VERSOI ENSEMBLE - A NEW INTERNATIONAL GROUP - DEBUTS AT NEW YORK’S MERKIN HALL ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2018
Press Release - IMMEDIATE - Friday, October 5, 2018 | Download PDF
BROUGHT TOGETHER BY A JUILLIARD SCHOOL/SIBELIUS ACADEMY COLLABORATION IN 2017, YOUNG MUSICIANS FORM A NEW FORCE FOR MUSIC AND CULTURAL DIPLOMACY.
NEW YORK – In the summer of 2017, two of the top performing arts schools in the world partnered to create a high-profile hands-across-the-water collaboration: a joint-orchestra comprised of musicians representing both The Juilliard School of New York and the Sibelius Academy of Helsinki. Led by superstar conductor (and Sibelius Academy alumnus) Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra gave performances in world-renowned concert venues in Helsinki, Stockholm, and New York. The New York Times, in its review of the final concert, described the ensemble as “excellent … as only to be expected from such lofty auspices.”
That “lofty” collaboration has seeded a very grounded new enterprise. Inspired by the performances and friendship that resulted from the seeming once-in-a-lifetime experience, four of the orchestra’s alumni from Juilliard and two from the Sibelius Academy have founded the Versoi Ensemble, a group that will make its debut with a concert at New York’s Merkin Hall on Tuesday, November 13, 2018, and the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center Holley Hall in Sarasota, Florida, on November 18.
“Versoi” in Finnish means “to sprout.” And the ensemble’s motto is “Cultural diplomacy through chamber music.”
“Many of us had been considering, independently, how we could re-ignite the spirit of the tour,” said Mosa Tsay, a Juilliard cellist who is the executive director of Versoi Ensemble. “That spirit resulted from an exciting combination of new music, collaboration, and cultural exchange, and Versoi Ensemble aims to continue that through chamber music.” “Cultural diplomacy was always an interest, but it has become a central part of what we want to do going forward,” said violinist Max Tan, the group’s artistic director. “The orchestra tour was, essentially, an inspiring example of Juilliard’s ‘artist as citizen’ philosophy. What we hope to do through chamber music in Versoi is to build communities of colleagues and listeners who share this passion. We certainly hope it leads to more chamber music projects with friends in the future.”
For its inaugural project, the Versoi Ensemble features a core membership of Max Tan, violin (MM, Artist Diploma candidate, Juilliard School); Johannes Hakulinen, violin (graduate student, Sibelius Academy); Bethany Hargreaves, viola (MM, Juilliard School); Max Nyman, viola (MM candidate, Sibelius Academy); and Matthew Chen, cello (MM candidate, Juilliard School). This quintet will perform a chamber music program of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Homunculus for string quartet and Dvořák’s String Quintet in E-flat Major in both New York and Sarasota. At the Merkin Hall concert, 22 string musicians from the orchestra tour will reunite to join the quintet in performances of Sibelius’s Romance in C Major for Strings, and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra.
The programming for the Versoi Ensemble reflected various considerations, including its commitment to high quality music-making as well as repertoire that reflected the wishes of all its members. “Our conversations about programming started out as a potluck,” said Mosa, “with everyone bringing something to the table. The experience of working with Maestro Salonen as conductor and composer was eye-opening, and so to program Homunculus was a unanimous decision. We wanted the program to be rooted in the same collaborative spirit as the rehearsal process.”
The Versoi Ensemble will follow its debut concert with a performance in Sarasota, Florida, on November 18, 2018, in partnership with Music for Food, a musician-led initiative to fight hunger in local communities. “In the spirit of Versoi Ensemble’s cultural diplomacy vision, the advocacy for fundamental human rights or needs that transcend beyond international borders is of paramount importance,” said Max. In this collaboration, the ensemble partners with All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota to raise awareness and combat local hunger. Music For Food, founded by Grammy award winning violist Kim Kashkashian in 2010, “believes both music and food are essential to human life and growth.” The concerts organized through its platform bring “music to the ears, food to the table.”
MEETING IN 2017, AN ENSEMBLE IN 2018.
“We live in times of growing isolationism,” Esa-Pekka Salonen commented in an interview during the orchestra tour. “And for a small country like Finland, active international cooperation in all fields is of utmost importance.” The collaboration between two major international music institutions was featured heavily with live video and radio broadcasts by YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) and Sveriges Radio (Radio Sweden). Kaarlo Hildén, Dean of the Sibelius Academy, said of the collaboration, “We will be creating a new generation of cultural ambassadors by giving these young talented musicians an opportunity like this – not only will this cooperation provide creative inspiration to our young participants, it also gives them a chance to build a network with their peers overseas.”
This was a catalyst for the discussions between Mosa, Johannes, and the two Maxes after months of keeping in touch. As current full-time graduate students with quickly developing careers, the four founders sought funding to support musicians working as cultural ambassadors. On March 21, 2018, they were awarded a grant from the Finlandia Foundation National, an organization that promotes Finnish culture in the U.S. and encourages cultural exchange, one of whose early patrons was Jean Sibelius. Their planning efforts were guided by the Friends of The Sibelius Academy in New York, and the project is advised by Leland Hoch, Treasurer and a founder of the Friends, who has been working on behalf of the Sibelius Academy in the U.S. since 1976, and the organization’s Interim Executive Director, Dr. Erika Sauer. Together, the two advisors offer over forty years of concert presentation experience and have helped the young team of musicians realize the potential and importance of ambassadorship and diplomacy.
Chamber music is the focus of the Versoi Ensemble. According to Max, “the medium is perfect for building bridges between people and cultures because it is such an intimate form of collaboration. In response to the rising tide of isolationism, we believe that we can build communities of artists and listeners through this engagement, and every friendship we build is a bridge to a more peaceful world in the future.” While the Versoi Ensemble is starting out as an exponent of Finnish-American collaboration, its founders foresee a future in which membership expands beyond the roster of the joint-orchestra tour. “We look forward to this movement continuing even further,” said Mosa, “with our counterpart organizers developing projects in other countries or other musicians finding unique project ideas that we can enable and support under this vision.”
The November 13 international debut of the Versoi Ensemble is presented by Friends of The Sibelius Academy, the American support foundation of the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. The New York and Sarasota concerts are made possible by a major grant from the Ehrnrooth Foundation, Helsinki.
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