Rumon Gamba has served as Chief Conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra since January, and is by now well familiar with his orchestra and Oulu itself. Gamba stays in the city for a week or two at a time, and in between the rehearsals and concerts, he has acquired a feel for the pulse of the city.
“I love the energy in Oulu. I like the mix of people of all ages that can be found here. Oulu does not seem to me like a place where the young grow up and head out to the world – people also want to stay. The selection of available cultural events is quite impressive as well. I had time to visit the Elojazz festival myself,” says Gamba.
Apart from the musical offerings, Gamba has taken to the hiking paths around Oulu, and says the routes in the river delta are some of his favourites for his runs. But what about the orchestra itself? What are Gamba’s feelings about the troupe of musicians he has been tasked to conduct?
“There is no need to cajole the orchestra to get to work and play on a Monday morning – these are very enthusiastic musicians who like to perform! It is easy to work with them”, says Gamba.
So what is the conductor of such an orchestra of enthusiasts like?
“An orchestra – any such team of professionals, really – needs a leader with a clear vision. Everybody who plays in a symphony orchestra is an excellent musician in their own right, but there are 80 different ways for 80 different musicians to interpret a work. I know some colleagues who keep a very tight, I would say authoritarian, leash on their orchestra, but that is not how I do things. But I do want every concert I conduct to be excellent, not just okay,” says Gamba on his attitude to his work.
Gamba has conducted orchestras around the world in a variety of legendary concert halls. How does Madetoja Hall stack up in Gamba’s opinion?
“I think it’s a good hall, in point of fact, I prefer it to the Helsinki Musiikitalo,” he says.
Concert experiences beyond the home hall
As Chief Conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra, Gamba is of course also in charge of the programme of the orchestra.
“I started planning out the next seasons by looking up what the symphony orchestra has performed over the last ten years. I was surprised to see what works have not yet been performed in Oulu, and on that basis I have picked some works I know the musicians will enjoy and the audience will enjoy as well. Our repertory last season was a little different from what people here are used to, and each of the concerts was a success. I always want to bring in some classics as well, they are classics for a reason and deserve regular exposure,” says Gamba.
The Oulu Symphony Orchestra started its autumn season with an outdoor concert at Hupisaaret. For the last weeks, the orchestra has been touring and performing in Luleå and Piteå in Sweden as well as in Harstad, Norway. The Oulu Symphony Orchestra also gave a free concert at the Oulu kylässä / Welcome to Oulu event. Gamba says concerts outside the orchestra’s home hall and other audience cultivation work are important in many ways.
“It is a nice change of pace for the orchestra to play for a new audience in a new concert hall at times. I also like the idea that we can expose people other than regular Oulu Symphony Orchestra listeners to our music. Listening to live music – whether rock, pop, or any other genre – is always a powerful experience. When there’s 60 live musicians in front of you… everyone should get to experience that at least once in their lives!” says Gamba.
Enjoying the silence
Considering Gamba’s job is to listen as the best musicians play in the most perfect concert halls, a natural question to ask is what he prefers to listen to in his home or in his free time.
“I don’t really listen to music much. I always have one piece of music or another roaming through my mind, so I don’t want to mess up that process by listening to something else. Actually, the only time I will listen to recorded music is when I’m thinking about conducting a work I haven’t done before. Then, I’ll want to hear every recording ever made of that work,” says Gamba.
“Furthermore, when I’m standing in front of an orchestra, I can constantly hear music as played by very skilled people. There is no recording that sounds quite as good, and it’s not just how it sounds, but also that I can see it being played. I get to experience music in all my senses daily, so I don’t need to supplement my listening at home,” he says.
Oulu offers many good opportunities to enjoy Gamba’s favourite soundscapes.
“My favourite sound is silence. Complete silence, nothing to be heard, no cars or anything else. Well, birdsong is something I don’t mind,” laughs Gamba.
Seasonal concert series starts at Madetoja Hall
There you have a recommendation from a music professional; the best way to enjoy music is live, through all your senses, and you should attend a symphony orchestra’s concert at least once in your life. An excellent opportunity for such a concert experience is on Thursday, September 15 in Madetoja Hall, as the Oulu Symphony Orchestra starts its seasonal concert series. The evening’s programme includes the Fifth Symphonies from Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius, the latter a continuation of performances of the same work in the orchestra’s Sweden and Norway concerts.
“Any work benefits from being performed as well as rehearsed, so now is the opportunity for Oulu listeners to hear Sibelius’s Fifth refined to perfection. Over the autumn, we have had several chances to get to know the work over and over again and really probe its depths together with the orchestra,” says Gamba.
Another performance Gamba is looking forward to in the coming season is The Magic Flute opera, since Gamba’s family, his wife and teenage children, want to visit Oulu to see it for themselves.
“In January and February I will be in Oulu to work on The Magic Flute, and my family wants to come visit as well – they are very much looking forward to a proper winter with snow and frost. They also enjoy the opera, so I believe they will have a nice time in Oulu,” says Gamba.
Finally, a question the My Oulu were assigned after the Paddington Bear concert in Hupisaari: is it physically strenuous to conduct an orchestra?
“As a conductor, the concert is aerobic exercise for me, it is not too physically demanding. But I do get warm as the concert goes on, that much is true,” laughs Gamba.