Olli Kortekangas (b. 1955) is one of the most popular Finnish composers of today. At Nordic Music Days in Bodø, he is presented with the piece The Return (The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union), performed by Vocal Art.
Olli Kortekangas’ music has been featured in concerts and at festivals around the world, and he is currently working on several domestic and international commissions. He has received numerous scholarships and awards in Finland and abroad, including the Special Prize of the Prix Italia Competition and the City of Salzburg Opera Prize, the prestigious Teosto Prize and the Espoo Medal in 2008. He has been granted a 5-year-scholarship of the Arts Council of Finland four times.
The composers’ oeuvre consists of about 140 works from solo pieces and chamber music to orchestral works and operas. Since his early days as a choral singer, Kortekangas has been attracted to the human voice. He has written ten operas including Messenius and Lucia (2004), Daddy’s Girl (2006, commissioned jointly by the Savonlinna Opera Festival and the Finnish Parliament), One Night Stand (2011), and Own Fault (2015). The children’s opera Janne’s Secret, commissioned by the Finnish National Opera, has been touring schools all over Finland after its premiere in 2015.
Kortekangas’ collaboration with some of the best Finnish choirs, particularly the Tapiola Choir and Candomino, has resulted in many popular a cappella choral works which have become repertoire of professional choirs all over the world. A special mention should be made of the Mass for the Jubilee Year (1999), commissioned by the parishes of Espoo, and covering the complete music for a Lutheran divine service. Olli Kortekangas has also written several works for chorus and orchestra such as Seven Songs for Planet Earth, premiered and commissioned by the Choral Arts Society of Washington on May 2011. The US West Coast premiere took place in San Francisco later that year and the European premiere in Tampere in September 2013. His most recent commission from the US, Migrations, was premiered in February 2016 by mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi, the YL Choir, and the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vänskä.
Throughout his career, Kortekangas has been interested in collaboration with other arts and artists. Among his most important partners are the painters Raija Malka and Kuutti Lavonen, the choreographer Päivi Järvinen, and the playwright-directors Michael Baran and Tuomas Parkkinen.
The festival theme is «truth?». Can music be true?
Is this something you are struggling with in your compositions?
Can music be true? In one sense, every work of art that exists is true, isn’t it? If we define music as a means to find the truth about anything – let’s say life, love or the possibilities of a certain harmonic language – it might make more sense to speak about the degrees of skill, honesty, genuineness, etc. instead.
Personally, trying to and sometimes succeeding in writing music that functions in a satisfactory way is pretty much it. Doing one’s best (however clicheish that might be), and hoping to communicate with the listener – can there be anything truer than that?
Do you have any thoughts on music’s role in our identity? Do you
think of your self as a Nordic man?
Well, music certainly is part of my identity! Speaking on a more general level, I sometimes think that music, or the arts and culture in general, either play a major role in people’s lives or have none. But then they do have a hidden significance, I believe, and still shape our identities. In spite of the superficiality (read: market-orientedness) of our society.
Is music, often wordless, freer than other art forms? Any thoughts
If it is, I don’t think it’s because of wordlessness. In my music I often use words. I am inspired and liberated by them.
(The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union)
The Return (The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union), was commissioned by the Tapiola Chamber Choir and premiered at the choir’s 30th-anniversary concert in 2015. Again, as in two earlier works of mine (The Way to the Woods and Seven Songs for Planet Earth), I chose to set a text by poet, farmer and activist Wendell Berry (b. 1934).
For reference and inspiration to the listener I’d like to share a quotation from Wendell Berry: ”The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth – that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community – and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays)
For the rest, I let the poem and the music speak for themselves.
From the union of power and money,
From the union of power and secrecy,
From the union of government and science,
From the union of government and art,
From the union of science and money,
From the union of genius and war,
From the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
The Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
His own nation small enough to walk across.
He goes shadowy into the local woods,
And brightly into the local meadows and croplands.
He goes to the care of neighbors,
He goes into the care of neighbors.
He goes to the potluck supper, a dish
From each house for the hunger of every house.
He goes into the quiet of early mornings
Of days when he is not going anywhere.
Calling his neighbors together into the sanctity
Of their lives separate and together,
In the one life of the commonwealth and home,
In their own nation small enough for a story
Or song to travel across in an hour, he cries:
Come all ye conservatives and liberals
Who want to conserve the good things and be free,
Come away from the merchants of big answers,
Whose hands are metalled with power;
From the union of anywhere and everywhere;
By the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
And the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
From the union of work and debt, work and despair;
From the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
Secede into the care for one another
And for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.
Come into the life of the body, the one body
Granted to you in all the history of time.
Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,
And its replenishment at mealtimes and at night.
Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows
And acknowledges itself a living soul.
Come into the dance of the community, joined
In a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal
Love of women and men for one another
And of neighbors and friends for one another.
Always disappearing, always returning,
Calling his neighbors to return, to think again
Of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens
And fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,
Calling them separately and together, calling and calling,
He goes forever toward the long restful evening
And the croak of the night heron over the river at dark.