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Classical 101

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Incantations at the Columbus Symphony

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony.
Marco Borggreve
Columbus Symphony Orchestra
Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony.

The Columbus Symphony performs Incantations a percussion concerto by Einojuhani Rautavaara this weekend at the Ohio Theater. Rossen Milanov conducts, with soloist Colin Currie.

The work was written for Mr. Currie, who gave the premiere with the London Philharmonic in 2009. Also on this weekend’s CSO Program, Brahms Third Symphony and Bolero by Maurice Ravel.

Some years ago at a WOSU/Classical 101 “do”, a man came up and asked me where is the music of today? This was before the wonderful recent renaissance of music written by American composers. I said, stirring my ginger ale, “It’s in Finland. The most exciting music being written today is being written in Finland.”

My statement is dated today, but Finland continues to be a wonderful source of music rapidly entering the international repertoire. Chief among Finland’s composers of today is Einojohanni Rautavaara. Say that three times fast and I’ll buy you a muffin basket.

Rautavaara was born in 1928. His break out work, A Requiem for Our Time premiered in 1954. Rautavarra was the protegé of Finnish composer Aare Merikanto. He later studied at Julliard with Vincent Persichetti , and worked with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. Neither New York City nor the bucolic luxury of the Berkshires turned Rautavaara away from a music that is rhythmically vibrant with a mystical bent. It’s no surprise that this composer wrote a dynamite percussion concerto. There are bells, gongs and voices in his language, whether in his vocal or purely orchestral music.

I’ve never been to Finland. I don’t know if the long days and longer nights and the spare landscape affect the creative community. I imagine it would be difficult living there with seasonal affective disorder. I’ve always felt a loneliness in the music of Sibelius, but not with Rautavaara. To me, this composer is very grounded emotionally in his music. I don’t imagine a lot of autobiography. Rather a fascination with sounds and a combination of sounds. Einojohanni Rautvaara is not afraid of ecstasy

I couldn’t begin to analyze a percussion concerto. Evelyn Glennie remarked that it is closer to dance anyway, and that performances of works like this are to be seen and heard.

The You Tube clip below is the only part of the work I’ve been able to hear in advance. What I especially loved are the strings coming in under the percussion at 2:23. The strings sound menacing, but soon the take up a tone while the percussion dances mightily. I would never lose an opportuinty to hear Rautavarra’s music live. Nor should you.


Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.