Arto and Antti preview: Fiddling Finns bring Nordic dance music to Oregon

Ambassadors of Finnish folk music revival bring new and traditional tunes.

by DANIEL TAPIO HEILA

On a Sunday evening in Finland, some time in 1726, one Juho Wirkkala was given a five mark fine for playing fiddle at a dance. This unfortunate event did not seem to deter Juho. Jump forward almost 300 years and Juho’s lineage is a formidable fiddling force on the international folk music scene. Kaustinen Finland, a small town in the western region of Ostrobothnia, is home to some of Mr. Wirkkala’s relatives – the Järvelä family that renowned traditional Finnish folk musicians and cousins, Arto and Antti Järvelä hail from. The fiddle-guitar duo, whose ancestors were striking up the bow in papa Bach’s time, are touring Oregon throughout December in support of their debut CD, Os fera lilluli.

Arto and Antti perform in Eugene, Portland, and Ashland next week.

Arto and Antti perform in Eugene, Portland, and Ashland next week.

Over the past few decades a revival of Finnish folk music, spearheaded by the Kaustinen Folk Festival and bolstered by the Sibelius Academy’s folk music program, has produced world class traditional folk music artists. Arto and Antti Järvelä are some of the best. For decades, Arto and Antti, with uncle Mauno Järvelä, have been busy perpetuating traditional Nordic dance music, called pelimanni music in Finland. Mauno is a well known pedagogue and his teaching style is known as sisuki, a play on words joining Suzuki and sisu, a Finnish term for perseverance under harsh conditions (an Arctic Circle version of equanimity).

Sisu is evident in Arto and Antti’s recent promotional video (above) for their new CD, Os Fera Liluli. Accompanied by a lilting aire reminiscent of the best of Värttinä’s slow ballads, viewers enter the sauna (pronounced sow-nah, and yes, Oregonians, water is thrown on the rocks). After a brief stint that includes fine loyly, the boys, wrapped in towels, get some fresh air. Walking barefoot into the woods across verdant moss, the duo make their way to a small knoll and turn to face the camera. What comes next is truly touching and must been seen and heard to appreciate. Their stoic resistance to hordes of mosquitos is sisu indeed.

Pelimanni music is  Finland’s version of Nordic folk music, a dance based music that came to Finland from Central Europe in the 17th century by way of Norway and Sweden. It grew in popularity and by the 19th century had displaced runonlaulanta,the Kalevala influenced chant song. Traditionally played on clarinet and fiddle, pelimanni music has grown to include other instrumentation including harmonium, guitar, double bass and accordion, and it typically accompanies dances such as polkas, mazurkas, schottischse, and waltzes. The Kaustinen region of Ostrobothnia was instrumental in 20th century development of pelimanni music, reviving older tunes in addition to spawning new compositions in the style.

With traditional Ostrobothnian dance and ceremonial tunes anchoring their repertoire, the Järveläs bring their discipline and artistry to other international styles in several ensemble projects — for Arto: JPP, Nordik Tree, Pinnin Pojat among others, and for Antii: Frigg, JPP, Baltic Crossing, Troka and Kings of Polka. Having played together for years, the duo bring their expertise to lessons and workshops they offer abroad and at home. While they’ll naturally appeal to devotees of other traditional folk music styles, including Appalachian, classical music fans of Sibelius or Rautavaara, or who have witnessed the superb conducting of Salonen, Vänskä or Mälkki, will also be well rewarded by Arto and Antti’s concerts.

Arto and Antti perform December 7 at the Portland ScanFair, which for 30 years has preserved, communicated, and celebrated Scandinavian heritage and culture, and where you can get your picture taken with Joulupukki, Santa’s Finnish persona; on December 9, at Ashland’s Headwaters building, and at 8 pm at Eugene’s WOW Hall December 10, where they will also be offering a workshop from 5 to 7 pm. No contact details were available on a mysterious house concert in Portland on the 11th; perhaps information could be teased out of the fellas at one of the concerts!

Daniel Tapio Heilä is a composer, video artist and flutist. He is also a second gen Finn who is bound and determined to build a sauna this winter.

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