The Mänttä Music Festival has grown from an event for young pianists to an internationally renowned piano festival. The Mänttä Music Festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2024.
The idea of a festival for young pianists was born among piano students at the Sibelius Academy in the late 1990s. While there were many chamber music festivals, there was no annual piano festival in Finland. So we had to do it ourselves. It was with great enthusiasm that the first Mänttä Music Festival was organised in the summer of 1999. Niklas Pokki, who has been the artistic director of the festival throughout its history, was responsible for the programme.
The wide-ranging, high-quality festival and its ambitious twentysomething organisers attracted a lot of attention - the energy of the young pianist attracted the media and the press coverage was extensive from the start. In 2001, the festival made its first appearance on television when Iza Lewenstam's documentary about the Mänttä Music Festival was broadcast on Yle 1.
An important milestone was the 5th anniversary in 2003, when the first major commissioned work of the Mänttä Music Festival, Kalevi Aho's Piano Concerto No. 2, was performed in Vilppula Church. Antti Siirala was the soloist and Osmo Vänskä conducted the strings of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. In the same year, the Mänttä Music Festival, together with the Mänttä Visual Arts Festival, was chosen as the Festival of the Year by Finland Festivals.
The Mänttä Music Festival also began to attract some young international talent. Among the young people who have performed at the festival since the mid-2000s are Ran Dank, who is making a name for himself as a pianist and teacher in the United States, and Igor Levit, who performs as a soloist with some of the world's most famous orchestras. Many of the Finnish musicians who have performed in Mänttä have gone on to great international careers. One example is the group that performed as the Mänttä Music Festival Quartet in 2001 and is now known by the more catchy name of Meta4.
From an event for young pianists to an international festival
The visit of French-Cypriot virtuoso legend Cyprien Katsaris to the 10th anniversary festival in 2008 even made the main news on television. The Mänttä Music Festival had taken a big step towards its future international status. However, young Finnish stars were the most important part of the line-up at the 10th anniversary festival.
After the 10th anniversary, the Mänttä Music Festival was more determined than ever to develop into a meeting place for all kinds of piano music lovers - piano lovers, amateurs, teachers - where the public could meet Finnish and international pianists and promising young artists in a relaxed and intimate environment. The party featured some of the most interesting Finnish pianists, from Antti Siirala to Olli Mustonen, as well as international young talents such as Severin von Eckardstein and Denis Kozhukin.
Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin's visit to the festival for its 15th anniversary in 2013 was something of a dream come true for the organisers - Hamelin's recordings and choice of repertoire had been one of the great sources of inspiration in the early days of the festival. A packed hall confirmed the organisers' belief that recitals by international star pianists was a possible direction for the festival. In a way, the Hamelin concert was the starting point for the future development of the Mänttä Music Festival.
International appeal and record attendance at the new concert venue, the Serlachius Museum in Gösta
In 2014, the Mänttä Music Festival entered a new era when it began a partnership with the Gösta Serlachius Art Foundation. The main concert venue was the newly renovated Serlachius Museum Gösta. A series of sold-out evening concerts concluded with a Beethoven recital by Paul Lewis from Great Britain.
In the same year, the summer programme of the Finnish Youth Piano Academy enriched the masterclasses launched by the Mänttä Music Festival in 2011. The young people were accommodated at the historic Huhkojärvi building, owned by the R. Erik and Bror Serlachius Foundation. Since 2015, top young talents from the Youth Piano Academy Finland and the Sibelius Academy have been featured in the Young Artists of the Festival Concert. Launched in 2021, the Nordic Piano Academy is the latest addition to the educational activities.
The Gösta Museum's unique, natural and art-filled environment and modern concert facilities set the stage for the Festival's future. Since the start of the partnership with the museum, the festival has become more international every year, while audience numbers and ticket sales have increased dramatically.
The Sibelius centenary year of 2015 will be remembered for the premieres of the winning piano works of the International Sibelius Composition Competition and Angela Hewitt's dazzling performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations.
The Mänttä Music Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. A major world premiere was Kalevi Aho's Piano Sonata No. 2, performed by Sonja Fräki at the opening concert. International star guests included Sergey Babayan and Jeremy Denk. The 150th birthday of Vilppula's Oskar Merikanto coincided with the festival's closing day, which was celebrated with a concert by Johanna Rusanen and Folke Gräsbeck in Vilppula Church.
For the sixth year in a row, the 2019 festival attracted a record number of visitors. Among the stars of the festival were Beatrice Rana, Marc-André Hamelin and Finnish Paavali Jumppanen. The Clara Schumann jubilee year was reflected in a number of concerts.
Memorable festivals despite the changes brought about by the pandemic
The pandemic years also affected the Mänttä Music Festival. The festival planned for the beginning of August 2020 had to be cancelled due to the situation with Covid19. However, negotiations with artists and agents resulted in a favourable outcome: the entire festival was practically postponed to the following year.
However, the 2021 festival was also affected by the pandemic. The Pirkanmaa Regional Administrative Centre imposed a two-metre safety distance for public events on the Friday before the Mänttä Music Festival, giving the festival a weekend to set up everything in the Koskela School Centre sports hall. Thanks to the festival's rigorous health and safety measures, not a single case of infection was recorded after the festival, and the well-managed arrangements received high praise from the press.
The 2021 festival programme was spectacular. It included the world premiere of Tapani Länsiö's piano concerto, Ian Bostridge and Saskia Giorgini's Shubert recital and Andreas Haefliger's Beethoven concerto.
In 2022, the festival returned to the Gösta Museum. One of the highlights was a performance by the young super virtuoso Seong-Jin Cho, whose fans came to Mänttä-Vilppula from as far away as South Korea and the United States.
The 2023 Mänttä Music Festival was the most international in its history, with a star-studded line-up that any piano festival could boast of. Among them were Boris Giltburg, Gabriela Montero, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Tiffany Poon and Paul Lewis, as well as young stars Jeneba Kanneh-Mason and Piotr Pawlak.
Mänttä Music Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2024
In the summer of 2024, the Mänttä Music Festival will celebrate a quarter of a century and will not be left behind. Ingrid Fliter, Yeol Eum Son, Laura Mikkola, Severin von Eckardstein, Elisabeth Brauss, Javier Perianes, Anton Mejias and Pierre-Laurent Aimard are among the artists to be heard in Gösta's Kivijärvi Hall.
The Mänttä Music Festival has grown from a festival of young Finnish pianists to an internationally renowned event with world-class piano recitals and young piano talent as its cornerstones. Over the next twenty-five years, the festival aims to grow in stature rather than size. We aim to continue to be a unique piano festival of the highest quality and international acclaim.