chamber orchestra. Since this same year he is also conductor of the Finnish Polytechnic Orchestra.

Previously he was appointed, at the age of 21, as Susanna Mälkki's assistant conducto at the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Among the orchestras he has conducted are the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, the Ostrobothnia Chamber Orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Jyväskylä Sinfonia, the St. Michael's String Orchestra, the Triangle Orchestra, the Orchestre de la Francophonie, the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta, the Pori Sinfonietta, the Joensuu City Orchestra, the Järvi Academy Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian State Orchestra and the Rehovot Symphony Orchestra.

James studied in Sakari Oramo's renowned conducting class at the Sibelius Academy, where he was accepted at the age of 19. At the same time, James has benefited from the teaching of major conductors such as Paavo Järvi, David Zinman, Peter Eötvös, Matthias Pintscher, Sir Roger Norrington, John Storgårds, Mikko Franck, Leif Segerstam, Johannes Schlaefli, Nicolas Pasquet, Yoav Talmi, Colin Metters, Adrian McDonnell and Jorma Panula.

During the last seasons, James was selected from over three hundred and sixty applicants to participate in Bernard Haitink's conducting masterclass at the Lucerne Music Festival, the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival, and the 2017 Deutsche Dirigentenpreis (German Grand Prix for Conductors), where he was one of twelve applicants chosen to conduct the WDR Symphony Orchestra as well as the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne. Previously, he was the youngest candidate selected for the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, where he was chosen by Neeme Järvi to conduct one of the official concerts of the festival.

Since 2016, James is also the conductor of the Far(away) Ensemble, a modular and multidisciplinary group with which he recorded Jacopo Aliboni's music for the short films "Du Temps Perdu" and "Le Temps Prend Feu", among which the second one was officially selected for the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Cefalù Film Festival, the Guiar Festival as well as the seventy-second Cannes Film Festival.

The Finnish broadcasting channel YLE dedicated one of three portraits of promising conductors from the Sibelius Academy to him in 2018. The documentary was released in the Finnish movie theaters in Spring 2020.

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