By George Basler
When Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara passed away in 2016, Forbes magazine called him “a giant of beauty,” who wrote mesmerizingly beautiful music.”
While he’s less well-known in the United States, he’s considered the best-known Finnish composer after Jean Sibelius, said Evan Meccarello, music director of the Binghamton Community Orchestra.
Meccarello will conduct the orchestra in one of Rautavaara’s most popular works, Cantus Arcticus (“Arctic Song”), at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 11) at Maine-Endwell Middle School. The program, “Nordic Treasures,” will also feature works by Sibelius and Niels Gade, “who sounds like the Nordic Mendelssohn,” Meccarello said.
In addition, violinist Sua Choi, a junior at Vestal High School, will perform a movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto. She is the winner of the annual Concerto Competition sponsord by the Southern Tier Music Teachers’ Association.
Rautavaara’s work includes symphonies, nine operas and 12 concertos, as well as numerous vocal and chamber works. Cantus Arcticus, a three-movement concerto, premiered in 1972.
To compose the work, Rautavaara took a tape recorder near the Arctic Circle, and to the marshlands of Liminka in northern Finland, to record the sounds of birds. He then incorporated these bird songs into the concerto.
“These recordings act as the soloists of the extraordinarily beautiful composition,” with the orchestra weaving in and out of the bird calls, Meccarello said.
The first movement opens with a flute duet, after which the birds join in, followed by other woodwinds. The second movement features a slowed-down recording of the song of the shore lark. The final movement takes the form of a long crescendo for orchestra, with the sounds of whooper swans.
The result is a sweeping meditation on the beauty of nature, Meccarello said. He described the concerto as impressionistic, meaning it focuses on mood and atmosphere. It is not atonal in any way. “It’s a melodic piece with long, slow, beautiful melodies,” Meccarello said, comparing it to the soundtrack of a nature film.
Audiences want to have an adventure when they come to a concert, and Cantus Arcticus supplies that, Meccarello said. The concerto is “not out there,” he emphasized, but it is on the edge of the standard repertoire.
IF YOU GO: The Binghamton Community Orchestra will perform its program “Nordic Treasures” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at Maine-Endwell Middle School, Farm to Market Road, Endwell. A pre-concert chat will begin at 2:15 p.m. Tickets at $10 can be purchased at the door.