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01. The beginnings

Summer culture would have meant something rather vague to the city Finn of the 1950s: landing stages and dance pavilions, quiet holidays at the summer cottage, family get-togethers in pleasant but primitive surroundings.

No-one was likely to speak of “cultural summers”. The phrase was odd or – worse – old fashioned, inappropriate to the spirit of the streamlined Fifties.

The energetic young composer and music critic Seppo Nummi (1932-81) thought otherwise. For him, “cultural summer” conjured up a marvellous vision of an unbroken chain of cultural events, calling a halt once and for all to summer’s sluggish indolence, uniting the arts and the light of the north in an ecstasy lasting all summer long.

Festival fever was already raging in Europe: Nummi counted over one hundred and fifty music festivals of various kinds. The desire and ability to travel had risen to new heights; the cultivated middle class desired stimulating content for their holidays. The triumph of recording techniques had merely served to increase the need for live music.

Journalist as he was, Nummi presented his idea in a column in Suomen Kuvalehti magazine in 1959: “In my mind, June and July would constitute a continuous two-month cultural event divided between five locations. The programme would follow the northward advance of the warm season. Helsinki and Turku would lead the way: Helsinki in early June, Turku immediately after the Sibelius Week. Savonlinna and Jyväskylä would follow on the dates already coordinated last summer: the Savonlinna music festival would occupy the last week of June and the first week of July, the Jyväskylä music and cultural festival the middle weeks of July. The series would culminate in an international music camp in Lapland, which would probably find particular sympathetic response among young Germans, hungry as they are for music and nature.”

The writer named his vision the Finland Festivals and suggested a loose-knit organization similar to the well-functioning one in the Netherlands. He challenged the other Nordic countries to a competition, suggesting an earlier date for the Sibelius Week: “The international stars making a solo tour of the north to the four Scandinavian music festivals would come here first, rather than last as they do now.”

Nummi dreamed of a grand future for the Turku music festival once an open-air stage could be set up in the courtyard of the restored medieval castle. Instruction was on his agenda for Savonlinna, with visiting teachers giving concerts to add diversity to the programme. The Jyväskylä musical and cultural festival would be expanded to a major event. “And Lapland will provide a magnificent finale to this summer symphony in five moments!”

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