The Musiikkitalo concert hall organ project is now underway in Helsinki, Finland. In accordance with the results of international competitive bidding and the contract signed in June 2018, the organ will be built by Austrian organ builders Rieger Orgelbau. The instrument will have 123 registers, which will make it the world’s largest concert hall organ. The largest organ in Finland so far – the Lapua Cathedral organ – has 85 registers.
The Musiikkitalo organ will be a versatile instrument suitable for myriad genres. It will be an instrument of the future not confined to a specific genre, style, or period. Professor Olli Porthan, who is in charge of the planning stage, says the project is unique even on an international scale:
“The spirits have been extremely high throughout the whole organisation, and I have been really impressed by the planning team’s inspired and focused once-in-a-lifetime approach to the project. The team has designed the organ to bring the sound close to the audience, also when it is at its softest, and to make the hall reverberate with a powerful and magnificent sound, when it is at its loudest.”
Contemporary composers will be intrigued by its registration aids and technical innovations, which include microtonal pipes, regulatable pneumatics, and numerous overtone stops. The instrument will have two consoles: one on the stage and another within the organ case. This way, the organist can sit next to the conductor and be seen by the audience. According to Professor Porthan “The organ will mainly play as part of the orchestra in works that require it, and also as a solo instrument. The instrument’s versatile disposition will make it the instrument for an extensive range of solo literature from the entire history of organ music.”
With its organic, organlike casing, the instrument will be a distinguishing element of Musiikkitalo’s architecture. The instrument will be built into an organ case that enables unique dynamic dimensions; static will become dynamic when the moving elements of the casing open, and the audience will be able to see the various pipe levels with their light effects. The wind system in front of the casing will also be an important and inspiring visual element. Usually out of sight but now displayed, it will make the organ a living, adaptable instrument.
The Kaija Saariaho Organ Composition Contest Celebrates the New Musiikkitalo Concert Hall Organ
The launch of the new instrument will be celebrated with a series of organ concerts throughout 2023. The Kaija Saariaho Organ Composition Contest will supply the series’ repertoire. The open contest includes three series – orchestral concertos, chamber music works, and works for solo organ – in which approximately ten best entries in total will be selected for concert performances. The winning compositions will be performed in individual concerts during 2023 by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and many other Finnish orchestras and international organ virtuosos. Kaija Saariaho will lead the contest jury, which will include the following members: chief conductors Nicholas Collon and Susanna Mälkki; composers Francesco Filidei, Maija Hynninen, and Olli Kortekangas; and organists Jan Lehtola, Susanne Kujala, and Olli Porthan. The Alfred Kordelin Foundation will fund the contest, and the results will be announced in spring 2022. Doctor Jan Lehtola said, “This is a remarkable contest in many ways. It will inaugurate one of the world’s most outstanding instruments in the heart of Helsinki and lift it directly to the heart of the international art and music scene. Bringing together a multi-talented and resourceful group of Finnish musicians, the instrument will be of service to the whole country. Through the international contest, the instrument will be positioned in the centre of new music, and it will invite all contemporary composers from all over the world to make music.”
Since 2017, a team led by Professor Olli Porthan has planned and designed the new instrument; other members of the team include Professor Emeritus Kari Jussila; Doctors of Music Jan Lehtola and Ville Urponen; and organists Pétur Sakari and Pekka Suikkanen. Professor Olivier Latry has provided the team with international insight and support. The team prepared the competitive bidding of the organ-building project and drafted the instrument’s future use. On the recommendation of the Helsinki Music Centre Foundation, the independent Urut Soimaan ry association was established in late 2019 to organise the organ composition contest led by Jan Lehtola and a series of organ concerts.
Kaija Saariaho’s donation of 1 million euros funded the creation of the organ project. The Musiikkitalo residents – the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, the City of Helsinki, and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture – have since contributed 1.5 million euros, and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, Svenska litteratursällskapet in Finland, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Svenska Kulturfonden, and Pro Musica Foundation have contributed 1.7 million euros.
The new instrument will be completed in autumn 2022 and inaugurated on 1 January 2023.
For further information, please contact the following individuals:
- Kaisa Näreranta (Helsinki Music Centre Foundation) by phone at +358 50 584 4876 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Olli Porthan (organ project) by phone at +35850 526 2006 or by email at email@example.com
- Jan Lehtola (organ composition contest) by phone at +35850 378 0878 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org