Then

During the performance of Autumn Divertimento by Harri Ahmas the trio sound felt rather free but the acoustic feedback seemed a bit insensitive to dynamics. On the other hand the reflections from the wall behind were slightly oversensitive, emphasizing the high pitch noises, why both the cello and the double bass sounded a bit harsh onstage, although reportedly not for the audience. The harp sounded bright and powerful also in its lowest register. However, due to the complicated organizing of the large Mussorgsky ensemble rehearsals, we had just one trio rehearsal in the hall two days before the concert. With only a brief dress rehearsal, we had rather little time for acoustic adaptation and simply had to trust in a few comments from the consulting acoustician and in our own intuition. However, we could hear each other well and the performance was as concentrated as we had expected.

The final positioning of the Mussorgsky ensemble was decided as being off the orchestra risers and on the most, though not completely, solid patch of the hall floor. According to an unnamed conductor "All the stage floors in this building are - sheer mud!" In the end this only place - compared to performing on the riser structure - actually brought out the lowest frequencies of the double basses, which are essential for opening up the overtone resonance of the complete ensemble. This is naturally a two-way phenomenon which Jukka Isopuro sees from the opposite direction in his Second Opinion of the 2nd concert: "… the basses actually sound deeper when supported by the overtones of the upper octave of cellos." After listening to the concert recording, one could also notice that the microphones had caught the conductor's foot movements booming on the floor proving the too light structure.

The brief double bass solos I played in the Mussorgsky felt onstage, like in the trio performance, a bit scratchy. Since my colleagues sitting further from the wall did not share these sensations the feeling could have been partly caused by the proximity of the wall but also the fact that the double doors leading to a storage space happened to be immediately behind me. The doors were naturally not part of the acoustic element and the surface structure remained unknown.

The complete Mussorgsky ensemble sounded basically as planned and we could optimize the effect of the reverberation. Because of the intended purpose of this particular hall, the reverberation can only occur in the uppermost parts of the high hall, which sometimes produces a bit peculiar sensation. There was more than enough of the grind of the strings and the percussive elements, especially of the cellos, were well represented. Based on my own experience, the sound projected to the side balcony is even better than to the audience on the floor, which was fortunate because my doctoral jury was seated on the balcony.

Although the piece is considered as chamber music, the role of a conductor was a crucial in preparation and performance for the Mussorgsky Pictures. The unusual and large ensemble is extremely hard to control or even have a conception of the complete sound from within. Besides the conductor's role following through the rehearsals saves a lot of energy and time avoiding open conversation and musing, not to mention the interpretative aspect.

 

Afterwards

At the end of this four-year concert project, it was pleasant to realize that one is still capable of learning from experience. (Even an earthworm learns from electric shocks!) The ultimate organizing challenge was naturally the ten-player Mussorgsky ensemble. The final choice of the hall was a compromise between acoustics and logistics. The location of the Rehearsal Hall Paavo in the Helsinki Music Centre enabled us to combine the schedules of musicians working in several different orchestras, two of them residing in that very building. Also, by the end of May the academic year was already over, which provided more options for rehearsal times in the hall and with the trio mainly elsewhere in the building. Good practical circumstances provide musicians more time to adapt to the acoustics and can therefore partly compensate minor acoustic problems.

As such, the acoustics of the Rehearsal Hall Paavo were good for the trio and acceptable for the Mussorgsky ensemble, although the latter would have gained from a longer reverberation time. Therefore, some of the luxurious shine of the overtone ring was not fully achieved. However, the main acoustic problem appeared to be the resonating stage riser structure in the floor consuming the lowest bass frequencies. That defect we mainly could avoid by performing off the risers.

Because of its rather idiomatic instrumental nature, the premiered trio mostly came together during the rehearsals on the basis of musicians' experience and intuition. Typically for Harri Ahmas, the score contains enough information and guidelines for performance. Therefore, minimal additional conversation between the musicians and the composer was needed – showing also that the composition was truly finished.

Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition arranged by Ilkka Pälli represented my final demonstration of consonant overtone resonance. It also beautifully displays the cello as the perfect string instrument as well as the subtle sound symbiosis between cellos and double basses. For rehearsing and performing this technically complicated piece, the role of the conductor was crucial. Both musically and ensemble-sound-wise the fact that conductor Hannu Lintu is also a cellist himself could not remain a secret. Even though the acoustics of the Rehearsal Hall Paavo appeared not quite perfect for the purposes of the large ensemble, we were well able to execute the innovative sound ideas that Ilkka Pälli had generated from Mussorgsky's original piano composition and let the overtones ring.