Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The episodes occur now and then; I experience periods of withdrawal from Ralf Gothoni, the Gilmore prize winning pianist, conductor, composer and essayist, who forever influenced my concept and understanding of music during his engagement as music director for Northwest Chamber Orchestra. This morning I decided to do something about it; take action; make contact. Ilkka hooked me up on Skype and Ralf appeared before my very eyes and ears, on the computer screen. Can you see me now? he asked. Morning in Seattle was night for him in Finland, and Ralf's unkempt hair gave me the giggles. Thank goodness he couldn't see me; my camera was switched off. Ralf Gothoni was just as I remembered; witty, astute, and rattling away. Maybe I have psychic powers. His violinist wife, Elina Vähälä, was enroute to Seattle before heading to Spokane for performances of the Bruch Concerto. Life's not fair, I tell you. Elina has the looks of a Miss World and her violin playing is world class. Ralf doesn't see much of his young wife these days; she's been touring in China, Venezuela and Israel. He's been performing in Turkey, South Africa, Germany and England.

First order of the day, was to tell my much-loved maestro that our brief time together with Northwest Chamber Orchestra was unforgettable, and the pinnacle of my 25 years with that organization. I could hear him smile and see him laugh. I don't think Finns are at ease with compliments.

Next was to find out if Ralf thought classical music would survive today's culture. On this subject, Ralf echoes my husband's views; the world is too stupid and complacent to care enough about deep, spiritual beauty, and the power of the pop culture media is too strong. Even schools in Finland are taking the easy way out, by teaching popular songs to children rather than classical music. As artists we must pass on meaningful traditions, and not partake in the stupidity of the masses, but endeavor to elevate mankind.

In his capacity as Artistic Chairman of Savonlinna Music Academy, Ralf has assisted in the birthing of the Finnish-Egyptian Musical Bridge, a musical collaboration which seeks to enhance cultural relations between Finland, Egypt, and other Arab countries through workshops, masterclasses, and joint performances. This brainchild reminds me of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop founded by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said. I've always had profound respect for this collaborative effort as a means for paving the way to a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For Ralf, music is but a catalyst for spiritual growth and renewal; a transformational force: Music is a causeway and a stairway of learning that can lead to wondrous worlds.

I feel better after our meeting; Ralf assures me our paths will again cross one day, and I choose to believe him.
Photo of Ralf Gothoni by Arto Tulima

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