Friday, September 20, 2013

15th Annual Sibelius Academy Music Festival to feature accordionist, jazz/folk ensemble Sept. 22-27

HANCOCK --  Finlandia University will present the 15th annual Sibelius Academy Music Festival from Sunday, Sept. 22, to Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in metropolitan Chicago and the western Upper Peninsula.

This year’s festival features classical/contemporary accordionist Ari Lehtonen, a doctoral student at the Sibelius Academy. Ari’s performance program includes the keyboard music of J.S. Bach, works by contemporary Finnish composers, and compositions by Argentine nuevo tango composer Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992).

Ari Lehtonen, accordionist, will perform classical and contemporary music at this year's Sibelius Academy Music Festival. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

Lehtonen has performed as a soloist with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Finnish RSO, and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. He has held recitals in Finland, Russia, Spain, Serbia, and Venezuela. In 2007, in Spain, he was awarded first prize in the prestigious Arrasate Hiria accordion competition. He has premiered works by contemporary Finnish composers Tiina Myllärinen and Mikko Nisula.

"I come from a family of non-musicians, but where music was always appreciated, supported, and many kinds of it listened to," Lehtonen says. "My grandfather played the accordion in a dance band and he was my very first inspiration to start playing. When I was a kid, it was of course very nice to play together with him."

The focus of Lehtonen’s doctoral studies is Bach’s keyboard music.

"As an institution, Sibelius Academy is of course full of history and prestige, and it was one of the first university level schools where classical accordion could be studied," Lehtonen notes. "The school has some of the best teachers in the world, so it is really a privilege to be able to study there."

The festival also features the ensemble "August Saarinen and Vuolas Virta," a jazz/folk quintet that pays tribute to the "king of Finnish tango" Olavi Virta (1915-1972). The musicians are Joonas Mikkilä, Juho Vanamo, Matias Mäntyranta, Miiko Renfors, and Joonas Tuhkanen.

The ensemble "August Saarinen and Vuolas Virta" will perform jazz and folk music at the Sibelius Academy Music Festival.

Juho Vanamo, aka August Saarinen, was born in Turku, Finland, in 1988. He started playing piano at age eight.

"My older brother was my inspiration to take up singing, and my parents gently forced me to take up piano lessons when I was younger," Vanamo says. "Nowadays, I feel really grateful for that. It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to do what you do best, and make a living out of it, too."

Vanamo graduated from Turku Conservatory in 2009, majoring in classical piano with a minor in classical singing. In 2010, he began studying music education at the Sibelius Academy, where he met most of his fellow players in August Saarinen and Vuolas Virta.

The members of the folk/jazz quintet, August Saarinen and Vuolus Virta, all agree that the Sibelius Academy is a "status symbol" for a good musician in Finland. "When you introduce yourself as a Sibelius student, it’s 'guaranteed' that you really can play," they collectively note.

The festival’s series of concerts and events begins Sunday, Sept. 22, with an afternoon performance of both acts at the Estonian House of Chicago, Riverwoods, Ill.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 1:15 p.m., the students at Negaunee (Michigan) High School will enjoy a special Sibelius Festival performance in the high school’s auditorium. The concert is open to the public; tickets are $5.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24, a free Meet the Musicians event will be presented at the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock. The musicians will discuss their lives as musicians and present informal performances.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, at 2 p.m., accordionist Ari Lehtonen will present a concert at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Hancock. A freewill offering at the concert will benefit Finlandia University music programs.

Also on Thursday, Sept. 26, the first-ever Sibelius Festival folk dance starts at 7 p.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center. The dance features live music by the festival musicians. Tickets are $10; Finlandia students attend free.

The final concert is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at the Calumet Theatre. Both the accordionist and the jazz/folk quintet will present performances. Tickets are $15; $5 for students; Finlandia students attend free.

Concert and event tickets are available at North Wind Books, Hancock; online at; and at the door prior to the performances.

For more information, call 906-487-7250 or visit

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