First concerts of Musica nova Helsinki announced

The Musica nova Helsinki programme includes the performance of Kaija Saariaho’s early stage work Study for Life. From Simon Steen-Andersen’s the festival presents Run Time Error, taking place at Helsinki Central Library Oodi, and the cult classic Black Box Music. The largest contemporary music festival in Finland will be held on 2–10 February 2021.

Held biennially, Musica nova Helsinki’s resident composers are the Swedish Lisa Streich and the Berlin-based Dane Simon Steen-Andersen. The festival theme, Polytopia, is inspired by the Greek composer, mathematician and architect Iannis Xenakis.

The acclaimed composer and multimedia artist Steen-Andersen constructs a version of his work Run Time Error at Helsinki Central Library Oodi, echoing the spirit of Xenakis’ iconic Polytopes. Combining video art, music and movement, the commissioned version of Run Time Error creates an audiovisual model of Oodi and takes the audience on a musical exploration into the architecture of this unique building. The concert in Oodi’s Maijansali hall also includes, for example, Steen-Andersen’s music performed by the electroacoustic music group defunensemble.

Chamber orchestra Avanti! performs Steen-Andersen’s multimedia cult classic Black Box Music at Tiivistämö in Suvilahti. It is one of the artist’s best known works, in which a pair of hands on video conducts a live orchestra seated around the audience. The evening also includes the performance of Limun, by the Italian Clara Iannotta, who, like Steen-Andersen, ranks among the most acclaimed composers of her generation.

The Finnish National Opera and Ballet hosts the premiere of Between, a four-work piece produced by the French music theatre group La Chambre aux échos and directed by Aleksi Barrieré. The evening includes a performance of Kaija Saariaho’s early stage work Study for Life, which was only performed once, at the Musica nova festival in 1981, as well as a directed version of the violin concerto Graal Théâtre. Together with new compositions by Sebastian Hill and Matias Vestergård, the collection of works creates an influential opera of silence and untamed forces. The Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Clément Mao-Takacs.

‘One of the highlights of our festival is without a doubt the premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s first ever stage work Study for Life, restored and revised after first and only being heard at the same festival 40 years ago. For me, this represents another element of our theme Polytopia and our series of Helsinki Polytypes – a hybrid of time travel, sound, stage, light and design, different voices, elements and topics’, says André de Ridder, the artistic director of the festival.

The Organ Festival organised by the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki also features works by Streich, Xenakis and Saariaho. The Helsinki Chamber Choir performs the socially-conscious piece State of the Union, by the Latvia-born star composer Eugene Birman, which bombards the listener with a meditative flow of the names of extinct animal species, TV advertising slogans, names of US Army operations and catchphrases of the Christian right.

The music of Lisa Streich, the other resident composer for Musica nova, is performed by, for example, the Finnish Baroque Orchestra. Streich’s Händeküssen (Hand Kisses), which premiered last year, imagines what dancing feels like as experienced by a deaf person. Musica nova also features several works by the theme composer Xenakis. Specializing in interpreting chamber music, Zagros Ensemble performs Xenakis’ work Plekto for the flute, clarinet, percussion, piano and cello. Focus on Liza Lim also introduces the music of the award-winning Australian composer.

During Musica nova, secondary school students will compose music inspired by architecture as part of the Kuule, minä sävellän! (Hear this, I’m a composer!) project and concert in co-operation with the Museum of Finnish Architecture and Aalto University architecture students. The Musequal Festival seeks a new resident composer through the Musequal Composer Competition, organised for the first time.

Musica nova Helsinki’s programme will be announced and ticket sales will begin later this year and early next year. More information and ticket information for the concerts announced here are available at All festival concerts are planned in accordance with the latest audience restrictions and other safety arrangements.

The main organisers are Helsinki Festival, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Yle (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra) and the Society of Finnish Composers.

Photo: Lars Svankjaer