Ex­press­ing emo­tions

Fin­nish pian­ist Folke Gräs­beck makes Shang­hai de­but

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - COMMUNITY - By Chen Shasha

“W hen I was two years old, my mom let me sit be­side her at the pi­ano and started to play Dis­ney’s Snow White to me. This was my first teach­ing,” renowned Fin­nish pian­ist Folke Gräs­beck told the Global Times be­fore his first-ever solo con­cert in Shang­hai, part of China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val.

Gräs­beck ded­i­cated his per­for­mance at Shang­hai Con­cert Hall to the mem­ory of Jean Si­belius (1865-1957), a renowned Fin­nish com­poser and vi­olin­ist of the late Ro­man­tic pe­riod.

Each com­po­si­tion performed by Gräs­beck were vari­a­tions of works writ­ten by Si­belius. Gräs­beck is a ver­i­ta­ble ex­pert on Si­belius, his per­for­mances and his com­po­si­tions. As a se­nior teacher ac­com­pa­nist at the Si­belius Academy since 1985, Gräs­beck re­ceived a Mas­ter of Mu­sic in 1997 and held his doc­toral dis­pu­ta­tion in 2008 with a the­sis ti­tled, “The Pi­ano in Si­belius’s Youth Pro­duc­tion.”

Gräs­beck said that, from Si­belius’s works, au­di­ences can “feel” the land­scape of Fin­land in­clud­ing the stretch­ing, snowy moun­tains and its strong pines, a metaphor for the long strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence and strong will of the Fin­nish peo­ple. “His [Si­belius’] na­tional ro­man­tic mu­sic was try­ing to ex­press emo­tion and feel­ing, like real Fin­nish mu­sic,” Gräs­beck said.

Emo­tion of de­pen­dence

Fin­lan­dia is a tone poem cre­ated by Si­belius in 1899 when the coun­try was op­pressed by Tsarist Rus­sia. To avoid cen­sor­ship, it used to be played un­der al­ter­na­tive names.

As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive work of Si­belius, the com­po­si­tion has gained world­wide pop­u­lar­ity over the decades. “I think this is be­cause peo­ple of other coun­tries can un­der­stand the emo­tion of de­pen­dence we have from the mu­sic. It was ro­man­tic, but also historic,” he ex­plained.

Gräs­beck has performed over 400 of Si­belius’ 600 com­po­si­tions and is one of the main per­form­ers on the Si­belius Edi­tion, a col­lec­tion of 68 CDs re­leased by BIS Records.

He also plays some of Si­belius’ pri­vate manuscripts, which are un­known by the out­side world. Ac­cord­ing to him, Si­belius was very sen­si­tive to both the na­ture and


“One day he was walk­ing along the shore and found a very strong smell. Then he went home and im­pro­vised Capric­cio. It is definitely not well­known but I think this is quite a dra­matic piece,” said Gräs­beck.

“I played the first per­for­mance [of Capric­cio] in Mex­ico in 2002. They said that this was one of his best pieces. Since then I played it a lot be­cause it is for­got­ten but de­serves to be played,” Gräs­beck added.


Learn­ing pi­ano at a young age, Gräs­beck won first prize at the age of 17 in the Maj Lind Com­pe­ti­tion of 1973, play­ing Prokofiev’s Pi­ano Con­certo No.1 in the fi­nal round. He has given per­for­mances in many coun­tries and re­gions in­clud­ing the US, Ja­pan, Is­rael and Egypt.

Gräs­beck has also performed over 30 pi­ano con­cer­tos as a soloist to­gether with fa­mous con­duc­tors and or­ches­tras from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and re­gions.

He was awarded Artist of the Year 1999 by the UK Si­belius So­ci­ety, Cross of Merit of Fin­land’s Lion’s Or­der by the for­mer Fin­nish Pres­i­dent Tarja Halo­nen, the Si­belius Medal by The Si­belius So­ci­ety of Fin­land in 2014 and the Si­belius Medal in Sil­ver by the Birth House of Si­belius in Hämeen­linna in 2015.

For Gräs­beck, play­ing pi­ano seems some­thing that comes from birth. “When I was 12 or 13, I wasn’t think­ing ‘I am go­ing to choose pi­ano as my pro­fes­sion,’ be­cause I feel like I have al­ways been a pian­ist. I have a very nice life be­cause I get great en­joy­ment from mu­sic. I have been play­ing so much that I don’t know a life with­out the pi­ano,” Gräs­beck said.

Photo: Cour­tesy of China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val File photo: VCG

Top: Folke Gräs­beck per­forms. Vis­i­tors at Si­belius Mon­u­ment, Helsinki, cap­i­tal of Fin­land

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