Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Commission by the Finnish National Opera

Very happy to finally share with all of you: the Finnish National Opera has commissioned me to compose their next children opera "Djurens planet" to the libretto of Monica Vikström-Jokela! Premiere on March 15th 2019 and going on tour around Finland autumn 2019! Performed by five professional musicians (three singers, a keyboardist and a electric guitarist) and a children choir! Very honoured, happy and excited about this project! Read more about it on the National Operas website and in Hufvudstadsbladet!

Music: Cecilia Damström
Libretto and original story: Monica Vikström-Jokela
Director: Martina Roos
Costume design: Anna Kontek
Lights: Vesa Pohjolainen
Choir conductor: Anna Schultz

Cast:
Joy, mezzo soprano: Elli Vallinoja / Katariina Heikkilä
Jack, soprano: Hedvig Paulig / Saara Kiiveri
Tin, Dragon, Businessman, baritone: Tiitus Ylipää / Riku Pelo
Children choir: Åshöjdens musikklasser årskurser 3-6



Photo by Marthe Veian

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

What a day!

Today my second string quartet "Letters" will be premiered by the amazing Brodsky Quartet at the wonderful Stift Festival in The Netherlands.

Today my orchestra piece "Lurcum" will also get it's Finnish premiere by Jyväskylä Sinfonia in Jyväskylä.

Today I got an email telling me that my blog "A Composer's Diary" had been chosen by a jury among the top 15 music compositions blogs by Feedspot. Being dyslectic and writing the blog not in my mother-tongue, I must say I'm quite proud!

Today I got an email about more great things that are coming up in the future.

Today has been a quite an awesome day and the premieres haven't even begun!

I would say "I'm living the dream", but I never ever even could dream of a life like this!

Thank you Daniel Rowland​, the Brodsky Quartet, Ari RasilainenJyväskylä Sinfonia and Feedspot for making THIS day so great! And very thankful to ALL people who have helped me in so many ways over so many years, and who make my life THIS awesome!

Wishing you all an as awesome day as I'm having today!

Photo credit to Marthe Veian Andreassen​

Friday, 1 June 2018

Tundo!

Tomorrow it's time for the world premiere of my piece "Tundo!" in Stockholm with Gävle symphony orchestra conducted by Andreas Hanson! I would like to share what I have written about my new 10 min orchestra piece with you here:

"Time is ticking while over 65 million refugees are knocking at the door of Europe in seek of help and hope for a better life. Refugees who have lost everything, who have walked miles, who have paid everything they own for saving their own and their families’ lives. The European Union has had a hard time choosing sides. And while it is tightening the regulations for refugees, the pressured knocking at our door is growing ever stronger. A both economic and humanitarian catastrophe is starting to show its full extent.

Tundo is the latin word for “Knock” and is my description of the catastrophe of our time. I have tried to put in to music the knocking, the wars, the beautiful landscapes refugees have walked by, the rain that has poured over them, the sea and the dangerous boat ride, the screams for help, the arguing among the European Union’s elite bureaucrats, the shouts of “don’t let them in”, the grief and pain due to loss of loved ones, the sympathy we Westerners have but which only lasts as long as the refugees don't affect our own lives in any way. All of this exists at the same time simultaneously, all of this is a part of our time, all of this will be part of our history and a burden on our conscience.

Events like one of the world’s greatest nations choosing a racist, misogynistic man for president, have shattered me and put all my idealism into question. I’m not a politician, I’m not rich nor influential, but through my music I at least try to do my part for making the world a little better place to live in. By touching other people’s hearts and telling the story of those who don’t have a voice of their own in society - the refugees. "


Photo by Marthe Veian Andreassen

Monday, 28 May 2018

Aino - Piano Quintet No. 2

My second piano quintet “Aino” Op.60 is also the second quintet out of a trilogy consisting of three large
form works with the theme “Woman’s Destiny”. The trilogy is a three-year commission by the Kokonainen
Festival in Finland. The first quintet “Minna” was premiered at the festival in 2017 and the last quintet
Helene” will be premiered at the festival in 2019.


The second quintet “Aino - Emotions from the life of Aino Sibelius" will get its world premiere this year on
the 8th of June at the Kokonainen Festival 2018. It will be played by the incredible musicians Heli Haapala flute, Pekka Niskanen clarinet, Linda Suolahti violin, Lauri Angervo cello and Tiina Karakorpi piano. As the name says, it is a selection of feelings from the turbulent and fascinating
life of Aino Sibelius (1871-1969). She was the sister of three artist (the writer Arvid Järnefelt, the
painter Eero Järnefelt and the composer Armas Järnefelt) but she is best known for her being the
wife of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Aino around the time of her marriage (photo from c. 1891 / National Board of Antiquities Picture Archive)


Aino Sibelius was in opposite to Minna Canth very hard for me to understand as a person and
also at an emotional level, which means that I have worked very hard on this quintet “Aino”. As Jenni Kirves concludes in her book “Aino Sibelius - Ihmeellinen olento” (freely translated into
English by me):
“Aino Sibelius truly was a wondrous being. The secret of her persona will always remain a mystery
to us, no matter how hard we try to get to her core. As a human she was of her own class, a special
and contradictional woman, who at the same time was modest and strong, but within her strength very
sensitive and sometimes soft, even weak. Her personality is hard to categorise. Even in her time she
was considered to have a special character, which was hard to understand for many. From today’s
perspective it feels even harder. The women of today maybe find it even harder to identify themselves
with her persona than the women of her time. In this sense she was a artist in the same way as her
husband.

The easy way out would be to analyse Aino from today’s feminist perspective as a person who
sacrificed her own persona for her husband’s music. However she never experienced that she
had done so, instead she felt uplifted by her husband’s music and to be part of something infinite
and holy, and she saw herself as a privileged person. The persona of Aino Sibelius therefore can’t
be put into the context of today’s view of equality. Aino didn’t feel repressed because for her it was
self-evident that the woman is a woman and the man is a man, who both live according to their
nature. It wasn’t a question of repressing or being repressed, she thought women were meant to
use their own strength and men their own, and in this way they would fulfill their own path decided
by destiny.”

Even though Aino has been very difficult for me to understand, I still wanted her to be part of my

trilogy “Woman’s Destiny” because without her dedication to her husband and to their family we
would maybe (most likely) not have so many works by Jean Sibelius. Even Jean Sibelius
acknowledged how lucky he had been to marry Aino and said in his speech on Aino’s 75th
Birthday You might have been happier and better off marrying another man, but I could never have been happier with anyone than with you”.


The first movement “Rakkaus” (Love) is what kept their marriage together even through very turbulent
times and the severe alcoholism, which Jean Sibelius suffered from. Aino and Jean felt that they had
found a soulmate in each other and loved each other deeply. Even after having been married for years
they seemed to be newly in love and Aino has also been called “the genius of love”.  She wrote about
their marriage “I am happy that I have been able to live by his side. I feel that I have not lived for nothing. I do not say that it has always been easy – one has had to repress and control one's own wishes – but I am very happy. I bless my destiny and see it as a gift from heaven. To me my husband's music is the word of God – its source is noble, and it is wonderful to live close to such a source.


Repressing her own needs was a great part of Aino Sibelius’ life, even if she saw it as her duty to do so.
The second movement “Höyry” (Steam) is about repressing and controlling herself, while “steam was
coming out from her ears”. Having six daughters with a man who suffered from alcoholism, and his
travelling a lot for his work, and his spending a lot of nights away from home drinking, it must have
been such a strain on their marriage that it is hard to imagine how Aino made it through those times.
But when Aino was angry at her husband she would not shout at him, she would sulk in silence for
days or even weeks at a time.


But even during hard the times of their marriage, Aino Sibelius always missed her husband very much
when he wasn’t at home, which the third movement “Kaipaus” (Longing) is about. When the Sibelius
family got a radio set at home,  she got some comfort from hearing his music and concerts being
broadcasted, she felt closer to Jean through his music. After his death she lived for another 12
years in which she missed him tremendously. Aino would every evening read his scores in bed,
just to feel that he was a bit closer to her, for a little while.

Rautaa” means iron and I feel that was what this woman, Aino Sibelius, was made of. The small and
fragile woman Aino had so much willpower and dedication to her life task and destiny that all I can do
is admire her. Aino Sibelius’ life was anything but easy: being the wife of an alcoholic artist who is
supposed to have said “I’m a poor man with a rich man’s habits”, which would lead to financial distress. Moreover their third child Kirsti died from typhoid
fever at the age of two (in 1900), Aino’s sister Ellen committed suicide one year later. Aino lived
through both of the world wars and the Finnish civil war. All of this is more than most people
could endure in a lifetime, but Aino did.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

New Homepage Released!


My new homepage is finally released! Please take a minute and check it out! 


All theme pictures on my webpage are taken by my amazingly talented friend Marthe Veian Andreassen and the page is built by my as amazingly talented friend Pernilla Haglund. It has been a pleasure to work with both of these talented women, and I warmly recommend working with them!

I will however continue with this blog (even though it hasn’t been frequent lately), as this is my less formal way to reach out to the world. Lots of topics I would like to write about if I would only find the time!

Photo by Marthe Veian Andreassen

Monday, 26 March 2018

Muntra Musikanter’s 140 year Anniversary Concert


The whole story begins two years ago when Christer Lindberg asked me if I would be interested in composing a new piece for the male choir Muntra Musikanter’s 140 year anniversary concert in 2018, which I of course was! My grandfather Göran Damström sang for a large part of his life in this very same choir, so it was an honour to be asked to compose for them. I asked the musical board if it would be possible to commission a new text for the piece, which they thought was a good idea, and I commissioned the Swedish speaking Finnish poet Oscar Rossi to write something for this purpose.


Just as with composition commissions, it is a lottery when you commission a new text and it was very existing to see what Oscar would come up with. And indeed: Oscar wrote something very different from anything I had read of him previously. But it worked out really well!
During the composition process I had regular contact with the conductor Henrik Wikström and checked with him in how many voices I could write and many similar questions. Henrik gave me very free hands which was nice.

In August 2017 I delivered the ready piece to the choir and in January 2018 I heard the first time a rehearsal of the piece. Two days before the premiere I heard a second rehearsal and what a big difference it was! But the best version of the piece (so far) was luckily the premiere itself, with which I was very happy!  Small things like the indication “weight on the front part of the foot, hit the ground with one heel at a time (quietly), according to the given rhythm”, which hadn’t sounded so great in rehearsals (when the choir was wearing sneakers or winder shoes) got just the sound I was looking for with the formal black shoes on stage. Many sang even by heart!



Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin


The choir Muntra Musikanter kept their 140 year anniversary in the Finlandia Hall for an audience of over 1000 people. Due to the anniversary, they also had an organised formal dinner party after the concert, which around 400 people attended. Most of the audience was dressed in evening gowns and suits, which made both the concert and dinner party very festive.

Me in my new evening gown at Muntra Musikanter's 140th anniversary concert.

The program was:
Ór Ymis hold (Finnish premiere) by Sunleif Rasmussen to a text from the Edda

Pauli Ord (world premiere) by me to a text by Oscar Rossi

Vem är du? by Andreas Lönnqvist to a text of Zacharias Topelius

Under rönn och syrén by Herman Palm to a text of Zacharias Topelius

Sandels by Jean Sibelius to a text of Johan Ludvig Runeberg

-intermission-

Sure On This Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen to a text of James Agee

MLK by U2 arranged by Hanna Kronqvist

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen arranged by Hanna Kronqvist

Hand i hand (world premiere) by Vytautas Miskinis to a text of Henry Parland

Dig är en törnkrans by Lille Bror Sönderlundh to a text of Gunnar Björling

Iltapilviä by Toivo Kuula to a text of V. A. Koskenniemi

Kejsarhymnen by Alexej Feodorovtij Lvoff to a text of Vasilij Zhukovskij

Gammalt porslin by Erik Bergman to a text by Carl Snoilsky

Sjöfararen vid milan by Selim Palmgren to a text of Gustaf Fröding


Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary © Cecilia Damström


The choir was accompanied in a few songs by the eminent pianist Folke Gräsbeck. Gräsbeck has recorded all of Sibelius piano music, a total of 24 records, and he wrote his PhD dissertation about the music of Sibelius, so he was by far the most qualified choice for accompanying the choir when it came to Sibelius. The solos in the concert were sung by Adam Newman (in Pauli ord and MLK), Dennis Holmlund (MLK) and Janne Sandström (MLK and Hallelujah)


Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin
The concert was accompanied by a visual show made by the designer and visual artist Stefan Lindfors and his assistant. Lindfors used something as simple and fascinating as the “old school” over head projector, water and different elements that he combined with water. I also liked his overhead strategy of how he had planned the visual elements.


Stefan Lindfors at Muntra Musikanter 140th anniversary. Photo © Cata Portin
As the choir is a Swedish speaking choir, and the Swedish speaking minority (to which also my family belongs) of Finland is quite small, there were very many familiar faces in the audience, which was nice. I was very happy that my sister, both of my parents, my both grand mothers, and two of my aunts could attend. When I was young I thought that you would “grow out of it”, but it seems that I’m still like a 5-year old who is very happy when my family will come to my concerts. And my grandmother said she was sure that my grandfather Göran would have been very proud that I had composed a piece for “his” choir. I was also very happy that my friend Lucy McKnight and her friend could make it to the concert.
Me and my family after the concert

After the concert I was invited by the choir to join their anniversary dinner party. I want you to imagine: over 400 guests of which most sing or have sung in choirs their whole life, singing familiar drinking songs together in four voices! Yes, it DID sound amazing!

I had the honour of having the dinner company of the pianist Folke Gräsbeck and the conductor Henrik Wikström. Folke has been my piano teacher at music camps around 2001-2006, so I have know’n him for over half of my life. At the dinner I also got to meet the composer Sunleif Rasmussen from the Faero Islands and the actress Christina Indrenius-Zalewski, widow of Muntra Musikanter’s former conductor (1951-1978) and eminent composer Erik Bergman.


Photo together with actress Christina Indrenius-Zalewski

Photo together with composer Sunleif Rasmussen

After the dinner, a band was playing dance music and I had the opportunity to talk to a few more choir members, and I had a wonderful evening. And could there be a better way to round up the evening than by having an awesome review of the concert and my piece in today’s edition of the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet?
Thank you! (The flower I received from the choir)

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Happy Women's Day!

Wishing everyone a wonderful Women's Day!
Very honoured by the fact that the first pieces by me that will be performed at the big Scandinavian venues such as the Finlandia Hall, Helsinki Music Centre (main hall), Stockholm Concert Hall, Turku Concert Hall and Linköping Concert & Congress Hall are all compositions for male choir! Many thanks to all the men who have taken the initiative to commission women like me to write new pieces for male choir, as the absence of repertoire in their choirs composed by women is striking! (One choral library of over 600 pieces for male choir contained only one piece composed by a woman, which makes about 0.17% of the library!) Thank you to the men who decided to make a change and for making the world more equal on this point.
Next performances: 24.3 Finlandia Hall (world premiere of "Pauli Ord" by Muntra Musikanter at their 140 year anniversary concert), 14.4 Helsinki Music Centre (Finnish premiere of "At Teasdale's" by Akademiska Sångföreningen at their 180 year anniversary concert) and 21.4 Stockholm Concert Hall (Orphei Drängar will sing "At Teasdale's" at their spring concert)! Welcome!
After the premiere of "Sailing to Windward" at Brahe Djäknar's 80 year
anniversary concert on the 13th of May 2017 at Turku Concert Hall.
Photo by Janne Valkeajoki