Book recommendations November 2022

Terhi’s latest book recommendations:

Klara and the Sun (2021) is the latest novel by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Set in the U.S. in an unspecified future, the book is told from the point of view of Klara, a solar-powered robot. Beautifully written science fiction story which raises many questions. What’s the core of a human being?

Olive Kitteridge (2008). Elizabeth Strout received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel about Maine-based retired math teacher Olive Kitteridge and her warm-hearted husband Henry. Choosing grumpy, elderly, overweight woman as the main character is unusual. But how respectfully and genuinely Strout writes about Olive and the people around her!

Station Eleven (2014) is a novel by the Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel. In the book, a fictional swine flu pandemic has devastated the world, killing most of the population. After the destruction of the infrastructure, the life returns to the time before the development of technology. But Beethoven and Shakespeare still remain and their works are performed by a nomadic orchestra and theater group.

Last but not least:

Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster (2013) by Mia Kankimäki. A humorous story about a Finnish lady who gets a grant – despite her lack of Japanese language skills – to research the writer Sei Shōnagon who lived at the turn of the 11th century. Most of the time she just hangs around and enjoys her time in Kyoto. When reading about her lazy, sometimes aimless sabbatical, one learns a lot about both historical Heian period and the current postmodern reality in Japan.

All books available in English, German and Finnish!

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“Murder on the Orient Express”

Komödie am Kurfürstendamm im Schiller Theater

Yesterday evening, we watched the detective play Mord im Orientexpress, based on Agathe Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” detective story, at Komödie am Kurfürstendamm im Schiller Theater in Berlin. We had bought the tickets because Hercule Poirot was to be played by Katharina Thalbach, a legendary German actress we greatly admire, who had also directed the play. Her daughter Anna Thalbach and granddaughter Nellie Thalbach, who are also actresses, were supposed to be acting, too.

Right at the beginning of the show, it was announced that Katharina Thalbach had tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn’t act. What a disappointment! Daughter Anna Thalbach stepped into the role of Hercule Poirot with one day’s notice. Of course, she didn’t know the text by heart, so she walked around with the manuscript. But what a brilliant professional she was! Despite the book she was carrying, Anna Thalbach delivered a virtuosic portrayal of Poirot, from the “elderly gentleman’s gait” to the genuine French accent. Her original role in the play was also played skilfully by Karina Krawczyk.

The show was really great, fine actors (incredibly funny Christoph Marti as Helen Hubbard was my favourite). The sets and costumes were magical. We enjoyed the truly impressive dancers, and music was good, too!

We wish Katharina Thalbach a speedy recovery and thank the whole ensemble for a phenomenal show.

Photo: Max Gertsch und Nellie Thalbach photographed by Franziska Strauss.

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After the premiere of my Mass

I am feeling happy and thankful after the successful premiere of my Missa in honorem Beati Hemmingi Episcopi (or simply Mass of Blessed Hemming). It was wonderful to hear this liturgical composition, which I worked on for 8 years, in its natural setting, i.e. as part of a solemn Catholic mass in the medieval cathedral of Turku. It was here that Blessed Bishop Hemming worked in the 14th century.

The event itself was exciting and I had slept pretty badly beforehand. During the rehearsals, however, it had quickly become clear that the Suomen Laulu choir knew my demanding piece excellently – they had been practicing it for almost a year already. St. Michel Strings had no difficulty in performing the orchestral part. Concertmaster Jyrki Lasonpalo played the violin solos soulfully. And Pilvi Listo, to whom the composition is dedicated, was as musical and magnificent at the organ as always. I was especially happy that the conductor was Esko Kallio – he had studied my composition really deeply and thoroughly and was able to carry out my ideas sensitively and impressively.

My other composition, the short Ballad “Am Lebensbrunnen”, also had its premiere in the Holy Mass. This composition is actually for either clarinet or viola and piano. Because our clarinetist got sick, we ended up performing the piece in the following way: I played the piano part on the grand piano of Turku Cathedral, and the organist Pilvi Listo played the melody on the chamber organ. It was a workaround, but actually the piece worked beautifully that way, too!

The music of my Mass of Blessed Hemming lasts about 35 minutes, so the Holy Mass turned out to be quite long. Towards the end of the Mass, some of the children present became restless and started making a fuss in the church. Some parents took their children to the playroom behind the altar, which was actually supposed to be closed and reserved only for the use of the choir. This did not calm the children down but made them clown around even more. It increased the noise in the ancient Gothic church. I heard that the commotion had also disturbed the concentration of some performers, although they were still able to perform wonderfully. It is still unclear whether all this racket ruined the radio recording made by the Finnish Broadcast Company YLE. It would really be a pity.

On the other hand, I thought: This was a Holy Mass, not a concert. Everyone can come to the Mass, including children, and children are allowed to be children. They don’t need to behave like adults and some fuss and noise is OK. I myself have several children and I know that the kids cannot always behave nicely in church.

If my children get restless and start to disturb the Mass with their noises, me or my husband take them outside the church to calm them down. When they behave somewhat calmly again, they are allowed to come back to the Mass. I have tried to teach my children that although children are always allowed to come to the Holy Mass, the church is not a playground. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it does not. At the premiere of my composition, my own children behaved exceptionally beautifully. The reason for the silence might have been that my youngest, 5-year-old son, was sleeping a good part of the time! Older children enjoyed the devout atmosphere and music.

We were 900 people in the Cathedral. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Teemu Sippo SCJ and concelebrated by over a dozen other priests from Finland. There were of course hundreds of Finnish Catholics but also Lutherans in the Mass. I am grateful to all the friends who came to listen from near and far – even from Italy.

In this photo, I’m thanking the parishioners for their applause at the end of the Mass.

Photos are by Marko Tervaportti and Irja Kajander-Vierkens.

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Terhi Dostal: Mass of Blessed Hemming

Terhi Dostal: Missa in honorem Beati Hemmingi Episcopi (2020)

For mixed choir, string orchestra and organ

On August 13, 2022, at 11 a.m., an orchestral mass Missa in honorem Beati Hemmingi Episcopi composed by me will be performed at the Diocesan Feast of the Catholic Church of Finland in Turku Cathedral. The performers are St. Michel Strings, Suomen Laulu choir and organist Pilvi Listo. The music is conducted by Esko Kallio. The mass will be celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Teemu Sippo SCJ.

My composition is a Latin mass suitable for the liturgical use of the Catholic Church. I wanted to celebrate with it the memory of Blessed Bishop Hemming. Hemming served as bishop of Turku in the 14th century and was an important person in our country. He was also a close friend of Saint Birgitta of Sweden.

Like any traditional Mass, the composition has five movements: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. My late romantic work is much influenced by the music of Johannes Brahms, but also by the music of the earlier romantics as well as baroque and renaissance composers. The Mass is cyclical in form, meaning that the same themes and subjects are repeated in different parts. In Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei I have used various traditional polyphonic techniques such as fugue, fugato and double canon. Credo and Sanctus are more homophonic and romantic in style.

Searching for new musical innovations and experiments is not the purpose of composing for me. Primarily, I want to be honest with myself as a musician, lean on my experience of the music I like and perform the most, and look for beauty. I trust that if I write sincerely and at the highest level possible for me, my music will also reach its listeners. In my Mass, I want to support the experience of holiness and mysticism through the traditional form. Especially in the Credo, I also sometimes describe the events mentioned in this particular prayer, i.e. the text of the Christian confession of faith, for instance the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I started writing the mass in 2012. The work progressed slowly, mainly because many of the polyphonic techniques I used were difficult for me and I had never composed such a large piece. In the following years, also my second and third children were born, and I had little time to compose. By 2020, I had written first versions of three movements and sketched others.

When all my concerts as a pianist were cancelled due to the corona pandemic, I had more time to invest in composing. I worked on my Mass under the guidance of Dresden professor Matthias Drude and finally also orchestrated it. The first versions had been for choir without accompaniment, the following versions for choir and organ. I wrote numerous versions of all the movements before they took their final form. The composition was completed at the end of 2020. I dedicated it to my close friend, the organist and harpsichordist Pilvi Listo, who will also play the organ in the first performances of the mass.

I am happy that this composition, which I worked on for so many years, is now being performed. If you can’t make it to Turku to listen to the first performance, you can hear the composition also in Helsinki, Temppeliaukio Church, October 16th at 5 pm and in the Mikkeli Cathedral on Sunday, November 6th 2022 at 5 pm.

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Brahms: Paganini-Variations

I browsed through my recording archives and came across this concert recording of Brahms Paganini Variations from 2012. This piece, which is technically the most challenging of Brahms’s piano compositions, I had then already performed many times.

At first, I played Paganini-Variations like any other pianist: Always as fast as possible. However, in one of my concerts in Austria, I received the following feedback from a colleague: “Yes, you played skillfully, but somehow I felt sorry that you had to play Brahms’s Paganini variations.” This comment caused me almost a small crisis. I realized I didn’t really enjoy playing Paganini variations, I just tried to play them as fast and brilliantly as I could.

I started a learning process that lasted some months. I thought of Brahms, whose all other piano compositions I had already played. I read his own tempo markings very carefully and thought of the Paganini variations, not as a technical performance, but as a composition similar to any other variation works of Brahms. I carefully read Brahms’s own tempo markings through and calculated their relationship using my metronome, paper, pen, of course also playing them on the piano. I was particularly interested in the tempo changes between the different variations: Where did Brahms want to keep the same tempo, where did he want to change it? All of this was important for the whole. In the end, I ended up with tempi, which are partly slower than usual. But I think I can bring out Brahms’s musical message well in these tempi and I also think it matches Brahms’ own notations.

Then, I just had to get over my pianistic pride and the fact that someone would say for sure I didn’t “know” how to play Paganini variations fast enough. I think these tempos are musically justified and the piece sounds beautiful, not like a soulless etude.

I hadn’t listened to this recording for almost 10 years. I was amazed that I still liked these tempi as much as I did then. Also, you can hear from my performance that I enjoy playing Paganini-Variations in this concert. So, I decided to publish this unedited concert performance on my Soundcloud account. I hope you enjoy it!

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”Chopin pianist”?

Frederic_Chopin_photoAlthough I have played Chopin’s music since I was 10 years old, I never considered myself as a ”Chopin pianist” During my study years in Helsinki and Imola, the “Chopin pianists” were those who performed all etudes in their concerts and took part in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. I never thought I could play Chopin as well as they did. Already in those days, I concentrated to the music of Brahms and the more unknown Finnish composers. I played Chopin with no serious aims, just because it was fun.

When I started my own Soundcloud channel in 2012, I gathered together a group of unedited recordings from the preceding ten years. Most of them were live recordings. I had thought that only my Brahms and maybe Rachmaninoff recordings would be worth publishing in the internet. I was astonished there were also some other nice tapes. I put all acceptable recordings on my Soundcloud account. I soon noticed that especially my Chopin recordings were often listened and liked.

I do not have many videos of my playing, at least videos I could publish – there are almost always some copyright issues. My videos were often made by some TV channels like YLE or SibaTV. That is why I did not publish anything on Youtube before. However, this year (2014) I started an own Youtube channel. My first video contained my own Romantic composition “Ave Maria Mater Dolorosa” performed by Suomen Laulu Choir, Esko Kallio and Pilvi Listo-Tervaportti.

Now I have added two audio tapes to Youtube. These videos contain two Chopin’s polonaises: The more serious Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 No. 2 and the “Heroic” Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 which belongs to the most admired compositions of Chopin. I added some photos and sincerely preferred to choose pictures of Chopin – I think he is the main character of these videos. But there are also some pictures of myself.

Why polonaises? What is my personal experience of this dance? Polonaise is a Polish national dance which was danced also in other countries – at least in Scandinavia (Swedish “polska”) and Russia – in the 19th century. People still dance polonaise in the festival occassions in my homeland Finland, for instance at the school balls and at the academic celebrations. It is an easy dance and it is fun to start a party with it: When dancing a polonaise, the dancers form a kind of “spiral” and are thereby able to see and greet all guests. This dance really has a social significance! Chopin’s polonaises, however, are not meant to be danced but to be played in the concerts. But if you know the steps, you can dance with this music, too. I know it – I have tried!

I hope you enjoy my new videos.

Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major “Heroic” Op. 53

Chopin: Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 Nr. 1

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Four short films on Johannes Brahms – Project description

Brahms in Vienna

Johannes Brahms

This series of four short films was directed by Paula Saraste. I made the script and performed as a pianist in the films.

The films are about the German composer Johannes Brahms and his relation to the Romantic poetry. Many important themes of the Romanticism intertwine in Brahms’s music: beauty of nature, fanciful Romantic love, admiration of the romanticized Middle Ages and the world of fairytales. The films impart the scientific information on Brahms with multifaceted means: performances of Brahms’s songs, piano and chamber music, played music examples, illustration, multimedia and video art.

Film director Paula Saraste

I got to know the video artist and film director Paula Saraste when I worked at the Finnish Institute in Berlin. We got well along and thought a co-operation project would be a lot of fun. In 2010 I finished my Doctoral Thesis Romantic poetry as inspiration of Brahms. Description and analysis of the early poem collection of the composer. Paula and I decided to make short films on the themes of my Doctoral Thesis and present the information in an easily digestible way. The project was funded by the Sibelius-Academy Development Centre.

We started with planning the themes and writing the scripts. The whole filming process was done in 2013. I was then pregnant with my second child. The project progressed and my belly grew simultaneously. The music performances were the last scene which we filmed. I was then already in the 6th month pregnant and quite chubby. Photos from the project can be seen here.

The music was recorded and filmed at the Music Centre Studio in Helsinki. We had a really great recording and camera team there. Moreover, I had five excellent musicians with whom I was able to perform several major works of Brahms: the singers Annami Hylkilä, Ann-Marie HeinoAarne Pelkonen and Niall Chorell, and the violinist Pauliina Valtasaari.

Terhi Dostal in "Four short films on Johannes Brahms"

Terhi Dostal in “Four short films on Johannes Brahms”

The interviews and many other scenes were filmed at the Ballhaus Rixdorf Studios in Berlin. It is a good address for anybody planning to make a film. We had the chance to work with Daniel Redel who made some magical special effects for the films. Paula Saraste also directed one scene with two actors, Anita Dechamps and Sebastian Wagner.

In addition to all this, we also made a trip to Brandenburg and were kindly let to film at the beautiful Church and the interesting Museum of the Cloister Zinna. We also wanted to film at the Schloss Wiepersdorf, the writer Achim von Arnim’s home, but unfortunately we were not to permitted to do it. However, we were able to visit Arnim’s grave which was covered by snow. Achim von Arnim was one of Brahms’s favorite authors.

The films were premiered in Finland in April 2014. You can watch them on the Siba-TV channel in the internet:

Brahms’s Romantic Nuns

Romantic castle ruins

For the Romanticists, very interested in the Middle Ages and also in the Roman Catholic Church, cloisters were an especially popular setting for their tales. Catholicism fascinated the Romanticists with its dark history, mystic experiences, its miracles and saints. As a true son of German Romanticism, the German composer Johannes Brahms composed several cloister songs. In many of these Brahms songs, the convent is described as a lonely and dismal place. The nuns in Brahms’ compositions are invariably sad and often even unhappily in love.

This short documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Klosterfräulein Op. 61/2 (soprano, alto, piano)
Brahms (arr.): Gunhilde WoO 33/7, Folk Song (soprano, piano)
Brahms: Die Nonne und der Ritter op. 28/1 (mezzo-soprano, baritone)

Brahms’s Fairy Tale Romanticism

Annami Hylkilä and Ann-Marie Heino in Brahms's song "Walpurgisnacht".

Annami Hylkilä and Ann-Marie Heino perform Brahms’s song “Walpurgisnacht”.

The Romanticists loved fairy tales and their fantasy characters. The Grimm brothers were among the best-known storytellers of European folk tales. As a true son of the Romantic ideals, the German composer Johannes Brahms grew up with these fairy tales. Even as a mature man, he had many similar books in his library. The 1816 edition of Grimm’s fairy tales remained in Brahms’ library almost all his life. Brahms adored ballads, songs which tell a dramatic story. Many Brahms’ songs contain fairytale-like characters or supernatural elements.

This short documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Walpurgisnacht opus 75/4 (soprano, soprano, piano)
Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 10/3 from „Four Ballades” (piano)

Brahms’s Rain Songs

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

Most pianists and violinists know Brahms’s song Regenlied Op. 59/3 because he quotes it in the final movement of his G major violin sonata. He used the same melody also in his song Nachklang. The Regenlied describes rain which brings to mind a flood of childhood memories. Childhood is an unusual song theme for Brahms who preferred to compose songs of unhappy love or of longing. In this Rain Song, the refreshing purity of the rain is compared with the innocence of a child.

Brahms returned to this Rain Song five years later in 1879, in his first published violin sonata, Op. 78 in G major. The work may have been some kind of memorial to his godson Felix Schumann who had played violin as a hobby. Felix, the son of Brahms’ dearest friend Clara Schumann, died of tuberculosis in February 1879, at the early age of 24.

This documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Regenlied Op. 59/3
Brahms: Nachklang Op. 59/4
Brahms: Violin sonata in G major Op. 78, 3rd movement

Brahms’s Edward Ballade

Knight Edward and his mother.

Knight Edward and his mother.

One of Johannes Brahms’s favourite ballads was a Scottish folk poem called “Edward”. Brahms wrote two separate compositions based on this piece; a solo piano piece, and a duet for two singers and piano. It was unusual for Brahms to use the same text for two different compositions. He was obviously very fascinated by this dramatic poem.

The poem is a dialogue between a mother and her son. Edward has killed his father and returns home with bloodstained sword. Her mother questions him. In the end, the dark secret of this patricide is revealed.

This documentary film contains the following works:
Brahms: Ballade Op. 10/1 “Edward”
Brahms: Duet Op. 75/1 “Edward”

Film details


Annami Hylkilä, soprano
Ann-Marie Heino, mezzo-soprano
Niall Chorell, tenor
Aarne Pelkonen, baritone
Paulina Valtasaari, violin
Terhi Dostal, piano

Sebastian Wagner
Anita Dechamps

Concept and script: Terhi Dostal
Direction, screenplay, video art and editing: Paula Saraste
Camera: Matti Strahlendorf, Daniel Redel, Paula Saraste
Special Effects: Daniel Redel
Sound engineer: Jon-Patrik Kuhlefelt

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“Women cannot compose”

After deciding to become a musician at the age of five, I composed all the time. Everything I learnt on my piano or theory lessons soon became part of a composition. I improvised a lot, too. My first composition was called “In the cave of a dragon” which I wrote at the age of six.

From a really early age, I was fond of a couple of things. First, polyphony. Second, Romantic music. Third, Latin texts. I wrote a composition in three movements for a girls’ choir at the age of 13. It included Latin texts and a fugue, although I had not yet studied counterpoint. My music teacher at school was overwhelmed. I wrote several instrumental compositions, choir works, even a Romantic violin sonata.

However, soon after that an important person of my life told me that the women cannot compose. This happened in Finland in the 1990s. I still remember how I was told it – word for word:

“Women cannot compose. There have never been interesting female composers. There have been some who have tried. Clara Schumann, Kaija Saariaho… They have never created anything important. Women are good for nothing as composers. They can succeed only as performers. It is better you do not waste your time with composition. Concentrate to the piano playing.”

After this, I stopped composing and improvising for more than ten years.

Another reason for not composing was that I simply liked – and I still like – triads and tonal harmonies. I yearn for beauty. The Romantic music of the 19th and 20th century has been my home land for decades. Knowing that triads were nearly banned in the contemporary music for a long time, I thought nobody would take my music seriously, because it was written in a wrong style. No matter if its quality was good or not.

Don’t get me wrong. I do like contemporary music, too. I played it even on some important platforms like at the Ultraschall Festival in Berlin. I truly admire many contemporary composers and enjoy playing their music. But the completely atonal language has simply never been my mother tongue. I noticed I always played better contemporary compositions by close friends or by people who I had loved in a special way. Even when playing atonal music, I was a Romanticist.

After writing all this, I could add modifying Galileo Galilei: “And yet she composes.” My composition Ave Maria Mater Dolorosa was premiered by the well-known Finnish choir Suomen Laulu, Esko Kallio and Pilvi Listo-Tervaportti in the 7th of May 2014. It was not my first composition, but it was the first to be performed in public. It was just a start and maybe I will compose something completely different in the future. But this piece is from the reality I love most. It is Romantic, polyphonic and its text is in Latin.

Terhi Dostal

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