Violinist Satu Vanska musically inspired by winter

Long dark winters can inspire incredible musicians, according to the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Satu Vanska.
Long dark winters can inspire incredible musicians, according to the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Satu Vanska.


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Long dark winters, and excellent public music education, explain why so many top-quality musicians come out of Finland, the Australian Chamber Orchestra's Satu Vanska says.

Vanska is preparing to lead the ACO's Piano Quintets concert tour, premiering in Wollongong this Thursday, and with Timo-Veikko Valve on cello, Vanska on violin, and guest star Paavali Jumppanen on piano, three of the five musicians will be Finns. This comes after the ACO spent June touring the sixth symphony of Finland's greatest composer, Jean Sibelius.

"It's been quite a month for Finns," said Vanska, the ACO's assistant leader.

"We have a musical culture that is very alive.

"Any child can learn an instrument in Finland [to] a very high level, and have a very high-level music education that in Australia would be an opportunity only for some privately funded [students].

"We don't have private schools, they don't exist in Finland, yet Finnish schools have consistently been the best-performing schools."

Anyway, why is music such a vital part of the culture?

"It's very dark in the winter and it's cold, so you can't really be outdoorsy.

"And we have a musical tradition and history, which we have Sibelius to thank for, which has given us an extra-special musical identity.

"After him, there was a lot of Finnish composers - the classical music was very much valued, part of life.

"There'd be symphony orchestras - even in small towns the size of Wollongong [you] would have a professional orchestra.

"It's expected there, otherwise you'd go crazy, wouldn't you? Being in the dark, and in winter.

"It's important to keep communities alive, and cities alive. It's not just something for big cities to enjoy - it's for smaller cities as well."

It's a long way from a Finland winter to the Sydney beach-side pad Vanska shares with her partner, ACO artistic director and Wollongong boy Richard Tognetti.

And it is along the east coast of Australia where she will first get the chance to perform with star pianist Jumppanen.

While Vanska has never played with Jumppanen, they knew each other growing up.

"We went to music camps together over 20 years ago," Vanska said.

"I haven't seen him for a long, long time. He's a brilliant pianist. He's a very seasoned chamber musician. I'm really looking forward to working with him, because he has worked from a very young age with string players, so he knows how that works."

The quintet will perform contrasting works by Antonin Dvorak and Dmitri Shostakovich, along with a piece by 20th-century Polish master Witold Lutoslawski that she describes as simply "voluptuous".

Vanska said Jumppanen's style will suit the repertoire well.

"He's got a very clear, strong touch on the piano, so I think his Shostakovich will be very impressive. He's one of those pianists who has very much grown up playing with other instruments rather than being in his own box playing his piano all his life. That's quite rare."


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