Just in: Six orchestras are under threat in Finland

Just in: Six orchestras are under threat in Finland


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2013

Finland has more symphony orchestras per population (17: 5million) than any other nation. It also has more saunas per orchestra than anywhere else.
Neither of these facts has been, until now, politically contentious. Both contribute to the most admired education system on earth.
But cuts are kicking in and a sword is hanging over six ensembles.
Orchestras currently under threat are: Kuopio Orchestra, Lohja Orchestra, Kemi Orchestra. In addition, Lappeenranta Orchestra, Lapland Chamber Orchestra (chief conductor John Storgårds) and Helsinki Baroque Orchestra are under pressure.
The political pressure comes from the fast-rising, isolationist True Finns party. The TFs now have members in many municipal councils and in the national parliament. The Finnish consensus is under threat.
Here are some recent links (in Finnish):
Kuopio Orchestra in severe problems; deputy mayor: “It’s not out of question to discuss shutting down the entire orchestra”)
* Helsinki Baroque Orchestra loses its regular subsidies from Rauma municipality”
* “Politicians in Lappeenranta have suggested shutting down the orchestra”
Rovaniemi municipality proposes to cut down touring and recording subsidies for Lapland Chamber Orchesta as well as reduce funds to hire extra musicians to fill up this 15 member orchestra
 “True Finns: No more municipality funding for Lohja Orchestra”
* “The municipality stops funding the local string quartet” (also a vital part of Kemi Orchestra)


  • malka Cohen says:

    norman did you try one of those many sauna’s….lol Your friend Marlene USA

  • Joel V. says:

    Mr Salonen said recently in an interview that our country is in a historical situation that there doesn’t exist a single political party that would publicly support higher form of arts – not in right, not in left.

    True, we used to have a strong social-democratic support for the arts .

  • Tero-Pekka Henell says:

    The Kuopio Music Centre has the best concert hall in Finland. And the musicians have the best orchestra sauna!

  • The True Finn Party is an anti-EU, anti-immigrant, nationalist, socially conservative, anti-neoliberal, racist, pro welfare state party. Every country in Scandinavia has a similar party. They are also similar to the Lega Nord in Italy, the National Front in France, and the Freedom Party in Austria. These parties are reactionary and racist, but do not have a Nazi orientation as strong as the NPD in Germany.

    The True Finns received 19% of the vote in 2011 – a meteoric rise from 4% in 2007. I’ve noticed that these types of parties in Europe can lose votes as fast as they gain them, and often do. This is mostly because the shock created by their sudden rise causes a backlash in the mainstream parties who become politically engaged to stop them.

    My guess is that the True Finn Party (which I believe has changed its name to the Finn Party) will not be able to undermine Finland’s support for the arts. They are the third largest party, and will likely lose votes in the next elections, though no one has a crystal ball. They believe that the arts should strengthen national identity. Seems like the orchestras in Finland better program more Sibelius…

    • Mikko says:

      For the record, I don’t think cuts in e.g. the Kuopio orchestra can be blamed on the Finns party. They have three seats of 59 on the municipal council. In both Rovaniemi and Lappeenranta, they have 9 out of 59 (that all three of these councils have 59 members is a coincidence, they’re different sizes in different municipalities). If the orchestras get cut, it’s with the consent of the traditional large parties (center, conservatives, social democrats).

      William O: “I’ve noticed that these types of parties in Europe can lose votes as fast as they gain them, and often do.”

      The immediate predecessor of the “Finns” party (they dropped the “True” from their English name) is SMP (Suomen Maaseudun Puolue, founded in 1959), which got a massive win in parliamentary elections in 1970. The party dwindled very quickly after that, eventually going bankrupt entirely in the 1990s and becoming reborn as the True Finns party (btw. that English name is a particularly inaccurate one; “Perussuomalaiset” in Finnish does not imply “true”). The charismatic leader of SMP, Veikko Vennamo, was the mentor and inspiration of Timo Soini, the current “Finns” party leader. Soini has no credible successor candidates within the party at this point, and he has very much kept the reins all to himself. He’s uniquely aware of what happened to SMP when its charismatic leader stepped down, of course, but a lot of people suspect that he still won’t be able to avoid that history repeating when he quits his current position.

      The win of the Finns party in 2011 was much bigger than that of SMP in 1970. SMP went from having one seat to having 18 in Finland’s 200-member parliament in 1970. SMP then lost 16 of its 18 seats in 1975, just five years after their big win, and never recovered. The Finns went from five to 39 seats in 2011, which was completely unprecedented, upsetting the status quo of the historical large parties in Finland for the first time in decades. The Finns party is unlikely to suffer the fate of SMP in the next elections in 2015. They won in 2011 by channelling the protest against the Eurozone bailouts. That crisis is still not over, and the prime minister (NCP, the conservatives) of Finland just today said that his government is willing to fund further bailout packages to Greece etc. This perfect fuel for the Finns’ campaign.

      That said, there were some early signs of decline in the local elections of October 2012, where the Finns party got 12.3 % of the votes. A year and a half earlier they’d got 19.05 % in the parliamentary elections. The numbers are not comparable because the elections are of different types, but Soini’s face on the election day last year looked very disappointed.

      • Thank you for this interesting analysis. The situation sounds very similar to the far-right Freedom Party in Austria whose platform is very similar. Their election results have been up and down, but they have survived in spite of the death of their charismatic leader, Jörg Haider. Even though they are an openly racist party, they won 21.4% of the vote in in the last elections, including 25% in Vienna. The mainstream conservatives received 28% and the Socialists 27%. Only a Grand coalition has kept the Freedom Party from joining the government.

        Haider gave speeches praising the economic policies of Hitler. He has described the SS as heros. He referred to the concentration camps as punishment camps. I’ve now read reports that the conservatives are considering a coalition with the Freedom Party. It appears the party will remain a major force in Austrian politics. I hope something similar won’t happen in Finland.

        To my knowledge, the Freedom Party has not called for fundamental changes in Austria’s arts policies, perhaps because they have always been closely associated with national identity. They are, however, the only party that still openly supports the Vienna Philharmonic due to its employment practices.

        Another interesting comparison would be Berlusconi’s party in Italy which is strongly neo-liberal (the policy of privatization and reducing government.) Already in the 90s they eliminated all of Italy’s radio orchestras. In recent years they have been attacking Italy’s 14 (or so) state run opera houses.

        In spite of these types of parties, the data shows that Europe’s public funding for the arts has remained stable, and even grown in many countries.

        • Mikko says:

          The Finns party has not made any big statements about orchestras either, as far as I know. Their platform paper for the 2011 elections included a one-sentence statement saying that public funds should not be used to fund “post-modern art experiments”. There’s no explanation for what they consider “post-modern”. The cultural figures condemned the program during the campaign in 2011 quite loudly. Much later, after the big win of April 2011, Timo Soini laughingly said that they’d added that statement in the program as a joke, just to push the buttons of the cultural elite (which it certainly did). A lot of people thought that that utterance was a remarkably dumb of the usually politically very clever Soini, as it completely needlessly put the seriousness of the entire agenda paper of the party in question. However, Soini’s words came and went as just another of his quips (his trademark), and there seemed to be no political consequences for the party.

          In February of this year, one Finns MP proposed that Kiasma, the state-owned museum of contemporary art in Helsinki, should be privatised. That seems to be the only concrete thing to follow that one sentence in the party’s program. The idea was summarily ignored by just about everybody. Both Kiasma and Musiikkitalo, the new concert hall / Sibelius Academy building in Helsinki, sit right across the street from the Parliament, and the MPs can’t help seeing both every time they go on the steps in front of of the Parliament house.

          The Finns have condemned racism and nazism repeatedly, and they have suspended a few of their MPs for short periods from their group in the parliament for racist or homophobic statements by the MPs or their assistants. They’re also attempting a kind of race-washing by seeking foreign-born candidates to stand in elections. They’ve got at least one Chinese-born woman as a deputy member of the Helsinki municipal council.

          The Finns leading “immigration critic” (frequently translates as “racist”), MP Jussi Halla-aho, was convicted for “violation of religious accord” and “agitation against a group of people” (no idea of what the legal terms might be in English) for some of his writings about Muslims. He had to step down from a prominent committee position in the parliament after that, but not from the party or the parliament. He’s currently the Finns’ candidate for the Council of Europe, a human rights organization, of all things. The other parties have filed a formal complaint about this in the Finnish parliament.

          Last week one Finns MP, James Hirvisaari, was kicked out of the party after he photographed a friend of his doing a nazi salute inside the main chamber of the Parliament House. The friend is a well-known village idiot who’s written pro-nazi ramblings for years, and Hirvisaari himself has been in and out of trouble with the party repeatedly for dabbling in racism. The photos of the salute were posted on the internet, and they were the final straw that got Hirvisaari kicked out of the party and earned him the strongest disciplinary warning from the speaker of the parliament. He switched parties and is now the sole MP of “Muutos 2011” (Change 2011), a fringe xenophobic group.

          Most of the Finns members and MPs are very moderate people. A lot of them jumped from the Center party (traditionally the farmers’ party, socially conservative, pro-small business, pro-welfare services) because they were dissatisfied with Center’s euro and EU policies. Soini is trying to straddle between this very moderate majority and the “immigration critics” and their voters, some of whom are outright racists. The Center party suffered a massive loss in the 2011 elections, but they’re now back at the top of the polls, mostly because they’re in the opposition at a time when everyone is discontent with the government coalition. The voters that went from the Center to the Finns in 2011 might just as easily go back in 2015, but so far the Finns have also benefited from being in the opposition during hard times.

  • Magnus says:

    Not sure Finland has more symphony orchestras per capita then Iceland (perhaps one for each 100.000), but then again Iceland has the highest mountain in the world per capita …

  • sixtus says:

    Such an assertion about Iceland cannot go unchallenged:

    Iceland: highest point: 6952 ft, population: 320,137, elevation-feet/capita: 0.0217

    Big Island of Hawaii: highest point: 13,796, population: 186,738, elevation-feet/capita: 0.0739

    Samoa: highest point: 6096 ft; population: 188,889, elevation-feet/capita: 0.0323

    Tahiti: highest point: 7352 ft, population: 178,133, elevation-feet/capita: 0.0413

    There may be other Polynesian islands that with similar superior elevation-population characteristics.


    –Sixtus (grew up in Hawaii)

    Maths note: If an island or country has a very low population, it would not require a very high mountain to beat Iceland. The equation is elevation(in feet)/population > 0.0217. A population of 10,000 would merely require a hill of more than 217 feet. With a population of 1000, that dwindles to a mound of 21.7 feet. With population of 10, the peak would only need to be around 2.6 INCHES (10 cm). There are some very flat island countries in the Pacific with very low populations. For example, Easter Island (Polynesia again) has a maximum elevation of 1663 ft but a population of only 5761 for a ratio of 0.289, more than 10 times more mountain per capita than Iceland. And even though Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, sticks up only 233 feet above sea level, its population is 9378 for a ratio of 0.025, yet another Pacific island beating Iceland.

  • June says:

    What people don’t know is that musicians study and work damn hard to get where they are. Most have AT LEAST a masters degree, some a PHD diploma. Meaning they studied as long as a doctor or a lawyer. Then comes the high level of compotition just to simply get a position in an orchestra. The auditioning process in Finland is long and hard and even if you win the audition it doesnt mean you win the trial period with the orchestra after that.

    My point is orchestras and musicians should not be indispensible. They work their asses off and take what they do with a passion and seriousness that is at the highest level. They are the cultural back bone of Finnish society and I believe Finnish citizens do take their arts seriously, because what is a world without culture?

    Oh and by the way musicians get payed very little compared to doctors or lawyers who have studied just as long and hard as they have. They do what they do because of the passion and the joy it brings to others. Why cut these small payed jobs completely?

  • Orava says:

    @Why cut these small payed jobs completely?

    The decision to cut or keep jobs is normally not a question of how high the salary is. The main focus is on how important their jobs are for the type of society the party in question wants to have. It seems some people have a different take on what is essential for “a cultural backbone” in Finland and so they start where they feel “money is wasted”. The point seems to be that the “hard-work” of musicians is just not considered “work” in the eyes of specific groups, who are probably not passionate about their jobs, which is why they feel they work much harder 🙂 than musicians, in jobs that are much more important for society, while equally paid very little.

    • June says:

      So…clearly you think the arts are not important to society 🙁

      • Anon says:

        I hardly think Orava’s explanation of the situation can give you a clue as to his/her view on the importance of arts to society.

        Moreover, it’s possible to believe that arts are important to society and to also think there are too many orchestras in a locality, or that you would prefer one fewer orchestra and one more big band or art gallery or whatever.

  • June says:

    The last comment was “jobs that are much more important in society.” Thats why I left that comment. Finland’s cities are far apart. If you remove an orchestra then people need to travel for hours to see a concert in the next city.