Every year at the end of August, on the occasion of most frequented festival in Finland, Helsinki is turning into a giant cultural center. Of August 20 to September 5, unless you are allergic to any form of artistic expression, everyone will find an event to their liking in the very rich program of the 2004 festival. From concerts to contemporary art exhibitions, from the theater to the circus, there will be animation everywhere in the city and throughout the day: the most difficult, ultimately, will be to make your choice!
Helsinki, capital of the arts for a few days
The Helsinki festival is aptly named: for two weeks, the whole city is in turmoil. No less than thirty places (theaters, cultural centers, but also churches, galleries, restaurants ...) host artistic events, attracting a crowd of 300 people each year. This real institution was born when, elsewhere in Europe, others were trying to overthrow an established order that was too dusty: it was the end of May 000. From that time, the festival has kept a spirit of openness and eclecticism which is reflected in the variety of its artistic programming. Concerts ? Yes, but chamber music like world music. Theater ? Yes, but cinema also has pride of place in the field of fiction, while the visual arts are the ambassadors of the visual arts. In this regard, note the broadcast - a first in Finland - of the entire famous video cycle of Cremaster, by American artist Matthew Barney. This one had caused a lot of ink to flow when it was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris two years ago. To see (or review) on August 1968 and 22 at the Bio Rex.
Finnish and international artists: exoticism is not always where you think it is
As part of its festival, Helsinki honors renowned international artists, but also Finnish sizes perhaps less known in our latitudes. If the names of Ahti Lavonen, pioneer of Finnish informal art (retrospective at the Kunsthalle, from August 21 to October 3), or of Kimmo Pohjonen, virtuoso who uses his accordion as an avant-garde folk instrument (the September 4 and 5 at the Huvila tent with the Kronos Quartet), don't tell you much, it's now or never to discover these local artists.
As for the international programming, to name only the celebrities, we will be able to attend the concerts of Susheela Raman (August 29, tent of Huvila), of the Mexicans of Los de Abajo (August 26, idem), of the philharmonic orchestra of Saint -Petersburg conducted by Yuri Temirkanov (August 20, Finlandia Palace), from the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert (September 2, ditto), etc. There will even be, - cocorico! -, Patricia Kaas, whose concert is already sold out (what a success!): She figures very well among the programming of "world" artists ... Yes, let's not forget that we are in Finland and that, Seen from here, France is exotic.
Other artistic events include theater (La Mouette, by Tchekhov, directed by Peter Stein at the National Theater, August 25 and 26), circus (Super 8, which mixes traditional circus and futuristic numbers punctuated by electronic music, August 28-29 and September 1-3 at Ateneum Hall), dance, jazz, cinema, etc.
Festivals inside the festival
The complete program, far too long to list everything, is available in English on the festival's website. There is plenty to keep you going, for those who choose to have an artistic marathon for two weeks. Especially since the restaurants and bars of Helsinki will also participate in this great cultural festival, between August 19 and 28, by offering artistic activities and special menus. The mise en abîme is one of the peculiarities of the event: it includes other festivals that are held at the same time in the city. The Viapori Jazz, which features acoustic concerts by renowned Finnish artists, will take place in the Suomenlinna fortress, a World Heritage Site, from August 25 to 28. And on the night of August 26 to 27, Helsinki by night will look like Nuit blanche: you can attend street performances, most of the time for free, while museums and galleries will remain open until the early hours of the morning.
- Helsinki Tourist Office, Pohjoisesplanadi 19. Tel. : (00-358) (0) 9-169-37-57. Fax: (00-358) (0) 9-169-38-39. Internet: www.hel.fi/tourism. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open weekdays 9 a.m. to 20 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 18 p.m. Excellent welcome, in French.
Or sleep ?
- Stadionin Retkeilymaja, Pohjoinen Stadionintie 3B. Phone. : (00-358) (0) 9-477-84-80. Fax: (00-358) (0) 9-477-84-811. Internet: www.stadionhostel.com. Unrepentant night walkers, beware: the door is locked between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Clean and comfortable. For a double room, count 40 euros. A few rooms for 3 and 4 people, around 18 euros per person.
- Gasthaus Omapohja, Itäinen teatterikuja 3. Tel. : (00-358) (0) 9-66-62-11. Fax: (00-358) (0) 9-62-28-00-53. For a couple, count from 60 to 75 euros depending on the comfort of the room. The oldest hostel in Helsinki: the owners take care to offer calm and well-being to their customers, in a simple decor. Reservation essential.
Where to eat ?
- Kuu, Töölönkatu 27. Tel. : (00-358) (0) 9-27-09-09-73. A la carte, count between 18 and 25 euros. At first glance, a quiet and secluded neighborhood restaurant. But we come from afar to dine in Kuu, known to insiders for its excellent Finnish specialties.
Lasipalatsi, Mannerheimintie 22-24. FIN-00100 Helsinki.
Tél. : (00-358) (0)9-61-26-51-00. Fax : (00-358) (0)9-61-26-51-61.
Internet: www.helsinkifestival.fi. E-mail: email@example.com.
Be careful with the prices, they are not always cheap: count 35 euros for example for the concert of Tania Libertad at the Huvila tent on August 24. But there are also free events or at more affordable prices, for those who wish to establish their program according to their budget.
Reservations by phone with Lippupiste, at (00-358) 600-900-900 from abroad (payment by credit card).