Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo started his professional career in the early 1990s as violin soloist, chamber musician and concert master of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. After simultaneous studies in Jorma Panula’s conducting class at the Sibelius Academy, the focus of his musicianship shifted into conducting virtually overnight after stepping in to conduct the orchestra at short notice in January 1993. He was subsequently appointed as their Associate Principal Conductor.
His name was catapulted to a wider international audience in 1996, when the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) called upon him to become Sir Simon Rattle´s successor from the beginning of the 1998-99 season, having previously conducted just two programmes with the orchestra. Oramo´s agenda for the CBSO included a broadening of the orchestra´s repertoire to include areas previously virtually uncharted. A strong emphasis was put on British repertoire both familiar (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton) as well as more obscure (John Foulds, Constant Lambert). This approach culminated in two very successful recordings of Foulds' work that introduced the composer to wider audiences. Other highlights included a large-scale Elgar festival featuring the composer's three great oratorios performed on consecutive days. Oramo also brought contemporary music to Birmingham, with the 2003 FLOOF! festival a typical highlight.
There was comprehensive renewal in the CBSO ranks in Oramo’s years, an influx of highly talented younger musicians joining the orchestra at the side of their more experienced colleagues. Oramo set out to improve the orchestra’s string sound with detailed technical instructions, a process that was also widely noticed in the press. Maintaining the CBSO’s national and international standing was an improbably difficult task after his illustrious predecessor, but towards the end of his ten-year tenure, Oramo was praised for achieving just that.
"They were superb, demonstrating the kind of velvet glow, precise ensemble, careful balance and rich kaleidoscope of colours only found with the planet's very best orchestras." (Geoff Brown, The Times, February 2006)
In 2003, the FRSO appointed Oramo to succeed Jukka-Pekka Saraste as its Music Director. He was very much on home ground, virtually every player a long-standing colleague already. His relationship with the FRSO, due to end in 2012, has included a number of important world and Finnish premieres, including Stockhausen’s Gruppen, Armas Launis’s opera Aslak Hetta, and works by Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg and Jouni Kaipainen among others. Other highlights have included a nearly complete overview of Arnold Schönberg’s orchestral music (previously almost completely overlooked in Finland) as well as a revival of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu after nearly forty years of absence from the Finnish scenes. Constant attention has peen placed by Oramo on developing the FRSO’s playing and sound cultures, a process which will culminate in 2011 when the orchestra moves into the new Helsinki Music Centre, the city’s first space designed for classical orchestral music.
"Oramo's shaping of the music was superb, revealing impressive control over the dangerous tempo shifts and swerves. The climax of the finale, where two duelling sets of timpani battle it out over the top of the orchestra like a pair of feuding Norse gods, is one of the great endings to any symphony; here it was absolutely thrilling." (Rowena Smith, The Guardian, August 2010 - FRSO at the Edinburgh Festival)
After having been absent from Stockholm for nearly a decade, Oramo was reunited with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for the 2006 Nobel Prize concert, and subsequently took over the position of Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser from Alan Gilbert at the start of the 2008/09 season. The orchestra performs in the landmark Konserthuset, built in 1926, right in the middle of Stockholm’s hustle and bustle.
No time was wasted before embarking on new challenging projects. During 2008/09,Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic recorded a Schumann symphony cycle with Sony Classical, the only disc to appear in Schumann’s bicentenary year. In addition, they performed all ten Mahler symphonies on consecutive days (in cooperation with other Nordic orchestras) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mahler’s birth. 2010 saw a major tour of Japan and in 2011, Oramo and the RSPO will perform at the BBC Proms in London, as well as in Vienna’s Musikverein amongst other prestigious venues. New recordings are planned for Deutsche Grammophon, BIS and Octavia labels.
'These are impressive accounts, with Oramo coaxing some outstanding playing from his fine Swedish orchestra.' (Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine, August 2010, on the Oramo/RSPO Schumann album)
Oramo has been a guest conductor with the world’s most eminent orchestras, notably the Berliner Philharmoniker, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras. The future holds debuts with the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Boston Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras, as well as the Leipzig Gewandhaus. This season sees his return to the Staatskapelle Dresden, Orchestre de Paris, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Oramo’s discography features a wide range of repertoire, notably a full Sibelius symphony cycle, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and Mahler’s Symphony No.5 with the CBSO, a Schumann cycle and Mahler’s Symphony No.1 with the RSPO. With the FRSO, he has recorded a new album of Respighi’s works, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra as well as several discs of works by Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg. As a violinist, Sakari Oramo can be heard together with Anu Komsi performing György Kurtàg´s Kafka Fragments.
In 2006, together with his wife and long-standing artistic soulmate soprano Anu Komsi, as well as her colleague Annika Mylläri, Oramo founded an opera company in the Finnish West Coast town of Kokkola. West Coast Kokkola Opera has now established itself as the leader in Finnish alternative opera, separate from the countries' National Opera and the Savonlinna festival. Their productions, including The Marriage of Figaro, Die Fledermaus, Alban Berg´s Lulu, Sebastian Fagerlund´s new commission Döbeln (also available on a recording by BIS) and Carmen have all profited from a creative approach to opera as an art form suitable for everyone, with the high musical quality audiences would expect. In 2011, WCKO will produce Mozart´s Die Zauberflöte in a circus environment (Kokkola, mid- to late July 2011).