Osmo Vänskä

The Finnish conductor on why he thinks music by Nielsen and Sibelius should be performed more often

Osmo VänskäPhoto: Ann Marsden

On 31 October and 2 November Osmo Vänskä is conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in two programmes featuring Sibelius’s Third Symphony, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony and Dvořák’s Violin Concerto. We spoke to him ahead of the concerts about why he’d chosen these works – many of which don't often make it into the concert hall.

How did you put this programme together?
I think we started with the idea of a Nielsen project and as happens so often, the original idea went in new directions – it’s like a puzzle, sometimes, doing programmes. So we had Nielsen there and then we had violinist Christian Tetzlaff – those were the starting points, and then we added Sibelius. The programmes were very much built for Christian, who’s performing two very different concertos. Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony is in the programme because I like it very much, and I know people listening are going to like it, but it’s not often programmed. I think Nielsen is very underrated.

Why do you think his Sixth Symphony isn’t often performed?
It’s one of the most difficult pieces to play – especially for the string players. Nielsen gave it the title ‘Sinfonia semplice’ and I think that shows his sense of humour, because he was a violin player himself and he knew exactly what he had written. It has been said that during his whole life, since he was a small boy, he was always ready to make jokes.

Why have you chosen to open the first of the programmes with Sibelius’s Third Symphony?
About two years ago I performed the whole cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the LPO. Like Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony, Sibelius’s Third is not so often performed. It’s different from Sibelius’s other symphonies – it’s not such an emotionally big piece, it’s more towards the Vienna Classical style. You could also call Sibelius’s Third ‘simple’ in the same way as Nielsen’s Sixth, so there are some musical similarities between the two.

In the first concert Christian Tetzlaff is performing Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto and in the second he’ll play Dvořák’s Violin Concerto – did he suggest these works?
The Mozart was something that we wanted him to play and the Dvořák was more from Christian’s side. I’ve worked with Christian many times in different countries and continents, and I’m glad the Dvořák is there because it’s not so often played. So in both the concerts we have some rarities – and that’s what I like to do, not only the old war horses.

The final piece in the second concert is Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony – which you’ve recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. What’s it like coming back to a piece after you’ve recorded it?
We recorded it during a concert about five years ago. I think it’s a good idea to have a fresh look at something we have already done. We are always, as human beings, changing, we are not the same – life is always changing. The basic idea might be the same but I’m sure there will be many details which will be different.

Osmo Vänskä is conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 31 October and 2 November. Visit the orchestra’s website for more information and to buy tickets.