New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Auckland Town Hall, Fri 6.30pm & Sat 8pm

By William Dart

The NZSO is here for its second visit in as many months with newly-appointed music director, Pietari Inkinen.

The 27-year-old Finn has all the enthusiasm of youth and seems eager to compress the many things he likes about his new orchestra into one perilously patched together sentence. One thing is clear - the NZSO's town-to-town touring schedule is attractive.

"Internationally, it is unique," he says. "We get to tour and take the orchestra to the people. It means more variety for the players, different halls, different audiences and, with so many performances, it is marvellous preparation for recordings."

The post, which means Inkinen spends a fifth of each year in our country, has also brought him face to face with New Zealand music.

In May, he was entrusted with the world premiere of Lyell Cresswell's Alas! How Swift, and acquitted himself magnificently.

This Saturday, the orchestra's principal double bass, Dale Gold, is soloist in another new NZSO commission, Anthony Ritchie's Whalesong.

"This is an unusual piece," Inkinen says. "It's a kind of effect music, creating the sounds of these animals with an orchestra, a piece of nature described through notes."

Finland has always cherished its composers, evidenced in 1892 when the state granted a pension to Sibelius, who was then only 32.

"Sibelius is in my blood," Inkinen says. "The NZSO has a good feeling for [his music]."

The composer's popular Fifth Symphony, which is scheduled in the orchestra's Friday concert, is "the first one I played as a kid in an orchestra. Aulis Sallinen conducted and we played it in Carnegie Hall with the Sibelius Academy Orchestra.

"We were all pretty young and it was our first time in Carnegie Hall so we were really proud to play it there."

Inkinen talks with enthusiasm of the leading Finnish composers, starting with Sallinen, "a composer who took up conducting so he could be sure his music would receive good performances", and working through to the charismatic Kaija Saariaho, who is being featured on Radio New Zealand Concert's Composer of the Week each day this week at 9am.

The NZSO and Inkinen have just recorded a selection of Einojuhani Rautavaara's music for Naxos, including the premiere of the 79-year-old's Manhattan Trilogy, commissioned by the Juilliard School.

"It makes a nice opener for a concert," Inkinen says, "and in September I will be conducting its British premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra."

Inkinen is a man who is keen on keeping all communication channels open. The NZSO's education programme "must give high-quality experiences to young people as soon as possible. There is no point in making popular programmes, trying to attract them with the wrong type of music."

Yet he survived a childhood which included playing lead guitar in a rock group, riffing away on covers of Guns N'Roses, Metallica and Iron Maiden.

Most importantly for Inkinen's new colleagues, the era of the dictatorial conductor is gone.

"We really are a team," he emphasises. "There may be some corners where there has to be one person who decides where we are going to turn and how we are going to bring everything together.

"[But] ultimately, it's a matter of inviting and encouraging, rather than telling musicians what to do."

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