Osmo Vänskä leads the San Francisco Symphony in three concerts with a Finnish flair, with two works by famed composer Jean Sibelius, and the first symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich. They’ll be joined by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride for the Sibelius violin concerto, and play Finlandia, in concert Thursday afternoon, and Friday and Saturday nights.

There’s more information at the San Francisco Symphony website.

“As a Finn, I’m very proud of my heritage, musical heritage. Proud of Sibelius and many other Finnish composers,” Vänskä says. When he plays the music of his homeland, though, he doesn’t feel pressured to be an ambassador, any more than with other composers. “I try to handle it as any other music. If I’m doing Beethoven, or Brahms, or Shostakovich. But when I’m doing Sibelius, it’s maybe the closest music in my mind to my heart. So, I don’t need to give any special attention. I try to send a message to the players during the rehearsal, as to how to play this music, and that is the same procedure which is happening with other composers too.” The music of Sibelius is tied very closely with Finland’s struggle for independence. “Our history with the Russians is a little bit complicated. A long long time ago, Finland was part of Russia, it was part of Sweden, and it was again part of Russia. And there was obvious drama and bad feelings when Finland felt that it wanted to have its own independence and Russians didn’t want to give it. The Finlandia, the piece that we are playing, it’s very much connected to those things… The second World War for the Finland was only against Russians who wanted to invade us, as they did with so many other countries close to us. And I’m very proud that our fathers kept them out so that we could have our independence and we could stay as a Finnish cultural country.” The other work on the program is a work from Soviet-era Russia. A symphony that a very young Dmitri Shostakovich wrote as a graduation piece from the conservatory. Vänskä says the proximity of those pieces works nicely because of their musical merit despite the political history of the two nations. “I would like to keep my mind very much in music… I think that the art should always survive, and will survive.”

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