On December 6th, Finland celebrated its 99th independence day, which was a big day for such small nation. The city of Turku joined the jubilee by offering free tickets for an annual gala concert in Turku Concert Hall. The concert, conducted by famous Finnish conductor Atso Almila, featured pieces by our national composer Jean Sibelius and another musical ancestor Fredrik Pacius. All in all, the afternoon concert was a cheerful event with great national feeling.

According to an old Finnish saying, the Finnish nation is built on three elements: steam room sauna, a relentless attitude called sisu and Sibelius. This illustrates the significance of our national composer. The concert started with the dark tones of glorious Finlandia. It is said that the composer got the idea for the intro from a fallen lamp post: A long crescendo followed by a short note and a deadly silence depicts the dark times under the reign of Russian Tsardom when it was written. Whereas the first half depicts the struggle for independence, the lively climax with the heroic brass and cymbal accents illustrates the triumph over the iron fist of the Russian Tsar. That is, the birth of a nation. The magic wand wielded by Almila turned Finlandia into glamorous stardust. His engaging performance had the in the palm of his hand. One of the best parts was the hymn sequence sang by a male chorus, which was in great shape putting so much heart into hymn in a way that only Finns can. The words, written in the early1940s, illustrate its meaning as a national symbol: “Oh behold Finland, your day awakens. The threat of the night has been banished”. There is no doubt that Finlandia makes an impression every time.

After the speech by Kari Häkämies, the afternoon proceeded with Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor. The three part concerto containing piercing high notes and folkish melodies was performed by a youthful Pekko Pulakka (b.1992). He seemed a little nervous at first, wiping his hands on his trousers from time to time. I am not surprised if he was also distracted by audience applauding after every movement, since he seemed a bit awkward. Fortunately, Atso Almila took the situation under control by conducting the audience to keep quiet. Nevertheless, the violinist delivered a fine performance, shining brightly in his lightning fast arpeggios and soothing double notes. His modest gestures were overshadowed by his skill with his instrument. Though Pulakka is no doubt a talented young man, his performance seemed to rely more on the technical playing than the expression of great emotion which left room for improvement. But considering his young age, Pekko Pulakka is a diamond in the rough.

At the end of the concert, Almila turned to the audience and signalled that we should stand up for the Finnish ational anthem Maamme (“Our Land”) by German born Fredrik Pacius. The anthem, based on the tune of a German drinking song, was premiered with great success in Kumtähti Park in an undergraduate celebration day in the year 1848. In the Turku Concert Hall, the audience was invited to a sing along by Almila who also joined the chorus. Though people were a bit confused in the first place, it was nice to sing together with almost 1,000 voices. It made a sense of unity among the audience. It was pretty amazing since I thought this kind of audience reaction would only happen abroad like in Italy where they sometimes sing along with a Puccini aria. Despite the unaccustomed concertgoers and small children crying at the most critical moments of Sibelius Violin Concerto, the gala's warm and relaxed atmosphere made it a day to remember.