#MnOrchTour: Triumph in Lahti

8/23

The process of entering the Minnesota Orchestra’s concert in Lahti was extremely casual. The doors were opened, then patrons lined up and flashed their tickets to the ushers, who chanted “kiitos kiitos kiitos” at each person as they passed. No ticket stubs were collected, no bar-codes brandished. The Finns really seem to enjoy making things simple. And so I enjoy the Finns.

Inside the auditorium, I was immediately struck by the conviviality and camaraderie of the crowd. It reminded me so much of what we see nowadays at Orchestra Hall: folks waving at friends from balconies, acquaintances clustered in aisles chatting, rowmates leaning over each other to talk. As I sat down, the woman next to me told me something in Finnish and then giggled. I laughed back.

The day was warm and so was the auditorium. Patrons were using their programs (cost: two Euros, and written exclusively in Finnish) as fans. One woman, clearly a Sibeliustalo climate connoisseur, had actually packed her own paper fan.

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Suddenly the lights went up, and things started happening quickly. Erin came out smiling and tuned everyone and sat down, and an excited hush descended. Finally Osmo strode out, looking as proud as I’ve ever seen him, and gestured for his orchestra to stand.

And then the concert began.

To be honest, I’m not sure how the Stucky landed in the hall. (Heck, I’m still not sure how the Stucky landed with me.) But it was clear that the audience was listening very intently to it. From the hall, the ensemble blended better than it had in Minneapolis. And it sounded purposeful, to boot. I still don’t know where this piece is going, but at least this time I felt like the musicians did. Maybe by the time the tour ends, I’ll have wrapped my brain around it.

I was amazed by how my impressions of Pekka Kuusisto’s Prokofiev changed. If you’ve been reading my Minnesota Orchestra reviews, you know I’ll often go to the same program two nights in a single weekend. But I’ve never changed an opinion of an interpretation as drastically as I did after hearing this Prokofiev again. Once a bit of the sting of his sound was softened by the hall, his ideas made much more sense to me. The performance as a whole seemed more cohesive, too. And either he toned down the facial expressions, or they just didn’t bother me as much when I was seated further away. Final verdict? Exciting and invigorating with a touch of magic.

His encore was, of course, a huge hit. It was the same Swedish folksong that he’d played in Minnesota last week. He gave what I imagine was the same verbal introduction that he gave in Minneapolis, only in Finnish this time. Then when the door opened and Osmo slowly walked out from backstage, clarinet in hand, there was a warm murmur of appreciation that rippled through the entire crowd.

At intermission, I was treated to another display of Finnish camaraderie. Two huge doors loomed between the auditorium corridor and the lobby. One was inexplicably closed, severely restricting traffic flow. Nevertheless, everyone shuffled along politely, not a single person getting impatient or pushy. Once an usher recognized the problem, he quickly darted up, fiddled with the door, and opened it. The easing of congestion was met with a lusty cheer and exclamations of encouragement. I’m not sure why this moment felt particularly Finnish. It just did.

Once we all made it back to our seats, Osmo introduced the orchestra’s brief tribute to the late composer Einojuhani Rautavaara: a slow movement from his Cantus Articus, or Concerto for Birds. It was interesting to compare how the energy in the hall felt during the Rautavuura to how it felt during the Stucky, and it’s also interesting to wonder how much of it is my imagining the differences. The Stucky seemed like a stimulating piece to the audience; the Rautavaara, a more sacred one.

Last, Beethoven. Great Minnesota performances of Beethoven 3 are so frequent and consistent these days that it’s hard to know what else say without repeating myself. It was big. It was bold. It was violent. The sforzandos and the pianissimos attacked and then collapsed, especially in this hall with its punchy acoustics. I kept thinking of a wild beast just barely tamed.

In a word, they played sensationally, especially for having jet lag and so little rehearsal and such a short time to adjust to the hall.

We also discovered that Lahti might have its own version of Minnesota’s Bravo Man, because right after the final chord of the Eroica rang free, a man called out: Bravo! Aside from him, though, there were few cheers, at least that I could hear from my seat. I was curious: had the show been a disappointment in some way? But the applause kept going. And going. And then going. It never reached the fever pitch that it does in Minnesota: there were no full-throated screams or orgasmic whistles or bird-calls. (I swear I heard a guy imitating a mourning dove in Minneapolis as a cheer last week.) But the applause kept going. And going some more. And going more, all the way past two encores.

And then it finally struck my jet-lagged brain: maybe the opinions of the audience here are conveyed more through the duration of its applause than its intensity.

Before or after the encores – I don’t remember which; the afternoon was turning into a triumphant blur – the crowd rose to its feet. Applause seemed to ricochet from the very walls. Osmo walked around the the half-circle of string principals and shook their hands, finishing with a hug for Erin. He strode triumphantly offstage, and she walked off after him, signaling that the concert had come to a close.

*

As I was walking back to the hotel, I messaged some friends in Minnesota. They were just starting their day as mine was winding down. Standing ovation! I texted, one eye on my phone, one eye on Lahti’s heavily traveled pedestrian paths. You should be so proud of what they’ve done & what we’ve done. Every so often a tour bus would sail past me. I successfully fought the urge to flail at it from the sidewalk.

I walked past a tiny grocery store, then stopped. Why not? It was past six, and getting food now would save me from having to drag myself to a restaurant later. I looked up and down the aisles, the packaging emblazoned with random vowels and consonants. I felt like I was visiting a grocery store for the very first time.

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*

By the time I arrived back at the Solo Sokos Hotel, belVita breakfast biscuits and green grapes in hand, the musicians were filing back out to the buses to attend a well-deserved reception in their honor. I congratulated member after member as I passed them. They all asked for my opinion of the performance. Many seemed to have reservations about how it had felt onstage (reservations that I was happy to protest). But they also all understood that what you hear onstage is rarely what you hear in the hall, and I think they were relieved to hear an audience member’s positive feedback.

Finally I finished swimming upstream and arrived at the front desk to check in. After the normal check-in questions, the woman behind the desk asked: “Are you alone?”

Woah. Somehow the inquiry assumed cosmic proportions. “Um…yes?”

Well, it turns out this information was very important, because my room wasn’t much bigger than the bed. It was basically a bed pushed up against the window. I write for a living, and all I need to survive is a mattress that’s within cord distance to a power outlet, so I didn’t mind. But if I had been, y’know, not a 27-year-old spinster, it would have posed its challenges.

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The room was obsessed that I was alone, and even seemed to sense a romantic frisson between us. The soap dispenser outside the shower read, “Peseytyisitkö kanssani? Would you like to take a shower with me?” The conditioner dispenser inside the shower read, “Tukka hyvin, kaikki hyvin. Love is in the hair.” By the time I came to a black box with the label “The Soul of Solo” on it, my concern had reached its zenith. I opened the box slowly, more-than-half-expecting a prop from Fifty Shades of Gray. Inside, there was nothing but a menu for the hotel restaurant. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

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Before I got into my quasi-window-seat bed, I cracked and took a bottled water out of the minibar. It cost four Euros, but it was ice cold, guys. I took my biscuits and my grapes and settled in bed and hammered out the draft of my last entry. Halfway through, I tuned into the Finnish broadcast of the concert I’d just heard. I was satisfied to hear that all the strengths I had heard in person were fully present in the recording.

One show down, three to go.

*

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Suddenly I was awake, but I didn’t remember falling asleep. I checked my phone. It was two-thirty in the morning. Apparently I hadn’t closed the curtains, because the moon was beaming bright over my bed. I was on the sixth floor, so I had a view of the rooftops of Lahti, quiet now in the pale milky light. I paced my room, unable to sleep, wanting to work. I packed up my suitcase. I wrote a little bit more. I forced myself back to bed for a couple of hours, but I gave up sleeping after that. I went down to breakfast and sat down at bass player Dave Williamson’s table. He too had woken up early and been unable to get back to sleep.

*

I didn’t go to Edinburgh, opting instead to continue on my own to Amsterdam. For one thing, the Edinburgh stop was only twenty-two hours long, and since I’m taking this trip on my own and can’t take the orchestra’s charter flights, it felt like too quick a turnaround to make comfortably. And for another thing, Edinburgh was really, really expensive. And for another thing: Amsterdam.

For completely illogical reasons, I’d been nervous about getting from Lahti to Amsterdam. I guess because it was my first flight without a friend or family member to keep me company, and it was between two countries on a new continent. I didn’t know exactly how I’d fail; I just knew I would.

Instead, everything went perfectly, because Finland just can’t help but make everything as easy as possible. Yes, maybe I came within thirty seconds of missing the train from Lahti to the airport, but that’s because I misread what platform I was on, and I had to quick dart underground and beneath a track to get to the right one. But if I had missed it, another one came in an hour; I still would have had plenty of time to spare. At the airport, the security line moved quietly at a easygoing pace. The wait was five minutes, and nobody besides me even had to take off their shoes. (I’m not sure if this is because I’m American or because I looked especially suspicious…) And when it became clear that a forgotten water bottle had somehow slipped to the bottom of my backpack, they seemed more concerned about my loss of hydration than the security risk. “Would you like to drink it here?” a security official asked anxiously. I feel like if I’d asked for it, they would have pulled up a chair so I could more comfortably consume my contraband.

It was such a luxury to go through an airport without feeling like the denizen of a slaughterhouse.

I spent the next couple of hours waiting at a wine cafe at my gate, complete with massive windows overlooking the tarmac and the cloudy gray sky. I felt incredibly sorry to be leaving after such a short visit. And although I’d gotten this far alone without a hitch, I was still a little anxious that I might find a way to screw the rest of the trip up.

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So imagine my surprise when I took my seat and sat down next to two Americans. By the end of the flight, I realized they were Minnesotans headed from Helsinki to Edinburgh to hear their orchestra play.

The world is small, it seemed to be telling me. Don’t worry about being alone. There are unexpected friends wherever you go.

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1 Comment

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra

One response to “#MnOrchTour: Triumph in Lahti

  1. Brent Stahl

    Wonderful account! Your writing becomes more refined each year. I look forward to the next chapter.

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