No one would imagine that a small regional symphony orchestra in Finland would have the resources or fan base to hold an American tour — but the Lahti Symphony Orchestra is doing just that.

Fine Arts Reviews
The Lahti Symphony Orchestra practices for its first tour of the U.S. (Courtesy of UMS)

The Lahti Symphony Orchestra, under the leadership of Chief Conductor Osma Vanska, has sold over half a million dollars in records and released an impressive 50 CDs, making it one of Finland’s premier orchestras. Besides its lucrative success, the relatively small-sized 60-player orchestra has won an array of accolades including the Gramophone Award in 1996 and the Gold Record in 1998.

Spokeswoman for the Lahti Orchestra Katherine Johnson said that the Orchestra has found its primary niche in playing pieces by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

“They’ve recorded a whole series of John Sibelius — a Finnish composer (who’s one of) the most famous. They’ve recorded a whole lot of his work — they’re considered to perform that repertoire better than any other orchestra,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that the biggest advantage that the Lahti Orchestra has over other international orchestras is that they are a Finnish orchestra interpreting a Finnish composer’s work, as opposed to an American orchestra who would interpret the composer’s work differently.

Still, the Helsinki City Philharmonic has been called the premier orchestra of Finland. With its size and reputation, some say that there has been a competition between the smaller, lesser known Lahti Orchestra with its impressive reputation and the Helsinki Philharmonic with its large size.

Kalvi Aho, a Finnish composer, said in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the rising popularity of the Lahti Orchestra has altered the previous balance of power that existed in Finland, in terms of groups with musical prestige.

According to Aho in the interview, this competitive nature was augmented when a new hall built for the Lahti Orchestra was considered by some to be better than the performance hall for the Helsinki Philharmonic.

During the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s 10-week tour of the United States, the world-renowned Canadian pianist Louis Lortie will accompany them. Lortie has gained worldwide acclaim for his interpretation of Beethoven’s works.

A hidden jewel, a small regional band that could have easily been overshadowed, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra has earned a unique place of prestige among nationally acclaimed orchestras. It has formed a niche that few acts can fill.

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