Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Helene - Nuances from the Life of Helene Schjerfbeck

My third piano quintet “Helene” Op.74  is the last 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 second quintet “Aino” was premiered at the festival in 2018.
The third quintet “Helene – Nuances from the Life of Helene Schjerfbeck” will get its world premiere this year on the 7th of August at the Kokonainen Festival 2020. It will be played by the incredible musicians Heli Haapala flute, Kristiina Salmi oboe, Pekka Niskanen clarinet, Jaakko Luoma bassoon and Tiina Karakorpi piano. As the name says, it is a selection of nuances and feelings from the life of the painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946). Schjerfbeck is one of Finland’s most famous modernists.
The art of Helene Schjerfbeck has been dear to me since I was a child and I painted my first copy (for own use) at the age of 12. In addition to loving her art I also felt a strong understanding and belonging to her as a person, as she throughout her life suffered from health problems and partly therefore was mostly melancholic and depressed. She never married, painted all her life and finished her last painting just one week before her death.
Balskorna / Dacing Shoes by Helene Schjerfbeck

Schjerfbeck grew up under hard circumstances in a Swedish-speaking family in Helsinki. She got a hip injury at the age of four which contributed to that she would sit still a lot of the time, and probably therefore she dedicated a lot of her time to drawing. She was accepted to the Finnish Art Societies Drawing School at the mere age of 11 years and was granted a free place at the school. After she had completed her studies in Finland she continued with the help of grants her studies in Paris and England. She often recollects in her later letters that these years were the happiest of her life. In a letter from 1918 to Einar Reuter she writes “In my youth there was hope and love towards the work, it was fun to paint, the only fun thing at all – the time in Paris and the first year in England. Then in Finland there was no hope anymore, no joy, all that contributed to that I won’t say here.” In the first movement “Balskorna” (“Dancing Shoes”), named after a painting with the same name from 1882, I try to catch that joy of life. She returns to the motive of “dancing shoes” several times during her life, as she does to the happy memories from her time in Paris and England.
While abroad Schjerfbeck got engaged to an English painter,  They was engaged for two years before her fiancé broke up the engagement, probably because of her poor health. She burnt all his letters and she also asked her friends to burn all of her letters that considered him. Therefore we don’t know today who her fiancé actually was. The burning of all letters can also be heard in the first movement. In the 1920s she comments that through the broken engagement she knew what pain was, but that she was happy about that she had been able to choose art over all the duties she would have had as a wife.
Byktork / Drying Laundry by Helene Schjerfbeck

Although she didn’t have to fulfil any duties as a wife, she still had to fulfil her duties of housekeeping. A lot of time and energy went to sweeping and washing the floors, cutting wood, lighting the fire, washing clothes, cooking and washing the dishes. As she was weak and sick most of her life, these duties robbed even more of her energy and limited the time she had left for painting. In a letter to Einar Reuter from 1932 she writes “They laugh at me when I say I have had a lot to do – I clean up, wash the dishes, cook food at times, sew clothes, mend all the clothes, and that is a lot, and every now and then I correct a painting — If I sit down to paint there will come bills, never a calm moment. If only I could be free from the household!
In general everything that is considered to have to do with women’s daily lives has been classified as unimportant and uninteresting. Therefore it is not surprising that a female artist would make a painting such as Schjerfbeck´s “Byktork” (“Drying Laundry”) from 1883. It is a motive that probably no male artist would have chosen. In the same way as Schjerbeck illustrates the female everyday life with her art, I feel that as householding took such a large part of her time and energy, it is essential to dedicate a quarter of this piece exactly to laundry. In a letter from 1922 to Reuter she summarizes her wishes with the words “I am not looking for fame but for money – because with money I get the possibility to paint more, and that is more than fame and honour to me.”



Schjerfbeck is maybe best known for her around 40 self-portraits. She writes in a letter to Ada Thilén in 1921: “When I now so seldom have energy to paint, I have begun with a self-portrait. You always have the model at hands, it is just not at all fun to see yourself.” She was also encouraged by the art dealer Gösta Stenman, who was her patron and made sure to both sell her paintings and create a financial independence for her. In two different letters from 1937 to her friend Reuter she comments on this “I am weak – but I am beginning on the self-portrait that Stenman wants to have.” and “Isn’t it strange that he still keeps on wanting to have self-portraits!”. She liked to investigate the different options she had and writes in a letter to Dora Estlander in 1944 “I’m looking at a book with painters self-portraits. They who embellish themselves are boring – Dürer and also others.” In 1921 she writes to Reuter “I drew in front of the mirror, after 5 minutes the face falls together tired. It will be continued tomorrow…This is the one life, an other hidden current is one’s own real one.” This own real one she always seemed to look for in all of her art. The third movement “Sjelvporträtt” (“Self-portraits”) is a passacaglia consisting of 12 chords. Everytime the chord progression is repeated it is instrumented slightly differently, with different nuances. The first four chords are also the main ingredient in the first and last movements and parts from self-portraits can be heard in the second movement, when she is longing to paint
Konvalescenten / The Concalescent by Helene Schjerfbeck

The last movement “Konvalescenten” is named after one of her famous painting “The Convalescent” from 1888 which is also often called  “The Pearl of Ateneum” (the Finnish National Art Gallery). The motive is one of Schjerfbeck´s most used motives (in addition to her self-portraits). The painting was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in 1889 (that time with the name “The first greenery”) and won a bronze medal of first class. The Convalescent can be seen as a contribution to the public debate, a tribute to Louis Pasteur’s discoveries of infectious diseases and their cures. The original title however seems to refer to an awakening after a winter or a disease and appears to be a belief in the future. The paining has also been interpreted by many as a sort of self-portrait, an insight and introduction to a new phase in her painting and that she finally felt liberated from the broken engagement. It is also speculated if she returned to the motive so often due to suffering a lot from her hip injury, and also her being ill during a large part of her life, and thus being a convalescent herself. But since she was a shy person and has not spoken about this topic, all this remains only as speculations.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Two Premieres This Week

Monday, the beginning of a exciting week and also an exciting month! This week two world premieres, 20 minutes each!

Both are also going to be live streamed, so no need to risk getting Covid19 even if you want to hear it! If you can’t go to the music, music will come to you instead! 😍

Friday it’s the fifth anniversary of the amazing Kokonainen Festival! At this years festival my latest piano quintet “Helene - Nuances from the life of Helene Schjerfbeck” for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano will get it’s world premiere.

It will be performed by the amazing musicians Heli Haapala (principal flute in Lapland Chamber Orchestra ), Kristiina Salmi (oboist at the Finnish National Opera), Pekka Niskanen (principal clarinet at the Lapland Chamber Orchestra ), Jaakko Luoma (solo bassoonist at Tapiola Sinfonietta) and Doctor of Music Tiina Karakorpi! Friday 1PM in Janakkala Church .

On Sunday at the final concert of Pellinge Musikdagar my new song cycle “Framtidens skugga” to texts by Edit Södergran will get its world premiere at 3PM! It will be performed by the legendary world known mezzo soprano Monica Groop accompanied by the also highly acclaimed pianist Juhani Lagerspetz, both also professors at the Sibelius Academy.

Big thank you to all the grants that have made the making of these pieces as well as the performances of them possible! Thank you Taike for supporting “Helene” to come to life as well as The Finnish Cultural Foundation for supporting both my work as well as the wonderful Kokonainen Festival! Thank you Majaojasäätiö for supporting the work of writing the new song cycle “Framtidens skugga” and Svenska Kulturfonden for supporting the beautiful festival “Pellinge Musikdagar 6-9.8”. Thank you Yle Klassinen for broadcasting these events!

Wishing you all a great week as well! 😘🌸
Photo from 2018 by the one and only Marthe Veian

Monday, 20 July 2020

August Concerts 2020

New week, new project! Was great to take four days off and just enjoy the Finnish archipelago! 😎🌸Now looking forward to be working on a new orchestra piece for the first time since over two years! Oh, and August is soon here with four super exciting concerts including my music!

•7.8.2020 World Premiere of my new 20 minute Quintet “Helene - Nuances from the Life of Helene Schjerfbeck” at the superb Kokonainen Festival

•9.8.2020 World Premiere of my new 20 minute song cycle “Framtidens skugga” for Monica Groop at her festival Pellinge Musikdagar Pellingin Musiikkipäivät

•25.8.2020 My 30 minute “Requiem for our Earth” for choir, tape, light and video projection will be performed at this years UNM Tampere 2020: Music Ecology Festival in Tampere, being one of the representatives for Finland

•29.8.2020 My first and second Piano Quintets “Minna - Pictures from the Life of Minna Canth” and “Aino - Emotions from the Life of Aino Sibelius” will be performed at Tallinn Music Week 2020 by the amazing group TampereRaw .

Fingers crossed that Covid19 doesn’t come and postpones all the fun once again!


Tuesday, 7 April 2020

How Covid-19 Changed my 2020


This picture was taken exactly five weeks ago after I had given a guest lecture about my music at Malmö Academy of Music, a week during which I was working as a jury member for the new composition student admissions for my former university. How much life has changed since then!
Four weeks ago on Monday the 9th of March I flew home from Malmö, departing from Copenhagen airport. I was one of the only ones using a face mask at the airport, and happily unknowing my timing was quite perfect, travelling about 5 days before Denmark made a one month travel ban.
Since then all my concerts and events have been cancelled or postponed. I was looking forward to giving a speak about political music at Tampere Biennale's composer seminar, to hear my string quartet Via Crucis be performed at Heta Music Days in Lappland, to hear the wonderful conductor Christian Reif perform my piece Lucrum with W and last but not least: making my Australian debut with my piece Tundo! played by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Håkan Hardenberger. In total 14 concerts with my music cancelled (so far). 
More over I started to have slight flu-like symptoms fours days after my travel and went into voluntary quarantine on Friday the 13th of March. The first 8 days I had not much fever (about 37.8°C), hardly any cough, just a little sore throat, some muscle pain, nausea and headaches and a lot of tiredness all the time. On day 9 my breathing difficulties started, which over time have become less but still not seized (now day 26 in total). I was twice checked up but as I'm not in the risk group, I wasn't tested for COVID-19. 
But despite this all above I feel I have been very lucky and am at good spirit. I'm in a privileged position considering work, as nothing has changed so far - working from home as usual. As soon as I'm able again, I will be working on a new piece for violin and piano for the one and only Pekka Kuusisto and Tarmo Peltokoski, can't wait!
My warmest thoughts are with all my friends in the different cultural fields as well as in other fields (for instance restaurants) who lost several month of work due to the pandemic. My thoughts are also with all the brave and hard working doctors and nurses out at the front line under enormous pressure and and endangering their own lives. And my sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
Just wanted to give an update whats been going in my life and that I'm okay! Sending you all lots of love and hope! Take care!😘

Friday, 3 April 2020

Online Operas during Corona Lockdown

Here is a list of online opera performances I saw on Facebook, and felt this is something everybody (interested in opera) should know about!

Today also my bilingual children opera "Vickan & Väinö" was recorded for being broadcast later this spring! Sharing that with you as soon as it comes out!

But for now:

Metropolitan New York
https://www.metopera.org/
3.4 Les Pêcheurs de Perles
4.4 Macbeth
5.4 Norma
6.4 Aida
7.4 La Fanciulla del West
8.4 Falstaff
9.4 Parsifal
10.4 Gounod: Roméo et Juliette
11.4 Don Pasquale
12.4 Cosi fan tutte

Bayerische Staatsoper München
https://www.staatsoper.de/
Lucia di Lammermoor until the 8th of April
Parsifal until the 11th of April
Boris Godunov 18th of April to the 2nd of May
L’elisir d’amore 4.-18th of April
Die Frau ohne Schatten 11.-25th of April

Komische Oper Berlin
https://www.komische-oper-berlin.de/
8.4 Pelléas et Mélisande
18.4 La Bohème
1.5 Jewgeni Onegin

Deutsche Oper Berlin
https://www.deutscheoperberlin.de//de_DE/home
2.-4.4 Tristan und Isolde
4.-6.4 Fidelio
6.-8.4 Cimarosa: Die Heimliche Ehe
8.10.4 Aribert Reimann: Die Gespenstersonate
10.-12.4 Don Giovanni
12.-14.4 Don Carlos
14.-16.4 Carl Heinrich Graun: Montezuma
16..18.4 Wolfgang Rihm: Oedipus

Staatsoper Berlin
https://www.staatsoper-berlin.de/de/
03.04.2020 »Hippolyte et Aricie« Jean-Philippe Rameau
04.04.2020 Staatskapelle & Barenboim spielen Brahms
05.04.2020 »Così fan tutte« Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
06.04.2020 »Tannhäuser« Richard Wagner
07.04.2020 Staatskapelle & Barenboim spielen Brahms
08.04.2020 »Tristan und Isolde« Richard Wagner
09.04.2020 Staatskapelle & Barenboim spielen Bruckner
10.04.2020 »Parsifal« Richard Wagner
11.04.2020 Barenboim & Staatskapelle spielen Beethoven
12.04.2020 Staatskapelle & Barenboim spielen Bruckner
13.04.2020 »Parsifal« Richard Wagner
14.04.2020 »Violetter Schnee« Beat Furrer
15.04.2020 »Die Verlobung im Kloster« Sergej Prokojew
16.04.2020 »Der Rosenkavalier« Richard Strauss
17.04.2020 »Der Spieler« Sergej Prokofjew
18.04.2020 Barenboim spielt Beethoven-Klaviersonaten
19.04.2020 »Manon« Jules Massenet

Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
https://www.roh.org.uk/
Acis and Galatea, The Royal Opera, 2009 – 3 April 2020, 7pm BST
Così fan tutte, The Royal Opera, 2010 – 10 April 2020, 7pm BST
The Metamorphosis, The Royal Ballet, 2013 – 17 April 2020, 7pm BST
Gloriana, The Royal Opera, 2013 – 24 April 2020, 7pm BST
The Winter’s Tale, The Royal Ballet, 2014 – 1 May 2020, 7pm BST

The Salzburg Easter Festival
https://www.osterfestspiele-salzburg.at/videos-1833.html
Die Walküre, 2017, Available: 4 April, 12:00 to 6 April, 12:00
Otello, 2016, Available: 6 April, 12:00 to 8 April, 12:00
Cavalleria rusticana, 2015, Available: 8 April, 12:00 to 10 April, 12:00
Pagliacci, 2015, Available: 10 April, 12:00 to 12 April, 12:00
Arabella, 2014, Available: 12 April, 12:00 to 14 April, 12:00
Parsifal, 2013, Available: 14 April, 12:00 to 16 April, 12:00

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Guest Lecture at the University of Helsinki

There is a first for everything - yesterday was a first for giving a guest lecture at the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki! Pics or it didn't happen!




Photos by Hannah Kaihovirta



I talked about my educational repertoire - my three children operas Dumma Kungen, Djurens planet and Vickan & Väinö and about the challenges that have to be taken into account when composing educational material. I also talked about what my work as a composer is like and played a recording of my orchestral piece Tundo!. All the students were very focused the whole 90 minute lecture and asked enlightening questions. Big thank you the University of Helsinki for this opportunity and for inviting me!
Photo by Hannah Kaihovirta


Wednesday, 22 January 2020

USA Tour coming up!

Last year 2019 was not an easy year - mildly said. But I have high hopes on that 2020 will be different and have some exciting news:

I'm super excited about visiting USA for three and a half weeks, most of February! Going to Los Angeles, Colorado and New York! Extremely excited (and slightly terrified at the same time)!! 😁 Going to LA for visiting my favourite American Lucy McKnight , to Colorado Springs for hearing the US premiere of my piece "Tundo!" by Colorado Springs Philharmonic conducted by the amazing Christian Reif and to New York because it's anyway on the way home... 😉
Friends in LA, Colorado and NYC, let's meet up! 😍


And this pic is a throwback pic from 2017 when I was at Playa El Saler in Valencia, Spain - the closest pic to what I imagine LA will look like in February... 😏