When I was invited to Kuhmo for the first time in 2000, I had no idea what awaited me. I had obviously heard of this world-famous festival and wind colleagues of mine had warned me that performing there is so challenging to your physical playing condition that it’s like climbing Mont Everest! As I boarded my two or three flights and got on the bus from Kajaani Airport, I really did become very curious to know why everyone who had already been there seemed so especially euphoric about Kuhmo.

And why this huge influx of people to a place so incredibly remote, which even to a Dane is considered very far up north – and why, right there, is there a vast of number of fabulous musicians from all around the globe? Arriving in Kajaani, we received our programmes and rehearsal schedules and I read of many great musicians I had heard of but not yet had a chance to meet musically. I was so excited! Then there is the famous Kuhmo schedule, which is scrupulously precise and intense. I imagine it’s like a huge clockwork, where all has to run smoothly in order to avoid complete chaos. For example, I was asked to come to a general rehearsal at 9.13 am – not 9.00 or 9.15 but 9.13… Of course I was used to intense schedules and tours, but nothing compares with this one, where you may have 11 concerts/rehearsals ibn a day – after which you may just barely feel alive – and then keep this same rollercoaster pace going for two weeks. But then you do make it work and on top of it all have an amazing time.

In my first year, one day, as I went to the then Kontio canteen to crab a quick lunch, some collegues mentioned the most famous solo flute piece ever, Syrinx by Debussy. Then I quietly thought to myself, Syrinx…Syrinx? And then: Oh my God!! Syrinx!!!!! I grabbed my schedule, and yes, my instinct was entirely right: I was due to on the Arts Centre stage to play Syrinx in only 5 minutes!! This explains a little how almost casual it becomes to alternate between so many rehearsals and concerts in a day. Do not imagine for a second that I don’t take the concerts seriously: it’s just that you’re on non-stop; you do your absolute best, get on with it, and you just don’t have time to wander around getting too nervous – or ironing your concert clothes – which is great. My first impressions of and love for Kuhmo still remain untouched. It is: A piece where the greatest music unfolds. No need to mention any names, as the list of greats is endless. Here many musical bonds are formed that continue to live themselves out on stages around the world. Kuhmo is a real melting pot of musical talent worldwide.

A place of discovery
A gigantic repertoire! I don’t know any other festival with such a large, varied, innovative, daring, exciting and creative programme. Some works are known, other have been forgotten or the composer overlooked and then represented here. It is an incredible experience to be able to hear and rediscover this music performed live and at such a level.

A place of listening
Sometimes I wonder if there is a special listening in Kuhmo? I try as much as possible to go the concerts and then become part of this huge ear – the entity that represents the audience. And I have so many times been bowled over, surprised, deeply moved and touched. I do think there is a very special something in the way the audience in Kuhmo listen. I am always impressed to find people in the audience who have travelled from as far as Australia, the States or Japan and return year after year.

A place of challenge
In Kuhmo it’s important to be flexible, as you need to adjust swiftly in finding harmony playing with the colleagues who may be new to you, or performing pieces for the first time, or even playing old favourites that take on a surprising interpretation, as the chemistry as always different with every new combination of musicians. All quite intense and challenging.

A place of co-operation
Last year I was honoured to receive the medal of my fifth time in Kuhmo. My first instinct was that here things matter! The staff were all gathered, and for the first time I saw them all assembled – so many people! This festival is also special because of the incredible commitment and professionalism of the entire staff, creating a structure that makes it so pleasant to perform here. At most of the festivals if, for example, I ask, How can I get transport to so and so? the answer will be, Well, I’m not responsible for this, so please ask the transport department. In Kuhmo the response will always be, Let me try and help you. I’ll get back to you shortly. Now that’s a real luxury, and with such a big schedule, it’s a great help and support.

A place of inspiration
In Kuhmo I have performed with many musicians who have so profoundly inspired me, who have left strong imprints on my playing and who I love to listen and performs with. Many composers are also present to collaborate with you over their own work, and this gives you a wonderful insight. The programming in Kuhmo is also like in no other place. More than a generation of musicians have been young students here and have, under the guidance of so many exceptional musicians, grown into being just that. Kuhmo was also the key inspiration for me to make my own festival in Holsterbro in Denmark, now in its sixth year. And a little bit of Finnish inspiration of an entirely private matter: my lovely 3-year-old daughter has the vey Finnish name Elina.

A place of nature
Those never-ending sunsets have a special magic of their own. The lakes, the forests, the light, the wide open skies, the fresh air, the peace, the calm and quiet – it’s very empowering and makes me feel so at peace. We often say that it’s the breaks or silences in the music that make the magic. In Kuhmo it sometimes feels like Nature makes the decor for exactly that kind of silence, in between so much music. I find it truly breathtaking.

A place of sauna!
In my off time I can feel almost numb from so much playing and then my cure is always the same: a sauna party. And then my energy levels are wondrously restored. I actually live so well on very little sleep in Kuhmo. I believe I have converted a great number of colleagues to share my never-ending passion for those wonderful nights spent in these Finnish sauna cottages, swimming in the cold lakes under the white nights, followed by barbecuing round an open fire with friends – my idea of heaven.
There is not, alas, a sauna every night, but for relaxation there is then a nice glass of red wine by the fire at the Salakamari.

Janne Thomsen