Vocal Ensemble Rajaton
Madetoja Concert Hall - Oulu, Finland - 08 December 2003
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Concert Review © Suvi Kaikkonen | HTML and Editing © Russ Elliot 2003
Last updated: 18 January 2004
In late November throughout December 2003 the Finnish a cappella sensation, Vocal Ensemble Rajaton, arranged a tour of fifteen concerts within fourteen cities of Finland, this tour being their first "wider" one in Rajaton's home country. Prior to the tour, Rajaton released a double Christmas album (for more see another review), so obviously the tour was perfectly timed in order to boost the sales of the album as well as the previous Rajaton albums.
Anyway, on December 8th Rajaton arrived to my home city Oulu, and gave a concert in Madetoja Concert Hall, the home of Oulu City Symphony Orchestra, adjacent to my former school. When entering the building I saw lots of people still trying to buy tickets, so fortunately I had got mine as a birthday gift some months beforehand! Instead of ticket-buying, I spent the pre-concert time by buying some great Rajaton fan stuff from the sales desk in the foyer. And, when entering the hall itself to get my seat on row 7, I noticed that the concert was nearly sold out! Somewhat 500-600 people, or even more, and, for my surprise, people of very different ages were there with me.
The start of the first half of the concert was quite an unique one, with the taped voice of "Santa Claus" (in fact, a Finnish actor Ismo Kallio) which wished us welcome and kindly reminded to shut the mobile phones down. While "Santa" spoke to us, the white-dressed singers arrived into the stage and then started the show with the first piece of the new Christmas album, entitled "Joululaulu" (Christmas Song). All the singers were using tuning forks, cordless "behind-the-ear" monitoring system as well as cordless microphones, and although the Madetoja Hall was primarily designed for classical music performances, the usage of microphones did not make the concert too loud nor mishmashy, thanks to Rajaton's own mixer who was taking care of the great sound design throughout the entire tour!
After a short "welcome" speech from Rajaton's baritone singer Ahti and one of the two sopranos Essi, they told the audience a bit about the recordings of the new Christmas album which took place during the past summer. Then followed a story of Essi's "The problem of double Santa", and the second song of the Christmas album, entitled "Tonttu" (A Gnome) came next. Unlike the first piece which was a new Christmas song, this song was familiar for most of us Finns there. Once again, the stage lighting was awesome, and it cleverly changed according to the solos of Rajaton singers.
Then followed a story by the bass singer Jussi, he told us about his childhood Christmas memory of "Christmas-tree thieving" what he had seen, and then he introduced the third song, "Lumisade" (Snowing). This fairly peaceful piece with slight vocal "drums" and growing middle section should really deserve to be included in next Rajaton's Christmas album (if they will make one), only because it is a new and a very beautiful one! The composer of the piece is Mr. Mikko Penttinen and the lyrics were by Mrs. Pia Perkiö, a Finnish poet.
The great, peaceful mood continued also during the the next song, "Talvi-Iltana" (On a Winter's Evening), which is also one of the pieces from the new Christmas album. But it was performed with some differences though, namely the song evolved into a great "dance" with marvellous choreography and quite "tribal" singing at the end! This addition transferred the piece into yet another dimension, and it was greatly complemented by a wonderful stage lighting! Not even the tuning of the song was disturbed despite of the singers moving so much onstage all the time.
The next two songs, "Me Kuljemme Kaikki Kuin Sumussa" (We Walk In A Fog) and "Mitä Kaikatat, Kivonen" (Wherefore Grumblest Thou, the Stone) are both from Rajaton's debut recording "Nova", and these were presented to the audience by the tenor Hannu. Whereas the first of these songs was even more gentle and flowing than on the album, the latter piece had more power, melismatic passages and even more tribal dimensions than the original one! Not forgetting the great ending solo by the alto Soila and the soprano Essi which cannot be heard on CD.
After that Soila told a story of her Christmas memory that she experienced as a child, the story of "Samba Christmas" after her parents got a "drink bell" as a gift and celebrated a bit too much. Then followed the familiar "Jouluyö, Juhlayö" (Silent Night) with Essi's great, very ethereal and high solo whereas others were gently accompanying her vocally.
Then the voice of "Santa" returned again, this time with a Finnish poem "How the glowworm got its shine" which told about a tiny worm which gave a leave as a gift to baby Jesus and got the shiny skin at the return service. This poem was followed by two great, old Finnish Christmas songs, entitled "Heinillä Härkien Kaukalon" (On The Hays of Ox's Manger) and "Ja Neitsyt Pikku Poijuttansa" (And The Virgin Her Little Boy) respectively, which both were very gentle and heartfelt. Although in the latter piece I heard a slight mistuning of Essi, I think that it happened only because of her emotional charge with the emotional lyrics of the song rather than just a mistuning. I'm sure that this effect went on to the audience as well, since they did not hurry to the interval which was next very quickly.
The second half started also with two Finnish carols, "En Etsi Valtaa, Loistoa" (I Do Not Seek Mighty nor Shine) by Jean Sibelius and "Arkihuolesi Kaikki Heitä" (Put Away Your Ev'ryday Worries) by Leevi Madetoja, a classical music composer of early 1900's who was born in Oulu. The white colour of the singers' clothes had now turned to black, with the men wearing black suits and women long dresses, but fortunately the emotional aspect had not vanished at all. Once again there might have been some emotional charge during the latter piece because it started a bit uncertainly, but both pieces were wonderful anyway.
Next, Jussi started to think aloud what kind of Christmas gift he should buy for his godson, and Jussi also confessed that he has a "fixation" on "TV Shop" things. He even presented his wonderful "invisible drum kit" which he said to have been "designed" in Oulu and "delivered" by TV Shop, and demonstrated the sound of these "drums" to us! At times it was amazingly difficult to detect the actual direction from where the drumsound came, and especially the "UFO" drum effects deserve a special mention here. It must have been difficult for some people to believe that the "drums" were really a product of a human voice, done without any technical aiding nor modification. Amazingly enough, it was all 100% pure voice, nothing else!
The other singers only sighed that Jussi's life contains nowadays only Rajaton song arrangements and TV Shop things, but soon the extensive "drumming" turned into next piece, "Pukki Tietää" (Santa Knows). The wonderful choreographic elements were present also in this song, so no wonder that the applause were once again enormous after the piece!
Anyway, then Ahti told a story about the "song test" of his friend (yes, even I used to have those at school!) which ended up to "catastrophical satisfactory" performance of a Finnish Christmas song "Joulupukki" (Santa Claus). Namely, the reason for so poor grade was that Ahti's friend had slightly mispronounced the word "joulupukki" and the teacher had angrily shouted "Christmas do not nudge"! Well, these things just can happen when one becomes confused with words such as "pukki" (Santa) and "pukkia" (to nudge)...
The next two songs performed were also very familiar Christmas songs for Finnish audience, and they both are included into Rajaton's Christmas album as well. First of them was "Kulkuset" (Jingle Bells), a piece which greatly featured much "musical joking" in an unique combination of childish and almost operatic singing styles as well as a bit of reggae rhythms as the words "reggae" and "reki" (sleigh) are pronounced almost similar to each other! Very clever indeed, so the audience enjoyed the trick very much. After these hilarious moments we heard "Varpunen Jouluaamuna" a very melancholic song about a lonely sparrow and a symbolism of a dead little brother. The solos of this song were performed by Soila, Hannu and Essi, and the great arrangement of Anna-Mari "Adiemus" Kähärä (who is also one of Rajaton's album producers) made the piece yet more touching. I bet there must have been at least someone among the audience not having dry eyes during this piece!
Next Rajaton performed a medley of not-so-Christmassy music for us, namely a medley of songs by ABBA and The Beatles. It all started with "Fernando", featuring some very funny "drum tremolos" and "bass sounds" (think of the lyrics "can you hear the drums, Fernando"), and after some "operatic" singing as well as a sudden speedup the singers started to do "look-alike" ABBA choreography and imitate the vocal sound of the original ABBA singers. Not bad at all! Not forgetting of course the adding of cuts from another Swedish 80's hit "Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley" by Herrey's which too won the Eurovision Song Contest! The ending piece "Lady Madonna" was also amusing with all the air-guitar playing by the male singers of Rajaton, which suits well to a concert held in Oulu, a city of annual air-guitar world championship festival!
After the stormy applause Hannu told a story of how long the Christmas Eve can feel when being a child, and then Rajaton performed their next song "Ketun Joululaulu" (The Fox's Christmas Song). The "live" version of the song was a bit more lively than the one on the album, and the audience's singing abilities were also put to the test! First we only shouted the name of the local ice-hockey team to warm up our voices, but after Rajaton had shortly tutored us what to sing, when to start and stop, the whole refrain of the "fox song" was performed by both Rajaton and us. After the "end" sign from the Rajaton the singers took over the piece again, and at the end they praised the audience for singing so well along with them! What a musical audience we were.
The last speech was made then by Soila, and she told us that because the concert had started with a song called "Christmas Song", it shall also end with a song with a same name! But, the song itself was not the same, in fact Rajaton performed the great classic "Chestnuts Roasting..." song by Mel Tormé. Once again this song is also on Rajaton's Christmas album, but the live version of it sounded even more free and flowing! At this stage I closed my eyes for a while and dreamed of snow a bit, since although it was December, we didn't have much snow around here in Oulu at that time.
The audience went wild again after this last song, so Rajaton had to perform two encores. First of them was really amusing, namely it was a very unique arrangement or a shortened version of famous Finnish Christmas musical play "Star Boys" which is incredibly popular performance especially in Oulu area. This play features Herod, another king and their servants plus a star boy, and in it Herod sends his servants to Bethlehem to kill all newborn baby boys. Unlike the original version, this one contained some "extra" things such as karate slashing, polka dancing, some female trepak dancers (originally this is an all-male performance), a bit of "competitive TV sports commentary", some "blah-blah's", and even some excuse-making of "not me, I haven't seen nothing". And yet more, instead of asking a candle to the starboy's star and some money, Rajaton asked the audience to buy their albums and other fan stuff after the concert, ending the thing by wishing a happy and merry OULU instead of JOULU to us! Simply hilarious and very clever!
The concert got a very great ending with the performance of "Tähtilaulu" (A Star Song), the second encore song composed by Anna-Mari Kähärä. It tells a great story about a little star which becomes tired (of being awake in the sky) and falls asleep. In my opinion the order of the encores was perfect, especially because Christmas is usually a peaceful festivity in Finland.
After the show Rajaton members came to sign albums and chat with people to the foyer, and despite of the lack of snow, the whole evening was stunning. Listening to so wonderful music and meeting the singers was a perfect start for the countdown to Christmas for me, so I am totally convinced of that this kind of a Christmas concert tour would be at least a similar, if even better success also outside Finland, even though the fact that all songs were sung in Finnish!
In fifteen concerts of the Rajaton tour there were about 11,000 spectators, and that kind of a figure shows that this type of music has much listeners and fans indeed! My sincere wish is that this tour would not be Rajaton's last one, and that Rajaton could once make the Finnish a cappella Christmas music more known globally as well, both by releasing some Christmas music on CD and maybe having some Christmas concerts as well. Thank you very much Rajaton!
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