On Saturday April 17th, Toronto’s “Estonia” choir was part of the 150 member Sibelius Festival Chorus singing Jean Sibelius' Finlandia together with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and Toronto Youth Symphony Orchestra as part of the Sibelius Festival at Roy Thomson Hall. The Festival consisted of a series of five concerts featuring all of Sibelius' symphonies as well as some additional works. All concerts were conducted by Danish Maestro Thomas Dausgaard, the Chief Conductor of the Danish National Symphony and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and frequent guest conductor with the TSO.
Finlandia, Sibelius' most famous composition, is inexorably linked to the patriotic feelings and emotions of the Finnish people as an artistic expression of their struggles for freedom at the close of the nineteenth century. This time the lyrics were sung by the choir in Finnish (from memory) – no small feat for the non-Finnish choir members. For most of the participants, this was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the presence of almost 150 orchestra members on stage and 150 singers in the choir loft, the sound was just unbelievable!
Members of the audience commented on what a memorable event this was. Especially so for the Estonian and Finnish audience members, as our “awakening periods” are so similar that one’s heart cannot help but beat faster with emotion on hearing the words of Finlandia and its soaring music. Dausgaard chose to direct Finlandia a bit faster than usual and it seemed to lend the piece even more emotion and urgency. Others commented that the varied dynamics were well executed although the orchestra did overpower the choir on a couple of occasions. Clearly the passionate strength of the music makes it difficult to rein in at times!
Overall, the entire choir exhibited wonderful control of stage presence throughout the piece with the male section of the choir looking especially magnificent. After completing their duties, the choir was able to stay and listen to the rest of the concert, enjoying the great depth and variety of Sibelius’ compositions.