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History of the Turku Music Festival

The Turku Music Festival is Finland’s oldest continuously running music festival, having been founded by the Musical Society in Turku in 1960. It has evolved into a diverse urban event with a wide range of excellent music including grand orchestral concerts, chamber music, recitals, jazz, outdoor events and children’s concerts. The guest roster includes Finnish and foreign stars each year. The current artistic director is Klaus Mäkelä; his predecessors include Ville Matvejeff, Topi Lehtipuu, Olli Mustonen and Martti Rousi.

Eero Linjama wrote a history of the Festival for its 50th anniversary in 2009. The article below is an updated version extending to the year 2019.


Finnish culture experienced a new boom beginning in the 1950s. At that time, the foundation was laid for a number of institutions that continue to be major players in Finnish music today. The first arts festivals emerged in the 1950s, and the first Turku Music Festival was held in 1960. It was preceded by the Sibelius Festival, the precursor of today’s Helsinki Festival (launched in 1951), and the Jyväskylä Festival (launched in 1956). These pioneering festivals were inspired by the founders’ experiences at international festivals.

While the Turku Music Festival is thus not the oldest continuously running arts festival in Finland, it does have a claim to being the oldest music festival. Both the Helsinki Festival and the Jyväskylä Festival have morphed into generic culture festivals, a significant percentage of their content now involving other branches of the arts. The Turku Music Festival, by contrast, has remained staunchly dedicated to music through the decades.

In the late 1950s, active members of the Musical Society in Turku developed the idea of organising a music festival in their city. The idea gained traction in 1959 when the Society began to plan its 170th anniversary festivities. The most enthusiastic and tenacious proponents of the music festival were Päivö Aarilahti, John Osas, Olavi Sarmio and Gottfrid Gräsbeck, and at an extraordinary meeting in March 1960, the Society decided to launch the Turku Music Festival in the summer of that same year.

The founders had a clear view of what they were aiming for and what would be needed to make it happen. Their intent was to enhance the musical life of the city, to achieve a high level of artistic quality and to pursue these aims boldly. Financial realities were seriously considered, and both the public authorities and private businesses were approached with appeals for funding. Some of the parties concerned were so committed as to put in a personal stake: in order to guarantee that the Festival would get off the ground, some of the organisers took out private bank loans to shore up the budget. In the end, however, the Festival came off very well, and these private guarantees were never touched.



The very first Festival boldly set the artistic bar high. This pointed the way for the coming years, and it was clear from the start that the Festival was a long-term proposition. Every year since the beginning, the Turku Music Festival has featured the best talent that Finland has to offer plus international top names. The headline performer at the first Festival was violinist Igor Oistrakh, who appeared both with the Turku Philharmonic and in a chamber recital with pianist Timo Mikkilä. Besides Mikkilä, the Festival featured other distinguished Finnish performers such as pianist Pentti Koskimies, baritone Tom Krause, contralto Raili Kostia and conductor Paavo Berglund with the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra. Berglund later became one of the Festival’s most frequent guests. The first Festival comprised eleven concerts given at the Concert Hall, the Cathedral, the Old Academy Building, the Turku Art Museum and the foyer of the University of Turku.

The main event in the following year, without question, was the guest appearance by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. Dazzling the audience at the Concert Hall, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony under their legendary conductor Evgeni Mravinsky. Three other orchestras appeared at the Festival: the Sibelius Academy Chamber Orchestra under Jorma Panula, the Turku Philharmonic under Ole Edgren and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Berglund. Pentti Koskimies also returned to the Festival, now delighting the audience as accompanist to singer Lenora Lafayette.

In the year after that, 1962, there were only five concerts in addition to the opening ceremony at Turku Castle. The programme mainly focused on the Three Bs: the Deutsche Bach Solisten appeared at two concerts, the Turku Philharmonic and the Musikaliska sällskapet choir from Stockholm performed Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem at the Cathedral, and the Festival concluded with a Beethoven concert given by the Finnish RSO under Paavo Berglund. Baritone Matti Lehtinen, one of the greats among Finnish singers, was at the beginning of his career back then; he appeared as soloist both in the Brahms and in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.



New horizons were explored at the Festival in 1963 with a guest performance of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte by the Gothenburg Opera at the Turku City Theatre. The orchestral accompaniment was provided by the Turku Philharmonic, which also gave the concluding concert of the Festival under Sixten Ehrling, with Viktor Merjhanov as soloist. Jorma Panula returned with the Sibelius Academy Orchestra and premiered Paavo Heininen’s Concerto for Strings at the Old Academy Building.

Panula returned to the Festival again in 1964, this time conducting the Turku Philharmonic in two concerts as the orchestra’s freshly appointed Chief Conductor. The most celebrated guest that year, however, was Eric Ericson with the Stockholm Chamber Choir. The Turku Music Institute, established a few years earlier, also had a strong presence at the Festival, with the Institute’s chamber orchestra under Tuomas Haapanen and choir under Gottfrid Gräsbeck both performing at the opening ceremony.

The Music Institute made a considerable contribution to the 1965 Festival too: its orchestra performed at the opening ceremony, and its choir appeared with the Turku Philharmonic under Tauno Hannikainen at Mynämäki Church – the first concert organised by the Festival outside Turku. Many of the performers at the Festival’s chamber music recitals were also teachers at the Music Institute: Marketta Valve, Tuomas Haapanen, Lennart Helling, Erkki Rautio and Liisa Pohjola. Of these, Tuomas Haapanen and Marketta Valve became fixtures at several subsequent Festivals. The guest orchestra in 1965 was the Stockholm Philharmonic under Sixten Ehrling, performing the Verdi Requiem with a previous acquaintance of the Festival, the Musikaliska sällskapet choir from Stockholm.



The Musical Society in Turku discovered an effective operating concept in the very first years of the Festival. The event was held in early summer (early June or May) in order to avoid clashing with the Sibelius Weeks. The programme included orchestra concerts by the Turku Philharmonic and visiting orchestras, and under guest conductors, with stellar soloists; chamber music recitals at the Old Academy Building and Turku Castle; a few international top names; a substantial contribution by Turku musicians; and an occasional Nordic guest opera performance.

Administration of the Festival was in the hands of the Music Festival working committee appointed by the Musical Society in Turku. From 1960 to 1966, its members were Gottfrid Gräsbeck, Päivö Saarilahti, Kurt Helander, Olavi Sarmio, Erkki Sysimetsä, Jussi Törnwall and Arne Malmio. Financially, the Festival relied on ticket sales, augmented by subsidies from the City of Turku and local businesses.

Towards the end of the 1960s, the Festival continued with this tried and tested concept. The orchestras appearing were the Turku Philharmonic, the Finnish RSO, the Stockholm Philharmonic chamber orchestra and the Swedish RSO. Paavo Berglund continued his eagerly expected visits to the Festival, and conductor Sergiu Celibidache conducted the Swedish RSO at the Festival in 1968. The story goes that Celibidache’s enthusiasm led him to perform so many encores that the organisers had to request the ferry to Sweden to delay its departure so that the orchestra would not miss their ride home. The most illustrious foreign performers in this period were Igor Oistrakh, performing Brahms’s Violin Concerto in 1967, and pianist Christoph Eschenbach in 1968.

Opera was performed almost every year in this period: Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was performed at the Turku Swedish Theatre by the Drottningholm Opera in 1966 and by Den Jydske Opera from Aarhus in 1968. In 1969, the Finnish National Opera came to town with the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus by K.A. Hartmann, performed at the Turku City Theatre. The conductor was Ulf Söderblom, the title role was performed by Tamara Lund, and the role of the Captain was performed by a young bass singer making his début at the Turku Music Festival, Matti Salminen.



A transition began in the operations of the Turku Music Festival in the early 1970s. The financial position of the Festival declined in the late 1960s, and the City of Turku acquired a more prominent role in its administration. The Music Festival Executive Committee of the Musical Society in Turku was augmented with representatives of the City Board in 1970, and at the 1972 Festival the Society withdrew from the Festival administration altogether. Responsibility for the Festival was assumed by the Music Festival Committee of the City of Turku, renamed the Music Board in 1973. This change brought a plurality of views to the planning of the Festival, and as a result the profile of the Festival changed fundamentally in the 1970s.

The Festival was shifted to August, and it has remained there ever since. The greatest change, however, was the launching of a satellite event, the Ruisrock festival. The Festival proper also underwent changes: in addition to concerts focusing on Western classical music, the programme now came to include jazz, folk music, children’s concerts, outdoor concerts and free concerts. Naturally, the number of individual events on the programme increased. The end result was that the Festival expanded its audience base without abandoning the well-established traditions of its first decade.

The 1970 and 1971 programmes included the Turku Philharmonic with four concerts and visitors: the New York Chamber Soloists, the Prague Chamber Orchestra and the Rheinisches Kammerorchester. In 1970, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was performed at the Cathedral with the elite of Finnish vocal art as soloists: Irma Urrila, Raili Kostia, Matti Piipponen and Matti Salminen. In that year, Irja Jäykkä (later Irja Auroora) gave a Lied recital with Erik T. Tawaststjerna, and the culmination of these years’ display of vocal brilliance was the Lied recital given by soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Robert Levin in 1971.

The changing of the guard in 1972 was smooth, and the key persons – Kalevi Kuosa and Olavi Sarmio – retained their roles in the administration. However, launching a new organisation is always a challenge, and accordingly the 1972 Festival was the smallest ever, measured by the number of concerts. What was important was that the by then well-established annual event continued and that the concerts were of consistently high quality although there were fewer of them than before (or since). The principal international guests were the London Mozart Players, and the Turku Quintet gave a chamber music recital at the Old Academy Building (Yoshiko Arai-Kimanen, Seppo Kimanen, Veikko Kosonen, Teppo Hauta-aho and Marketta Valve).



The 1973 Festival saw the first opera production created in Turku. Mozart’s Don Giovanni was directed by Ralf Långbacka; the Turku Philharmonic and the chorus of the Turku Opera Society were conducted by Juhani Numminen. The venue was the courtyard of Turku Castle, a new venture. In the 1990s, this became the venue of choice for music theatre performances at the Festival.

The Festival had already established the practice of organising concerts in municipalities in the Turku region. One of the most touching venues thus discovered was Seili Church [on an island in the Turku archipelago that used to be an isolation colony, first for lepers and then for the mentally ill], where Tuomas Haapanen conducted Taru Valjakka, Raili Kostia and an instrument ensemble in a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.

The three performances of Don Giovanni in 1973 were not enough for audiences. The production was repeated with almost exactly the same forces in the following year. Paavo Berglund also returned in 1974 after a hiatus of a few years, now conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic. The undisputed high point of the festival was the piano recital given by Emil Gilels at the Concert Hall.

The 1975 Festival saw the visit of another piano titan, Claudio Arrau. Eric Ericson returned to Turku, now with the Swedish Radio Chamber Choir, and the Swedish RSO also travelled over from Stockholm under Eliahu Inbal. One of Finland’s most prominent Lied duos of all time, Jorma Hynninen and Ralf Gothóni, gave a recital at the Old Academy Building. Hynninen returned to some subsequent festivals, while Gothóni has delighted audiences at eight Festivals to date.

A third master pianist was welcomed in 1976, Grigori Sokolov. Leading names in Finnish drama took to the stage in A Soldier’s Tale by Igor Stravinsky. The production was directed by Ralf Långbacka, and the actors were Heikki Kinnunen, Juha Muje and Ulf Törnroth. The choreography was created by Marjo Kuusela and executed by Tommi Kitti and Marita Strömberg of the Raatikko Dance Theatre. The musicians were from the Turku Philharmonic.



In the 1970s, Kalevi Kuosa, Chief Executive of the Turku Philharmonic, was the principal architect of the Festival. Some time before the 1976 Festival, he took up the post of General Manager of the Finnish RSO in Helsinki, and this was followed in Turku by a period of changing managers lasting up to 1981. Kari Jalonen was Chief Executive from 1976 to 1978 and organised the Festival, but the arrangements for the 1979 Festival were handled by Päivö Saarilahti, chairman of the Music Board, and Matti Kumpulainen, the temporary Assistant Chief Executive. Kumpulainen also took care of the 1980 Festival, as Chief Executives came and went. The situation finally stabilised in June 1981 when Alarik Repo took up the post of Chief Executive of the Turku Philharmonic and also assumed responsibility for the Festival.

With all this going on behind the scenes, the Turku Music Festival soldiered on. The long-term planning required to secure the bookings of foreign performers may have been lacking, but top-quality Finnish names made up for the shortage. In 1977, Leif Segerstam made his début at the Festival, conducting Handel’s Messiah – with Jaakko Ryhänen as the bass soloist. The Turku Philharmonic also performed at the concluding concert under Pertti Pekkanen; the soloist was Russian pianist Rodion Shchedrin, who would later attain world fame as a composer.

The Schubertiads in 1978 offered a showcase of Finnish excellence in the art of Lied. Ralf Gothóni hosted two recitals with singers including Merja Wirkkala, Heljä Angervo and Walton Grönroos.

In 1979, when the city of Turku celebrated its 750th anniversary, the Festival lineup included – almost casually – a number of future great names. Esclamazione by the upcoming composer Esa-Pekka Salonen was premiered, and cellist Martti Rousi, who would become the Festival’s Artistic Director in due course, made his first appearance at the Festival with a cello octet.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen paid his first visit to Turku playing harpsichord with Den Danske Violonbande in 1980. This year also saw the first visit of one of the world’s absolutely finest early music ensembles, Musica Antiqua Köln. Håkan Hagegård, an early visitor to the Festival in 1971, returned as a Lied performer of international repute to give a recital in 1980.



The instability that plagued the late 1970s came to an end with the arrival of Alarik Repo. He was the Executive Director of the Festival until 1989 and returned to the Festival in 1994. He finally moved on to his own artist management agency in 2007. Repo made determined, long-term efforts to improve the Festival’s organisation and artistic profile.

The 1981 Festival had a strong Dutch and Estonian contingent. The Estonia Chamber Opera under Eri Klas performed miniature operas by Pergolesi, Cimarosa and Menotti at the Turku Swedish Theatre. The most celebrated of the Dutch performers was early music guru Ton Koopman.

The 1982 Festival featured the return of Emil Gilels and a duo recital by Gidon Kremer and Kim Kashkashian. Paavo Berglund also returned, this time conducting the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

The first film screenings at the Festival were held in 1983. Opera films and other music-themed films were included in the Festival programme until the late 1980s, and they made a comeback in 1997–2000. In 1983, opera was seen not only on the screen but also at the Turku Swedish Theatre with performances of Il Matrimonio Segreto by the Warsaw Chamber Opera. The Lindsay Quartet brought a programme of exquisite string quartet music to the Old Academy Building, and Martti Rousi made his first solo appearance at the Festival in a recital with pianist Juhani Lagerspetz.

Piano legend Bella Davidovich appeared with her son Dmitri Sitkovetsky in 1983 and returned to give a solo recital at the Festival in 1984. She also returned subsequently, in 2004 and 2007. Tom Krause, one of the performers at the very first Festival, appeared with the Turku Philharmonic at the opening ceremony in 1984; in the same year, violinist Ann-Sophie Mutter dazzled the audience at the concluding concert.



The late 1980s were a period of stability with a well-established organisation. The number of events increased, and quality improved steadily; the performers had current relevance, and continuity between Festivals was upheld. Early music had been on the programme ever since the first years, but in the 1980s it became one of the cornerstones of the Festival. Jordi Savall visited twice, in 1985 and 1987, as a soloist and conducting his ensemble Hesperion XX. The early music roster in the late 1980s was impressive through and through, including the Tallis Scholars, Sequentia and Monica Huggett in 1986; the Hilliard Ensemble, Hortus Musicus and Ton Koopman in 1987; Christopher Hogwood and Harry Christophers in 1988; and the Taverner Consort and the King’s Consort in 1989.

Esa-Pekka Salonen made his conducting début at the Turku Music Festival at two concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra from London in 1986. Alexis Weissenberg gave a piano recital in 1985, and in the same year a young guitar virtuoso named Timo Korhonen was introduced to audiences. Jukka Tiensuu acclaimed the arrival of Derek Bailey in the programme book: “Having Derek Bailey come to Finland is as much of an occasion as if Gustav Leonhardt were to come here to play the harpsichord.” As it happens, Leonhardt did later perform at the Festival, in 1991, 1994 and 2007. Olli Mustonen, another future Artistic Director of the Festival, performed with cellist Heinrich Schiff in 1989.

The establishing of the Turku Music Festival Foundation took up practically the entire decade. The project was officially launched in autumn 1983 when the City Board decided to start negotiations for establishing the Foundation, but the first initiative dated back to a proposal by the Music Board to the City Board submitted in 1981. The negotiations were complicated; after several reports, studies, meetings, proposals and – finally – a decision, the Turku Music Festival Foundation was established in 1989. The 1990 Festival was the first to be organised by the Foundation.

Peter Schreier was booked to give a recital in 1987, but he fell ill and was replaced by Edith Mathis, accompanied by Ralf Gothóni. The Foundation appointed Kari Vase as Executive Director of the Festival and Olli Mustonen as Artistic Director.



President of the Republic Mauno Koivisto agreed to become a patron of the Turku Music Festival for the first Festival organised by the Foundation, and this patronage was continued by subsequent office holders Martti Ahtisaari and Tarja Halonen.

Olli Mustonen pursued an artistic profile of uncompromising high quality from the very first. The organisation of the Foundation, independent of local government, gave Mustonen the scope he needed to execute his artistic visions. Mustonen immersed himself wholly in the planning and execution of the Festival’s concerts.

The 1990 Festival set the benchmark incredibly high, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra from London under Esa-Pekka Salonen, cellist Steven Isserlis performing chamber music and in concert with the Helsinki Philharmonic, soprano Barbara Hendricks accompanied by Staffan Scheja, Philippe Herreweghe conducting La Chapelle Royale, and composer guest John Tavener.

But the lineup for 1991 topped even this with a veritable galaxy of star performers: Gustav Leonhardt, Roger Norrington, Ton Koopman, Melvyn Tan, Murray Perahia, Grigori Sokolov, Steven Isserlis, Timo Korhonen, Gidon Kremer, Oleg Maisenberg, Thomas Zehetmair and Joshua Bell!

Mustonen’s final Festival in 1992 was no exception. Camerata Academica Salzburg gave two concerts under their legendary conductor Sandor Végh, who also gave a masterclass at the Festival. Top visiting international names included pianist András Schiff and cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff. Mustonen also planned a series entitled ‘Young pianists’, featuring Valeria Resjan, Henri Sigfridsson and Gergely Bogányi.



After three years, in 1993 Mustonen was succeeded as Artistic Director by Martti Rousi, who continued in this post until 2009. In the 20+ years since its establishment, the Foundation – for all that it has had to justify its existence sometimes in quite heated debate – has provided a solid production infrastructure for the Festival. In 1994, Kari Vase was succeeded as Executive Director by Alarik Repo, who returned to lead the Festival after being away for a few years.

Rousi brought new influences to the Festival. Links between music and other branches of the arts were highlighted in music theatre performances, now given every year, mainly in the inspiring surroundings of Turku Castle. The 1994 Festival saw the introduction of ‘music hall’ style entertainments at the VPK (Volunteer Fire Brigade) hall. Masterclasses were instituted in 1993, and performances by their students brought a new dimension to the Festival concert calendar.

Music theatre performances at Turku Castle were launched in 1993 with Yön harlekiinit [Harlequins of the night], whose creative team included Erik Söderblom, Tiina Lindfors, Dance Theatre ERI, the Sixth Floor Orchestra and Anu Komsi. The production was so successful that it was repeated in 1994. Charpentier’s Les Arts Florissants, performed at Turku Castle in 1995 and 1996, proved similarly popular. The newly completed Sigyn Hall was the venue for the premiere of Mikko Heiniö’s piano-concerto-cum-dance-work Hermes by Dance Theatre ERI, the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Juhani Lagerspetz and Camilla Nylund in 1995.

Rousi not only introduced reforms but also nurtured the tradition accumulated over the 30 years of the Festival. Audiences continued to be wowed by top international names and by the finest of Finland’s performing artists. The cavalcade of legendary pianists continued with Svyatoslav Richter in 1993 and Yefim Bronfman in 1994. Brilliant orchestral experiences were offered by Yehudi Menuhin with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra in 1993, Paavo Berglund with the European Chamber Orchestra in 1993, Gustav Leonhardt with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in 1994 and Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Swedish RSO and Radio Choir in 1995. Soprano Karita Mattila was the brilliant soloist at the opening concert of the 1994 Festival.



Music theatre performances at Turku Castle continued, and it became established practice to repeat one summer’s production in the following year. After the repeat performances of Les Arts Florissants, director Erik Söderblom and conductor Sakari Oramo created a production of Gli sposi delusi, a composite opera based on Mozart’s music, in 1997 and 1998; and in 1999 and 2000, the production was Turun linnan rakastavaiset [The lovers of Turku Castle], an ambulatory performance in various rooms in the Castle, directed by Michael Baran and with music by Juhani Nuorvala. Jordi Savall returned to the Festival in 1997. In 1999, top pianists Grigori Sokolov and Vladimir Ashkenazy visited, the former giving a recital and the latter conducting and playing as soloist with the Helsinki Philharmonic.

The top foreign orchestras came from the east in this period. In 1996, Mikhail Plentev conducted the newly founded Russian National Orchestra with cellist Natalia Gutman as soloist, and a milestone was reached in 1998 as the St Petersburg Philharmonic returned to the Festival, having been renamed along with its home city, formerly Leningrad. The conductor was now Yuri Temirkanov, but the orchestra had lost nothing of its excellence and brilliance.

Finnish orchestras have been visiting the Festival since the early years, and in the 1990s the frequency of these visits increased considerably. Since 1994, the Festival has always featured other Finnish orchestras besides Turku’s own. The Finnish RSO and the Helsinki Philharmonic have been the most frequent visitors, and several visits have been logged by the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia Lahti, the Tampere Filharmonia and the Orchestra of the Finnish National Opera. The Oulu and Jyväskylä orchestras have also appeared at the Festival. These orchestras have been conducted at the Festival by a variety of greats, such as Paavo Berglund, Sakari Oramo, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Leif Segerstam, Juha Kangas and Osmo Vänskä.

In 1998, two works commissioned by the Festival were premiered: ReLay by Mikko Heiniö and Five Lightings by Paavo Heininen. Over the course of its history, the Festival has also premiered works by Jukka Tiensuu, Jouni Kaipainen, Olli Mustonen and others.



In 1968, the Turku Music Festival became a founding member of the Finland Festivals umbrella organisation with the Helsinki Festival, the Jyväskylä Festival, Pori Jazz and the Savonlinna Opera Festival. In 2002, Finland Festivals named the Turku Music Festival the Festival of the Year.

In the early 2000s, the stylistic range of the Festival’s concerts expanded with two series named after their planners. The Jaakko Salovaara and Severi Pyysalo series brought performers as varied as Apocalyptica, Rinneradio, Kimmo Pohjonen and Jukka Perko to the Festival. New venues were also explored, including Säätämö and the old Turku Energy turbine hall.

Dance has been a prominent part of the Festival, mainly due to productions created by Dance Theatre ERI and Aurinkobaletti, both based in Turku. In 2003, the Festival welcomed a work by Jorma Uotinen and performances by the world-famous Tero Saarinen Company.

Through the decades, chamber music has formed the core of the Festival. During Rousi’s tenure, top chamber music performers became familiar and awaited guests. In addition to Rousi himself, there were a number of musicians who returned multiple times to give chamber music recitals: Peter Nágy, Philippe Graffin, Bruno Giuranna, Leonidas Kavakos, Pavel Vernikov, Cecilia Zilliacus, Ralf Gothóni, Henri Sigfridsson and Juhani Lagerspetz.



In 2007, final confirmation was received from Brussels that Turku would be a European Capital of Culture in 2011. During the application process, the promoters in Turku went to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate that the city had expertise and potential. One of the most adventurous productions was Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, produced by the Turku Philharmonic, performed on actual ships outside Forum Marinum at the 2005 Festival. This outdoor venue had been found to be excellent for concerts at the 100th anniversary concert of the ‘Suomen Joutsen’ sailing ship in 2002 and at the performance of Verdi’s Requiem produced by the Turku Philharmonic for the 2004 Festival. Matti Salminen, one of Finland’s very finest bass singers, appeared at both concerts and also in the role of Daland in Der fliegende Holländer.

Turku audiences were given a taste of the world’s orchestra elite as the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre under Valeri Gergiev visited in 2004, appearing in the courtyard of the newly completed Arken and, with choir and soloists, at the Concert Hall. One of the concerts of the Baltic Sea Festival, a brainchild of Esa-Pekka Salonen, opened the 2005 Festival with a performance by the Swedish RSO and Choir. Other star performers in this period included Bella Davidovich in 2004 and 2007, Musica Antiqua Köln in 2005 and Gustav Leonhardt in 2007.

The setting up of the Foundation gave the Turku Music Festival more leeway to organise events beyond the Festival proper in August. The Gambaa! [Viol!] concert series planned by Markku Luolajan-Mikkola was held in Turku in 2003–2004. The Turku Music Festival brought the musical bodies in the city – the Turku Philharmonic, the Conservatory, the Music Academy, the Turku Ensemble and the Departments of Musicology at the universities – together to organise a festival of contemporary music titled Aboa Musica. The composer guests of Aboa Musica were Aulis Sallinen and Kaija Saariaho in 2001, Onutė Narbutaitė and Einojuhani Rautavaara in 2003, Jouni Kaipainen and Sofia Gubaidulina in 2004, and Unsuk Chin and Kalevi Aho in 2006.

Alarik Repo was succeeded as Executive Director of the Festival by Eija Kurki for just over a year and she in turn by Emilie Gardberg from August 2008. The Festival was again undergoing a transition, facing a financially challenging situation, relocating from offices on Uudenmaankatu to the Concert Hall, and having to cut staff significantly. The 2008 Festival was the smallest in the 2000s, but the Festival once again proved its vitality. There were magical moments in the Bach series at matinees at the Cathedral, as prominent young Finnish cellists performed all of Bach’s Suites for solo cello. The Qwensell House was tried out as a new concert venue.


As the Turku Music Festival progresses into its second half century, future prospects seem exciting and inspiring. The unique visibility, volume and enthusiasm brought by the Capital of Culture year inexorably translated into a new beginning for the Festival. Emilie Gardberg became Chief Executive of the Turku Philharmonic in August 2012, and Liisa Ketomäki M.Pol.Sc., M.A. was chosen as the new Executive Director of the Festival as of May 2012. The Festival has sought closer cooperation with other cultural institutions in Turku and is involved in international networking; both of these efforts also serve to enhance the operations of the Festival’s own organisation.

Topi Lehtipuu was Artistic Director of the Festival from 2010 to 2015. When he went on to become Artistic Director of the Helsinki Festival, he was succeeded by conductor, composer and pianist Ville Matvejeff. After the 2018 Festival, Matvejeff took up the post of Artistic Director at the Savonlinna Opera Festival.

The 60th anniversary of the Turku Music Festival in 2019 will be presided over as Artistic Director by conductor and cellist Klaus Mäkelä, who is enjoying a rising international career. In the 2017–2018 season, he made débuts in Europe, the Nordic Countries, the USA, Canada and Japan. From the 2018–2019 season, he is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish RSO and Artist in Association with the Tapiola Sinfonietta. Klaus Mäkelä will oversee the Festival becoming an increasingly better and more interesting urban festival. Support from the City of Turku, local businesses and the Ministry of Education and Culture will continue to be important for the Festival, but the most important thing is the strong and continuing support of the Festival’s audiences.