PS. I won the Maj Lind!!!
The eleventh competition brought the Maj Lind up to the 1960s. This time it was expanded into a national event and not confined to students at the Sibelius Academy. A record 15 pianists entered for the 1966 competition. The competitors have had a chance to be the soloist with a symphony orchestra since 1968. In the early years, it was the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra.
The competition was not held in 1960.
While the world was exclaiming over Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight and the building of the Berlin Wall, Helsinki was hosting the eleventh Maj Lind Piano Competition.
Three pianists entered for the competition. The winner was Raija Alestalo. The other contestants were Pirkko Huhtinen and Leif Segerstam. The order of performance was not announced until the pianists were about to go on stage.
The compulsory works were performed hidden behind a screen: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor (WTK 2) and Nielsen’s Chaconne. As her elective work, Raija Alestalo played three of the Brahms op. 18 pieces for piano.
According to the press reports, “the overall standard was high and the decision unanimous”. The Jury was chaired by Taneli Kuusisto, with France Ellegaard, Cyril Szalkiewicz, Erik Tawaststjerna and Veikko Helasvuo as members. The prize was 200,000 marks (nowadays equivalent to about €4,600).
Raija Alestalo (b. 1940) was 21 and a third-year student of Timo Mikkilä in the Sibelius Academy’s school music department when she won the competition. She came to the Academy from the Jyväskylä Conservatory. While still at high-school, she had accompanied singers on Klemetti Institute courses and had herself attended classes with Andrej Rudnev at the Jyväskylä Festival. Victory brought her many invitations to perform. She married not long after, had a baby, and spent a year in Norway, where she took lessons from Reimar Riefling. In 1963 she received her piano diploma. The family then spent some time in Savonlinna, where she taught at the Music Institute, and on their return to Helsinki she worked as, among other things, a répétiteuse for the Sibelius Academy Opera Studio. By the time she retired, she had been a lecturer in the piano at the Academy. She still appears actively in public and as a volunteer when anyone needs a pianist.
The twelfth Maj Lind Piano Competition was held in autumn 1962. The contestants were Leif Segerstam, Nijole Kasperaviciute, Anna-Marja Angervo and Sanna Mattinen-Snellman, and the winner was Leif Segerstam. Nijole Kasperaviciute came second.
Minna Lindgren records some of the views expressed at the time by the winner in her biography of Leif Segerstam: “Two hours until the Maj Lind Competition. I’ve never felt so nervous!” He had recorded his feelings in a letter to his girlfriend and future wife Hannele Segerstam. The night before the competition he had suffered a nightmare in which his fingers got all tangled up and he came last. But everything went well. Before the letter was posted, he was able to write on the back of the envelope: “PS. I won the Maj Lind!!!”
Segerstam wrote of the competition: “For once my Bach went well (all the others made a mess of the Fugue and played the Prelude as if it were a lullaby) and the Debussy also went without a hitch, the first and last movements best.” And again: “I also managed ok with the Chopin Etudes (which I had so often practised while longing for you) so the Jury decided to give me the first prize, and guess was I happy, you should have been here!”
Leif Segerstam (b. 1944) was 18 when he won the competition. In the same year, he gave his debut concert as a violinist, and the following year was accepted for the Juilliard’s conducting class in New York. He studied the piano, violin and conducting at the Sibelius Academy. Nowadays, he is known mainly as a conductor and as an extremely prolific composer.
In the same autumn as US President John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas, the thirteenth Maj Lind Piano Competition was held in Helsinki.
The contest was between nine pianists. The winner was Juhani Raiskinen and Hilkka Servo-Junttu came second.
Juhani Raiskinen (1937–2016) was 26 when he won the competition and he gave his first concert the following year. While studying, he worked as a sound engineer at the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle). After winning the competition, he was appointed conductor of the Tampere Theatre and later of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra. He also went on to become the director of the Finnish National Opera, and several new Finnish operas were staged there during his term, among them Joonas Kokkonen’s The Last Temptations (1975) and Aulis Sallinen’s The Red Line (1978).
Three pianists entered for the fourteenth Maj Lind Piano Competition. The winner was Marketta Valve, Margit Rahkonen came second and Pirkko Huhtinen third. The compulsory composers were Bach and Beethoven. As her elective work, Marketta played some Brahms.
Marketta Valve (b. 1939; married name Kosonen) was 25 when she won the competition. She was in her second year teaching the piano and harpsichord at the Turku Music Institute. Nowadays the Tampere Conservatory, the Institute had been established only one year before and she had been invited to the post. She was greatly encouraged to enter for the competition by Liisa Pohjola, who had studied in Paris at the same time as her and was a colleague of hers in Turku. At the Sibelius Academy Marketta Valve studied the piano with Rolf Bergroth and the harpsichord with Enzio Forsblom from 1958 to 1962, and she got her piano diploma in 1962. She then made a career as a harpsichordist and pianist. While in Turku, her students included Raija Kerppo, who would likewise win the Maj Lind Piano Competition 22 years later, in 1986.
The fifteenth Maj Lind Piano Competition similarly attracted three contestants. The first prize went to Tuulikki Rajakangas and the second to Petri Sariola.
Tuulikki Rajakangas (1944–2016) was a 21-year-old student at the Sibelius Academy on winning the competition. She qualified as a music teacher and gained her piano diploma the following year, having begun her studies in 1961.
No fewer than 15 pianists – a record number – entered for the sixteenth Maj Lind Piano Competition. The winner was Eero Heinonen. Risto Lappalainen came second and Lea Ylönen third.
Eero Heinonen (b. 1950) won the competition at the age of only 16. Two years later, in 1968, he gave his debut concert in Helsinki. His path then led him to Moscow, where he studied with Dmitri Bashkirov and others at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory and reached the finals of the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition. During his subsequent career as a pianist he has, among other things, recorded the complete Sibelius works for piano and taught at the Sibelius Academy. He was awarded the title of Professor in 2010.
No Maj Lind competition was held in 1967.
Twelve contestants entered for the seventeenth Maj Lind Piano Competition. Now, for the first time, they got to play a major work with a symphony orchestra. The winner was Jussi Siirala. Erik Tawaststjerna came second and Marita Viitasalo third.
Jussi Siirala (b. 1949) was 19 when he won the competition. Nearly 50 years later, he can still clearly remember the finals. Just before he went on stage, the doorman said he’d bet on a cup of coffee that Siirala would win. Encouraged by this, the young man took his seat at the keyboard. The orchestra began, and while waiting for the piano’s entry, he heard someone whisper loudly in the front row: “That boy looks very nervous.” The demoralising statement came from a highly inebriated elderly pianist.
Jussi Siirala had been a pupil of Inkeri Siukonen, his aunt, for nine years. His godmother – Inkeri’s sister Leena – had been the winner of the first Maj Lind Piano Competition 23 years earlier. Victory was to be decisive for his career, because invitations to perform began to come flooding in. He was granted a scholarship to study at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, and four years later (in 1972) he won the Elena Rombro-Stepanov Competition in Vienna. He has been a lecturer at the Sibelius Academy since 1977 and his son, Antti Siirala, is also a pianist and the winner of international competitions.
No Maj Lind competition was held in 1969.
Text: Katri Maasalo
Source: Minna Lindgren: Leif Segerstam Nyt! (Teos, 2005)