In a photo: Preschool and 1.-4.-grade division with Vilma Timonen

The 5th International kantele competition and KanteleKimara evaluation was held May 3rd-5th, 2019 at the Turku Conservatory of Music. Mrs Jenni Haukiowas patron for the event and kantele artist Ritva Koistinen-Armfeltwas the chief judge. Over 100 soloists of all ages from child to professional took part in the competition. Participants came from different parts of the world, Baltic countries and Japan in addition to Finland.

The divisions of folk music, art (classical) music and other music each had open, youth and professional competitive categories with professionals as judges. Volunteers and the hired production team took care of the organizational side. The competition made it possible to hear many kinds of music: for example modern music composed for kantele, compositions made by the entrants, pop music and contemporary folk music.

Unfortunately the patron of the competition, Jenni Haukio, was unable to attend, but she wished the competitors luck and success as well as many enjoyable moments with their kantele music. “The kantele association of Finland has done outstanding work by continually transferring our cultural heritage to new generations. Today kantele is used to interpret music from older traditional to classical and newer music. Kantele is the instrument of the future, an endless treasure house for anyone interested in learning about or playing in any genre. This is also shown in the pieces that the competitors have chosen to perform, casting spells on their audiences in many different ways,” wrote Mrs. Jenni Haukio in her letter of greetings.

The opening concert was held in the Sigyn Hall on Friday May 3rdwith performances by kantele artists Juulia Pölönen, the duo Riikka Timonen and Senni Eskelinen as well as students of Hanna Ryynänen who study at the Turku Conservatory. The evening music was provided by the ensemble Juurakko, which combines blues with folk music.

Students of Hanna Ryynänen who study at the Turku Conservatory. Photo Hannu Ryynänen.

The young kanteleplayers in Kantelekimara played their ways into the hearts of both the audiences and the judges!

 On Saturday May 4ththe lovely KanteleKimara  evaluation was held for preschoolers and students still in elementary schools. The level of proficiency was extremely high and the audience enjoyed both elaborate and touching performances. The day culminated with a performance by the ensemble Eppel & Peppel and the Kimara final concert.

“I would encourage all the musicians to let their creativity flow”, commented the speaker for the judges of the division for preschoolers and 1st thru 4th-graders, musician and music pedagog Vilma Timonen. The speaker for the judges in the division for 5thand 6th-graders, Ritva Koistinen-Armfelt, was elated by the fine performances of the participants: “Many different kanteles were heard in our division, even Latvian concert kuokle. The performances were captivating and thrilling, and a broad range of music was performed. I would encourage them to seek different timbres. Be brave and try to find your own style and interpretation.” The final concert included many own compositions, arrangements and improvisations. Some of the inspiration for these pieces came from magical realms and ghost ships. Musician and judge Tero Pajunen revealed: “I was moved to tears several times. Kantele is really a diverse instrument”. At the final concert of Kimara the yearly Kantele Association award recipients were announced. The annual kantele award was given to the Finnish kantele museum. The Golden Kantele for life achievement was awarded to kantele artist Helli Syrjäniemi. Kantele recording of the year was awarded to Okra Playground for the album Ääneni yli vesien (My Voice over the Water). The award for kantele group of the year was given to the ensemble Human Cell Signals.

“The top is wide-ranging”

A judge in the professional art (classical) music division, Eeva-Leena Pokela pictured the high skills and diversity aptly this way in the final concert of the competition. Performances on electric kanteles, concert kanteles, diatonic kanteles as well as small kanteles were heard. The profession division of art/classical music was larger than ever before and included among others’ interpretations of both music by Bach as well as modern music. Folk music and the other genres were also well-represented, for example Saarijärvi’s kantele and spellsinging were used in innovative ways. Many pieces were composed by the competitors themselves. It was hard to choose which divisions and competitors to listen to! Like in the Kimara the final concert included pieces heard and chosen by the judges during the day and then the divisions received their awards. It was great to hear and see how vital and diverse the kantele really is!


I met with some of the participants in the competition and Kimara, and I asked about their feelings after their performance.

Elina Riihirantais a 5th-grader studying at Espoo School of Music and participating in Kimara for the first time. She moved the judges and the audience with her delicate performance of The Beauty and the Beast.

“My teacher, Irina Cederberg, asked me to choose a piece from a movie,” she told. “It was fun to play, even though I was nervous at the beginning. But performing brings joy once you get going.” When I asked why Elina plays kantele she answered: The sound is really wonderful, I like playing kantele. You can play almost anything on the kantele.”  She played the kantele from the age of 4 in musical kindergarten and now at the Espoo School of Music since the first grade. She has also made her own compositions.

Venla Pönni, age 15, is also at the competition for the first time. She studies at the Turku Conservatory with Hanna Ryynänen and took part in the youth competition for other music. Venla has played kantele for eight years already, first on 5-string and then with diatonic kantele. Last fall she started playing concert kantele, and tells that she is very enthusiastic about this instrument: “Concert kanteles have so many features, the levers make many things possible. Kantele is so diverse, you can do everything with it! Kanteles have a bright timbre, but you can also get very harsh tones.

Venla composes a lot and her program at the competition consisted completely of her own compositions. “When I made my first composition for diatonic kantele I got a really inspirational feeling”, she explained. Venla told how her composing process comes from books that she sometimes reads in English as well. Movie music isn’t in the books, so she is inspired to make her own music. Venla told that she chooses some part of a book and composes it. She has mainly made instrumental compositions, sometimes in conjunction with her own poetry. “We played in the opening concert, and now I’m going to listen to others after my own performance”, she told.

Physiotherapist Riitta Udd from Säynätsalo in Jyväskylä participated in the open category for “other” music. She told that she plays Saarijärvi’s kantele, 11+4-stringed kantele and 5-string kantele. She was competing for the third time, previously she has been in both solo and group competitions.

In her performance Riitta played her own compositions on Saarijärvi’s kantele and sang. “In the 80’s, a little bit under 20, I started reading poems and then composing them on the piano. In 2011 I started to play kantele. Now I’ve arranged those compositions from my youth for kantele, it feels more personal than on piano”, Riitta tells. “I made the arrangements myself, but my teacher Ulla Honkonen has played an important role by teaching me different playing techniques.” Riitta has also studied with other teachers at kantele camps in Ilomantsi, and was there this year as well. “Now I’m so relieved, I’m satisfied! I’m waiting for this afternoon, by listening to others I’ll get new stimulation for my own playing!” she rejoiced.

The competition and Kimara also had participants from other countries

 Rie Kuramasu is a Japanese kanteleplayer, who took part in the open category for other music. Rie told her kantele history and her thoughts about playing kantele.

Rie tells that she studied musicology in Japan and heard about kantele years ago. She moved to Helsinki and lived there from 2015 to 2017, and began to play kantele then. Rie plays little kanteles and her first teacher was Pauliina Lerche, who taught her to play 11- and 16-string kanteles. Rie has since returned to Japan and lives in Tokio. She attends kantele artist and teacher Miho Kuwajima’s group lessons. “I’m so interested in traditional playing styles that I’ve taken private lessons several times a year with Finnish teachers as well, for example Pauliina Lerche, Leeni Wegelius, Maija Kauhanenand Vilma Timonen”, Rie tells. She is also interested in Saarijärvi’s kantele, Finnish folk music and Finnish folk dance.

Rie is enchanted by both traditional kantele melodies as well as how modern performers create variations of these melodies and arrange them over and over. “I want to strive for the same unique sounds that many of the kanteleplayers that inspire me have. It is wonderful to be able to play in the competitions, I love Finland! The atmosphere here at the competitions has been heartwarming”, she tells.

Rie Kuramasu

I also met Rie’s teacher Miho Kuwajima, who was at the competition cheering his student on. We discussed his work as a kantele teacher in Japan. He lives in Tokio and teaches 80 students in various music schools. The students play different sizes of kantele. Miho tells that the kantele association in Japan even has 80 members at the moment!

Latvian kokle was also heard in both the competitions as well is in the Kimara. Katrina Aksikatook part in the category for 5thand 6th-graders. In the final concert of the Kimara she played Madara Kaire’s pieceJapanese Sketceswith finesse.

Katrina’s teacher Valda Bagata told that she found information about the competition on the -webpage and encouraged her student to participate. Valda Bagata teaches in a music school near Riga and has 15 students of all ages. Four of her students took part in the competition, one in the art/classical music division for youth and the rest in Kimara.

Katrina has played kokle for four years. “I love playing, I like the sound of kokle. I play classical music, but also all other kinds of music”, Katrina says. “It is interesting to hear all kinds of music played on kanteles here, to hear all the different genres”, her teacher adds.

Katrina Aksika

Once again the kantele competition and Kimara were a unique opportunity to meet  kanteleplayers, kantelebuilders and other kantele professionals. Participants had a chance to hear other players’ performances and find new inspiration. During the weekend there was a strong feeling of unity and collaboration with a warm togetherness and the joy of making music!


Text: Sanni Virta

Translation: Jane Ilmola

Photography: Pasi Virta