The Helsinki Harp Festival of 2023 is set to resonate with themes of well-being and the musical legacy of both past and present harp composers. Alongside esteemed artists and premieres, attendees will have the opportunity to unwind during a sound bath concert accompanied by the soothing tones of the harp. The festival will feature the international Helsinki Harp Competition and the inaugural Finnish competition for amateur harpists.
Organized by the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki and the Finnish Harpists association, the festival will grace the halls of Musiikkitalo in Helsinki. Virtually every concert will showcase multiple harps playing together, a rare delight even for the harpists themselves, as they come together in harmony.
On Friday evening, September 1, the festival will welcome the internationally acclaimed jazz harpist, Park Stickney, in his debut performance in Finland. A jazz maestro of longstanding repute, Stickney will dazzle the audience not only with his astounding pedal technique but also with his fusion of the Rubik's Cube and harp playing.
Saturday, September 2, will feature the world premiere of "Forbidden Love," a politically charged piece by Norwegian harpist-composer Uno Vesje. The composition delves into the theme of queer love within the Muslim immigrant community, addressing issues of racism, exploitation, and resilience. The opening segment of the concert will be performed by Birgitte Volan Håvik, solo harpist of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.
"Says the composer, the piece narrates the experiences of vulnerable individuals subjected to racism, abuse, and exploitation. The composition draws from personal conversations and research. Vesje aims to bring a difficult subject and harsh experiences to musical language, while still instilling a sense of hope," explains Päivi Severeide, the head of harp studies at the Sibelius Academy and the artistic director of the festival. The concert is not recommended for children under 12, as the text of the composition could be distressing to sensitive listeners.
In addition to chamber music, the festival will showcase solo performances, including the Finnish premieres of works by Heta Aho and Lotta Wennäkoski. Heta Aho will also present the world premiere of a new chamber composition. Laura Hynninen will provide an entire concert dedicated to her own music and visual art.
"After two competitions, master classes, thirteen concerts, and numerous well-being themed lectures, I can confidently assure that no one will leave with a 'harp overload'," Severeide assures.
Helsinki Harp Competition and Lilly Kajanus-Blenner Harp Competition
The festival will host two competitions. The second edition of the international Helsinki Harp Competition, targeting students aged 19–28 pursuing harp professionally, will take place. Winners will have the honor of performing as second harpists with orchestras such as the Stockholm Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Norrköping Symphony, Tampere Philharmonic, or Turku Philharmonic Orchestra.
Moreover, the festival will introduce the inaugural national Lilly Kajanus-Blenner Harp Competition, designed primarily as a purposeful tool for the education of young Finnish harpists and as a positive experience for the aspiring artists themselves.
Closing Concert at Musiikkitalo on September 3
The final concert of the festival, on Sunday, September 3, will celebrate Finnish music, dedicating the opening section to the memory of Kaija Saariaho. Alongside the competition winners, the performance will also feature artists seen earlier during the festival. The program includes music by Saariaho and harp duet adaptations by Anni Kuusimäki of the Helsinki Philharmonic, performed by Sivan Magen and Kuusimäki.
Helsinki Harp Festival at Musiikkitalo from August 31 to September 3, 2023
Organized by the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki and the Finnish Harpists association