Hundred years of joy of music
Formed by the students at the Helsinki University of Technology in 1922, the Polytech Orchestra or PO, which works in co-operation with Aalto University Student Union (AYY), has grown from a small salon orchestra to one of the largest symphony orchestras in Finland.
The players include Aalto University students and alumni from the fields of technology, business and arts, students from other academic institutions as well as other music enthusiasts. Joining the orchestra is quite easy, as PO does not hold auditions for players.
'The door is open for everyone. At the start of the autumn and spring seasons, the rehearsals are open to all, which lets you assess your own skill set. Naturally, the pieces are not the easiest to play, so almost everyone has a background in music schools,’ says Johanna Rantanen, producer of the orchestra's 100th anniversary, who graduated as a Master of Science in Technology from Aalto with Information Networks as her major.
When Johanna moved from a small town to study in the Greater Helsinki area, PO offered a natural continuum for her music hobbies. Nowadays, her instrument is no longer a violin but a double bass.
‘Playing in an orchestra is not possible throughout Finland, so PO is a unique opportunity to play great pieces in a large group.’
The main program is classical music, but the repertoire is broader on commissioned gigs. For example, the Espoo Day concert included pop music, while film and dance music were played at the Waputin Concert Ball. In addition, small group performances provide the players with various opportunities to perform, ranging from weddings and other celebrations to graduations and ceremonial conferments.
High-quality music with a twinkle in the eye
The long traditions of PO are easy to see in its culture. The Waputin event, which has been held since 1928, has an annually changing humorous theme, while a closing party – karonkka in Finnish – always includes singing and writing memories in the karonkka book. In the old days, touring was done by train – today by bus. But what is it about PO that has drawn players in through the decades?
‘The joy of music and interpreting it together, not forgetting the nice people you play with, the great group and the atmosphere – the fact that you are always having fun!’ Johanna says.
Nina Forsman has been part of PO since 2013. During the day, Nina studies the surface modification of cellulose and prepares starting a business. On Monday nights, the research instruments and laboratory setting are replaced with an oboe and Servin mökki as it is time for practice.
‘Every concert is an experience in itself, and the tours are awesome. All the preparatory work has been done in advance, so the tour lets you focus on playing and what happens outside the concerts on the bus and in the karonkka parties,’ Nina explains.
In addition to the Monday practices, the players usually have two rehearsal weekends, two sessions for rehearsing parts and joint sessions for each instrumental group, during both the autumn and spring seasons. Everyone also practises on their own time.
‘If you have more time and want to challenge yourself, you can take a bigger role in the orchestra. In turn, if you are busy, you can play second parts and smaller pieces, for example.’
Karita Ihto, who has played music since elementary school, joined the orchestra immediately in her first year of university. Karita studies Business Law, and she has also previously been a member of the PO board.
‘PO is a nice environment for a clarinettist, and I get to play classical music. Doing things together is the best.’
The social side of the orchestra is also important, Karita points out.
‘In addition to practices, we get together for hanging out and sauna evenings. During the first year, I had to ask a lot about the vocabulary used in PO, as I could not always understand what the technology students were saying. This way I also learned about the student culture of other fields.’
Playing in an orchestra is not only fun, but it also offers brand new experiences. This was the case for Johanna Rantanen and Nina Forsman in 2017, when they took part in the shootings of the film Viulisti in Helsinki Music Centre, where they played an orchestra from Copenhagen. They have also faced some unexpected situations.
‘During a church concert on tour in Scotland, a fire alarm suddenly went off. Luckily, it was a false alarm, and despite the moment of confusion, we relied on the conductor and continued playing. The Second Symphony of Sibelius received an unexpected twist!’ Nina recalls.
Johanna, Nina and Karita, who are all PO veterans, encourage all music enthusiasts interested in orchestration to join:
‘You should definitely come and try it out. There is no need to worry if it seems difficult at first; you will learn on the way and be able to play by the time the concerts begin. The artistic level is high, but we are trying to play with a twinkle in our eye!’ Johanna says.
‘Even if the main repertoire does not work out for you in the first year, there are many other gigs as well as quartet and quintet activities that you can participate in – there is always something going on,’ Karita encourages.
‘At the start of every season on Monday at 18.00 in Smökki – see you there!' Nina sums up.
The next time you can catch PO’s ensemble of over 100 players is at the 100th Anniversary Concert on 9 April in Musiikkitalo and the Waputin Concert Ball on 1 May in Vanha Poli.
Get to know the orchestra and learn more about the PO100 anniversary year: