Some 150 years ago what is sometimes called ‘The Great Migration’ of Finns to the United States began. Many of the Finns settled in the Mid-West, and especially in the so-called ‘Finn Hook’, consisting of parts of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. To celebrate this, the Minnesota Orchestra under its Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä commissioned the composer Olli Kortekangas to compose a work on the theme of migration, of a scale and nature suitable for performance alongside Jean Sibelius’s great Kullervo. Discovering the work of the Minnesota-based poet Sheila Packa, herself of Finnish descent, Kortekangas composed Migrations for mezzo-soprano, male voice choir and orchestra, the same forces as in Kullervo, with the exception of the baritone soloist in that work.
An all-star Finnish cast – soloists Lilli Paasikivi and Tommi Hakala and the celebrated YL Male Voice Choir – joined the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä for three concerts in February 2016, and captured by a recording team from BIS the memorable performances can now be enjoyed by a wider audience. Sibelius began working on Kullervo during his student days in Vienna in 1891, finding his inspiration in the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic. In a letter home to Finland he wrote about ‘a new symphony, totally in the Finnish spirit’ and the work is often regarded as the first successful example of a Finnish national musical language.
In spite of what Sibelius wrote in his letter, the five-movement work is usually regarded as a symphonic poem, but with a duration of c. 80 minutes Kullervo certainly has the scale of a large symphony, and as such the present performance forms a worthy appendix to the highly acclaimed Sibelius cycle which the orchestra and Vänskä brought to a close with the recent release of Symphonies No 3, 6 and 7. As a fitting close to this two-disc set, and to the concerts in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, the orchestra performs Sibelius’s Finlandia, with the YL Male Voice Choir joining in in the famous hymn section.