Islander in the City by Pablo A. Tariman:


Last-minute engagements always do wonders to 22-year old Filipino-Finnish conducting sensation Tarmo Peltokoski.

Late last week, he replaced the Russian conducting great Valeri Gergiev who was given the marching order when he refused to make a stand on Putin’s murderous stand on Ukraine.

His maiden stint with Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra was full of glory with the equally legendary pianist Yuja Wang as his soloist in five performances of Rachmaninoff 1, Variations on A Theme by Paganini and Sibelius’ Second Symphony.

Music observer Osmo Buller noted that the 22-year old Tarmo Peltokoski charmed the audience at the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra concert.

Critic Rahul Gandolahage opined that the concert was the best of the whole past season which is quite an achievement considering that the orchestra has been conducted by many great maestros.

The critic said the show was “stunning, breathtaking and tear-jerking beautiful.”

Music critic added that “Peltokoski probably heard Sibelius on travel radio when he was born, because he leads from outside and feels the music up to his toes.”

The critic was so enchanted by the performance and added: “I still get goosebumps as I write this.”

He implored his readers: “Tarmo Peltokoski. Remember the name.”

As it turned out, Peltokoski had five evenings of enchanted audiences from The Netherlands to Brussels.

Yuja Wang posted on her Instagram account with the video of her and the conductor playing their encore piece, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5: “It’s been a fun week with Rachmaninov, Tarmo Peltokoski and the Rotterdam Philharmonisch Orkest.”

Late in 2019 before the pandemic, Peltokoski debuted with the Manila Symphony Orchestra and instantly brought the house down in a program of Beethoven’s Fifth and with violin soloist Jeanne Marquez in the Sibelius concerto.

The Sibelius concerto is considered the Holy Grail of all violin concertos; it is often categorized as a diploma-level piece in higher music education. Peltokoski and the MSO breezed through it with aplomb. Marquez’s tone was solid and refined and she had rapport with the orchestra.

Meanwhile the young conductor was in command, showing he knew the piece inside and out. The performance was one of the shining moments of the MSO.

Less than three years after that Manila debut, the young conductor is taking Europe by storm.

He was recently named chief guest conductor of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen — the first to hold that position in 45 years.

He was recently appointed music and artistic director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO) in its coming season.

Recounted LNSO director Indra Lukina on how the Filipino-Finnish conductor was hired. “In LNSO’s previous seasons, several of the world’s brightest conductors have been invited to perform with them in search of their next director. Peltokoski quickly became a favorite with the ensemble and was appointed to the role four months later. On the second day of rehearsals, it was clear that he was the one we were looking for! He captivated the musicians with his compelling musical ideas and delighted them with his intelligent respect for the music and those performing it. We look forward to a vibrant and eventful journey into the world of music!”

The key to a good, consistent performance? “My teacher Jorma Panula and many before him have put it simply: there are only three rules: study scores, study scores and study scores. Of course, it doesn’t end there. One also has to conduct and rehearse well.”

One caught up with the conductor after his last Brussels engagement and before his return engagement with Kammerorchester Basel in Switzerland.

He said he really got along well with the celebrity of the hour, Yuja Wang. “We had five fun days together. I guess it helped that I am a pianist, I’ve always felt close to Rachmaninoff’s music and we had especially good time playing encores together. Her pianistic ability is of course from another planet and this was something that I’ve been dreaming about for years. Never would’ve guessed that it’d happen so soon.”

Another distinguished soloist he had was the Russian-born Viktoria Mullova, a winner of the 1980 International Jean Sibelius Competition in Helsinki and the gold medal in the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition.

During the tour in Finland in 1983, the Russian violinist made world headlines when she defected to the West. At about this time, Filipino conductor Redentor Romero privately introduced her to me.

Recalled Peltokoski of his encounter with Mullova: “Accompanying Mullova in a Sibelius concerto was a special moment for me. I’ve been watching her performance of that piece from the Sibelius competition in 1980 where she won. The video is also special for other reasons: it was performed in Helsinki and it was conducted by my beloved teacher, Jorma Panula.”

He has a special place in his heart for the Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen which appointed him as chief guest conductor. “For me it’s not just an orchestra, they are my family. I love them all and the musicians are my close friends. It’s an incredible blessing to have this position with this group of people. They really are the best. Frankfurt’s Radio is a very good orchestra and I enjoyed my week there a lot. They are rather Germanic but that’s just the way I like it.”

As it is, good breaks are coming one after another in the world of music.

He reflects: “I know quite well what I’ll be doing in the next few years and my calendar is extending all the time further and further. It will take decades to run out of repertoire to explore. I am sure I will not have any trouble knowing what to do. I’m only thankful that I’m able to do what I’ve wanted since I was a little boy.”

A curious question: what is the Filipino in you?

Said the young maestro: “I spent my childhood eating rice.”



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