Saturday, September 17, 2005

Finns and Conducting

There was an interesting news item during this week, regarding the Sibelius Conductors' Competition in Finland. In a country where more conductors are produced than anywhere, the jury of this international competition decided that none of the finalists were worth the first, second or third prizes. The jury was chaired by well-known Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Read this article in the leading daily, Helsingin Sanomat; it is in English. Perhaps the Finns know more about conducting than others. I cannot picture such a decision taking place in a similar competition in this country.

In my twenties I was living in a city on Finland's West Coast. My first wife, an American, was the concertmaster of the orchestra, while I was in charge of teaching violin, viola and chamber music in the conservatory, also conducting their chamber orchestra. The elderly gentleman, who was the maestro for the Symphony, did his job very professionally. Unfortunately he had been there for too long, and the some of the players were unhappy with the situation. Since in that system there was no danger for the musicians to be fired (they were city employees), they could get away with a lot more than here. The conductor suffered a stroke, and everyone thought that was going to be the end of his story. But the man recovered and returned to work after a long sick leave. To show how miffed they were, the entire horn section went out during a break at an evening rehearsal in the cold winter, and let let the air out of this poor man's car's tires. This was too good a hint and the gentleman retired soon afterwards.

The job was then given to a young conductor, supposedly gifted, who was a member of a conservative party (as I wrote before at some point, in this city the pie was divided this way: the political left had the conservatory). Unfortunately, this man's ego was greater than his talent, and he was involved in the political scene more than in trying to develop his musical skills. My wife, who was a terrific violinist and artist, didn't get along with her new boss very well. At some point, the city's music council decided to fire my ex, because she had, during her own sick leave after an operation, come back to the U.S. to visit her critically ill father. Anything for an excuse; one is supposed to stay put during a sick leave! Soon we left and I took the job as a concertmaster in Malmö, Sweden. Back in Finland, this conductor continued driving his black limousine, but soon it became all too evident he wasn't up to the musical demands of the job and he was ousted by the same council. Today he is the director of a music school in a rather small town, I believe. Such is life. The orchestra's present, longtime concertmaster is a former student of mine, born and raised in that city.

Today, the youngest of my four daughters is officially becoming a teenager. What a great young lady she is! At the same time her 18-year-old sister has been moving her belongings to Bellingham, where she is about to start at the Western Washington University as a junior, majoring in political science and minoring in Latin American studies. Although we'll be seeing her often, as she has her own car and the campus is only about a 90 minute drive from here, I'll miss her terribly. We have a very close relationship and her absence will leave a void in my heart. Of course, to her this is an exciting time, the beginning of a new chapter in life.