“Kortekangas’s music serves the drama well and includes moments of great beauty”: Opera Magazine on My Brother’s Keeper (excerpts)
Some ten years ago Olli Kortekangas accepted the huge challenge of writing an opera about the most painful episode in Finnish history: the Finnish Civil War, which took place in the spring of 1918 following the declaration of independence on 6 December 1917. Kortekangas’s My Brother’s Keeper, commissioned and produced by Tampere opera, is inspired by decisive events of the war that took place in Tampere, one of the main centres of the Red uprising: a major scene depicts one of the bloodiest battles of the war, which happened in a graveyard just east from the present Tampere Hall, where the performances took place. Kortekangas has treated major social issues related to Finnish history before in his Daddy’s Girl, written in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Finland.
His librettist is Tuomas Parkkinen, who has said he wanted to write a work that would be as rooted in Tampere as Tosca is in Rome; Parkkinen also directed the production. My Brother’s Keeper has central characters that reflect the various ideological and social aspects of the conflict. The division of the nation finds representation in the siblings Eemil (Ville Rusanen) and Amanda Rossi (Tuuli Takala). The brother, already a successful architect, throws his lot in with the Whites, his sister with the Reds. Their pacifist father Johannes (Juha Kotilainen) is the sexton of what at the time was St John’s Church (it is now Tampere Cathedral). He first disavows Amanda, who has hidden a weapon in their house. But as the war draws toward its bloody conclusion, he is horrified as he witnesses Eemil commit atrocities in the streets of Tampere. Toward the end he lets refugees into his church—but his authority is not enough to end the shooting. Against his principles he grabs a rifle, and is immediately shot—by his own son, Eemil, who has not recognized him.
The other characters include Iisakki Friman (Tuomas Katajala), who marries Amanda during the prologue; he works as a projectionist and dreams of making a career in Hollywood, but lacks both courage and initiative. Then there is the real-life historical character of the child soldier Onni Kontio (Suvi Väyrynen), whose first name means ‘good luck’and who claims to be so fortunate as to be invulnerable. This is a trouser role, which perhaps inspired the rather gratuitous plot twist of having him dress up as a woman so that he could infiltrate the Red women and kill them. Onni takes offence when he discovers that he is fighting against fellow Finns rather than the Russians— which makes an interesting historical point, but has nothing to do with the real person. The most symbolic character is that of the Unknown Soldier (Tuomas Pursio), defined as ‘the archetype of a soldier, everyman’.
Kortekangas’s music serves the drama well and includes moments of great beauty, most notably with the trio for Johannes and his children after the rift in their family has come into the open. On February 24 these three singers were compelling throughout the evening. Päivi Nisula as Rauha Valkonen, the Rossi family’s maid, was well up to her demanding role, and Tuomas Katajala’s Iisakki finally bloomed in his aria just before his execution. The chorus had a major role which it performed impressively, especially in the church scene as they sang a cappella about the sorrows of war. Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducted the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and ensured that Kortekangas’s score was performed with the passion and precision it deserved. (Review by Henry Bacon; for the complete text, see Opera magazine, June 2018)
My Brother’s Keeper now at YLE Areena! Veljeni vartija nyt YLE Areenassa!
My Brother’s Keeper: “effective, well-finished, touching”
Olli’s new opera Veljeni vartija (My Brother’s Keeper) received its World Premiere on February 16, with standing ovation and excellent reviews in leading Finnish newspapers. Four more performances in late February and early March.
Read review in Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish): https://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/art-2000005571270.html
Read review in Aamulehti (in Finnish): https://www.aamulehti.fi/kulttuuri/nyt-se-on-kuultu-tampereen-oopperan-veljeni-vartijassa-on-sopivassa-suhteessa-sotaa-rakkautta-ja-huumoria-200752450/
For photos and posts see: https://www.facebook.com/veljenivartija/
Veljeni vartija – My Brother’s Keeper, World Premiere in February 2018
The Tampere Opera will host the world premiere of Olli’s new opera My Brother’s Keeper (Veljeni vartija) in February 2018, with 6 performances between February 16 and March 3. The librettist and the stage director is Tuomas Parkkinen. This large-scale commission by the Tampere Opera commemorates the battles of the Finnish Civil War in 1918, describing the events from the perspectives of two siblings that drift to the opposite sides. The Tampere Philharmonic and Tampere Opera Chorus will be conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali, and the top cast of soloists will include Tuuli Takala, Ville Rusanen, Tuomas Katajala, Juha Kotilainen, Päivi Nisula, Erica Back, Virpi Räisänen, Suvi Väyrynen, and Tuomas Pursio.
VIA, World Premiere
VIA, Olli’s new oratorio for five soloists, two choirs, organ, and orchestra was given its World Premiere at the Naantali Music Festival on June 7. The performance, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, was enthusiastically received by both the audience and the press. Further performances are being planned.
Read review in Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish): http://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/konserttiarvostelu/art-2000005245583.html
Listen (until July 6): http://areena.yle.fi/1-4131027
Work List updated!
Recording of Migrations in the media
San Francisco Chronicle:
Klassik Heute (Germany):
BIS releases new Minnesota Orchestra recording with Kortekangas and Sibelius
The Swedish label BIS Records is releasing the latest offering from Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra: a live-in-concert recording featuring Sibelius’ Kullervo, his beloved Finlandia, and Olli’s Migrations, a new work commissioned by the Orchestra. The new recording will be released nationwide in the United States on February 3, but is available now through the Orchestra’s website at minnesotaorchestra.org.
The works were recorded in three February 2016 concerts at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall. Migrations was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of modern Finnish immigration to North America; many of those immigrants landed in the Midwest, particularly Minnesota. Vänskä intended for the work to be paired programmatically with Sibelius’ Kullervo. “This affected the thematics, choice of texts and setup of my work,” Olli writes. “The concepts of identity, alienation and migration, so powerfully tragic in Sibelius’ work, guided my search for suitable texts.” Discovering the work of the Minnesota-based poet Sheila Packa, herself of Finnish descent, Olli composed Migrations for mezzo, male voice choir and orchestra, nearly the same forces as Kullervo. The piece is structured around four sung movements linked by three instrumental interludes. The recording is produced by BIS’ Robert Suff.
Alba Records releases SACD with two World Premiere Recordings
On November 9, Alba Records releases the SACD “Crossings” (ABCD-401) with Varpu Haavisto, viola da gamba, and Kari Vuola, organ. On the disc, there are the World Premiere recordings of Olli’s Crossing the Five Rivers and Offertorium.
VIA – Oratorio premiere at Naantali Music Festival in June 2017
The National Ecclesiastical Board of Finland has commissioned a major work from Olli to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the centenary year of Finnish independence. VIA, an oratorio for five solo voices, double choir, organ and orchestra will be performed at Naantali Music Festival on June 7, 2017. The top-notch performers are Suvi Väyrynen (soprano), Melis Jaatinen (mezzo-soprano), Tuomas Katajala (tenor), Ville Rusanen (baritone) and Nicholas Söderlund (bass), the EMO Ensemble and the Key Ensemble, organist Kari Vuola, and Sinfonia Lahti conducted by Maestro Osmo Vänskä.
VIA focuses mainly on the extended Eastertide from Good Friday to Pentecost. In other words, it will begin at the point where the passions normally end. The work will nevertheless also allude to other episodes in the ecclesiastical calendar, comprising an entirety of events that are interconnected in terms of both narrative and content.
Olli says: “A theme of expectation and searching strongly pervades the work, perhaps because I think I am more the kind of person who asks good questions than who has ready answers. In contrast to the merrymaking of Christmas and the grand drama of Easter Week, I feel that Pentecost and the events leading up to it are an enchantingly mysterious passage in the ecclesiastical calendar. Even so, the message of the work is not supposed to remain at the level of personal reflection. Pentecost also celebrates of the birth of the Church, and of all occasions it is best suited to collective action and experience.”
The libretto of VIA is a polyphonic and multilingual collage from biblical, traditional hymnodic and modern lyrical sources. As in Bach’s passions, the chorale has a signicant role in VIA, and the interludes composed for organ form a separate module within the work.
For further information (in Finnish):
“Migrations” in the media
New work to celebrate sister cities
To celebrate its longtime Sister City relationship with Salo, Finland, the St. Anthony Sister City Association has commissioned a work from Olli, to receive its world premiere in fall 2017 with the St. Anthony Civic Orchestra. Salo and St. Anthony, a suburb of Minneapolis, have been linked as Sister Cities for more than 30 years. Based on the children’s story “The Lost Melody” by Eeva Tikka, the composition will incorporate spoken narration.
Migrations – World Premiere in Minneapolis
Olli’s Migrations for male choir, soloist and orchestra is to be given its first performance on February 4, in Minneapolis. Further performances are scheduled for February 5 and 6. A commission from the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä, it will be recorded by BIS Records, coupled with Sibelius’s Finlandia and Kullervo. The soloist with the YL Male Voice Choir will be Lilli Paasikivi. Migrations celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Finnish migration to North America. The text is by Sheila Packa, and it tells tales of migration through themes of identity, transformation and hope.
“Own Fault” scores big success
Olli’s new monologue opera Oma vika (“Own Fault”), produced by Saaristo-ooppera (Opera Archipelago) was premiered in Turku in October, with three additional sold-out performances and exceptional media attention. Already dozen or so performances are being scheduled for different venues nationwide. The Helsinki premiere will take place on May 12, 2016 at the Finnish National Theatre.
Oma vika, with a libretto by Michael Baran, is based on the diaries of the renowned baritone singer Sauli Tiilikainen whose daughter committed suicide in 2008. Mr. Tiilikainen himself sang the only role of the opera in the premiere.
Read review in Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish): http://www.hs.fi/arviot/konsertti/a1446611742551
Seven Songs for Planet Earth – Midwest Premiere in Minneapolis
Seven Songs for Planet Earth, Olli’s symphonic cantata, will receive its Midwest premiere on the Earth Day weekend 2016 in Minneapolis, with Nicole Warner, mezzo-soprano, Aaron Larson, baritone, and the Masterworks Chorale of Augsburg College, conducted by Peter Hendrickson. The work was first performed in 2011 in Washington DC, and has since received both American and Finnish performances.
Birthday concert at Organo Novo
This year’s Organo Novo Festival will celebrate Olli’s 60th birthday with a concert in Helsinki on November 15. The program consists of six of his works, among them the World Premiere of Grace – Sonatina for Horn and Organ. www.organonovo.fi
Award to Olli: Art Music Composer of the Year
In September 2015, Finnish Music Publishers’ Association awarded prizes to Finnish musicians in four categories. Olli was chosen as the Art Music Composer of the Year.
New CD: Stargazer – Works for Organ
Fuga Records recently released organ virtuoso Jan Lehtola’s new recording of Olli’s three sonatas and other works (Fuga-9397). www.fuga.fi
New Opera for Tampere
The Tampere Opera will host the world premiere of Olli’s new opera My Brother’s Keeper (Veljeni vartija) in February 2018 – his tenth opera to date. The librettist and the stage director is Tuomas Parkkinen. This large-scale commission by the Tampere Opera commemorates the battles of the Finnish Civil War in Tampere in 1918 describing the events from the perspectives of two siblings that drift to the opposite sides. The opera is an epic, symphonic drama about crushed dreams, difficult choices and great emotions, and although it tackles major events in Finland’s history, the focus is in the personal histories within one family. The Tampere Philharmonic will be conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali, and the top cast of soloists will include Marjukka Tepponen, Ville Rusanen, Juha Kotilainen, Päivi Nisula and Tuomas Katajala.
Read the press release (in Finnish):
Minnesota Orchestra announces 2015/16 season – Olli’s Migrations performed and recorded
The Minnesota Orchestra’s 2015/16 season includes the world premiere of Olli’s Migrations, with the YL Male Voice Choir and mezzo Lilli Paasikivi singing text by Duluth-based poet Sheila Packa in three concerts on February 4, 5 and 6. They will also record the work for a future release.
Opera premiere in late October
Olli is currently working on his newest opera, the monologue Oma vika (Own Fault) which will be produced by the independent Opera Archipelago in Turku. The premiere is scheduled for October 31. The subject of the opera is the death of one’s child, and the libretto – written by Michael Baran – is based on the diaries of opera-singer Sauli Tiilikainen. Sauli himself will also sing in the production. www.saaristo-ooppera.fi
Five new works by Olli will be premiered during the late fall and winter. His Clarinet Concerto will be premiered on October 30 in Oulu by Christoffer Sundqvist and Oulu Sinfonia, conducted by Johannes Gustavsson. Jan Lehtola will play Organ Sonata No. 3 in Helsinki in early November. On March 27, a new children’s opera called Janne’s Secret will be premiered at the Finnish National Opera, and on March 30, a new choral work to a text by one of Olli’s all-time favorite poets Wendell Berry, The Return, will be heard for the first time by the Tapiola Chamber Choir. Still another premiere will take place on April 11 by the YL Male Voice Choir.
FinnFest in Minneapolis: Olli’s music on display
In early August, Minneapolis will host FinnFest, the annual Finnish American festival, also marking the 150th anniversary of modern Finnish immigration to North America. There will be several performances of Olli’s works, including the World Premiere of his Two Old Finnish Hymns on August 3 by Nicole Warner, mezzo-soprano, and Mark Sedio, organ. Olli’s brand-new cantata Migrations, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, also thematically connected to the themes of the festival, will be premiered during the 2015-16 season.
Chops and Swells in Uusikaupunki
Olli’s Chops and Swells, subtitled Scherzo acquatico, will be premiered at the Crusell Music Festival in Uusikaupunki on July 30. The performers are José Luis Estellés, clarinet, and the Jousia Quartet.
Commissions for Naantali and Tampere
Olli’s been commissioned to write a large-scale sacred work by the Church of Finland to be premiered in Naantali in June 2017. The Tampere Hall and the Tampere Opera will host the world premiere of Olli’s and librettist Tuomas Parkkinen’s new opera in March 2018, commemorating the battles of the Finnish Civil War in Tampere in 1918.
Seven Songs for Planet Earth: Finnish premiere on September 13
Olli’s symphonic cantata Seven Songs for Planet Earth which received its world premiere in Washington DC in May 2011 was performed by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, along with the Pirkanpojat boys’ choir. The soloists will be Tuija Knihtilä and Aarne Pelkonen, and the performance will be conducted by Jani Sivén.
Commission for Minnesota
Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have commissioned Olli to write an orchestral work for the autumn 2014 season. It is to be scored for mezzo-soprano, symphony orchestra and male choir and the theme will be immigration.
“An opera for the future” – One Night Stand reviewed by Opera Now
“Taking such a relevant and insightful libretto about the ills of our time
(which could easily stand on its own as a play) and turning it into a
successful opera was a challenge which Olli Kortekangas met. His music
not only added depth, breadth, and feeling to the opera, but emotional
heft to the characters: you really cared what happened to these kids.
Drawing inspiration from a variety of musical and operatic genres, he
skillfully navigated through a sea of diverse vocal waters, from grand
opera arias and dynamic coloratura, Greek Chorus-like recitative
(speaking snippets of cell phone conversations) to cabaret, Broadway
musicals, tango music, and modern jazz.
This is a 21st century opera that speaks to a 21st century audience in its language and music. It is fast-paced, almost chaotic in places, and so relevant for today’s youth that it promises to bring down the average age of the typical operagoer by 30 years. This is an opera for the future.”
(Karyl Charna Lynn, Opera Now, December 2011)