Lahti, Finland, has Sibeliustalo, Sibelius Hall, that the Lahti Symphony Orchestra calls home. There each September, a celebration of music by Finland’s national composer, Jean Sibelius, takes place, with a select venue of concerts, followed by the customary visits to his birthplace, home and points of importance in his life by those who make the trip to Lahti. In this commemorative year, Finland, and the world at large, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’ birth. Lahti was to see not the usual long weekend of concerts, but an entire week! All of his symphonies would be performed and a large selection of his most significant works, plus daily recitals and chamber works! It was an event that no one devoted to the life and music of Sibelius could miss. But I did! Finland is a long way off for me, so when we got news of a concert commemorating the 150th anniversary year of our beloved composer right here in San Diego, a dear friend and I, fellow devotees of the finer arts where Sibelius holds a particular place of honor, were excited.
The flyer said “Sibelius Concert Service,” to be held at a local Lutheran Church. Of particular note was that one of the artists to perform was great great granddaughter of Sibelius, Ruusamari Teppo, an accomplished concert pianist. The word “service,” gave me hesitation: was I going to hear a concert or going to a religious service? The latter was not what I wished to attend. I spoke to my friend of my doubts as to what this concert-service involved, but he could not fathom the idea that I would miss the event honoring Sibelius, and particularly the opportunity to meet Mrs. Teppo, the closest to Sibelius “in person” we may ever come! He kept saying: “This will be our very own 150th anniversary celebration. Unthinkable to miss it!” I couldn’t resist the import of the argument or the forlorn look in his eyes as he considered the possibility that I might miss this event celebrating the master composer for whom we shared such a great love. I would go!
As we arrived among the gathering guests in the foyer, we were immediately engulfed in the arms of a Finnish friend who was instrumental in organizing the concert. She broke through the gathering guests, opened her chiffon draped arms like a mother swan gathering in her brood, and swept us both up together in a warm Finnish welcoming hug. I felt as if I had just been transported to Finland and from there on, everything had to go well. And so it did. The next couple of hours were full of music, but we were in church all right -Sibeliuskirkko! With the music of Sibelius, it is easy to touch the eternal.
There were a couple of spiritual songs in Finnish, sung by the small, but excellent choir, and one sing-along. The rest of the evening was pure Sibelius. Performing were, Ruusamari Teppo, piano, Jussi Makkonen, cello, Jari Suomalainen, violin, and Irene Marie Patton, vocal. The program was a full evening of delight, one work after another worthy of the Lahti concert venue, and the musicians could not have played more beautifully!
The evening’s program: Kuusi, Impromptu, Souvenir, Trio in A minor for piano, violin and cello, “Havträsk” (unpublished, 1886), The Tempest: (Jussi Jalas arrangement, unpublished), Arioso, Masurkka, Valse Triste, and of course ….Finlandia!
Each work was an intimate visit with our beloved Sibelius, but the two that touched me most deeply were Valse Triste, and Finlandia, both played exquisitely by Jussi and Ruusamari. Valse Triste, so often heard before, found me unexpectedly a captive of the deeper thoughts that Sibelius’ life and music have so often inspired in me, and I sat motionless, alone with my thoughts, not wanting the moment to end.
But as the best things in life are often fleeting, as if to confirm their definition of extraordinary, the concert must end. But Sibelius, master of the “final note,” had one last grand statement to make. Finishing the program in the honored tradition of Sibelius concerts with the work so much a part of the Finnish soul, here was the great great granddaughter of Sibelius playing his Finlandia with passion and sensitivity,. This was no less than an historic moment! The acute disappointment that I had been feeling for months at being unable to attend the Lahti Festival, or meeting Jean Sibelius on his home ground, were no longer relevant. Like the good friend that he has always been, here was Sibelius come to us!