For those visiting southern Finland, the most they will see of Vantaa is the airport. And yet, Helsinki’s smaller neighbour has a lot to offer, especially for classical music lovers. For a week each summer, the BRQ Vantaa Festival brings together today’s top artists with rising stars in celebration of period instruments.

Interior of St Lawrence Church
Interior of St Lawrence Church

J.S. Bach is the focus of this year’s festival, but there are plenty of surprises: listeners can take a tour of 17th century Europe through settings of Spanish texts, or sample the music of 18th century Sweden with Johan Helmich Roman’s works for solo violin. Ranging from medieval music to the classical string quartet, the programmes are sufficiently varied to offer a rich musical experience whether one can visit for a day or for the entire week. Festival visitors are treated to two concerts each night, with a performance by younger musicians followed by such glittering names as Phantasm, Rachel Podger or Mariana Flores. This year, they can also see history being made, as the festival includes the first fringe events place in Scandinavia.

The venues are no less impressive. St Lawrence’s Church is a miniature masterpiece: dark wooden pews are covered by an intricately decorated vaulted ceiling, lending a special atmosphere to any concerts. Just steps away from this medieval building lies St Lawrence’s Chapel, a sleek vision of steel, slate and glass. Painted a crisp snow-white, the building is at once an extension of the Finnish landscape and alien to it. This bold architectural statement is ideal for smaller concerts, explains the festival’s founder and artistic director, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola. “It’s a special place. It seats about 100 people, and it’s very snug, perfect for clavichord or lute recitals.”

St Lawrence Church, Vantaa © BRQ Vantaa
St Lawrence Church, Vantaa
© BRQ Vantaa
The intimacy of the venues help foster the close community which makes this festival so special. A meeting-place for professional performers, amateur musicians and keen listeners alike, concert-goers and musicians mingle over a drink after concerts. Although visitors flock from across the globe, the involvement of the local community has really helped to create this convivial atmosphere. This year’s festival launches a video blog competition, an innovative scheme to attract young people to the festival. Those between 10 and 19 years of age are invited to create a short video related to the festival, with free concert tickets for all entrants and iPhone 6 devices for three winners. “Many of them won’t have heard this kind of music before, but this is a way to find out about their experiences and what they think about it,” explains Markku. “Our expectations are high!”

Saturday 8 August is the crux of the festival, offering a feast of music-making from early afternoon until late evening. The programme begins with a literal feast, as picnickers are treated to medieval music in the leafy surrounds of Church Park. Later in the day, an open stage provides a platform for players of all abilities, while the ‘Baroque jam session’ invites musicians to perform alongside the festival house band. The evening’s entertainment begins with the Accademia Hermans, who offer a smorgasbord of Buxtehude, Erlebach, Krieger and Bach, before soprano Mariana Flores and lutenist Hopkinson Smith offer a delectable main course of Dowland, Thomas Morley and John Daniel.

For those who want to take in one of the masterpieces of the Baroque, The Well-Tempered Clavier is divided between two concerts, allowing listeners to absorb the intricacies of Bach’s writing in more digestible bites. There’s even a chance to get a third dose of the work, as the world-class viol consort Phantasm perform Mozart’s arrangements alongside The Art of Fugue.

BRQ Vantaa © BRQ Vantaa
BRQ Vantaa
© BRQ Vantaa
For Luolajan-Mikkola, there is no such thing as too much Bach. “He has a very special place in my heart: his music is the foundation of my musical life and experiences,” he explains. Currently in the middle of an epic project in which he will perform all of Bach’s cello suites, sonatas, partitas, and arrangements of the violin partitas, he has almost one hundred concerts lined up over the next three years. Festival visitors are treated to one instalment, as the artistic director is joined by Mahan Esfahani on the first night of the festival for a selection of Bach’s sonatas for viol and harpsichord.

The combination of high-calibre artists, a wide-ranging programme and a friendly festival community is surely a winning one: Vantaa is certainly not somewhere that music lovers should overlook.

 

Sponsored by BRQ Vantaa