Invited to this ‘Kesäkonsertti’, whatever it might be, I made my way to St Peter’s Church in Chiswick, West London, arriving just in time to hear soprano Margit Tuokko enquire how many of the audience could understand Finnish. More or less everyone cautiously raised their hands. There followed a wonderful, warmly delivered evening, all the more wonderful for its incomprehensibilty as far as I was concerned.
Margit has been a great advocate for my own work in Finland, especially with her splendid theatrical performances of King Harald’s Saga. Her repertoire ranges very widely (an expertly delivered fragment of Kaija Saariaho was thrown in on this occasion) and often includes recitals of folk-influenced songs and ballads, such as this evening's, on the theme of Summer. Although I’m an committed enthusiast of Scottish and English folk song, its familiar tropes (‘My girlfriend has disappeared’ ‘Someone killed my boyfriend’) seemed puny in comparison with the cosmic range of the songs Margit was singing to us, hymning nature, the sun, the stars and so on.
Another rather fantastic element was the accompanying music on kantele, the zither-type national instrument of Finland, expertly played here by Emma Kuntsi. In its most basic shape, the kantele simply looks like a small plank of wood with a few wires nailed onto it. But Emma had also brought along a luxury version (pictured) featuring a gorgeous lacquered base, a small amp and quite a few more strings. She seemed to be producing extremely rich and chromatic harmonies (some by Sibelius) with almost no actions at all, and the gentle amplification brought suave jazz guitar music to mind. [Thanks also to non-Finnish Miles Lallemant for fine piano contributions.]. The modest, home-made presentation of this concert in a beautiful London church somehow enhanced the distinctiveness of this occasion, and further highlighted the generosity and expertise of the performers.