Monday, August 22, 2005

Finns in the News

My countrymen have shown up in the news during the past week. Finland’s former president Matti Ahtisaari brokered a truce agreement between Indonesia and Free Aceh movement (GAM) which was signed August 15th. Aceh was the area hardest hit by the December tsunami of last year, with 130,000 casualties. GAM has been fighting for independence from Indonesia for almost 30 years. The new agreement calls for more autonomy but leaves the area as part of that nation. Another Finn is there overseeing the collecting of firearms and other weapons. Sometimes it takes a great tragedy for people to understand that peace is the best and only solution.

Now to sports: Helsinki hosted the track and field World Championships this month. Mother Nature wasn’t in her most co-operative mood and many events had to be postponed due to rain and storms. At the same time an American made helicopter from Tallinn, Estonia, crashed into the Gulf of Finland, killing all 14 abroad, during what was supposed to be a regular commercial 15-minute hop to Helsinki. Just yesterday, a Finnish Formula 1 driver Kimi Räikkönen won the inaugural
Turkish Grand Prix. I watched him win the Canadian one in June on Finnish television. While he may not be a rocket scientist, he sure knows how to drive and race.

Today’s New York Times has one of the
best reviews the Mostly Mozart Festival has ever received. The resident orchestra was conducted by Minnesota Orchestra’s Osmo Vänskä, whom I remember as a clarinetist and starting Kapellmeister in Finland 30 years ago. Obviously something remarkable took place in Avery Fisher hall this past weekend, as the orchestra used to be known more or less as a pick-up group. ‘Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the growing fascination with Mr. Vanska is that it is based entirely on his musicianship. Now in his early 50's, and given to energetic podium gestures that are often graceful though occasionally slightly clunky, he is not a picture of conductorial glamour. What Mr. Vanska does on the podium, though, is extraordinary, and on Saturday evening he made Mostly Mozart's resident freelance band sound like a world-class ensemble.’ Wow. I’m happy for the orchestra and Mr. Vänskä. Perhaps all his experience with rather small Finnish orchestras and in Lahti in particular, have given him a perfect know-how as to what a classical orchestra needs to excel.

At some later time I’ll write about a comical experience I had touring with the Lahti orchestra when I was just 16.