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20. Finland Festivals – a matter of course

One of Finland Festivals’ first challenges was to link up it member festivals into a continuous chain of events. Even the slightest overlap gave rise to rancor, as the idea of the unbroken chain had become sacred. After four years, only Olavi Veistäjä complained because the Turku Music Festival overlapped with Tampere Theatre Festival on one day. He demanded that the Turku event should be removed entirely from the list. The Turku organizers replied that the Pori Jazz Festivals and the Savonlinna Opera Festival had frequently coincided, in perfect harmony.

In 1974, the last overlaps were removed. But this was not good enough, either. The next year, Seppo Nummi berated Finland Festivals for having “tinkered away with minor problems”, produced “a couple of distinguished joint brochures” and “wasted much time and tobacco” pondering a few questions of coordination in timing.

Nummi himself had more ambitious plans. “Finland Festivals should work ten times as hard with a budget measured in millions at selling the Finnish music summer to foreign tourists; the investment would come back tenfold in the form of currency.”

But the King of Festivals was running out of steam. Leaving the Helsinki Festival in 1977, he said in an interview in Ilta-Sanomat: “I feel as though the Finnish summer has squeezed out everything there is to squeeze from Finland’s summer festivals… I have sometimes thought that the quickest way to the sanatorium is to organize outdoor events in Finland and in summer.”

Nummi’s youthful vision had come true beyond his wildest dreams. The seeds sown by the major events had sprouted into a whole network of festivals. In the mid 1970s, over a thousand summer events were counted, from small-time village feasts to major international festivals.

The local celebration became a downright status symbol. If a town had no festival of its own, the question of why no international event had been arranged might be asked even in newspaper editorials. A columnist in Ilta-Sanomat suggested: “If you should be unlucky enough not to happen upon a single public summer ruckus, just arrange your own. All you need is a bottle of wine, a piece of lawn and a tolerable singing voice.”

Regional interests were attached to the summer festivals. A pseudonymous writer demanded in Karjalainen in 1977: “We can obtain benefits from the events in the long run, too. The emphasis should be on presenting and developing local businesses and so forth as well as culture. We must use the events to prepare the ground for the municipality’s future.”

In the institutionalized culture sector, the spontaneity of summer festivals aroused wistfulness and envy. Kaleva asked: “Should we not store up the wisdom gained from summer culture and make use of the experience in events at other rimes of the year…?” On Women’s Day, some hankered for a festival of women’s culture, with an umbrella organization of the Finland Festivals type.

The birds of ill omen that once hovered above the festivals had vanished into thin airs. Tatu Tuohikorpi, now press councillor, told Turun Sanomat in 1985 that the goals had been achieved. “Now major newspapers like the New York Times set off on their own accord to find out about our festivals.” He cited Naantali, Savonlinna, Kuhmo and Pori as the most attractive events.

“The positive side of this festival hysteria is its national character and the general enthusiasm”, the pianist Ralf Gothóni sayid. “It is important for culture to be accessible to children and young people even in small villages. The most favourable results will probably only been seen in ten or fifteen years’ time.”

Still, the megalomania of the Finns bothered Gothóni. “Unfortunately I must say that the Finnish cultural summer is much less of an ‘internationally significant’ even than we tend to think. We are not in the centre of the cultural world but on its periphery.”

In 1993, Finland was going through an economic recession. State and municipal subsidies declined, and business no longer sponsored events as eagerly as in the lively ‘90s. Owing to the unfavourable exchange rate of the Finnish mark, a great deal more money had to be allocated to the fees of international performers than before.

In spring 1993, the mood at the festival offices was cautious, sometimes dejected. Bookings did not promise much, although more foreign visitors were coming than in previous years.

By autumn, well over a million people had visited the festivals. Attendance records were broken almost everywhere: there were more sold-out performances than ever before. The Finnish public had accorded culture its generous support.

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