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  • Writer's pictureHelsingin Kamariorkesteri

Light and Darkness

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Concert at Temppeliaukio Church on February 28th 2020. Mikk Langeproon, accordion |

James Salomon Kahane, conductor. Buy tickets here.

At the heart of the music from the north.

“When a man is in despair, it means that he still believes in something.” Dimitry Shostakovich

In the collective unconscious, the north has always been a place of mysteries and darkness, where nature retained its rights over mankind, where the night is pitch black, but also where the light that shines there at times is made brighter, more powerful, and awe-inspiringly beautiful in contrast. In these lands of extremes, the foothold of civilization has always seen unique cultures rise, which have been marked by their strong singularities and differences in regards of the European traditions. In music, these singularities have manifested through different approaches to the idioms of the western classical scene, and each of the 3 countries which music will be heard on this program, Russia, Estonia, and Finland, have created their own strong musical identities that, despite the close proximity of these neighboring lands, are as different and individual as their cultures are. One element, however, seems to be recurring in these 3 cultures, and is often an underlying tone expressed in their respective music: the eternal dichotomy between light and darkness, with all their possible facets, meanings, and interpretations. Each piece performed on this program, whether it is conscious or not, directly or indirectly, through the prism of human emotions or through the means of a most neutral contemplation, relates to this dichotomy and draws a parallel between the 3 unique cultures they represent. The mysteries, dreams, torments and cold that are bound to the darkness, and the hope connected to the light that opposes it, shape the melodies and the harmonies in remarkably different ways in each of the composers' own psyche.


  • Uuno Klami: Suite for String Orchestra

  • Tauno Aints: Concerto for Accordion and Chamber Orchestra

  • Einojuhani Rautavaara: Divertimento for String Orchestra

  • Dimitry Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a

Uuno Klami: Suite for String Orchestra

While Uuno Klami is principally known for his Kalevala Suite, his oeuvre and therefore influence is much larger than one may initially suggest. In Finland especially, Klami had a strong impact in the Finnish musical identity alongside Jean Sibelius himself. Uuno Klami studied music in Helsinki with Erkki Melartin and later on went to pursue his musical education in Paris and Vienna. His "Karelian Rhapsody", part of his first composition concert in 1928, brought him considerable attention, partially due to the strong opposite reactions it created within the music community. Notably, the oratorio Psalmus, written one year before the Suite for String Orchestra, has a unique place in Finnish sacred music and is one of the most highly regarded works by a Finn other than Sibelius. On the recommendation of Sibelius he was granted a small lifetime income from the government, and was later on made made a member of the Finnish Academy (one of Finland's highest honors). The Suite for String, written in 1937, is a clear example of Klami's masterful skills as a "symphonic" composer, and bares many of the characteristics that are unique to Finnish music.

Tauno Aints: Concerto for Accordion and Chamber Orchestra

"The concerto for accordion and chamber orchestra was commissioned by Mikk Langeproon. I am pleased to recall this close collaboration in which a number of abstract musical ideas came to fruition and began to sound on the accordion. At the time of writing, my imagination was about dramaturgically diverse and narrative musical content, realized through a variety of themes and textures, using the traditional expressiveness of accordion and string instruments."

— Tauno Aints

Einojuhani Rautavaara: Divertimento for String Orchestra

Although a student work, the Divertimento for String Orchestra by Rautavaara is a highly self-assured work in a bright, tonal, neo-Classical style, with clear and recognizable melodies.

Helsinki native Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) had discovered the folk music of the Ostrobothnian region along the Baltic sea in the north of Finland - an area where he had family roots - just before he entered the Sibelius Academy, and wrote a piano suite based on various fiddle tunes of the region. This sparked the interest of his fellow-student Jorma Panula, who was looking for some fresh new music to play when he had an opportunity to conduct the student orchestra. Rautavaara responded with this work in three movements and infused with the same sort of folk sound that Rautavaara created in the suite mentioned earlier, The Fiddlers. However, there is no actual folk music in it, though details of voice leading are derived from the specific way the folk musicians of Ostrobothnia create their parts. Rautavaara uses in his Divertimento various compositional technique that can also be found in the works of the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, who had a strong influence on Rautavaara. The very title of the work evokes that of the Divertimento for Strings by Bartók, and Rautavaara subtly hints to that work by using several Hungarian rhythms in his themes. Although of considerably smaller dimensions than the Bartók's piece, the work follows the same fast-slow-fast groundplan, with the slow movement being nocturnal in mood. However, while Bartók's "night music" is dark and haunted, Rautavaara's is relaxed and dreamy in character.

Dimitry Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a

The only Chamber Symphony by Dimitry Shostakovich is an arrangement of his 1960 String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110, by the Russian conductor Rudolf Barshai. The transcription of the work is quite literal, and as the original piece, is rife with quotations from Shostakovich's earlier works, including the First, Fifth and Tenth Symphonies, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Originally, the quartet was said by Soviet sources to be a musical exposé of Fascism, an explanation the composer did not initially challenge, but later denied the quartet was specifically associated with that idea. Moreover, Shostakovich quotes from the Russian song "Exhausted by the hardships of prison," whose presence in the work seems to contradict with the Soviet interpretation of the composition. As many of his pieces, the quartet was personal and carried much biographical significance for the composer. Indeed, the first movement opens with the notes D, E flat, C and B, representing the German spelling of "DSCH," the monogram Shostakovich often used in his works. The music in the opening Largo is ominous and mournful, while the brutal second movement quotes a Jewish theme that also appears in the finale of his Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 67. The third movement and the fourth movement constantly convey an underlying dark feeling of suffering, with the reminiscent "DSCH" pointing back to the tormented aspects of Shostakovich's own life.

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