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The Helsinki Festival is this year expanding its programme. Arts from the Baltic Sea region will be very much to the fore. The Festival presents three leading orchestras, several theatre groups and visual arts from around the Baltic. There are also more free Festival events on the programme than in former years. The revamped Night of the Arts caters for a wider range of tastes than ever. The sculpture exhibition in Esplanadi Park and the open-air movies in the Lasipalatsi square will all be free. The summer season at the Huvila Festival Tent ends with a six-hour open-house day masterminded by Pekka Kuusisto.

The Helsinki Festival begins with Kaija Saariaho’s dramatised Passion de Simone directed by Peter Sellars (US) at Finlandia Hall. The orchestra will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. New works by Magnus Lindberg, another contemporary Finnish composer of international repute, will receive their Finnish premieres in a two-concert cavalcade of chamber and orchestral music also starring Lindberg as a pianist and conductor.

The visiting orchestras include the Oslo Philharmonic and the Swedish Radio Symphony; the St. Petersburg Philharmonic will be playing music by Sibelius, something it rarely does in Helsinki. Appearing at the Festival will be violinists Lisa Batiashvili, Viktoria Mullova and Christian Tetzlaff, and pianist András Schiff – all great favourites with Finnish audiences. Representing the Finnish vocal elite are Monica Groop, Camilla Nylund and Topi Lehtipuu, all of whom enjoy a fine international reputation.

The hundred-strong Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing familiar tunes from pirate films at the family concert that is always a Children’s Festival hit. In addition to music, theatre and film the children’s programme will include an exhibition on the theme of Giotto with numerous workshops and tie-in events at the Annantalo Arts Centre.

New circus, Chekhov and contemporary European theatre


International circus, theatre and dance are more in evidence at this year’s Festival than ever before. One of the Festival’s big attractions is Collectif AOC, a French new circus group that will be erecting a 600-seat tent in Meripuisto Park near Kaivopuisto. ‘New circus is conspicuous in this year’s programme,’ says Festival Director Risto Nieminen. ‘Helsinki will also be acting host to a number of current names in European theatre and dance, such as dancer-choreographer Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and the enfant terrible of Spanish theatre Calixto Bieito.’ The Stage festival to be held for the first time at the Korjaamo Culture Factory has invited along five European theatre groups.

The four-year Chekhov series culminates this year in three topical interpretations of works by the Russian master. For the production of The Three Sisters directed by him Declan Donellan (UK) has formed a cast of leading names in contemporary Russian theatre. The Von Krahl Theatre from Tallinn is bringing along a re-reading by Kristian Smeds of The Seagull, while Dmitri Krymov, a hot name in Russian theatre, will be staging a collage of four Chekhov plays.

New rhythms, nostalgia and mysticism at the Huvila Festival Tent

The packed programme for the Huvila Festival Tent ranges from pop and world music to poetry and a children’s day. Among the most eagerly-awaited guests this year are French chanson star Juliette Gréco and blues legend Taj Mahal.

Bringing along a breath of the rich musical tradition of the Middle East will be the Syrian Ensemble Al-Kindi reinforced with a Sufi singer and a Dervish dancer, and Turkish Mercan Dede, combining electronic rhythms and Sufi ambience straight from Istanbul. Ville Leinonen will be inviting dancers to take the floor at the Huvila Saturday hop. ‘It’s great we were able to get Ayo, an artist very much on the rise, for the Huvila Festival Tent,’ says Production Manager Kaarina Gould. ‘In addition to new rising stars and old world music hands the Huvila profile will take in such hybrid evenings as Lännen Jukka – a joint gig by J. Karjalainen and one of the leading names in American old time music, Dirk Powell.

Flow moves to the Suvilahti power station area

The visual arts will be make their presence felt in the city right at the beginning of May, when the sculpture exhibition Las Meninas by Manolo Valdés of Spain takes over Esplanadi Park. The series of 21 sculptures can be viewed free round the clock until the beginning of September. The exhibition of work by Carnegie award-winning Karin Mamma Andersson from Sweden will be travelling to the Kunsthalle straight from the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Meanwhile the Amos Anderson Museum will be putting on an exhibition of oil paintings by Anna Retulainen.

On each of its three weekends the Helsinki Festival will be screening movies free in the Lasipalatsi square. The Orion Cinema will be showing a unique retrospective of work by Iranian Abbas Kiarostami. The life and works of Andrei Tarkovsky will be portrayed through documentaries about him.

The revamped Night of the Arts, shifted this year from Thursday to Friday (August 24), is an urban event providing a feast for arts lovers all through the night. Culture vultures will thus be able to revel in events numbering well over a hundred in new and sometimes unexpected settings scattered round the city. The enlarged Runokuu will be taking lyrics and literature out into clubs, churches, public transport and nature trails and strengthening the role of verbal art in the Festival programme.

The popular Flow festival will be focusing on the hottest contemporary rhythm music from indie rock and folk to various subgenres of electronic music and swinging jazz. One new urban venue is the area round the former Suvilahti power station. As the August evenings draw in jazz fans can look forward to Viapori Jazz on the island of Suomenlinna and the UMO Jazz Fest.

Sponsorship stronger than ever

The Helsinki Festival, still one of the biggest recipients of cultural sponsorship in Finland, has signed new sponsorship agreements for the next three years.

‘Our collaboration with our long-term sponsors is active and generates added value for both parties,’ says Marketing Manager Hanna Alén. ‘The sum this year amounts to about 900,000 euros, which is a little more than last year.’ Among the Helsinki Festival partners are Helsingin Sanomat, Kemira and S-ryhmä. Also involved as sponsors are Accenture, Eastway, Elisa, OP-ryhmä and Taloussanomat. The supplier is the Libris printing house and the Festival continues its advertising partnership with Kaisaniemen Dynamo.