LIEKSA BRASS WEEK 2006
by John Stevens
The 2006 Lieksa Brass Week filled the small town of Lieksa, Finland with the sights and sounds of brass music, as it has annually for the past 27 years. Over 50 public concerts and related events took place in various venues around Lieksa over a ten-day period from July 20–30. Included in this array of performances were the three rounds of the annual solo competition. The competition rotates among the five primary brass instruments, and this year the tuba was featured for the second time since the competition became part of the festival in 1998. The festival also includes the opportunity for students to study throughout the week with guest faculty and members of the competition jury. The festival’s public performances were given by guest artist soloists and ensembles, faculty, members of the jury,
competitors and students.
All photos taken by Pekka Saarinen.
The prize-giving ceremony: Winner: Bernd van Echelpoel; From left: Kauko Karjalainen (chairman of the competition), Minna Kajander (competition coordinator / secretary), John Stevens, Øystein Baadsvik (right behind John), Thomas Rüedi, Thierry Thibault, Petri Keskitalo
|All types of brass music were featured in concerts taking place during the day, evening, and well into Finland’s long summer nights. In his written welcome to the festival, Artistic Director and acclaimed Finnish trumpeter Jouko Harjanne stated that the theme for this year’s festival was “Brass Week with an eastern flavor.” Lieksa is in eastern Finland, not far from the Russian border, in an area called North Karelia. Ensembles from even farther east, Russia and Japan, performed throughout the week. Japan was represented by the Custom Brass Quintet and the Kunitachi Music College Brass Band, both making their first trip to Lieksa. Two brass quintets from Russia, the Mariinsky Brass Quintet and the Russian Five, were also featured performers. Other prominently featured chamber groups were France’s Epsilon Ensemble (brass quartet) and the Finnish Trombone Quartet.
Lieksa, a town of less than 15,000 people nestled in the midst of Finland’s beautiful forests, lakes and rivers, more than doubles in size with visitors from far and wide who come for the Brass Week. The atmosphere is festive and jovial, but the beautiful natural surroundings and scenic local parks also provide a sense of peace and tranquility, giving the festival a very comfortable pace. Though there were many superb concerts to enjoy, most were not much longer than an hour. This allowed ample time for relaxation and socializing between events.
Jouko Harjanne, the artistic director of Lieksa Brass Week
Mizujo Kojima performs in the Masters’ Evening Concert
There are five main venues for concerts. The auditorium in the Cultural Centre was the scene of many performances and the first two rounds of the solo tuba competition. The beautiful Lieksa Church provided a lovely visual and acoustic setting for many evening concerts, including the final round of
(L–R) 1st prize winner Bernd van Echelpoel (Belguim), 2nd prize Miika Jämsä (Finland), and 3rd prize Bruno Osinski (France)
Concerts were also presented at two venues that are 20-30 kilometers from Lieksa. The Mätäsvaara Mine, a deep, water-filled quarry in the woods, was a spectacular, outdoor setting for concerts. Late evening “candlelight” concerts were presented at the Viekijärvi Church, a beautiful old wooden building in a forest glade. One of these was a performance honoring the late legendary trumpeter Timofei Dokshitzer (1921–2005), presented by the Guards Septet and trumpet soloist Jouko Harjanne. Dokshitzer had often performed at the Lieksa Brass Week. Finally, the 4,500 seat BrassArena provided a space for popular entertainment (often going well into the night) featuring various types of bands, food, and drink.
Thomas Rüedi rehearsing for a concert with Naoko Shibayama
Next year’s festival will feature the trumpet: might as well get an early start!
Timo Ronkainen from Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has taught summer courses for about 26 years.
Japanese Kunitachi Music College Brass Band at the Mätäsvaara Mine
Jouko Harjanne, the artistic director of Lieksa Brass Week
In addition to the ensembles employing tuba and euphonium players, performances on these instruments were given throughout the week by the members of the competition jury as well as faculty member and superb Finnish euphoniumist Jukka Myllys. It was my honor to chair the jury this year.
Øystein Baadsvik rehearsing with St. Michel Strings
Other jury members were the Norwegian tuba soloist and composer Øystein Baadsvik, Finnish tuba soloist, composer and principal tubist with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra Petri Keskitalo, composer/arranger and tubist with France’s Epsilon Ensemble Thierry Thibault, and Swiss euphonium soloist Thomas Rüedi. Thierry Thibault performed 3 concerts with the Epsilon Ensemble, showcasing his rich tone, charismatic musical personality, and skills as a composer and arranger. Petri Keskitalo and Jukka Myllys gave a wonderful “CD release” concert featuring works from their new recording together, Tubhonium Sketches . The performances were fantastic, and most of these terrific new duets for euphonium and tuba were composed by Petri Keskitalo. He also played a delightful jazz concert as a member of the BrassJazzFive Plus One. Øystein Baadsik gave a beautiful performance of Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with the St. Michel Strings, under the direction of Japanese maestra Yuri Nitta. Thomas Rüedi gave three terrific solo performances during the week, featuring completely different styles of music. He played the Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major , K. 191 on an
all Mozart concert, Herbert L. Clarke’s The Southern Cross on a concert of cornet favorites, and the Sonate for Euphonium by Anthony Girard. I performed my own transcription of my Sonata for Trombone and Piano , the second movement of my Journey – Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra (with piano), and a jazz improvisation titled Walkin’ Blue .
The educational part of the festival took place at two local schools, where classrooms became studios and rehearsal spaces for the week. At one school, individual brass students had master classes, private lessons and coachings each day with artist faculty. Across the river at the other school, some 60 amateur players and students gathered daily as members of brass septets or quintets, many of which were pre-existing groups. The days included group warm-ups, rehearsals, sectionals and coachings led by a rotation of faculty. The brass septet is Finland’s traditional brass chamber group. I gather that the standard instrumentation, all conical bore instruments, is three cornets, alto horn, tenor horn, euphonium, and tuba. However, substitutions seem to be made based on the available instruments and players. I coached a police septet made up of two cornets and one trumpet, alto horn, two euphoniums, and tuba. Apparently the popularity of the septet is making quite a comeback after a fallow period in the last half of the 20th century. The Brass Week staff was very pleased with this year’s substantial increase in enrollment in this program. Clearly the lively amateur brass playing tradition in Finland is thriving!
Custom Brass Quintet from Japan in concert at the Lieksa Cultural Centre
The solo tuba competition was also a successful element of the week. There were 18 competitors from 12 countries, making it a truly international event. This year’s repertoire focused completely on contemporary works for tuba, with no piece having been composed earlier than 1978. Also, somewhat unusual for competitions of this nature, the performers did not have any choice of repertoire; each work was required for every player (although they could choose the order of performance in the first two rounds). The jury felt that there were two positive aspects to this format. It is easier to compare the technical and musical abilities of the competitors when they are all playing the same music. Also, it forced each competitor to apply their musical creativity to a prescribed program, without the option of choosing a work that might come more naturally to them.
Jouko Harjanne, the artistic director of Lieksa Brass Week. Harjanne was the soloist of the Candle concert dedicated in the memory of Timofei Dokshitzer
The first round required two pieces: Anthony Plog’s Three Miniatures for tuba and piano (published by Editions BIM), and Finnish composer Atso Almila’s Tussock Hill Quarry , a new, unaccompanied work commissioned by the Lieksa Brass Week especially for this competition. This single movement work of some seven minutes in length presented a plentiful array of technical challenges, but the even more difficult task seemed to be finding a successful musical approach. It was happily apparent when a player was able to derive a musical plan that captured the personality of each section of the work, creating both exciting musical contrast and a unified approach to the work as a whole. Tubists will want to contact the Finnish Music Information Centre to obtain this interesting new addition to
our unaccompanied repertoire.
Øystein Baadsvik with St. Michel Strings conducted by Yuri Nitta
Eight performers, representing seven countries, were passed on to the second round of the competition; Simo Finni (Finland), Hidehiro Fujita (Japan), Dirk Hirthe (Germany), Miika Jämsä (Finland), Bruno Osinski (France), Christian Penz (Austria), Gábor Serfel (Hungary), and Bernd van Echelpoel (Belgium). This “recital” round consisted of three works; Trygve Madsen’s three movement Sonata for Tuba and Piano , Op. 34 (Musikk-Huset A/S – Oslo), my own composition for unaccompanied tuba titled Remembrance (Editions BIM), and Amorous Play for Tuba and Piano by Finnish composer Lasse Eerola (Finnish Music Information Centre). The demands of contrasting musical styles, use of extreme ranges, multi-phonics, rapid passages requiring crisp and highly developed technique and rhythmic integrity, and a wide dynamic range gave the players an ample number of ways to show what they could do. Following this round, the jury sent three performers to the finals: Miika Jämsä, Bruno Osinski, and Bernd van Echelpoel.
Finnish Miika Jämsä, 3rd prizewinner
Jämsä has studied with Juha Salmela and Petri Keskitalo. He is currently a member of the Guards Band, the Helsinki Brass Quintet and Vaskifemu. Bruno Osinski is in his fourth year at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Lyon, where he studies with Mel Culbertson and Arnaud Boukhitine. He has been a member of the CNSM Brass Quintet and has served as substitute tubist with the Bordeaux National Orchestra and the Lorraine National Orchestra. Bernd van Echelpoel has studied with Nick Ost, Bart Van Neyghem, and Hendrik-Jan Renes. A former member of the Willebroek Brass Band, he is currently principal tubist with the Holland Symphonia in Amsterdam.
The final round of the competition was the centerpiece of a concert with the St. Michel Strings in the Lieksa Church. Each performer played Landscape for tuba and strings (Svensk Musik – Swedish Music Information Centre) by the Swedish composer Torbjorn Iwan Lundquist. Composed in 1978, this work was commissioned by the Swedish Concert Institute and dedicated to Michael Lind. Following three excellent performances and the jury’s deliberation, the prizes were announced. The third place prize of 2000 Euros, sponsored by the Mirafone Instrument Company, went to Bruno Osinski. The second place prize of 3000 Euros, sponsored by Terramare, was awarded to Miika Jämsä. The winner of the competition, presented with a prize of 5000 Euros, was Bernd van Echelpoel.
Bruno Osinski, 2nd prizewinner
As Eric Paull eloquently stated in his article about the 2004 Lieksa Brass Week, when the first euphonium competition took place there ( ITEA Journal , Volume 32:1 Fall 2004), the spirit of the Lieksa Brass Week is one of relaxed camaraderie, friendship, and brilliant brass music presented in an inviting setting. Brass players and aficionados young and old flock to this festival year after year. We are grateful for this outstanding Finnish contribution to our world of brass music, and hopeful that the Lieksa Brass Week will continue long into the future. To find out more about the Lieksa Brass Week, visit www.lieksabrass.com.
Special thanks to the Finnish Department of Foreign Affairs, Artistic Director Jouko Harjanne, Managing Director Nina Kärkkäinen, and the outstanding staff of the 2006 Lieksa Brass Week.
John Stevens is Professor of Tuba and Euphonium and tubist with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has been on the faculty since 1985. He has had a distinguished career as a teacher, solo, chamber, jazz and orchestral performer and recording artist, and is internationally renowned as a composer and arranger, especially for brass.