Wednesday 31 May 2023

Review of Science Frictions in Helsingin Sanomat

The new conferment cantata Science Frictions that I composed to a new text by Cia Rinne, got such a great review by Nuppu Koivisto in the largest Finnish tabloid Helsingin Sanomat, so I translated the whole review which you can read below.

Helsinki now celebrates doctors and masters - The ceremony includes a own composition, and this year it's very special

The message of the commissioned composition is universal: the role and importance of science in society is not just for university students, but for all of us.

Cecilia Damström (music) and Cia Rinne (text): Science Frictions for countertenor, choir and orchestra at the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki on 19 May 2023. David Hackston (countertenor), Dominante Choir (conducted by Seppo Murto), Aku Sorensen (conductor) and Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra

THE CONFERMENT CEREMONY is a three-day academic tradition celebrated every few springs. At its heart is the conferment ceremony, where the university inaugurates its masters and doctorates in a spectacular display of laurel wreaths, master rings, swords and doctoral hats. The Finnish tradition of the conferment ceremony has originally been imported from continental Europe to the Turku Academy, from where it has since become established and has spread to the various universities in Finland.

The tradition has always included music arranged or composed for the occasion. In Finland, since the late 19th century, it has been customary to commission special graduation cantatas from Finnish composers to be sung and played at master's and doctoral inauguration ceremonies. Although some parts of the conferment compositions and cantatas have survived outside universities, complete cantatas are rarely heard as such in the repertoires of non-academic choirs and orchestras.

An exception is Einojuhani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus, which he composed for his 1972 doctorate at the University of Oulu. He replaced the traditional choral part with recorded bird song, and the work has since received dozens of performances each year around the world.

Cecilia Damström's seven-part work Science Frictions (op. 84, 2022), commissioned by the University of Helsinki in honour of the Jubilee Year of the Conferments and premiered in March 2023, to a text by poet Cia Rinne, successfully refreshes a long-standing continuum of conferment cantatas. It is recommendable that the cantata should also be performed at non-university events in the future.

Although it is a commemorative poem for a conferment act, its message is universal: the role and importance of science in society is not only for university students, but for all of us.

The Science Frictions cantata, scored for countertenor, choir and orchestra, could be dramaturgically conceived as a journey in which the researcher engages in an endless, cyclical dialogue with the scientific community. In a speech on the website of the conferment's anniversary year, Rinne describes the character of Olympe, the cantata's soloist, as a kind of seeker who "embarks on a Faustian expedition in search of language, logic, science and consciousness - while the choir comments on and encounters these discoveries".

Damström's musical language and Rinne's text material, which includes nine different languages, emphasise playfulness and inventiveness, language games and paradoxes, and a balanced dialogue between the soloist and the choir.

The philosophers quoted in the text, from Socrates to Hannah Arendt and Paul Valéry, also engage in dialogue. In this sense, the cantata gets to the heart of science: knowledge is built together, in polyphony and in interaction with others.

The canon successfully weighs up universal issues such as the nature and ethics of scientific knowledge and the relationship between man and community, without being frivolous, platitudinous or pompous. It is typical that an interesting and evocative work of art will tempt you to experience it again and again, and this is also the case with this conferment cantata.

The wonder of discovery and exploration is present in the work: the ear always picks up something new and interesting from the multilayered texture.

Science Frictions' rich soundscape and the varied characters of the sections contain, in miniature, all the wonder and anguish of science - from the pressure and thumping of Arguing with Logics to the mysterious harmony of the spheres of the second and sixth movements, which peer beyond empiricism. Both the ideals and the harsh realities of the scientific world are revealed, and the future and responsibilities of the scientist are weighed. Damström's musical intertextuality is very elegant, with stylistic references in the conferment tradition, from church music to fanfares and the student song fragments of the last movement.

The role of Olympe was written for David Hackston's expansive countertenor voice, which sounded magnificently in the University’s Great Hall. Hackston's vocal instrument is used to its full potential in the cantata, ranging from spoken “sprechgesang” and "vocal fry" to soaring glissandos. In her introduction text, the composer says that the broad ambitus and the countertenor vocal range also expresses the important point that science belongs to everyone - regardless of gender or background. The interpretation by the Dominante choir, prepared by Seppo Murto, and the Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Aku Sorensen, in my opinion conveyed an enthusiastic impression, although the acoustics of the Great Hall has some issues, particularly with regard to balance when performing from the gallery.

In terms of form, Science Frictions could be described as symmetrical or cyclical, which fits perfectly with the harmonious and carefully thought-out sequence of steps in the conferment act.

For example, in the second movement the downward sliding whole tone scale in the woodwinds - like a cosmic nebula - is mirrored in the penultimate movement, where it starts to ascend again from below, perhaps towards Parnassus. Or is it the stone of Sisyphus, which is again being rolled towards the summit? In any case, the final movement, which fades into a luminous C major harmony, leaves the listener feeling hopeful: at last, Science Frictions is driven by a joyful and outward-looking science, the joy of discovery.

Particularly in the current climate, where the prestige and funding of research are at stake, this message seems exceptionally valuable.

The conferment cantata can next be heard streamed at the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Philosophy's conferment ceremony on 26 May from 10 a.m. The work can be followed on the university's social media channels and on the screen of the Helsinki Academic Bookstore.

Nuppu Koivisto - Helsingin Sanomat 26.5.2023

Saturday 29 April 2023

April adventures

What a wonderfully crazy week it has been! Went to Stockholm for two nights and held a guest lecture for the composition department of the Royal College of Music in Stockholm on Friday afternoon and attended TampereRaw’s concert at Konserthuset Stockholm in the evening, including an amazing performance of my Piano Quintet "Minna - Pictures from the Life of Minna Canth".

TampereRaw at Stockholm Concert Hall. Photo © Ville Hautakangas

Pianist Ville Hautakangas, composer Cecilia Damström,
violinist Anna Angervo and cellistMaija Juuti at Stockholm Concert Hall.

Stockholm Concert Hall by night. Photo © C.Damström

Bassist Juha Kleemola, Anna Angervo and Cecilia Damström in Stockholm.

Cecilia Damström infant of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm 21.4.2023.

Hautakangas, Damström, Angervo, Juuti and Tatevik Ayazyan

After the concert and a wonderful 2,5h sleep I headed straight to the Finnish National Accordion Competition “Minä soitan harmonikkaa…” where the different movements from my new suite “Renewables” were the obligetory pieces for ages 10-16. Got to hear some of the players aged 10-13, and was absolutely amazed by the high standard of performing in the competition and so many wonderful interpretations of my “Renewables”.

Cecilia Damström at "Minä soitan harmonikkaa..." accordion competition 22.4.2023

Had 2 hours at home to change into evening gown and headed to the 185th anniversary of Akademiska Sångföreningen at Musiikkitalo, where they performed an absolutely mind-blowing version of my “Sailing to Windward” (composed to a poem by my grandmother's cousin Michael Binnie). This was followed by a dinner party with a lot of singing in four part harmony.

Choral conductor Kari Turunen and composer Cecilia Damström at the 185th anniversary concert of Akademen Male Voice Choir in Helsinki 22.4.2023

And a refreshing 3,5 hour sleep later I was back listening to “Renewables” at the Accordion competition at 9 AM. From there I headed by bus to Turku, where I listened to the finals of the Pirkanmaa Pinna Composition Competition, in which I had the honour to be part of the jury.

Cecilia Damström 23.4.2023

Many congratslations to the winning work “The Fiddler's Quest” by Benny Ojala and the shared second prize winners Laraine Kaizer-Viazovtsev: Ajam Suomessa, Tomi Räisänen: Kalalle and Robert Ruohola: Hangen värit.

With this timetable I sadly missed the performance by Vaasa City Orchestra and Seinäjoki City Orchestra, who played my Infirmus in Seinäjoki and Vaasa, conducted by Henri Sigfridsson. The performance was apparently splendid as the reviews were raving in both newspapers:

“Cecilia Damström's eerie string orchestra work Infirmus delivered the listeners to a completely different world. The work is dedicated to those who suffer from severe pain caused by an incurable disease. The work cuts, throbs, grabs, hits, oppresses. The world of endless pain has transcribed to the form of music in a really impressive way. An absolutely wonderful, breath taking and merciless piece, which was brilliantly played by the string orchestra.”
Hanne Orrenmaa, Ilkka-PohjalainenSaturday 22nd of April 2023


“Cecilia Damström (b.1988) is a fantastic composer. Her work Infirmus from 2015 lacks melodic motifs, instead she exploits the string instrument's ability to create atmospheres. The title means illness or weakness and the listener is given the opportunity for their own personal interpretation. I just closed my eyes and could experience images like pain, worry, hopelessness, hope, aggressiveness...
The work is excellent proof of music's ability to evoke thoughts and feelings.”
Per-Håkan Jansson, Vasabladet Sunday the 23rd of April 2023

This week’s Thursday I had the honour of being the head of the jury for Teosto Award and hand out the award alongside my amazing colleagues Yona, Linda Fredriksson, Gita Kadambi and Miikka Maunula. Big congratulations to this years Teosto Award Winners: the orchestral work “Water” composed by Sanna Ahvenjärvi and Tapio Lappalainen, Mikko Sarvanne Garden's jazz album “Heräämisen valkea myrsky” composed by Mikko Sarvanne and the rap album “Draama-Helmi kuistilla” by Helmi Kajaste and her work group. It was an amazing experience to get to listen to music from so many different genres and talk about it with my colleague jury members, all experts from many genres.
Teosto Award Jury 2023. Photo by Jussi Hilttunen

Ending this week by attending my friends wedding and celebrating Vappu (Finnish first of May) with a friend visiting from the US. Wishing you all a wonderful Vappu!

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Science Frictions Premiere

One of 2023 highlights was to get the opportunity to compose “Science Frictions”, a 20 minute piece in 7 movements to a text by Cia Rinne. “Science Frictions” is the Conferment Cantataof  Helsinki University for their 100th Conferment Ceremony Jubilee. The piece was performed four times by the wonderful countertenor David Hackston, the Academic Choral Society and Helsinki University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Aku Sorensen.

Doctor Kristina Ranki and composer Cecilia Damström
Doktor Kristina Ranki and composer Cecilia Damström

“Science Frictions” was premiered at the Opening Ceremony of the Conferment Jubilee on the 20th of March in the Great Hall at the main building of Helsinki University. The piece received a wonderful by Finnish musicologist and semiologist Eero Tarasti, currently serving as Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of Helsinki. He sums beautifully up Rinne’s text: “It can be said that the text [by Cia Rinne] places the work in a pan-European intellectual context; this is not some backroom Finnish blustering, but a universal avant-garde. For this reason, the work could be presented anywhere in Europe – and hopefully it will be.” Such an honour to get to talk to Eero Tarasti and his wife, musicologist Eila Tarasti (see slide 7).

Cecilia Damström, Eila Tarasti and Eero Tarasti

The Conferment Ceremony of Helsinki University is a 385 year old tradition, and for the anniversary of the 100th Ceremony, they commissioned the Finnish Fashion Designer Ella Bought to design new non binary clothing, that can be worn during the ceremony.

Designed by Ella Boucht

Designer Ella Bought and composer Cecilia Damström

Curator of the whole Conferment 100th Jubilee was Doctor Kristina Ranki (see the first photo), who as an historian naturally also curated an exhibition of the history of the Conferment Ceremony at Helsinki University. Very honoured to have my score included in the exhibition, along side for instance the Conferment Cantata of Leevi Madetoja and Jean Sibelius.

Watch on Instagram

Very thankful for all my friends and family who came and watched and for all the lovely flowers!

Saturday 26 November 2022


First of advent and the weekend of thanksgiving and so many things in the past weeks that I’m thankful of that I don’t really know how to sum it up or where to begin! (Trigger warning: a long post of thankfulness and blessings.)

Thank you Lili Bogdanova-Essl and Michael Essl for wonderful three days in Berlin, one of my favourite cities in the world. Was also a great honour to be included in this year’s Klangwerkstatt Berlin on the 10th of November with my piece Groove, performed by Marianna Schürmann and Christine Paté alongside music by my colleagues Juha T. Koskinen and Tapio Tuomela. And so good to see my uni friend Simiam Ghan again and my colleague Cia Rinne, whom I’m currently working together with, as well!

Marianna Schürmann, Christine Paté and Cecilia Damström at Klangwerstatt Berlin 2022

Concert Location in Kreuzberg for Klangwerkstatt Berlin 2022

Cecilia Damström and poet Cia Rinne on the 11.11.22 in Berlin

Had three wonderful days in New York, the city that never sleeps and had a great meeting with Elizabeth Blaufox from Boosey & Hawkes (the publisher who represents me in the US and UK). Also stayed in a charity based hostel, through which I got to hand out food to homeless people in New York. Got to see the composition recital of the students at the Juilliard School and bumped into professor Andrew Norman, one of my favourite composers. Saw the superb musical “Into the Woods”, a musical who's musical director and pianist is my friend Evan Rees, with whom I studied together composition for Samuel Adler in 2012 in Berlin! At the same course I met Evan in 2012, I also met the wonderful Elizabeth Nonemaker, with whom we managed to squeeze in a lunch in New York this November, reunited with this wonderful person after 10 years! Also made new friends, for instance Jackie at the hostel, with whom I had a meaningful 3 hour conversation in Spanish about life and spirituality. (I’m quite proud this is still possible 11 years after my Erasmus exchange to Spain.)
Cecilia Damström with Elizabeth Blaufox at Boosey & Hawkes in November 2022

Went by train to Washington DC, where Garrick Zoeter picked me up. This inspiring and wonderful clarinettist was more than the best imaginable host! He showed me around Washington DC (The Capitol, The Whitehouse and the Kennedy Music Centre), drove me to Winchester Virgina, brought me to dinner together with his colleagues each night and drove me even to the magnificent Lurey Caverns on my free day, where I got to see spectacular 400 million year old caves of stalactites and stalagmites! (Also: the hotel that the Shenandoah Conservatory put me in was so comfortable, I think even the bathroom was three times bigger than the cubicle “room” I had in New York!). 

Cecilia Damström at the Capitol in Washington DC in November 2022

Cecilia Damström at the Lurey caves 17th of November 2022

Cecilia Damström lecturing at Shenandoah Conservatory 18th of November 2022

I was given the opportunity to talk about my music to the composition class of Jonathan Newman at the Shenandoah Conservatory and share my music with them. On Friday evening the 18th of November my main reason for my US travel took place: Garrick and his wonderful colleagues Julietta Curenton, Stephen Key, Ryan Romine and Alexander Bernstein gave an absolutely splendid US Premiere of Piano Quintet No.3: Helene - Nuances from the Life of Helene Schjerfbeck. (Listen to it yourself, link above to the recording!)

Cecilia Damström and the Van Buren Quintet 2022

The weekend I got to spend with my dear friend, composer Lucy McKnight at her wonderful home. I got to attend one of her concerts at Princeton University, see the legendary grounds of famous university and meet her wonderful friends Kennedy Dixon, James Moore, Connor Elias Way and many more, as well as her lovely cats.

Kennedy and Lucy outside Princeton University November 20th 2022

After a refreshing 22hours at home in Helsinki I was lucky to travel on the 23rd of November to the small city of Jakobstad (in Finland) for the wonderful Rusk Festival. This year’s theme was “Gods and goddesses”, so my piece Celestial beings suited the festival so well, that the opening concert was even named after my piece! It was such a honour to have Aleksander Koelbel and Mina Fred from the superb contemporary music ensemble Norrbotten NEO perform my piece! (Link to the recording of the opening concert in the comments!) And because they played the third movement in the opening concert and the other two movements in the chamber music concert on Friday, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at the festival from Wednesday to Saturday and had the opportunity to get to know all the other wonderful musicians as well as hear and experience all the inspiring concerts artistic director Anna-Maria Helsing hat put together. Thank you Mina, Aleksander, Nick Shugaev, Mårten Landström , Johan Ullén, Robert Ek, Christian Svarfvar, Senja Rummukainen, Anabel Montesinos, Sara Hammarström, Tanja Nisonen, Martin Granström and everyone involved for a truly wonderful week in Jakobstad!

Mina Fred, Cecilia Damström and Aleksander Koelbel at the RUSK Festival in Finland 2022

Ended the week together with my friend Linda Suolahti, seeing my favourite comedian Hannah Gadsby perform live in Helsinki. Such a mind-blowing performance!
The past 2,5 years haven’t always been easy, having suffered from Long Covid from March 2020 until September 2022 (and having had cover five times so far). Many times during the past years I have wondered if I ever would be back to normal again, so it feels simply incredible to finally feel like I have got my life back! Each of the things I have mentioned feel like a blessing, but the biggest blessing of all at the moment is having a heathy body to experience all the things above and of course all the lovely people with whom I have had the privilege to experience these moments with. Thank you.❤️

Thursday 10 November 2022

November Concerts

November is here with a sparkling variety of concerts and me trying to keep up with them! 😅  This month my music is traveling to Germany, Canada, USA and different cities in Finland. 

November began with a pang: an excerpt of my string orchestra piece Fretus was performed during the Nordic Council Prize Ceremony. The event was streamed live to all Nordic Countries and can be seen online under this link. The exerpt of Fretus, a piece dedicated to all the oceans of our world, is performed before and after announcing the winner of the Nordic Council Enviroment Prize.

4th of November: The second movement Rädda mig from my choral suite Min Gud composed to Psalm 22 will get it's Canadian premiere by the Vancouver Chamber Choir conducted by the genious Kari Turunen. The piece Min Gud composed in 2010 is a very important work for me, and quotes from this work can be heard in several of my later works, so I'm very thankful for this performance.

10th of November: my playful duo Groove for flute and accordion is getting its German premiere at Klangwerkstatt Berlin Festival für Neue Musik. Groove is a piece which combines a fusion of jazz, progressive rock, latino rhythms and contemporary music elements and I can't wait to hear it again!

17th of November: Very happy about the Danish premiere of my piano solo pieces Characters and Under Stjärnhimlen, performed by the magnificent Xenia Frederiksen at Viborg Musikforening in Viborg Musiksal. You can find more information about the event here and find tickets here.

18th of November: Very happy that my music is returning to the United States and an other US premiere, with nothing less than my 20 minute Piano Quintet Helene - Nuances from the Life of Helene Schjerfbeck inspired by paintings and the life of the most famous Finnish modernist painter Helene Schjerfbeck.

23rd of November: The third movement Athena from my duo Celestial Beings will be performed at the opening concert of the RUSK festival in Jakobstad, Finland.  Link to the festival’s program here.

25th “Aphrodite” and “Persephone”from “Celestial Beings” will be performed at RUSK at the concert ”Souls of Ill Repute” at 6PM

28th of November: My piano solo piece Epitaph will be released on the splendid Ville Hautakangas’ debut album 12 Premieres! Soon avaiable on streaming platforms! The concert is part of the Pirkanmaa Piano Festival.

Moreover I will also be travelling thanks to these concerts to Berlin 9-12th of November, to New York 13-15th of November, to Winchester Virginia 16-19th of November, to Princeton University 20th of November as well as within Finland to Jakobstad 23-26th of November and Tampere 28th of November, so please feel free to reach out if you are in the vicinity.

Composer Cecilia Damström. ©Photo by Ville Juurikkala