A 100-day challenge at new Music Centre
Managing Director Katja Leppäkoski’s task is to ensure a high occupancy rate at the Helsinki Music Centre.
By Katri Kallionpää
”Hey, aren't you the new MD?" says soprano Anu Komsi with some astonishment as Katja Leppäkoski, 41, climbs the steps leading onto the stage in the Helsinki Music Centre.
The meeting is warm and, from Leppäkoski’s point of view, also a little bit historic: this is the first time she has used her own keys to enter the auditorium.
Leppäkoski is showing us around the building that has been in operation since the autumn.
In February Leppäkoski, the festival director of the Pori Jazz Festival, was appointed as the new MD of the Helsinki Music Centre.
Leppäkoski’s greatest challenge going forward is to rent out the premises to outside users during those one hundred days a year when the centre’s own orchestras or the Sibelius Academy are not holding concerts.
“And no, I'm not planning to bring Pori Jazz down here”, Leppäkoski laughs.
Leppäkoski is a fan of 20th century classical composers, such as Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich , and Claude Debussy, but she also listens to pop, jazz, and soul in the form of the likes of Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, and Joni Mitchell.
“Why should we limit the use of the Music Centre to only certain music styles”, Leppäkoski wonders.
In her view, the premises can be used for any production that will physically fit in there and will benefit from the excellent acoustics of the place.
As a fitting example, Leppäkoski mentions New York’s Carnegie Hall, where a rich variety of stars such as Benny Goodman, Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Édith Piaf, Duke Ellington, the Beach Boys, and Karita Mattila have all performed.
Leppäkoski also plans to stage cooperative productions in the building involving the centre’s own orchestras (the Finnish Radio Symphony and the Helsinki Philharmonic) and the Sibelius Academy but also outsiders such as the Helsinki Festival, plus commercial entertainment agencies and promoters.
Furthermore, visits throughout the year by various acclaimed international orchestras will form an important part of the development of the Music Centre’s profile, Leppäkoski says.
The Music Centre has been without a leader since November, when Helena Hiilivirta and Kenneth Katter, the two directors of the centre, suddenly resigned.
Initially an economic expert was sought to come and fill the void, for the centre’s books were badly out of balance. Consequently, Harri Kauppinen was brought out of retirement as a temporary managing director to balance the books and to organise the centre’s complicated expenses calculations in such a way that the three main users of the premises would share the outgoings and the accrued revenue in correct proportion.
This is now a good moment for Leppäkoski to take over the helm, even if she is not an economist per se.
Leppäkoski originates from the west-coast town of Rauma. At the University of Jyväskylä she studied musicology, cultural production, journalism, and education.
But when it comes to her present position, Leppäkoski's true seat of learning has been the Pori Jazz Festival, where she started as a humble ticket seller back in 1997.
Leppäkoski then became a production manager and ultimately the managing director, who was in charge of the festival’s EUR five million budget.
A year ago her title changed to that of festival director and nowadays she is also in charge of the festival’s content.
Leppäkoski will continue her job in Pori until the end of July.
The family, which includes her graduate engineer husband and an 18-month-old daughter, is already looking for a residence in the capital.
Leppäkoski is said to be familiar with the music production side of things as well as the world of international entertainment agencies. She is also said to know how to drum up sponsors.
And she knows how to construct a programme that will be of interest to the public.
What also gives Leppäkoski ammunition for her new task is the fact that she was also named as a representative in the Helsinki Music Centre Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to use interest income to promote the centre’s concert production activities.
However, at present the foundation’s capital is only EUR one million in total. “The sum should be five times higher”, Leppäkoski points out.
The foundation is owned by the City of Helsinki, but the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE is currently discussing how it, too, could support the foundation’s operations.
Our tour continues to the Sibelius Academy premises and the small auditoriums. The sound of Leppäkoski’s high heels resounds from the structures as she walks up and down the centre’s various stairs.
What give added momentum to her stride is the fact that Leppäkoski was offered the job in spite of the fact that she had not actually applied for it.
“On the closing day of the application period, I was asked if I had filed an application. Jokingly I said that only if they come and get me from home”, Leppäkoski laughs.
When head hunters did send her an invitation to a job interview, she no longer resisted.
We end our sightseeing tour at the second floor foyer, the view from which leaves some room for improvement: a ramshackle storehouse and a gaggle of construction-site huts.
But Leppäkoski sees further: the new public library, the Museum of Modern Art, the Music Centre, and the Finlandia Hall with its re-laid gardens. What an amazing location for various types of city festivals.
“An unparalleled cultural hub could be established here, a cluster of art experiences , where everything is within a one-kilometre radius. This is what I would like to promote”, Leppäkoski envisions.
One promise Leppäkoski can give straight away: in five to ten years’ time the Helsinki Music Centre will be so well-known that people from abroad will travel to see events here.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 11.5.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Music Centre directors abruptly leave the building (25.11.2012)
Stravinsky´s Rite of Spring finally lights up Helsinki´s new Music Centre (1.9.2011)
House of hope and dreams: Helsinki´s Music Centre opens its doors (31.8.2011)
Helsinki Music Centre website
Helsinki Music Centre (Wikipedia)
KATRI KALLIONPÄÄ / Helsingin Sanomat