In early 1996 I received a fax from my management: another festival… two weeks, plenty of chamber works, some teaching… sure, I had heard good things about the place, loved the repertoire, a new place for me, why not – I will give it a try…

I arrived in Kuhmo late at night but in full daylight. Tired as I was from the journey, I was provided my artist pack, a Finnish supper in a box, a festival T-shirt /which is lasting forever or at least to the next millennium) and my own bike. The schedule was several pages long, rehearsals starting in a few hours running continuously until concerts and beyond… I tried to get some sleep…but then…the mosquitoes introduced themselves!!!

The next two weeks were packed with musical activities, meeting new friends, sauna parties, mastering bike-riding while carrying my violin and developing advanced counter-mosquito tactics. In the end I was exhausted, due to the amount and intensity of work and sleep deprivation. Whether it was constant bright sky, roasting hot dogs with friends at the Amati café, bike rides after midnight or gazing at a never-ending sunset – there always seemed to be something that made sleep a last priority, or merely impossible!

And still, every year I look forward to my next trip to Kuhmo with anticipation and excitement. I wonder why? Is it the choice of repertoire? Probably not. I come across similar works and interesting programmes at other festivals. Is it the quality of the musicians? Well, sure, but I meet many of these colleagues elsewhere. Is it the captivating beauty of the place? This surely contributes a lot, but again, there are other festivals in the most beautiful locations. Perhaps the curious and enthusiastic audience? The wonderful, highly supportive staff? The enchanting light after the late concerts? Family bike-rides in the woods? Finnish cuisine? The variety of the restaurants? No doubt it is the combination of all the above that creates the unique Kuhmo experience. I particularly appreciate the unpretentious atmosphere, as if everyone agrees to adopt a certain sense of modesty; performers and listeners alike reduce the ceremonial aspects to a minimum, as if acknowledging that true glory and majesty are those of music and nature.

Kuhmo is a paradise for an amateur photographer like myself (with intrusions from hell in the form of mosquitoes while trying to take a photo…). Early on I adopted the habit of carrying my pocket camera with me at all times. The weather and light are constantly changing, revealing magnificent sights mainly late in the evening and throughout the night. After the evening concerts, I would speed up to my room, grab my large camera and lenses and rush back to the lake to capture those enchanted moments when the vanishing daylight turns into sunrise. I promised myself to limit my photographic adventures until midnight – rehearsal or lesson is soon at 8:30 in the morning – but couldn’t leave the place. The light bewitched me… sunset became sunrise… this very moment of now will never return, just like in a live performance. Fatigue, mosquito bites – those are long forgotten, but the magical sights remain well etched in my memories… and are happily retrieved when I return to Kuhmo.

Hagai Shaham