The 54th Kuhmo Chamber Music on July 14−27, 2024
The 54th Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival will take place between 14th and 27th July 2024. The festival’s artistic directors, the violinists Minna Pensola and Antti Tikkanen, have designed this year’s programme around the theme of ‘Borderlines’. The idea of borders and boundaries is examined from many different angles – geographical, linguistic, cultural, social, spiritual and physical, to name but a few. This year’s festival comprises almost 60 concerts featuring a total of around 300 works.
Borders of many kinds
“The idea for this year’s theme came from discussions surrounding Finland’s NATO membership last summer,” Minna Pensola explains. “As NATO expands its borders, Finland’s eastern border suddenly became a much more concrete entity. This was the initial impetus that got us thinking about ideas of borders more generally, where they do and don’t exist, in music and as human beings. After all, in Kuhmo the proximity of the eastern border makes it topical in a way that it is hard to imagine for people in Helsinki.”
“The repertoire at this year’s Kuhmo Chamber Music explores these ideas of borders and boundaries from many different perspectives. Over two intensive weeks, we will test the boundaries of style and genre spanning over five centuries, all the way from the 16th-century Renaissance to the present day. Additionally, the festival delves into the boundaries of life and death, the concept of personal space and intimacy, mystical experience, and, for instance, the boundary between day and night.
“Geographically speaking, we’ve dedicated one concert to Switzerland, and the festival programme features works from places as far afield as Catalonia, Israel, the Åland islands, from the United States all the way to the borders of Asia,” Pensola explains. “Sámi culture is showcased in a new dance work by Auri Ahola. The audience will also have the fascinating opportunity to experience a concert centred on the lives of refugees and migrants – in complete darkness, that is, without our sense of sight – while the concert in which soprano Pia Freund performs works composed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp takes us to the limits of humanity itself.”
There are two featured composers at this year’s festival: Sebastian Fagerlund and Lotta Wennäkoski, whose works and careers have garnered much international recognition of late. Many of their works will be presented in numerous concerts throughout the festival. Among the festival’s world premieres are Fagerlund’s guitar quintet and a new violin duo by Wennäkoski, both commissioned by Kuhmo Chamber Music.
“Wennäkoski and Fagerlund are very different composers with highly distinctive voices. Sprinkling their works throughout the festival programme has brought about some very interesting combinations,’ says Antti Tikkanen.
“More than anything, Kuhmo Chamber Music is always about having fun and letting your hair down. Alongside the seriousness of our themes, there is always an element of joy, a dash of virtuosity, ‘wow moments’ that push the boundaries of human capabilities,” Antti explains. As examples of such ‘wow moments’, he mentions the concerts focussing on etudes and child prodigies, while the Tero and Erno Show with its classic hits and evergreen rock numbers is the perfect place to let your hair down.
Friends Old and New
This is the second year that Pensola and Tikkanen have served as the festival’s artistic directors, but both have been performing at Kuhmo Chamber Music since the 1990s.
“Over time, Kuhmo has become like an enormous extended family to us,” says Antti Tikkanen. “We have developed very deep bonds on both sides of the stage.”
“As artistic directors, we bear the happy responsibility of inviting familiar artists from past years while introducing new names and faces too,” says Pensola. “Supporting new, up-and-coming chamber-music ensembles and providing them with high-end performance opportunities is vitally important to us,” adds Tikkanen.
This year, among those making their Kuhmo debut are the Spanish Cuarteto Quiroga, the Swiss Piano Trio, the pianists Joonas Ahonen and Mackenzie Melemed, the kantele player Eija Kankaanranta and the accordionist Janne Valkeajoki.
Pensola and Tikkanen first discovered the young musicians of the Paddington Trio through the European Chamber Music Academy (ECMA). This year, ECMA also brings us the esteemed chamber-music pedagogue and violinist Johannes Meissl. As usual, Kuhmo Chamber Music will organise a variety of music courses in conjunction with the festival.
In total, approximately 120 artists from Finland and abroad will perform at this year’s festival. Perennial audience favourites include the violinists Sergey Malov, Daniel Rowland and Elina Vähälä, as well as the Danel Quartet and Storioni Trio. Making a return to Kuhmo after a short hiatus are the soprano Anu Komsi and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. Alongside this summer’s artists and featured composers, the composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä will be on hand to give short presentations about each day’s programmes.
Two art exhibitions will be running throughout the festival. The foyer of the Kuhmo Hall will feature paintings and graphic art by Marjatta Tapiola, while the gallery at the Chamber Music Centre will present wood reliefs by Veera Kopsala.
Welcome to Kuhmo – the capital of chamber music!
Kuhmo Chamber Music
For two frenetic weeks in July, Kuhmo in Eastern Finland is host to a chamber music festival attracting thousands of music lovers. In that fortnight, this town of 8,000 inhabitants echoes to the sound of music against a backcloth of a lake that almost laps the walls of the concert halls in the clear, unbelievable northern light.
The concerts are held at the Kuhmo Arts Centre, in the Lentua Hall renowned for its excellent acoustics, in Kuhmo’s beautiful wooden Church, and in the Tuupala Primary School. The concert venues are all within walking distance of one another, and bicycles are a popular means of getting about, for artists and audiences alike. Music is everywhere, there are concerts from morning to late at night, and people just live for the music. In the evenings, gathered round an open fire in the yard of the festival restaurant, musicians and festival-goers get together and strike up friendships.
In over 50 years, Kuhmo Chamber Music has grown to become one of the world’s foremost music festivals. As early as 1989, the prestigious American journal Connoisseur was already calling it “possibly the best anywhere”. In summer 2014 the British Financial Times described it as “a remarkable event, where unfettered creative idealism reigns. The Austrian music magazine Festspiele has rated Kuhmo among the world’s leading festivals in 2008−2015.