An Intriguing Orchestral Work Gets Its ESO Premiere

An Intriguing Orchestral Work Gets Its ESO Premiere

By D.T. Baker

Most of us music lovers are perceptive enough to know that Finland’s history with western art music does not begin and end with Jean Sibelius. But just because we know that doesn’t mean we generally know a great deal more than that.

Finland was ruled by Sweden until 1809, when it was ceded to Russia following the Russo-Swedish War. Until 1917, it was a duchy of the Russian Empire, though the Finnish people fought for their independence with tenacity and perseverance. Small orchestras were founded in a few cities, and some early composers, largely taught in the German tradition, made some contributions. Obviously, Sibelius’ shadow lay over nearly all Finnish music in the generation following him (he lived until 1957, although he was relatively inactive as a composer the last decade or so of his life), but there are important Finnish composers, and some impressive Finnish works, that have been created since Sibelius, and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra audiences can hear that for themselves March 8 & 9.

Lotta Wennäkoski is a composer based in Helsinki. She studied with a number of the composers who succeeded Sibelius in the generations following, including Kaija Saariaho and Paavo Heininen. She has written orchestral, chamber, and vocal works, and her orchestral work Flounce, premiered at the Last Night of the Proms in 2017, has since been performed some 50 times by many other orchestras. She was awarded Finland’s State Prize of Music in 2020. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra has recorded Wennäkoski’s orchestral music in 2015 (Soie) and in 2022 (Sigla) – both for the label Ondine. The latter won the 2023 Gramophone Award in the contemporary music category.

The album Soie also contains a work titled Hava – an intriguing single-movement orchestral work that the ESO will present at its Classics concerts March 8 & 9 – the first time any work by Lotta Wennäkoski has been performed by the ESO. She has described her own music as, "often navigating in an area between exciting timbral qualities and more conventional gestures like melodic fragments."

The title, Hava, has a number of roots. Central to the work, Wennäkoski explains, is “falling” – both literally and figuratively. “As a concrete image of (poetic) falling, I thought of leaves fluttering to the ground, for example,” she says in her program note. “The title is, in reality, a word that I invented myself. It is, in fact, the root of the Hungarian word for snow (hó), but much more relevantly, it can be taken to allude to Finnish words havina (rustling) or havahtua (becoming alert or waking up).”

Don’t miss this exciting ESO premiere on March 8 & 9. To buy tickets or learn more, click here.