Not so much epic as out of this world...

The internationally renowned composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is at last being acclaimed by his fellow Finns.

AT FIRST glance, the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara looks like a weathered Native American chief in civvies. He has the aura of a venerable sage; he speaks quietly, authoritatively, often candidly, and with a wry twist of humour that delights his audiences. Two weeks ago he celebrated his 70th birthday by presenting a young local composer - 28-year-old Jani Kaaria - with the kind of scholarship which, 40 years earlier, he himself had received via Jean Sibelius from the American Koussevitsky Foundation. Rautavaara used the money to study in New York; Kaaria - who has already completed an opera - will go to Miami.

"Jani is very obstinate," says Rautavaara, with a knowing nod of the head, "because instead of following exactly what his teachers taught him, he has forged his own way. He has much to learn - and it's important to give the scholarship to someone who has much to learn. But he also has an urge to follow his own path. That too is very important."

The night before the scholarship ceremony, fellow Finn Leif Segerstam conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in the world premiere of Rautavaara's concise choral epic, On the Last Frontier, with words adapted from the last section of Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. It is a big sound and an easy listen, a little like Vaughan Williams in choral mode, save for the change in climate. The audience's response was uncharacteristically instantaneous: an immediate standing ovation, something that Finns don't usually go in for.

But then it was only recently that Rautavaara's national reputation began to equal his high standing abroad. "It's the same old story," says Reijo Killunen, managing director of Finland's Ondine CD label. "No one is ever a prophet in his own country. The whole Rautavaara thing was born outside of Finland. Ten or so years ago, Rautavaara was recognised as an important composer, but he wasn't any better known than, say, Joonas Kokkonen, Aulis Sallinen or Erik Bergman. The current wave of enthusiasm started with Angel of Light, a piece that, when I heard it performed for the first time, struck me as potentially attractive for a wider public."

Killunen wasted no time in forging a fruitful professional relationship with a composer who has subsequently become a world-wide best-seller. Forthcoming attractions include a gritty Third Piano Concerto, written for Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Chatting to audience members at the renovated Finlandia Hall revealed a host of diverse reactions to the other Rautavaara work programmed at the concert: the earlier, equally mellifluous Adoration or Aphrodite. "Quite slow and comfortable... quite easy," said one; "a bit romantic, maybe a little too `even'," was another response, while a third thought the piece "typically Finnish". Killunen, on the other hand, thinks Finnish influences are secondary to a "cosmic" element. "Rautavaara's latest music doesn't go north, east or west," he says, "it goes upwards. There's no calculation to his style, no `grand plan' to pander to public taste. He is both sincere and uncompromising."

Rautavaara's celestial dreamscapes (quite different to the barbed modernism of his earliest pieces) provide nourishing food for the mind's theatre, a fact that was not lost on the Helsinki Philharmonic, which commissioned 500 local schoolchildren to draw or paint their own "Angels of Light". Many of their efforts hang in the Hall's spacious foyer: pregnant angels, boss-eyed devils, black angels against a setting sun, heroes battling a monster, crotchets and quavers around a ball of flame - dazzling images all of them, and sure evidence of the music's evocative powers.

Much of Rautavaara's music is highly pictorial. His biggest hit here is the Cantus Arcticus, or Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, in which taped birdsong enjoys an exquisitely modulated orchestral backdrop. As with Angel of Light and the grippingly dramatic Angels and Visitations, Segerstam - a Brahms lookalike with a delightfully outsize personality - has recorded the work for CD. Angels and Visitations even calls for a "lion's roar", which the leonine Segerstam was on hand to provide in person.

He refers to the "extraterrestrial" element in Rautavaara's music, though he's not averse to talking about his own two dozen symphonies - the latest of which dispense with the conductor altogether. Like Rautavaara and, indeed, Sibelius and the fledgeling Jani Kaaria, he's very much his own man. It seems that Finns relish a strong sense of personal identity. "Rautavaara is always Rautavaara", as Segerstam himself puts it. "You know his music, and you understand his style. It's like with Mahler. If you've done all the symphonies, you can also do the Tenth."

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits