Markku Luolajan-Mikkola © Marco Borggreve
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola
© Marco Borggreve
Why should one head to Vantaa? An easy question for Markku Luolajan-Mikkola: “You have to come to Vantaa if you want to visit southern Finland because the airport of Helsinki area is there!” Besides a gateway to Helsinki, though, Vantaa is an important destination in itself, particularly during August where the BRQ Vantaa Festival, founded by Luolajan-Mikkola in 2010, takes place.

In a country where classical music flourishes, any festival has to have something distinctive, a ‘unique selling point’. “Finland is flooded with all kinds of festivals in the summer. There must be something like sixty for classical music alone and we only have five million inhabitants!” explains Luolajan-Mikkola. “However, there was only one festival focusing on Early Music when we founded BRQ Vantaa, and Early Music is not too often performed at other festivals. There was a place for a new festival focusing on early instruments and music. I wanted to keep the festival themes very much open so that I could invite any wonderful programme which is available at festival time. Every year we aim to get something new, this is music or performers which have not been heard in Finland before and it could be also new music for early instruments. I was pretty pleased myself with the festival from the beginning, but it seems that the audience likes it more and more annually.”

Luolajan-Mikkola performs on a variety of viols and cellos. He argues that all good performances are historically informed in some way, whichever period the music comes from. “If somebody wants to perform Sibelius, it is good to know something about him and his environment as well as about the time when he was composing. Books and lectures are available. I think most music could be successfully transcribed or arranged, this means also Baroque music could be played with modern instruments. However it doesn’t mean that original scores and instrumentations should be forgotten.”

© BRQ Vantaa
© BRQ Vantaa
At this year’s festival, Luolajan-Mikkola joins Mahan Esfahani and the BRQ Vantaa Ensemble in an all-Rameau programme. “It is so French,” he enthuses about Rameau’s music. “I think you could recognise it as being French even if you did not know his music or nationality but were familiar with the music of Ravel or later composers. Rameau’s writing for instruments of his “Trios” (he calls them Pièces de clavecin en concert) is idiomatic and beautiful. This collection is the first for keyboard trios so he was very much a pioneer too followed by Haydn and others creating real piano trios.

The 2016 season is entitled The Well-Tempered Festival. What does Luolajan-Mikkola advise audiences to listen out for when hearing “well-tempered’ tuning? ”Enjoy music as you wish. I would like to separate music and musical expression from tuning issues. One should listen to music with your whole personality and not just analysing it, but if somebody likes to do it is also fine. Different tunings are an emotional factor for me, not very intellectual, so I choose the temperament I use after my feelings and not only after historical evidence. My body is more relaxed with temperaments where the thirds are pure or purer than in equal temperament. It is good to keep in mind that all keyboards have to be tempered somehow, even modern pianos which are tuned to equal temperament, where all 12 fifths are narrowed a bit. (This is needed to get seven pure octaves.) What is “well” in tuning context depends on the music which is being played. Equal temperament – or something very close to – is best for music by Franz Liszt, but most 17th century music is better when the tuning is some kind of mean tone tuning.

BRQ Vantaa isn’t just about Baroque though. In the final recital, Bach rubs shoulders with Kurtág. “Music of our time is important, we need it for the future. There is not so much contemporary music written for early instruments so it won’t get a major role in Vantaa. But it would be great to have at least one première every year. This year, it is a piece for bass viol by Heinz-Juhani Hofmann.

Interior of St Lawrence Church © Jani Laukkanen
Interior of St Lawrence Church
© Jani Laukkanen
“BRQ Vantaa Festival is differs from other Finnish festivals due to our tendency to challenge our audiences to experience something new or unfamiliar: it can be a commissioned work, a new instrument or a concert format. We refrain from canonic thinking (i.e. repeating the same works by great composers year after year). Also an intimate and friendly nature is a characteristic of our festival."

Apart from the music on offer, there are other reasons people should come to Vantaa, which offers an interesting mix of different environments: it belongs to the capital region with international companies, but, just five minutes drive away, one can experience the small town atmosphere and, in another five minutes, the countryside with fields, people collecting strawberries and the wilderness, such as old forests around lakes with saunas on the lakeside. One can just have a cold dip in the lake after sauna, which local people do daily after work.

History and modernity live side by side here, since the old parish village is the birth place of Helsinki, with a medieval church, a 18th century village and brand new Finnish architecture. One can found these layers in central Europe too, but here the bonus comes from the spaciousness, since nothing is squeezed in to a couple square meters.

Another extra here is the impression of timelessness. It is even unrealistic: the highways run around the village, one can hear the traffic, however the village is always calm, any feeling of haste fades away. Luolajan-Mikkola himself recommends a visit to Heureka, the Finnish Science Centere. “It is a fun place also for kids – you can experience there an earthquake, witness rat's basketball, play air traffic control game, lift a car as weightlifting or learn about right nutrition by ball games not forgetting the planetarium.” So, there are plenty of reasons to come to Vantaa, though for Baroque fans, the midnight sun of August should be on your calendar.

Check out the full BRQ Vantaa listings here

This article was sponsored by BRQ Vantaa.