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Farewell to Tampere

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This year was the 40th anniversary of Tampereen Sävel, the wonderful Finnish festival of vocal music centred on competitions for choirs and vocal ensembles. Except for the year when I was Artistic Director of the Festival I’ve chaired the ensemble contest jury since 1997, having first been a jury member sometime before that. For the last ten years or so my fellow jurors, Jussi Chydenius, Anders Jalkeus, Jenny Wilhelms and Anna Maria Friman, have alternately argued and supported each other in the impossible task of evaluating some of the most diverse, polished and inventive ensemble singing to be heard anywhere. It’s unusual for a completion jury to stay together for so long, so we presumably got it right more often than not. But inevitably the axe has finally fallen (in the nicest possible way) and this year is the last time we’ll meet. We went out on a high – I think we all agreed that the final concert (in which all the competing groups took part) was the best ever.

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It would have been great to give prizes to everyone, though apart from the overall winners we’d have found it very difficult to rank the others in order, so high was the standard. So congratulations to OnAir & Sjaella (both from Germany), The Quintessence (Georgia), Voco Novo (Taiwan), proModern (Poland), Sekunti (Finland) and Estonian Voices, and congratulations and commiserations to Kumo, Mamo and Shalla Lalla (all from Finland), Söörömöö (Estonia), Jazzation (Hungary) and Vesnalika (Russia) – all fantastic performers, as you could tell from the very appreciative audience reaction. The club session in the old Customs House, brilliantly hosted as always by Jussi Chydenius, really rocked (and Jussi even managed a spontaneous appearance from Rajaton to sing Bob Chilcott a birthday song).

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The first time I sat on the jury was before the revolution in the Baltic States, and I was only dimly aware of the subtle historical ties between Finland and Estonia during the Soviet occupation. On this occasion there was an Estonian group that my fellow jurors – all Finns – were very keen to give a prize to but which I vetoed as it seemed pretty obvious to me that there were more deserving candidates. At the post-competition dinner one of the festival organisers leaned over and whispered ‘I hear you’ve just sent some poor Estonian musicians to Siberia…’. Then there was the sauna episode. I was still fairly new to the sauna experience and a bit unsure of the etiquette, especially in a hotel. But I was determined to brave it so set off before breakfast prepared for a number of clothing options. As I went in I saw a couple of my fellow jurors naked, so I took my clothes off and went to join them. They meanwhile had caught sight of me and obviously thought, ah English person – we don’t want to embarrass him let’s put on some trunks. I strode in confidently… to find myself the only person without any clothes on.

 

I’ll miss the warmth, the hospitality, the wonderfully efficient organisation, and of course the fantastic music making. Over the last 25 years acappella singing has evolved out of all recognition – not only incredibly virtuosic jazz groups and very creative folk and pop ensembles, but groups that defy categorisation altogether. It’s been an exhilarating experience. The demise of the ‘classical’ ensemble is perhaps not surprising: it’s hard for classical singers to generate their own material so they never quite seem to own the music, and because the performers generally expect the music to speak for itself there is a reluctance to engage with the audience with the commitment you find in every other genre (the two brilliant classical groups from this year being notable exceptions, of course). There is huge potential for classical groups if they can learn from the trajectory of other genres.

 

So heartfelt thanks, Tampereen Sävel. Especially to Minnakaisa, Eija, Heikki and all the jury secretaries, and the best jury colleagues I could have had, Anna, Anders, Jenny and Jussi. We should start a group and come back and compete…

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