Mikkeli Music Festival: World-class performances by the Finnish lakeside
By Ndéla Faye
For over 30 years, Mikkeli Music Festival has drawn audiences from across the globe. World-class musical performances in an idyllic setting, combined with Finnish summer magic makes this festival a true feast for the senses.
The Mikkeli Music Festival began in 1992 as a small-scale chamber music event. Since then, the event has grown into one of the most significant classical music festivals in Finland. Over the years, the festival has featured some of Finland’s best musicians, as well as numerous international stars.
Since its beginning, Mikkeli Music Festival worked in close collaboration with Petersburgian Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, one of the icons of Russian culture, headed by conductor Valery Gergiev. However, the Russian invasion into Ukraine in February 2022 changed everything. “We severed all our ties with the Russian artists and had to rethink our entire strategy. That’s why, last year, our festival theme was ‘New Hope’,” says festival director, Teemu Laasanen.
Now, Mikkeli Music Festival has turned its sights to the rest of Europe and the world. The 32nd instalment of the festival – which runs from 28 July to 5 August – is back with something new and fresh with the theme ‘Licence to Love’. “The performances are focused on all the various kinds of love: godly, secular and earthly love, altruistic love, as well as the love of nature, people and instruments,” Laasanen explains.
“The theme concert of Mikkeli Music Festival gives everyone a licence to love. Piano wizard Jukka Nykänen has arranged James Bond theme songs especially for this concert, accompanied by opera singing, so it’s going to be a completely unique experience,” he adds.
The festival’s first part consists largely of symphony orchestra and choir music. The second part is more mainstream with some light jazz, film scores and improvisation. The last part features this year’s star performers: London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, headed by Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali. The festival’s unique collaboration with Philharmonia Orchestra will last until at least 2026.
From James Bond to choir singing
This year, the Board of Finland Festivals named the Mikkeli Music Festival as ‘Festival of the Year 2023’. “We really have a fantastic mix of unique and quirky performances from international and Finnish artists. We have consistently proved we are able to offer a unique blend of different musical genres with high-quality performances by musicians from around the world,” says Laasanen.
Another much-awaited performance is by the Monastery of 13 Holy Assyrian Fathers Choir, run by Father Serafim, from Georgia. The choir performs songs in Aramaic, and Father Serafim is known for being one of the two priests in the world who celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the language of Jesus Christ. “Their singing is out of this world, and listening to them feels almost hypnotic,” says the festival director.
In addition to the main festival, the ‘On the Move!’ programme will kick off on 25 June 2023. The full programme line-up will be published soon. The programme will include seminars, lectures, musical brunches and performances – and everything in between. Most of the On the Move! events are free, and they are happening in the centre of Mikkeli, or in its immediate vicinity.
Mikkeli Music Festival is one of the oldest annual classical music events in Finland and has a firm place on the Nordic music scene. Many loyal fans return each year to Mikkeli, located by the idyllic scenery of lake Saimaa, about two hours from Helsinki. And no wonder: Mikkeli Music Festival offers visitors a unique opportunity to listen to an elite level of musicianship in an intimate setting. It is also a chance for many rising stars to prove their skills.
The festival is a beautiful melange of musical genres. And there is plenty to choose from: listeners will be able to experience the magic of Harry Potter films with the original performer of the soundtrack, the Philharmonia Orchestra, playing songs from the film. Korean violinist Inmo Yang, winner of the 2022 Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, will also be performing at the festival. Or perhaps listeners would like to witness a performance by 11-year-old violin prodigy Lilja Haatainen, who won the category for violinists under 13 years at the International Louis Spohr Violin Competition in November 2022. “Audiences will be able to get up close and personal with the performers, which makes the festival even more special,” Laasanen adds.
“There is plenty of untouched nature and peace and quiet around. Visitors can book a stay at a luxury lakeside villa or a cottage, come to the town centre and listen to world-class musicians in the evening, and head back to their villa for a moonlit boat trip in the evening, for example. This is an unrivalled experience, and a wonderful way to enjoy the very best that Finland has to offer in the summer,” the festival director concludes.
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