The hall that built a sauna for musicians (updated)

The hall that built a sauna for musicians (updated)


norman lebrecht

August 31, 2011

Ahead of tonight’s opening, I had a private backstage tour of Helsinki’s promising Music Centre, perhaps the most auspicious concert hall since Walt Disney in LA – and with the same acoustician. But more of that when I have heard it in action.

Yesterday, I got to see where the two resident orchestras get to hang their bows and bells. Being Finland, the musicians were asked what facilities they wanted backstage. The Helsinki Philharmonic put in for coffee machines and spartan, designer armchairs. The Finnish Radio Orchestra asked for saunas.

And got them. Separate ones, men and women, already in use after sound-test rehearsal by evidence of yesterday’s puddles on the floor.

These are strictly orchestra-only saunas. I guess they might allow an occasional soloist to squeeze onto a crowded bench if he or she asks really nicely. But no conductors. That’s the rule. Unless some musician gets an overwhelming urge post-concert to beat a maestro with birch twigs.

UPDATE: Paul Curran, outgoing artistic director of Norwegian Opera and Ballet, has messaged me to say his new house has backstage saunas, too. I guess they let singers in, disturbing the perfect peace.

LATEST: The conductor Jesper Nordin tweets that the radio hall in Copenhagen installed a sauna (below) for the use of Leif Segerstam when he became conductor. Helsinki, more democratic, has listened to its musicians.


  • Leif Segerstam had a sauna installed in the conductors dressingroom, many years ago when he was chief conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and it’s still there!
    I took a picture of it just last monday when I was conducting a concert in the hall, and promised myself to use it the next time I came.
    P.S. The Radio Symphony Orchestra has recently moved to the new hall in the outskirts of Copenhagen, and the old hall – which is amazing – is now a part of the Royal Danish Academy of Music-

    • Segerstam caused quite a stir in Denmark after he got the sauna he wanted. I remember seeing a newspaper clip of him posing in his dressing room sauna with some other people… I also remember him saying that he put quite a lot of his own money in building it, contrary to the claims of frivolous use of taxpayer money.

  • Tero-Pekka Henell says:

    Norman, the fabulous Kuopio Music Center (Finland), from the 80’s, has a very good sauna for the orchestra musicians – I have been invited there once (I am not a conductor…).

  • bill eddins says:

    i have GOT to get me a gig in Finland.

  • Doug says:

    Where do they run out into the snow afterward?

    Oh wait, I take that back. Never mind.

  • Kaisa Hiilivirta says:

    And the Finnish National Opera has saunas too!

  • Mikko says:

    “Where do they run out into the snow afterward?”

    Why of course in the nice open park in front of the Parliament House.