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The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra 1927–2002

Radion sinfoniaorkesterin konsertin radiointi
Radion sinfoniaorkesterin konsertin radiointi radion sinfoniaorkesterin konsertin radiointi

The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra 1927–2002
A historical survey by Antero Karttunen

English summary translated by John Pickerling
Foreword from the translator
Launched in September 1927, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) has grown in the span of seventy-five years from a ten-man ensemble into a 98-member symphony orchestra. The events of the first fifty years are described fully in the history by Kai Maasalo, Yle's Head of Music from 1956 to 1976 (Radion sinfoniaorkesterin viisi vuosikymmentä 1927–1977), which came out in 1981. When the orchestra was due to celebrate its 75th anniversary in September 2002, Yle decided to commission a new history from Kai Maasalo's successor, Antero Karttunen. Maasalo's history of the first fifty years is no longer available. Antero Karttunen thus drew up a broad decade-by-decade summary, based largely on Maasalo's studies. This serves as an introduction to his own contribution, focusing on the latest 25 years.

The period is divided into ten two-and-a-half-year stretches. Each one records the details of the period, including the number of concerts, recording dates, repertoires and artists. The author has also been keen to convey a picture of the everyday life of the players, their joys and problems. National and international tours are also covered. Programme policy is illustrated by comparing the proportions of Classical and Romantic music with twenty-century production and with Finnish music, dominated by Sibelius. The main theme of the entire history is the orchestra and its members: the administration and personnel are included only if they play a pivotal role. A comparison of artistic achievements and, for example, individual artists has thereby been avoided as far as possible. Nevertheless, the appendices include a broad season-by-season summary of the attitude of the Finnish press towards the orchestra. Foreign reviews are included with the accounts of overseas tours. A sizeable proportion of the history is devoted to the problems associated with the concert halls.

Since 1972, the RSO has been forced to traipse back and forth between two venues in Helsinki, the Hall of Culture and Finlandia Hall. Despite repeated attempts, it has failed to secure permanent concert facilities of its own. This has also been an acute problem from the standpoint of artistic development. In spring 2002, there was considerable discussion about plans for a new music building in Helsinki. The history was naturally written in Finnish, but a final, comprehensive summary has been translated into English for foreign readers. It covers the entire seventy-five-year period but the focus is on the final quarter of a century. From instrumental group to symphony orchestra – the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) 1927–2002 The evolution of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE's ten-man ensemble into a 98-member symphony orchestra is a colourful and exciting story spanning several generations. In the course of its seventy-five years, the orchestra has played on thousands of occasions in studios, on stages, in Helsinki and other Finnish venues, toured abroad, made programmes for television and recorded music on discs. In all this, it has endeavoured to meet the obligations imposed on the company as a whole by the Act on YLE. Quite obviously, it has also succeeded in this: the company's management has always stood firmly behind the preservation and development of the orchestra, even though contrary proposals have been put forward. Foundation, concert hall disputes and musician numbers Right up until its fiftieth anniversary, the significance of the orchestra had to be pondered on numerous occasions.

From the early 1930s, a whole variety of options for discontinuing or altering its activity were contemplated. Committees were established, there were even passionate public exchanges of opinion, but the orchestra always pulled through. The disagreements were settled just as the RSO was about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. In a fundamental declaration, the company's Administrative Council confirmed the orchestra's existence and obligations. On the other hand, in the last quarter of a century, the orchestra has had to wage a constant battle over external operating prerequisites, the concert hall and working facilities reserved for the players. In the mid-1980s, the planning of the orchestra's own hall had advanced so far that everyone, including the press, thought that the plan was almost bound to go ahead. However, the final decision failed to be taken, since the company had major economic obligations elsewhere as well. The equipment van thus continued to shuttle back and forth between Helsinki's two concert halls, the Hall of Culture and Finlandia Hall. The matter was raised again at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. After numerous planning phases, it was now being reported that the saga of the hall was finally to have a happy ending. However, the economic recession struck, and the final decision was postponed. The state of affairs was further confused by major renovation work at the Hall of Culture and Finlandia Hall and by the endless difficulties which this gave rise to. In the mid-1990s, after a lull of several years, the phased planning of the new music centre started up in collaboration with the Sibelius Academy and Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

Throughout its 75-year history, the development of the RSO has been associated with a continuous endeavour to build the orchestra up so that the groups of instruments meet the needs of a large symphony orchestra. The objective was gradually achieved just in time for the new millennium, and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and its 98 musicians is beginning to be large enough. Even highly extensive works can be accomplished with this set-up, and special cases can also be resolved by special means. The standard of individual musicians has risen continuously. The results of the efficient musical training of the latter half of the twentieth century can be clearly heard. Naturally, the retirement of many musicians has meant that the orchestra has lost some of its skill gained through experience. Yet the musical and technical resources of the totally reorganised ensemble are unique: on the verge of its seventy-fifth anniversary, the orchestra surely finally deserves suitable and permanent facilities to allow it to perfect its latent capabilities. From the studio to public concerts, broader repertoire and various principal conductors In its early days, the Radio Orchestra was a studio ensemble. It performed specifically for radio listeners and sometimes offered over ten hours of programmes a week. The majority of the works had to be arranged not only in a rush but also for a small line-up, and there was little time left for rehearsals. The repertoire covered all genres with the emphasis on "easy classical" and on new Finnish music: our composers quickly learnt to write works specifically for radio's small orchestra. Only very rarely did the orchestra venture out into more demanding symphonic works: it simply could not manage the scores without a large number of extra musicians. This also restricted public concerts, and a mere twenty were held before the Second World War. Symphonic music was thus left mainly to RSO's sister, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, whose symphony concerts were broadcast on radio each week until the mid-1970s. Public concerts were the studio orchestra's great dream. After the war, with the firm support of the new culturally minded Director General Hella Wuolijoki, the orchestra was greatly enlarged. It now had fifty permanent players and a number of assisting musicians. Thus, in September 1947, it was able to launch regular Tuesday Concerts of symphonic music, first at Helsinki Town Hall and then in the university auditorium restored after wartime bombings. On the initiative of the Director General, the Tuesday Concerts were soon joined by lighter concerts on Thursday evenings at the Helsinki Workers' House. The work of the musicians now attracted quite new publicity: the press followed the concerts, and pressures for ever better performances grew. Toivo Haapanen, principal conductor and head of music since 1929, had achieved his goals. After Haapanen's death in the summer of 1950, the orchestra was taken over by the dynamic Nils-Eric Fougstedt, a man with years of experience of radio. He expanded the repertoire with zeal, but did not shun light music and popular elements.

In 1953, now 67-strong, the orchestra started referring to itself as a symphony orchestra. If need be, it could still be divided into smaller radio and light music orchestras, or the wind section could be turned into a separate wind orchestra. A man with many strings to his bow, Fougstedt was also an arranger, composer and organiser. The repertoire was extended as concerts began to be held on a regular basis. The basic works of the Classical and Romantic periods served as the framework. The Finnish theme was featured increasingly, and soon the orchestra ventured out into the most demanding new music. As early as 1943, the RSO performed Bartók's Divertimento. By the end of the decade, a further two of his extensive orchestral compositions were heard in the Tuesday Concerts. The repertoire also included works by Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Hindemith. In the 1950s, these were joined by Schönberg, Webern, Berg and many other key composers from the first half of the century, such as Copland, Honegger, Martin and Orff. The emphasis in Finnsih works was on premieres, thirty of which were heard. The most spectacular of these was performed in the studio in 1957–1958, when the whole of Aarre Merikanto's opera Juha was gradually completed. This masterpiece from the early 1920s had never been performed before. When tape-recorders obtained a broad footing in radio work in connection with the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, recordings became commonplace. The orchestra's studio performances that had been previously been broadcast live soon turned into recordings of principally Finnish music. Now all concerts could also be repeated from tapes, at the same time as international programme exchange broadened decisively. Recordings by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra began to be played all over Europe. Nils-Eric Fougstedt died in 1961. He was succeeded by Paavo Berglund, who had started out as the orchestra's first violinist over ten years previously and also gradually devoted himself to conducting. The new strategy perceived by Berglund and Head of Music Kai Maasalo aimed for a full-scale symphony orchestra and rapid improvement in standards. Before long, the number of concerts was reduced, the light music evenings on Thursdays were dropped and the pace of rehearsals was stepped up. Berglund was unyielding, and thereby laid a solid foundation for today's standard. Even in the 1950s, the field of operation had very much expanded, with visits outside Helsinki.

In June 1963, the orchestra first ventured out abroad, performing two concerts at Leningrad's famous Filharmonia Hall. By the end of the decade, it had already played in England at London's Royal Festival Hall and in Tallinn and the GDR. In the 1960s, the repertoire continue to expand, and the orchestra performed not only the basic works of Classical and twentieth-century music but also a wide range of the latest boldly experimental music. Finnish soloists were assigned increasingly challenging tasks in the form of new works heard for the first time in Finland. By the next decade, the orchestra now had ninety members, and the quality of its performance had risen continuously. The summer of 1971 brought another change to the leadership of the orchestra: Paavo Berglund left and was succeeded by 24-year-old Okko Kamu. Two years previously, this violinist and conductor had caused a sensation by winning the Herbert von Karajan competition. Kamu injected the orchestra with youthful freedom, resulting in many memorable performances. Okko Kamu relinquished his baton following the orchestra's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in late autumn 1977. In his stead came Leif Segerstam, the versatile opera and orchestra conductor already familiar to the musicians. The orchestra was now in the hands of an artist whose energy often bewildered the players. Even though new music had already rooted itself in the repertoire, the orchestra only finally obtained full mastery of this genre in Segerstam's time. Beyond capabilities Segerstam was also prepared to make numerous studio recordings, tours around Finland and foreign trips to as far away as Australia.

In autumn 1987, after ten years as principal conductor, Segerstam went over to become the orchestra's principal guest conductor. He handed over his duties to Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Saraste had evolved into a director capable of managing the most demanding tasks, after working closely with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra throughout the 1980s. His verve and dedication to the job imbued performances with a new joy of playing, accuracy and co-ordination. His close work with the Avanti chamber orchestra and later with the Finnish Chamber Orchestra led to many young musicians joining the ranks of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, too. Organisational position, discs, waiting for a new principal conductor.

Until the spring of 1994, the orchestra had traditionally formed part of the Music Department and its work was co-ordinated together with classical music production as a whole. In 1994, as a kind of trial, the orchestra's traditional link with the Music Department was severed and it was placed directly under Olli Alho, Director of Programmes at Radio Ylen Ykkönen. At the close of the millennium, the decision was revoked and the orchestra returned to the fold of the Music Department. The next change came in early 2001, this time on the financial side: the orchestra's budget was transferred from the small Radio Ylen Ykkönen to the company's central administration.

Commercial discs widened the field of activity after the mid-1980s. The recording of music for record companies was incorporated in a new contract into the musicians' work. Disc production had begun in Leif Segerstam's period, but it only really took off under Jukka-Pekka Saraste. He recorded the complete series of Sibelius' symphonies twice, together with a large quantity of Finnish and foreign repertoire, including Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Sakari Oramo, who took up his post as the orchestra's second conductor in autumn 1996, also took part in the recordings. However, as the new millennium approached, the record companies' interest in new recordings was diminishing markedly.

Jukka-Pekka Saraste stood down as principal conductor at a concert held on 7th June 2001, but this disengagement related mainly to artistic responsibility. He continued working with the orchestra virtually as closely, in particular as conductor of foreign tours. Likewise, Sakari Oramo, appointed a short while earlier in the spring of 2001 to succeed him, maintains contact with the players through his regular concerts. His term as principal conductor is due to commence in August 2003.

The repertoire 1977–2002
In the life of a large symphony orchestra, twenty-five years is a short period and the broad outlines of the RSO's repertoire did not alter very much, particularly as regards international works. Even though the orchestra constantly picked the latest production of the day, more distance and time are required before a new international composer can become established in the repertoires. Not a single foreign composer born since the Second World War has managed to become a permanent guest of the orchestra. The youngest composer to feature even relatively regularly in the programmes is Witold Lutoslawski, born in 1913.

Between the autumn of 1977 and spring of 2002, over 3,050 compositions were played at the orchestra's main concerts. Naturally, many works were performed on numerous occasions (the figures do not include light music concerts and performances by young soloists). Over 1,300 (42%) of these were from the Classical and Romantic periods and 700 (23%) from the twentieth century (the dividing line is the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nevertheless, composers who clearly continue Romanticism – such as Mahler, Skryabin, Rakhmaninov and Strauss – are included in that period). Finnish music was represented by just under a thousand compositions (33%).

Classical and Romantic music

A group of nine composers featured throughout the period stood out in the sphere of Classicism and Romanticism. The orchestra played Beethoven the most, mainly symphonies and concertos, which were included in the main concerts over 150 occasions (approx. 5% of performed works). The next most featured composers were Tchaikovski, Brahms and Mozart, with over a hundred performances each. If the lengths of the works are taken into account, Mahler is inevitably on a par with these, with 73 compositions played. Strauss and Debussy obtained performance figures of around fifty each, and Dvorák, Haydn and Schubert only fell slightly short of this figure.

Other composers were occasionally given considerable prominence but could also disappear from the repertoire for years on end. A typical example is Rakhmaninov, whose pieces were heard relatively seldom in the first decade, but which were performed considerably more often in the 1990s.

Twentieth-century music

Non-Finnish twentieth-century music featured frequently, with over 700 compositions played, enough material for the bulk of concerts. This area was also dominated by a group of masters that already merit being called classics. However, each of them went through a fairly brief period of decline, unlike the leading composers of the preceding group.

One unrivaled pair were Stravinsky and Shostakovich, both of whose output was heard on some seventy occasions. As regards Stravinsky, the 1990s were exceptionally fruitful, with over fifty works included in the programmes. Prokofiev, Bartók and Ravel formed the next group of composers; their works were heard on almost fifty occasions. Nielsen and Lutoslawski were also heard frequently, each on over twenty occasions. Messiaen and Schönberg managed to obtain at least ten performances, but, even at their best, other twentieth-century composers had to be content with relatively little attention.

Helsinki Biennale, subsequently Musica nova Helsinki, brought representatives of the newest generation of composers to the concerts every now and then. Yet their appearances were confined to a few occasions. One surprising aspect is the dearth of new Nordic music: not one living composer appeared in the orchestra's concert repertoires more than two or three times. The Nordic music festival and Ung Nordisk Musik weeks always featured several representatives from neighbouring Western countries, but their visits generally remained one-off events. On the other hand, Nordic fare was constantly played to radio listeners in the Music Department's joint concert series and through programme exchange with neighbouring countries.

Finnish composers

Over a thousand compositions were picked from Finnish music for the main concerts, and Jean Sibelius accounted for nearly half of them (484 works, over 15% of total). This figure does not include the frequent extra performances heard in connection with guest performances in particular. Sibelius' dominant position was undisputed, and foreign trips accounted for a large proportion of performances of his music.

Other Finns trailed far behind Sibelius. Magnus Lindberg, whose works were featured the most among them, had to be satisfied with less than a tenth of Sibelius' total. The orchestra played his works 47 times. Born in 1958, this composer's new works began to be seen in the repertoires from autumn 1982, but the real breakthrough came in the 1990s. His works were then included in numerous foreign tours. Einojuhani Rautavaara's works were heard 26 times. Cantus arcticus was his most popular work, played on five occasions. He was followed by Joonas Kokkonen (24 works) and Erik Bergman (22 works). The work by Kokkonen that was performed the most was his Third Symphony, heard six times, and Bergman's top work was Arctica, also heard on six occasions. Lindberg's contemporary Esa-Pekka Salonen could boast 22 performances, and his period of stardom came at the start of the new millennium. In two-and-a-half years, the orchestra performed his works fifteen times, most often Foreign Bodies, a work commissioned specifically for the Finnish RSO. Salonen had first appeared as a composer at a concert given by the orchestra in as early as autumn 1979, with his Boutade for three soloists.

Paavo Heininen, Leif Segerstam and Aulis Sallinen, representatives of the generation twenty-or-so years older than Salonen, caught up with him in terms of the number of performances of their works. Heininen's output was played at nineteen concerts, Sallinen's at eighteen and Segerstam's at seventeen. Works by all of them were included in foreign tours: Sallinen at the Lucerne music festival and in Australia, Segerstam in Berlin and Mannheim, and Heininen in Bratislava and Warsaw. A concert of Finnish music held in Warsaw in autumn 1979 included not only Heininen but also Kalevi Aho's Fifth Symphony (Aho's works were heard at fourteen concerts) and the premiere of Erik Bergman's flute concerto.

Born in 1948, Jukka Tiensuuwas included in the orchestra's concerts a dozen times with his peculiarly named works Koi, Mood, Mxpzkl, Alma II, Puro, Halo, Plus V ja M. Kaija Saariaho'sworks were played at eleven concerts, since the premiere of Verblendungen (1984), commissioned by YLE. The same figure (11) was achieved also by Eero Hämeenniemi, Jouni Kaipainen and Pehr Henrik Nordgren, composers of numerous commissions for YLE. Another two composers of the older generation, Einar Englund (9) and Usko Meriläinen (8) were favoured with almost ten performances. It was natural for the high performance figures to be reached by composers born mainly in the 1950s and earlier: the young born in and since the 1960s are still building up their reputations.

In addition to Sibelius, other composers from previous generations, starting with B. H. Crusell, were heard relatively frequently. The leading figure among them was Uuno Klami, who reaped 39 performances. The orchestra even dedicated one special Helsinki concert to this composer, born in 1900. It also gave two special evenings of his work in his home village of Virolahti in 1980 and 2000. Thirteen years his senior, Leevi Madetoja was likewise constantly in the limelight, starting with his opera Juha in November 1977. He could boast 25 concert performances, including Finland's national opera Pohjalaisia on two evenings in a row in late August 1997. In a category all of its own is Leo Funtek's orchestration on sixteen occasions of Modest Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Funtek was the principal conductor of Finnish Opera for many years.

The basic figure of Finnish Modernism, Aarre Merikanto, was heard at fifteen concerts. The orchestra's two performances of his opera Juha, rescued from oblivion 1958, in the autumn of 1995 were the most noteworthy events. The five piano concertos by Selim Palmgren, one of Finnish piano music's main personalities, were played eleven times. This figure was also achieved by lusty National Romanticist Toivo Kuula. The exponent of Nordic Classicism, B. H. Crusell, was featured every now and then (7 times). So, too, was Fredrik Pacius, the versatile builder of our musical culture in the nineteenth century.

Finnish compositions have not been classified into categories representing Classicism and Romanticism or the twentieth century. Had this been done, Sibelius' five hundred-or-so works would have been included among Late Romantic compositions and the bulk of other Fennica output would have raised the share of new music. This is clearly demonstrated by the total number of performances, 126, of commissioned compositions and premieres by the orchestra.

Conductors and soloists

Principal conductors Leif Segerstam and Jukka-Pekka Saraste were responsible for the majority of the RSO's concerts. In charge of the orchestra's artistic activity for a decade, Segerstam conducted 205 concerts whilst Saraste, occupying the same post for fourteen years, conducted 342. Due to take over as principal conductor in the autumn of 2003, Sakari Oramo has clocked up 73 concerts since the spring of 1993.

The following category consisted of regular Finnish guest conductors, with Jorma Panula accounting for the highest number (45) of concerts. He made his greatest contribution in the 1970s and 1980s in particular. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the orchestra at thirty concerts, but was unable to increase the frequency of his visits despite his efforts; foreign engagements and composing jobs filled his diary. The number of concerts under the baton of former principal conductor Paavo Berglund rose to twenty-eight. A group of five conductors managed 9–12 concerts: Okko Kamu, Pertti Pekkanen, Osmo Vänskä, Ulf Söderblom and also Markku Johansson, who had evolved into George de Godzinsky's successor in the realm of light music in particular. By his death in early summer 1994, de Godzinsky had managed to conduct eight light music events in the closing years of his life. The same figure was notched up by newcomers Mikko Franck, Tuomas Ollila and Hannu Lintu. The orchestra was also led by over ten other Finnish conductors. These ranged from Jussi Jalas, who wound up his career in the early 1980s, to John Storgårds, the violinist and conductor who made his breakthrough in the second half of the 1990s.

Foreign guests generally only contributed the odd concert now and then, and broader stretches were only offered in the 1980s to Walter Weller (19 concerts), Eliahu Inbal (9) and Yevgeni Svetlanov (7). Estonian Eri Klas held the baton on thirteen occasions. The conductor who made the most frequent guest appearances in the final years was Japan's Jun'ichi Hirokami, with twelve concerts. The orchestra was also conducted on 4–7 occasions by Dzhansug Kahidze and Hiroshi Wakasugi as well as by Erich Bergel, Roy Goodman, Woldemar Nelsson and Arvo Volmer.

The orchestra's obligations also include offering challenging tasks to Finnish artists. The concert repertoire thus features a broad range of Finnish soloists. It provides a living picture of instrumentalists and singers that are either starting out on their careers, in their prime or gradually withdrawing from active appearances. Foreign engagements have placed limitations on visits by some singers, such as Martti Talvela. Nevertheless, he always did his best to collaborate with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

In the course of 25 years, the following artists have been the most featured soloists (the latter figure comprises solo appearances with the Finnish RSO before the autumn of 1977 in accordance with Kai Maasalo's calculations): Monica Groop (24 concerts), Olli Mustonen (18), Jorma Hynninen (18 + 6), Arto Noras (17 + 12), Heljä Angervo (15 + 7), Eero Heinonen (14 + 2), Soile Isokoski (14), Raimo Sirkiä (14), Esa Ruutunen (14), Jouko Harjanne (11), Ritva-Liisa Korhonen (10), Karita Mattila (10), Eeva-Liisa Saarinen (10), Risto Poutanen (10), Petri Alanko (9), Ralf Gothóni (9 + 8), Margareta Haverinen (9), Juhani Lagerspetz (9), Seppo Ruohonen (9), Petteri Salomaa (9), Merja Wirkkala (9), Marko Ylönen (9), Ritva Auvinen (8), Anssi Karttunen (8), Lilli Paasikivi (8), Matti Raekallio (8), Erkki Rautio (8 + 12) and Esa Tukia (8). Of the orchestra's leaders, Jorma Rahkonen appeared on five occasions in addition to fifteen earlier concerts, and Hannele Segerstam added six more concerts to his existing tally of three.

The artists topping the list of foreign soloists have all taken part in the orchestra's overseas tours, apart from Grigori Sokolov (9 concerts) who returns to captivate his audience at regular intervals. In fact, tours quickly increase the numbers of concerts, as has happened in the case of Natalia Gutman (12), Aleksei Lyubimov (10), Heinrich Schiff (10), Frank Peter Zimmermann (8), Michael Ponti (7), Barbara Hendricks (6) and Stephen Kovachevich (5). Unforgettable individual concerts have been produced by Emil Gilels (3), Mstislav Rostropovich (2), Henryk Szeryng, Isaac Stern, Anne-Sophie Mutter (2), Viktoria Mullova (3), Andrei Gavrilov (2), Tatyana Nikolayeva, Radu Lupu (3) and Murray Perahia, not to mention the latest winner of the Jean Sibelius violin competition Sergei Khachatryan (2).

Finnish music in the studio, too

Alongside works performed at concerts, the Finnish RSO's numerous studio recordings are also worth remembering. Finnish music dominated the recordings, the majority of which are examples of national music. In connection with the foreign repertoire, too, the bond with Finnish works has been tied through not only the orchestra but also often through the soloist, conductor or both.

The Finnish RSO worked for over a thousand working days in the studio, mainly serving radio (62%) but also commercial disc production (21%) and television (17%). The recordings resulted in the completion of over 750 works from small tone pictures to symphonies and from songs to operas, ten of which were recorded (Crusell: Pikku orjatar, Pacius: Kaarle-kuninkaan metsästys, Sibelius: Neito tornissa, Madetoja: Juha and Pohjalaisia twice, A. Merikanto: Juha, Aulis Sallinen: Punainen viiva, Pehr Henrik Nordgren: Alex, Jukka Linkola: Angelica). Studio work was at its most intensive in the first half of the period, when some five hundred compositions were recorded. At the close of the 1990s in particular, recordings fell in number, and the orchestra concentrated more on concerts and foreign tours.

The phenomenon is also to be observed in work on commercial discs. When this line of activity finally became possible in the late 1980s, the orchestra recorded on almost a hundred working days during Saraste's first five years. In his final five years, however, the figure dropped to forty.

Alongside concerts, discs in fact constituted an important dimension of their own. They allowed the orchestra to highlight composers that had attracted somewhat less attention in concerts, such as Väinö Raitio and Ernst Pingoud. A full cd was devoted to the production of both of these. Since 1977, a total of twenty composer discs were released: Leevi Madetoja four times, Aarre Merikanto, Uuno Klami, Joonas Kokkonen and Pehr Henrik Nordgren each twice, and B. H. Crusell, Erik Bergman, Heikki Sarmanto, Eero Hämeenniemi, Jouni Kaipainen and Magnus Lindberg once, in addition to Raitio and Pingoud. In addition, various kinds of compilation discs included works by Robert Kajanus, Einar Englund, Usko Meriläinen, Paavo Heininen, Jarmo Sermilä, Erkki Salmenhaara, Teppo Hauta-aho, Leif Segerstam, Jukka Tiensuu, Harri Wessman, Kaija Saariaho, Vladimir Agopov, Jukka Linkola, Harri Vuori and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Just as in the concerts, Sibelius was the main composer in the orchestra's commercial discs: twelve recordings devoted solely to his output came out, including the entire series of symphonies twice. Numerous pieces were also re-released in different contexts either separately or together with historical documents.

Fluctuation in ratio of Finnish and international music

The proportion of Finnish music in the course of the ten periods varied to a surprising extent. It was at its highest (43%) right in the late 1970s and at its lowest (21%) in the first quarter of the 1990s. The music of Sibelius had a major impact on the proportions of Fennica music. For example, for ten years starting in 1985, the number of his works was greater than that of other Finnish compositions (over 130 performances from 1985 to 1989, 21% of the number of total).

As regards Finnish compositions, the period from 1977 to 1984 was the most fruitful relatively speaking. The proportion of music by composers other than Sibelius then rose continuously to over twenty per cent. On the other hand, in the first half of the 1990s, the share of works by Finns other than Sibelius fell to 10–11 per cent, only to rise again to twenty per cent in the new millennium.

In the peak period from 1982 to 1984, the emphasis on Finnish music affected "new" twentieth-century international music in particular. Its share declined to sixteen per cent after having stood at around 22 per cent in the first five years. Correspondingly, before the mid-1990s the proportion of international new music rose to 27 per cent, but the orchestra played very little (11%) Finnish works by composers other than Sibelius. On the other hand, the third millennium began with an emphasis on new music: the share of international repertoire now rose to thirty per cent and that of Fennica material other than Sibelius to nineteen (Sibelius 13%).

In the early 1990s, the repertoires were dominated by Classicism and Romanticism, with a share of as high as 55 per cent (over 160 works). In the 1980s, right up to its final quarter, the shares also remained above 45%, due in particular to visits by genre specialists hired for long periods, such as Walter Weller, Eliahu Inbal and Yevgeni Svetlanov. In the late 1990s, the period accounted for 48 per cent of the repertoires, only to decline at the start of the new millennium to thirty-nine.

Concert figures in Helsinki and elsewhere

In a quarter of century, the orchestra held 1,203 public concerts and events, including 809 in Helsinki, mainly in Finlandia Hall and the Hall of Culture. There were an average of 32 performances in Helsinki per season, a minimum of 28 (1977–1978) and
a maximum of 39 (1993–1994).

The peak season for public performances was 1988–1989, with 56 concerts. The figure was boosted in particular by a fifteen-concert tour of the Far East. The orchestra played the second largest number of concerts ten years later in the 1998–1999 season, when the total was only two fewer. That year also included an extensive tour of Japan. In the first five years, the number of concerts was at its lowest, but, to counteract that, the orchestra made more studio recordings. For example, in the 1978–1979 season, which included a mere 39 concerts, the number of studio days rose to 74. A similar figure was also recorded in 1987–1988. Within the space of 25 years, there were an average of 48 public events per season. The orchestra held 181 concerts outside Helsinki in Finland, from Inari along the River Tornio to Muonio, Pello and Tornio, from Sodankylä via Rovaniemi to Kuusamo and from there to an increasing extent around southern Finland. The principal venues besides the Turku Concert Hall were Tampere and Lahti, the latter already well before the completion of the new Sibelius Hall. The largest number of visiting concerts was in the first five years of the 1980s, when the orchestra appeared outside Helsinki 51 times. In the first five years of the 1990s, the number had fallen to 21.

Extensive tours were also a strong feature of the 1980s. In subsequent years, the orchestra stuck increasingly to one-day quick visits to localities in the South of Finland. The number of foreign visits increased starting in the orchestra's fiftieth anniversary season, albeit the number finally rose clearly by the 1990s and the new millennium. The orchestra clocked up a total of 213 appearances, 84 between the autumn of 1977 and the end of 1989, and 129 in the latter half of the period under review. Foreign activity stepped up in particular in the late 1990s, when, in the 1998–1999 season, the number of concerts rose to 21. In 2001–2002, too, the orchestra performed exceptionally often outside Finland, on nineteen occasions. The map of visits gradually broadened once the Australian tour of 1984 opened up the world outside Europe for the first time. It was followed with a gap of ten years (1989 and 1999) by two trips to Japan, the first one including performances also in Taipei and Hong Kong. Otherwise, visits have focused on Europe, primarily on the Baltic states and on the two Germanies and England. Austria, France, Spain and Portugal were added later, and St Petersburg (Leningrad) has also been an important destination.

A vibrant and flexible organism

The phases of the Radio Symphony Orchestra cannot be divided readily into sections: they form a dynamic continuum that builds the present from the past, and sets its sights on the future. The quarter of a century that has just ended has been a time of continuous development and conquests, and foreign trips. Nevertheless, ultimately none of this would have been possible without the robust orchestral culture created by Haapanen, Fougstedt, Berglund and Kamu. This is part of a universal trend: orchestras have changed, the level of performance has risen in both Finland and elsewhere. In the light of this, it is understandable that, right back in 1968, British critics were just as enamoured of the orchestra's performance at the Royal Festival Hall as they were in the autumn of 2001.

It would be rash to designate any of one of the orchestra's seasons as being more important than any other. All activity, with its emphases and objectives, has to be adapted to the changing needs of society and to the orchestra's abilities to meet the listeners' wishes. Even though attention is always primarily paid to public concerts, the studio orchestra period that continued until the autumn of 1947 was particularly important to radio listeners. There was only one radio channel, which offered not only other classical music but also YLE's own musicians bringing international and national repertoires to the nation's homes. The Radio Orchestra has played an unexpectedly important role in laying the foundations for twentieth-century Finnish music. The regular concert activity that began in the autumn of 1947 with weekly symphony concerts on Tuesdays, eventually attained an incredible pace as a result of the light music evenings on Thursdays. However, it thereby met the needs of post-war listeners and also enhanced the players' skills. The complexity and scope of Nils-Eric Fougstedt's period were dictated by the needs of the day. This then allowed the orchestra, under Paavo Berglund, to focus on perfecting itself and on tackling ever greater challenges. Okko Kamu, Leif Segerstam and Jukka-Pekka Saraste each made their own important contribution to the orchestra's evolution, and a new man – Sakari Oramo – is about to take over. The 98-member orchestra will once again be seeing transformations. The whole idea of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is radically different from that of philharmonic city orchestras that mainly perform in halls. The orchestra is maintained through the licence fees by the entire Finnish nation, and it is they whom it must serve first.

The means are available, too: radio and television, which take performances to listeners irrespective of where they live. Yet the orchestra cannot focus on Helsinki alone. Countless listeners who follow performances on their sets also look forward to having an opportunity to meet the musicians in person. Another of the orchestra's performance obligations comprises studio recordings of Finnish music, various radiophonic programmes and, in particular, musical drama for television. The significance of studio work is shown by the fact that, over 25 years, the orchestra produced recordings and music for television on more than a thousand days. This is equivalent to over four years' work. Internationalism features everywhere in musical activity on radio, and the Finnish RSO has a decisive contribution to make here. Its concerts in joint EBU series and participation in extensive exchange of recordings take Finnish music all over the world. This also entails visits abroad, and the musicians are thus in a unique position to disseminate not only Finnish music but also knowledge of our orchestral culture, conductors and soloists. The Act regulating the work of the Finnish Broadcasting Company also requires it to purvey and foster the most demanding culture.

For its owners, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is the most effective tool for these purposes. For over a quarter of a century now, the existence of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra has ceased to be questioned. The players have succeeded in convincing decision-makers and, above all, listeners in halls and homes all over Finland. The position of the musicians has been strong, and should continue to be so. The orchestra must also be able to meet the challenges of new eras and circumstances: it must secure its existence through its own effort, since nothing is self-evident. However, provided the orchestra continues to stress the distinctive tasks of radio and television and by remember the national character of its work, its future will be secure. It will also be celebrating its centenary and probably in a concert hall that is still merely a dream.

  • 1st Solo trumpet audition

    1st Solo trumpet audition

    The auditions will be held at the Helsinki Music Centre on November 26–27, 2018. The deadline for applications is 3.00 p.m. Finnish time on October 17, 2018.

  • FRSO to perform all ten Mahler symphonies in the 2018/2019 season

    Forthcoming season also one of great pianists.

    The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is to perform all ten Mahler symphonies in the 2018/2019 season in a cycle titled Mahler x 10 – the first complete Mahler symphony project to be carried out at the Helsinki Music Centre. Other highlights of next season are the visits by top pianists, for the FRSO will be welcoming such artists as Evgeny Kissin, Sir András Schiff, Yuja Wang and Fazil Say as its soloists.

  • Han Kim

    2nd solo-clarinet

    2nd solo-clarinet