Sibelius Hall in Lahti gets magnificent concert organ
52-stop French romantic organ arrives seven years after official opening
By Hannu-Ilari Lampila in Lahti
The Sibelius Hall in Lahti has had to wait seven years for the arrival of the concert organ designed for the 1,230-seat main auditorium, but on Thursday of last week the waiting was over.
Four organists - Erkki Krohn, Kalevi Kiviniemi, Hans-Ola Ericsson, and Colin Walsh - gave the inaugural concert after the handing over of the new instrument, a 3-manual, 52-stop beauty in the French romantic style. The organ has been manufactured by the Swedish firm of Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri.
Right out of the box, the Sibelius Hall, which was completed in 2000, has been regarded as Finland's finest concert hall in terms of its acoustic properties. And the respected British music magazine The Gramophone even went so far in its October 2006 issue as to rank the auditorium as the 5th best concert hall in the world.
And yet... the Sibelius Hall auditorium has been something of a work in progress until now. The organ space has been covered with a black curtain, hiding a space around three metres deep, fifteen metres tall, and ten metres wide.
Money - or the lack of it - was the problem.
Thursday's event was an important milestone in Finnish concert music life. The country has around 60 operating concert halls, but only two of them come with a full organ.
The first concert organ was built into the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. This is a fine 70-stop instrument, but sadly it has not been of much joy to Finnish music-lovers. The fault does not lie with the builders or even with the technical design of Enzio Forsblom (together with architect Alvar Aalto), so much as with the dry acoustics of Finlandia Hall itself, which means this organ sounds "like it is being played in a wicker basket".
When the new Music House opens up in Helsinki in 2010, there will be a third Finnish concert organ, as the cost of the instrument has been included in the overall budget. Plans call for a 66-stop instrument.
But back to Lahti. The Sibelius Hall organ is designed primarily for soloist recitals and orchestral concerts, but there are also plans afoot for light music and family concerts.
The organ can also produce some quite remarkable effects.
"This one has the official name ‘Trumba', but we have already dubbed it ‘Harley Davidson'", grins organ tuner and technical wizard Andreas Krischer, and he provides a sample.
Sure enough, it does sound as if a Harley is being kicked into life, and the pipe generates a deep, throaty, and very beefy sound.
If you would rather hear the warble of birdsong than the growl of a Harley Davidson, there is an effects register for that, too. Cymbelstjärna [cymbal star] has the sort of twinkling sound that would go well with Christmas, while Regnmaskin [rain machine] is an effect for warmer seasons. When Andreas Krischer unleashes Xylofon it actually sounds as if a miniature xylophonist is tinkling away at his instrument among the organ pipes.
Krischer is clearly delighted with the whole Lahti project. "It has been a pleasure to build an organ for such great acoustics as they have here. And the instrument and the acoustics match perfectly. The reverberation time for the Lahti organ is around four seconds, which makes for an almost cathedral-like effect. Although in truth the reverb times in some cathedrals can be as much as ten seconds."
Up at ceiling level, the organ can churn out 135dB of raw sound. The roar is enough to send your head spinning off your shoulders. It is well beyond the human pain-threshold of 130dB, which is what you might typically get in front of the speaker-stacks at a rock concert.
In the auditorium stalls and gallery, the sound level is a much more manageable 95dB, although this, too, is a lot of sound.
The EUR 1.2 million organ did not "come as standard" with the hall, and already before the building was completed, organist Erkki Krohn set up the Pro Organo Pleno association to raise the necessary extra funds.
The first membership fees were enough to buy the coffees for the inaugural meeting.
In 2000, the Finnish Cultural Foundation made available a grant of FIM 2 million (c. EUR 340,000) as a nest-egg for the project.
EU European Regional Development Fund assistance was dependent on the local community's also opening its purse strings. The first attempt in 2000 failed, when the Lahti City Board voted down a proposal to provide FIM 1 million (c. EUR 170,000).
The following year, the city fathers agreed to provide FIM 700,000 in aid, after local water and energy utilities had promised to find the other FIM 300,000 between them. When the ERDF released its own EUR 488,000 for the project, it was possible to invite tenders.
There was still the little sum of EUR 200,000 missing, and this was sought from sponsors and "Friends of the Organ" gala concerts.
In the end, public financing made up around 50% of the EUR 1.2 million project. Pro Organo Pleno collected around half a million euros in contributions.
Roughly 20,000 man-hours went into the construction at the Gronlunds Orgelbyggeri factory in Luuluja, or 400 hours per organ stop.
The metal pipes are made from an alloy of lead and tin, and the wooden pipes are from Scandinavian pine.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.5.2007
Sibelius Hall, Lahti
Pro Organo Pleno
Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri, Lahti Sibelius Hall Organ, 3/52
HANNU-ILARI LAMPILA / Helsingin Sanomat