December 8, 2015: 14 days before the first day of winter, 2015. The day after Hannukah. 17 days before Christmas. And the 150th anniversary of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Sibelius (who was born Johan but who changed his name to Jean) was born on December 8, 1865 in Hämeenlinna, Finland. He died on September 20, 1957 in Järvenpää, Finland. There are celebrations happening all around the world, including a new play about the composer's life and music, all-Sibelius concerts from some of the world's best orchestras, lectures, special photography exhibits and much, much more. The Sibelius 150 website has a little more information about some of the special Sibelius-centric events that may be happening near you.
Finnish conductor and Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä has a long history with Jean Sibelius's music. Recognized as something of a Sibelius expert, he's brought his own unique experience as a Finn, as well as his love of Sibelius's music, into the concert hall and recording studio numerous times. So, in his own words: just what is so engaging about Jean Sibelius and Jean Sibelius's music?
On Jean Sibelius's life and personality"I think it was some kind of very dramatic life. He had his troubles with alcohol, he had his troubles with how to use money. But is Sibelius different than any one of us? That makes life so interesting, we all have our good days and bad days. But that's why we need music. That's why we need the sort of softer side of things in life."
"I think that...he wasn't very happy guy...Music is a result of sad feelings. I think that he was a great composer and then there are many things which made his life difficult. His style of life, he wanted to be like a...someone said he had a lot of money but he used more than he got. He had a stipend from Finnish state covering his whole life, it was a big income, but financial problems, alcoholic problems...
I think his life wasn't easy, but music was his way to climb up to the mountains and show us something else, something better than our ordinary life. I think that is very often the story of big creators. Authors, composers, sometimes the deepest and greatest art is not coming with smile or champagne or happy life. It's the old saying that diamonds are the result of huge pressure, and I think that is right to say the same about Sibelius.
...[W]e have to remember he had very nice moments. He was a celebrated composer and had a lot of things, but the ordinary life always took some toll about that. I think we many reasons to be grateful and all the music world is grateful for all the music he gave us. And that's why we celebrate his 150th."
On how to successfully perform Jean Sibelius's music
"The whole idea of Sibelius, the music of Sibelius, is that there are so many details. And you need to put those details in the right place. And then the music starts to communicate. Without those millions of details, it sounds boring."
On Sibelius's dislike of criticism
"Let's say 5 reviews, 4 were admiring and one said some slight criticism. Then he said, that this is a disaster and a catastrophe and I cannot live. So one negative word was much bigger than 500 positive words. And maybe that's also the reason why he wanted to keep distance, not to tell what he has thought about."
On whether or not being Finnish helps him understand Jean Sibelius
"Oh, I don't know. When I was born in Finland, it was obvious that I heard a lot of Sibelius's music. My parents brought me and my brothers to the concerts. At that time a lot of classical music from the radio. I have listened to that music, so when I started to do my conducting it was obvious that the music of Sibelius is one big part of my repertoire, and it has been even bigger than maybe I ever thought."
Classical MPR will re-broadcast the Minnesota Orchestra's concert of Sibelius Miniatures, recorded November 4, 2015, at 8 p.m. CST on December 8, 2015.