Guru Karaikkudi Mani and his Sruti Laya ensemble recently performed with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO), the first professional symphony orchestra to be founded in the Nordic countries in 1882, recently collaborated with mridangam vidwan Guru Karaikkudi Mani and his Sruthi Laya percussion ensemble in January this year.

Titled ‘Never Stop!', the composition was by the renowned Finnish composer Eero Hämeenniemi. It was a Helsinki Philharmonic commission to be played by Sruthi Laya and the HPO.

The world premiere of the work was held on January 20 at Finlandia Hall and was broadcast live all over Finland.

Passion for Carnatic music

Hämeenniemi, a friend of Karaikkudi Mani and a lover of Carnatic music, and his Finnish NADA chamber ensemble, have been regularly working with Mani.

The 1951-born Hämeenniemi has composed works in almost all the main genres of Western classical music and jazz. Hämeenniemi has also made a name for himself as a writer and columnist, and as the pianist and composer of the NADA ensemble led by him.

‘Never Stop!' is a work lasting half an hour for four percussion instruments and symphony orchestra. The soloist in the premiere was a group of four percussionists led by Guru Karaikkudi Mani but later can be performed by other ensembles.

Structurally, the work began with an extremely loud rhythmic motif repeated a number of times throughout the work, both as such and in a more or less varied form.

Talking about his composition, Hämeenniemi has this to say, “The work is divided into five movements performed without a break, each with a tempo of its own that gets faster from one to the next. The whole of the solo group plays in the first and fifth movements, but in the others one percussion instrument dominates at a time, though with the occasional support of the others.

“In the second movement the solo is entrusted to a ganjira tambourine. For each solo instrument, I have sought to find the section of the orchestra that to my mind best supports it, and the ganjira is frequently partnered by strings. Towards the end of the movement the strings gradually come to a halt while the soloist gains more and more momentum.

“The third movement is dominated first by the ghatam. Entering at the end of the movement is the chenda. In the fourth movement, the king of South Indian percussion instruments, the mridangam is accompanied by the full orchestra.

“The movements are linked by percussion passages in which the players make the carefully controlled metric modulation from one tempo to the next. Mani Sir and the other soloists at the premiere executed these transitions within the structural confines provided by me.

“I have been infinitely impressed by the players' ability and desire to adapt to musical thought processes they have never before encountered. Mani Sir chooses his projects with infinite care and is famous for performing with only a few outstanding artists in India. But when he does agree to take part in a project, he does so with utmost intensity.”