The sound of music

2 September 2011 | This 'n' that

Helsinki Music Centre: the main hall. Photo: Arno Chapelle

The long-awaited new concert hall, Musiikkitalo (’Music house’, in English Helsinki Music Centre), in front of the Parliament house in the very heart of the city, was opened with a concert (this concert is available at YLE Areena until 30 September) featuring Sibelius and Stravinsky on 31 August.

Musiikkitalo finally provides a new home for two orchestras, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as for the only Finnish university of music, the Sibelius Academy. It is owned by the Finnish government, the City of Helsinki and Finnish Broadcasting Company. The costs of the building rose from an original estimate of 98 million € in 2005 to 190 million €.

The acoustics designer is the renowned Japanese specialist Yasuhisa Toyota. The building, containing seven halls of various sizes, will provide specialised surroundings for different kinds of music and musicians, acoustics in the existing Finlandia Hall (designed by Alvar Aalto) and other local venues long having proved inadequate or faulty.

The site has remained misused for decades: the brick warehouses, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were finally abandoned by the national railway company in the 1980s and subsequently occupied by various artists’ and civil organisations, housing popular restaurants and flea markets. Many protests took place when the warehouses were doomed to demolition – and then the buildings were finally destroyed in 2006 in a fire.

The brand new concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, is called Harpa (‘Harp’). Wouldn’t it have been nice to give also Musiikkitalo a more exciting name to go by – maybe conduct a straw poll among listeners? Some of the rows of seats (1,704 in all) in the main hall resemble logs floating down in a river, so what about Log jam? Or does that have unfortunate connotations for a project that’s meant to provide Finnish music with a new dynamism?

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