August 12, 2014
Migrations: The Score by Olli Kortekangas
Recently, I received a copy of the musical score "Migrations," by Olli Kortekangas of Helsinki, Finland, a Cantata for Mezzo-Soprano, Male Voice Choir and Orchestra. Intended as a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of modern immigration of Finnish people to Minnesota, the work was commissioned by Osmo Vänskä of the Minnesota Orchestra and will be performed in February 2016.
The poems that Olli selected as the basis of his musical composition are from two books of my poems. The titles were changed on a few of the poems to enable the audience to understand the arc of this musical story: Two Worlds, Resurrection, The Man Who Lived in a Tree, and Music We Breathe.
"Two Worlds" (CB) explores the two worlds that each of us walks inside: our past and present, this world and the other. The mirror image created in the poem also occurs in the music. The next poem, "Resurrection," is the poem "Migrations" in Cloud Birds. In the book, the poem has an inscription, a quote by HD, "In resurrection is confusion...." from her long poem, "The Flowering of the Rod." The third poem is from Cloud Birds as well. "The Man Who Lived in a Tree" is a narrative poem about a Finnish immigrant to America who worked in an underground iron mine but contracted a lung disease and returned home to Kalajoki, Finland to die. While ill, he hoisted himself into the limbs of a tree and did not want to descend. The fourth poem, "The Music We Breathe," is titled "What Is Found" from the third section of Echo and Lightning. Using the image of bird flight, this poem reaches beyond loss into new beginnings.
Migrations has long been on my mind. All of my grandparents are Finnish, and I believe that immigration affects families deeply, particularly in relation to borders, language and landscape. Immigrants make massive transitions as they enter a new culture and language, and many feel that speaking a new language brings out different parts of the self. Some feel they become a different self in the new language. This is perhaps why my grandmother was reluctant to speak English; she wanted to preserve an important part of her self. She lived in Minnesota, but she rarely left Finnish language and culture. This was a border that she kept. I myself am most comfortable on borders, and less so in the midst of things. As a poet/artist, I also perceive the permeability of borders. I can cross back and forth into Finnish and American culture. My work is always narrative, but it does cross the border of genres and perhaps exists in a state of "between."
It is a great honor to have my work used in his music. As a composer, Olli Kortekangas has received commissions from ten countries. His music has been featured in concerts and at festivals around the world, and his works are included in the repertoires of many leading orchestras, choirs, and soloists. He has received numerous scholarships and awards in Finland and abroad. His oeuvre consists of more than 100 works, from solo pieces and chamber music to orchestral works and operas. Recently, he used work by poet Wendell Berry in his music, "Seven Songs for Planet Earth," that was performed at the Kennedy Center in 2011. New projects are underway for him. At our panel discussion in Minneapolis at Finnfest, Mr Kortekangas reflected that his great grandfather immigrated to the United States, but that he was lost on the way. Nobody in the family knows what happened, whether he died on the ship enroute or after he arrived. His grave is unknown.
Migrations is an apt metaphor for change. We all encounter new cultures and new experiences with or without preparation. Immigration is actually a gift, even though it is often perilous. It helps us understand the process and inevitability of change and it enriches American culture.
For more information about Mr Kortekangas: see