Two weeks ago, I went to follow the third International Kantele Competition in Helsinki. I was mostly interested in the Open – category, which meant non-professional musicians over 15 years, as I would have fallen into the same category. The variety of performances was amazing: improvisation on a 15-string kantele, looping and effects with an eletric kantele, Beatles rearranged for the concert kantele, and also more “traditional kantele pieces” like Pokela’s Elegia or Elovaara’s Forest lake (Metsäjärvi): the stuff I also played in my years at the conservatory. Looking at the contest programme, you can really see that kantele can bend to a lot of music genres..(the Greek folk music is still a work in progress for me, though).
Because of the competition, I got to know a couple of more representatives of contemporary kantele music. One of them is a French-born kantele artist Philippe Beer Gabel. I was able to hear his upcoming album, which is a beautiful combination of peaceful kantele sounds and french pop!
Another group that surprised me, but probably not those well inside the classical music society in Helsinki was Duo Cecilia. They perform baroque music with flutes and kanteles. The sound of the kantele complements the wooden flutes perfectly and works as substitute for a harpsicord or cembalo.
Finally, of course me, the most interesting part was to meet the kantele builders, who exhibited their old and new products during the competition. I was observing players coming in to choose a new instrument, testing and playing, trying to describe the sound and the touch that they are looking for in an instrument. Depending on the type of music you are going to play, you may want a soft sound, or a hard sound, very tense strings or loose strings, more beating or less beating, darker sound or brighter sound. Most of these aspects can be achieved by modifying the strings and their knotting. And for a darker sound, you want to enable the body of kantele, especially the back plate, to vibrate more. For a bright sound, you want to have solid back plate. The same effect happens with guitars, in fact. For classical music, you want a brighter guitar than for folk music. Nevertheless, the top plate is the most important body part for the sound of the kantele. It is all physics (and a bit of hearing research)! But I should talk about that another time.