The Music Academy (MA) represents a bit of a beachhead for Hannu Lintu, the Finnish conductor who has extensive experience leading orchestras and opera performances in his homeland and across Europe and the Eastern U.S. but has rarely ventured to the Western states. Helming the Academy Festival Orchestra for this weekend’s concert at the Granada marks just the second appearance ever in California, as he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2008.
Last August, Lintu began his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet after eight years in the same position with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and previously Tampere Philharmonic. Taking on leadership of an opera company has been his dream job since he attended his first opera festival in Finland at age 12, and after his first half-season at the helm he called it “an entirely new angle into music making that’s incredibly inspiring.”
But of course, he’ll be fronting an instrumental ensemble again on Saturday, July 2, when the AFO will perform Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1, ‘Titan’” and Finnish composer Sibelius’ The Oceanides. Lintu talked about the program and more in an 11 pm interview from Paris last weekend before departing for Santa Barbara on Monday – a trip he said was “like going to the moon.”
Q. How do you approach a new orchestra and especially one composed of fellows who just met less than two weeks earlier?
A. I so enjoy working with young musicians, but I only do it once a year because they are like vampires – they suck all the energy from you. They have so many questions and they want to learn everything they can. It’s incredible for me, too, but after a week, I’m entirely exhausted. It’s a wonderful musical adventure, and I’m totally prepared to give my all to the orchestra in Santa Barbara. But once a year is enough.
Speaking of energy, the Mahler “No. 1” is a beast, one that started life as a tone poem before Mahler massaged it into a symphony. What’s your avenue into the work?
To me, it still feels like four symphony poems that are tied together to tell a story of a hero – a man who encounters lots of problems in his life but overcomes them because he believes in his vision and finally succeeds. It’s one of the greatest symphonies ever written, but its origin in tone poems give it a special construction.
Are you able to impart what excites and inspires you when you conduct this piece, and as you imagine working with the fellows orchestra?
Mahler filled his scores with lots of instructions of how he wanted it to be performed. We don’t need to interpret, we just need to do the score exactly as he wrote it in order to deliver the composer’s message, which is my duty to help them do. I recently conducted it with the London Symphony Orchestra and I was amazed again by the effect it has on the audience, the musicians, and me. It’s bigger than life and lifts everyone into unusual heights in a way that is mind-boggling. It’s a perfect composition, and it leaves you with the feeling that you have experienced something greater than life.
I know the Academy is excited that you will also be conducting a piece by your countryman. What can you share about The Oceanides?
Sibelius has lots of music where you have to be Finnish in order to transmit it, but The Oceanides is very international in style. It’s actually more of an American piece, commissioned by an American orchestra and composed while he was traveling across the Atlantic to America. His [view] was that the sea is not a monster, she is only beautiful, not dangerous or menacing. He’s not trying to describe the ocean, but the feelings evoked when we are in nature. So it’s full of light and hope from inside us.
To hear more from Lintu, drop by Saturday at 6 pm at Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery, around the corner from the Granada, where the conductor will lead the debut of MA’s Meet the Conductor pre-concert series. Enjoy beverages and bites while the Finn fills you in on what to listen for in the program, and answers audience questions.
Details, tickets, biographies, and more at musicacademy.org
Thursday, June 30: Genius meets genius as faculty artist Jeremy Denk, the famed pianist-writer whose acclaim has only grown since he won a Macarthur Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize, takes on the best of Johann Sebastian Bach in recital. Denk, who was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, toured Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier (Part 1)” extensively before the pandemic scotched the planned culminating performances at New York’s Lincoln Center and the Barbican in London. Now we’ll get to see him take on the much interpreted and beloved mammoth work from memory in the intimacy of Hahn Hall (7:30 pm; free-$55). Head back to the hall tomorrow afternoon to see the pianist impart some of his wisdom for the solo piano fellows a week after Adria Ye won the studio’s competition (1:30 pm; free-$10). Denk will also offer a second master class at the same time and place a week later (July 8), and perform in the final piece on the otherwise fellows-powered first Picnic Concert of the year later that night.
Friday, July 1: We wrote extensively last issue about tonight’s showcase concert featuring all 20 singers and the six vocal pianists of the Lehrer Vocal Institute fellows performing works by composer-in-residence Tom Cipullo. But with 22 songs or arias on the program, and Cipullo coaching, it’s worth another mention (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; free-$40).
Monday, July 4: What could be more patriotic than confronting our nation’s preponderance of polarized people then engaging in collaboration? Collaborative Piano, that is, as the fellows who don’t often get the spotlight in favor of the instrumentalists they support, now get their first chance of the season to shine with a showcase series chamber music concert of their own. Then you go watch the fireworks with pride, and a song in your heart, four hours later from Butterfly Beach or down at West Beach (3:30 pm; Hahn Hall; free-$40).
Tuesday, July 5: It’s five for x2, as the series that pairs Academy faculty and guest artists with the fellows side-by-side on stage boasts a generous five pieces tonight. Alongside three works by names you probably recognize (Britten, Poulenc, Vivaldi) are a couple of pieces from composers you likely haven’t heard, namely Wang Jie’s “I Died for Beauty,” with baritone, vibraphone, and piano, and Kazimierz Serocki’s “Suite for Four Trombones.” Buckle up (7:30 pm; Lobero Theatre; free-$55).
Wednesday, July 6: MA’s new Chamber Night series of intimate and casual performances feature fellow ensembles who have been experiencing intensive coachings performing the practiced pieces in the relatively relaxed environment of Lehmann Hall. The second concert has Nino Rota’s “Sonata for Flute and Harp” and Mozart’s “Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major” bookending a couple of vocal pieces in Ravel’s Chansons madécasses with Jake Heggie’s The Deepest Desire: Four Meditations on Love. As part of the engaging experience, guests are invited to enjoy complimentary wine during the performance. Sip and savor the sounds (7:30 pm; free-$40).