An aggressive pitch led by local leaders including those from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Visit Buffalo Niagara helped the region secure this fall’s FinnFest, an international event that could bring in as many as 2,000 visitors to the city.
FinnFestUSA has selected Buffalo as the site for its 2015 annual gathering and celebration of cultural and educational components tied to Finland. FinnFest is set for Oct. 8 to 12 and ties in directly with 75th anniversary marking the opening of Kleinhans Music Hall, which was designed by the father-and-son Finnish architectural tandem of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. On back-to-back weekends, Oct. 3 and Oct. 4 and Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, the orchestra will feature works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and soloists from Finland. Sibelius’ 150th birthday — a major Finnish cultural milestone — is in early October.
“We are really celebrating two important birthdays,” said JoAnn Falletta, BPO music director and principal conductor.
The idea to host FinnFest came jointly from talks between the BPO and Visit Buffalo Niagara. Community leaders Cindy Abbott Letro and Catherine Schweitzer agree to co-chair FinnFest.
An impressive package of special events was crafted and presented to the Minneapolis-based FinnFestUSA.
“We took them by surprise,” said Dan Hart, BPO executive director. “We were so far in front of it. I think we just amazed them.”
In recent years, FinnFest has been held in such cities as Minneapolis and Tucson.
Patrick Kaler, Visit Buffalo Niagara president and CEO, estimates the local economic impact from FinnFest could top $800,000.
“But, I think we are being a little conservative,” Kaler said.
While Kleinhans Music Hall and the orchestra will be the centerpieces of the five-day celebration, a number of other cultural organizations have put together Finnish-based events.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery will be presenting an exhibition of works by Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila and will also donate a piece by Finland’s Kaarina Kaikkonen as part of the city’s public art display initiative. Both are being overseen by Janne Siren, Albright-Knox director.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center will highlight works by Charles Burchfield, who painted many of his works to the music of Sibelius and Beethoven. The art center will also host the play “Dear Mr. Sibelius,” that is being presented by Road Less Traveled Productions.
Educational programs will take place at Daemen College, and the downtown branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.
“We are going to do what we do best and that’s showcase our assets to a new audience of visitors,” Abbott Letro said.