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FinnFest 2015 Comes to Buffalo Oct. 9-13

FinnFest USA, a celebration of Finnish and Finnish-American customs, history and heritage, will be taking over Buffalo from Oct. 9-13.

Founded in 1983, the annual event is described as a cultural, entertainment and educational symposium. One of its goals is to unite modern Finland with historic and contemporary America.

Kleinhans Music Hall will be a central gathering space for FinnFest 2015, but events also will take place throughout the city and Erie County.

The festival features collaborations with many organizations, including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Road Less Traveled Productions, Just Buffalo Literary Center, the National Statler Center/Olmsted Center for Sight, First Presbyterian Church, the Jewish Federation of Buffalo and the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.

Many of the events are free and open to the public, though some require a ticket purchase or advance reservation. There is an option to register for the entire weekend-long symposium, with the benefit of reduced prices for special ticketed events.

The event is expected to bring upward of 500 visitors to Buffalo, including dignitaries and scholars from Finland and across the U.S. Some notable attendees include Kirsti Kauppi, Finnish ambassador to the U.S.; Simon Livson, Finland’s chief rabbi; Aleksi Randell, mayor of Turku, Finland; and Börje Vähämäki, professor emeritus of Finnish studies at the University of Toronto and founder of Aspasia Books in Canada.

Throughout the weekend, traditional folk arts and performance artists will share the stage. Parahultaset (folk dancers) and SydWest (folk music instrumentalists) will present Finnish dancing and a participatory workshop. Performance artists Pia Lindman will collaborate with local music ensemble Wooden Cities on “A Kalevala Duo, Playing Bones.”

Sara Pajunen, Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year in 2015, will present her performance-art piece, connecting audiences to the Finnish immigrant experience.

Lectures and panels include a pre-Sibelius history of Finland and early connections between Finland and Buffalo through 18th century scientific explorations at Niagara Falls, and a cooking demonstration Sunday at the Hyatt by Beatrice Ojakangas, member of the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame and author of 27 books.

Other highlights include:

• Through January, “Mystic North Fascination: Charles E. Burchfield’s appreciation of Jean Sibelius,” at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

• Friday to Jan. 3: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery presents the first United States retrospective of Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s work.

• Friday: An exhibit of contemporary Finnish photography highlighting Finnish market square culture (“tori”), is presented at Kleinhans.

• Friday: At 10 p.m., Niagara Falls will be illuminated in blue and white lights in honor of Finnish visitors.

• Friday and Saturday: The BPO will perform Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 and explore the works of Finnish composers inspired by Sibelius. Finnish violinist Elina Vahala will join the orchestra for the U.S. premiere of Jaako Kuussisto’s Violin Concerto.

• Friday through Sunday: Road Less Traveled Productions presents a staged reading of “My Dear Sibelius” by Yrjö Juhani Renvall and Anssi Blomstedt at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The play is based on Bo Carpelan’s novel, “Axel,” in which the author imagined the real-life patron/artist relationship between his uncle and Jean Sibelius.

• Saturday: “Sisu: Family, Love and Perseverance from Finland to America,” the world premiere debut of Marko Albrecht’s documentary, will be shown in Kleinhans. The filmmaker will attend and lead a Q&A after the viewing.

• Saturday and Sunday: The Salolampi Foundation, which promotes Finnish language and cultural immersive education, will offer three morning and afternoon sessions for children. Participants will enjoy arts, crafts and music and also be introduced to introductory Finnish language.

• Saturday: Finnish flag-raising at Lafayette Square/Buffalo Central Library, in honor of Aleksis Kivi/Finnish Literature Day. Ambassador Kauppi will be on hand and there will be music and poetry.

• Sunday: Finnish and Buffalo polka face off in “Dancing with the Stars” with music by Buffalo and Finnish bands.

Visit finnfestusa.org for registration, ticket details and the full schedule.

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