Folklore, glass and a soft spot for tango

WHEN comparing two countries as different as Finland and Slovakia, people would have to look for parallels between culture, art, and more generally, the lifestyle. However, on closer inspection, these two countries do have more in common, in sometimes unexpected ways.

WHEN comparing two countries as different as Finland and Slovakia, people would have to look for parallels between culture, art, and more generally, the lifestyle. However, on closer inspection, these two countries do have more in common, in sometimes unexpected ways.

“Why is tango so popular? Hard to say,” Henna Knuuttila, Chargé d’Affaires of the Finnish Embassy to Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator when explaining the peculiar phenomenon of Finnish tango, which recently won over Slovak audiences with performances in Bratislava. “Some people say it is because in general Finns are not such ‘emotional’ people and they need ways to express their emotions. Some say that it is because of the melancholic character of tango. I learned recently that Slovakia also has its own, older tango culture. So it is not only ice hockey, but also tango that unites our countries!”

Describing in more detail the concert that the embassy co-organised with Slovak Radio and Television, Knuuttila said it was a big success and the 500-people capacity concert hall was full. The show combined tangos from Finnish composers Toivo Kärki and Unto Mononen, but also those from Astor Piazzola and Igor Bázlik, she said, adding that she hopes that this cooperation can continue in one form or another.

In Finland tango already has a 100-year-old tradition, and is especially popular among middle-aged and older generations. The biggest yearly tango festival is organised in Seinäjoki in July. Last year the festival had over 100,000 participants, which demonstrates the importance of tango on the Finnish musical landscape, Knuuttila said.

In 2012 Slovaks saw a rich presentation of Finnish culture, from folklore through glass design to Finnish architecture, with something on offer for practically everyone. The 20 Years of Finnish Architecture & Icons of Scandinavian Design exhibition at the Centre of Contemporary Architecture and Design, ARCHA, in Bratislava, offered an overview of exceptional examples of Finnish architecture from the years 1988-2008.

It included videos of 10 Finnish architects and the 3D installation Icons of Scandinavian Design, showing a selection of the most well-known designs.

In July 2012, items from the Finnish Glass Museum in the town of Riihimäki were exhibited, offering about 200 glass objects by 62 designers and artists.

In August that same year, the Finnish folklore ensemble Kärri, composed of 21 dancers and musicians, visited Slovakia for the first time in 50 years. Kärri travels around the world to present Finnish folklore – mainly from the region of Karelia, but also from other parts of the country. It visited the Slovak capital before travelling on to Doľany, Banská Štiavnica and Banská Bystrica. In 2013, Värttinä, a contemporary folk ensemble, also gave a concert here, according to Knuuttila.

Finnish contemporary classical music also resonates with Slovak audiences, and the Melos-Étos international festival hosted Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho in November 2013.

“Finland has been able to provide quality musicians who have become known worldwide, and we have had the chance to welcome some of them in Slovakia – in addition to composer Kaija Saariaho, for example, pianist Henri Sigfridsson performed here in Bratislava recently,” Knuuttila said, adding that the genre is popular in Finland, mainly the Savonlinna Opera festival, which attracts a big number of international tourists every year.

The embassy regularly promotes Finnish classical music within the limits of its resources, according to Knuuttila. Several Finnish opera singers have also studied here in Slovakia with famous professor Eva Blahová, she added.

A concert by famous rock band Rasmus in November and Finnish participation with a community theatre troupe at the Error Theatre festival of the homeless wrapped up the year 2013.

Apart from the already regular NordFest film festival, Finnish films are also screened at the international Art Film Fest in Trenčianske Teplice, the One World festival of engaged documentaries, International Film Festival Bratislava and elsewhere occasionally throughout the year.

“It’s true that Finnish films are hardly ever screened in commercial cinemas,” Knuuttila said of her homeland’s cinematography adding that there have been a few exceptions to this recently, mainly with regards to co-produced films.

In November 2013, the embassy cooperated with organisers of the Clownwise premiere, with Kati Outinen, a well-known Finnish actress, in one of the main roles. Also, Timo Vuorensola’s Iron Sky was screened in Bratislava in 2012 and seemed to be very popular among the Slovak public, according to Knuuttila.

Next year Finland will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius, its most famous classical music composer, and whose music will for sure have a presence in Slovakia, Knuuttila concluded.

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