1750. That’s when Finnish explorer Pehr Kalm became the first scientist to document the mighty cataract that would later be named Niagara Falls.
The Buffalo-Finland connection continues with Eliel and Eero Saarinen, the famous Finnish father-and-son architectural team which designed the acoustically perfect Kleinhans Music Hall 75 years ago, and includes Janne Sirén, who relocated from his native Helsinki to Buffalo to take over the helm of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Is it any wonder that Buffalo was chosen to host the annual Finnish festival, FinnFest, this year? Dozens of exhibits, tours, concerts, films, plays, receptions, readings, a Finnish market – even a polka challenge! – will take place across the city from Friday, October 9 through Tuesday October 13. Kleinhans is a major hub, of course, but the Albright-Knox, the Burchfield Penney and Rockwell Hall will also host events, as will the Central Library, First Presbyterian Church and the Birge Mansion. From downtown to Symphony Circle to the Museum District, Buffalo will be alive with Finnish food, culture and traditions this long, holiday weekend.
The full schedule of FinnFest events is immense. For the easily overwhelmed, here are my top picks, along with a little shameless promotion.
Start with the planting of a white rose bush, the symbol of Finland, at the Delaware Park Rose Garden at 4:00pm on Friday. Walk across the street to the Opening Ceremony at 5:00pm in Rockwell Hall to hear some excellent Finnish music, including some jazz. And then head over to the Burchfield Penney to see the premiere of My Dear Sibelius (ticket required), translated into English and peformed by The Road Less Traveled, with Jean Sibelius' music in the background.
If you're an early bird, watch the Finnish flag rise over Lafayette Square at 8:30am on Saturday, which is "Literature Day." There will be much pomp and circumstance. Head uptown to Kleinhans at 9:00am to hear Chris Brown tell the Story of Kleinhans and the Saarinens. Or bring your favorite child to the Central Library between 9:00-12:00 to learn some Finnish words and phrases. While you're there, record a book to be donated to the blind and visually impaired in Finland. All are welcome!
At Noon in Kleinhans catch the world premiere of the documentary Sisu: Family, Love and Perseverance from Finland to America. Then stop by the Tori, the Finnish marketplace on the main floor of Kleinhans. It will be open from 10:00am-4:00pm and from 6:30-10:00pm on Saturday, and from 10:00am-5:00pm on Sunday. In addition to Finnish arts and goods, you will also find (wait for it...here comes the shameless promotion) From Finland to Niagara Falls: Explorer Pehr Kalm in North America 1748-1751. Translated by Buffalo native Christina Saarinen, this exquistely illustrated book tells the fascinating story of the first scientist to see and document Niagara Falls - in 1751. Who knew? Well, actually, quite a few historians. In fact, "Go West, Young Finn! Pehr Kalm in the New World, 1748-1751" by Karen Reeds, Ph.D. FLS will take place at the Central Library's Ring of Knowledge on Saturday at 3:30pm. As the Publisher of From Finland to Niagara Falls, you know where I will be.
But I will be sad to miss Finnish Folk Dance Instruction at First Presbyterian from 3:30-5:00pm (no experience necessary). Instead I'll be walking down Washington Street to the Just Buffalo Literary Center at 7:00pm for "Studio: Celebrating the Life & Work of Anselm Hollo" to learn about his many connections to the Buffalo literary scene. But I hope to make it back to Kleinhans in time to enjoy Echoes of Sibelius at 8:00pm, conducted by our own JoAnn Falletta (ticket required).
Wonder what's for breakfast in Finland? Head to the Hyatt Regency between 8:00-10:00am on Sunday, and for $20 find out. Or sleep in and instead attend "Finnish Foods" by Master Chef and cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas at 1:00pm at the Hyatt (ticket required). A Panel and Discussion will follow (FinnFest is a conference, folks). I'm an NPR fanatic so I'm going to try to slip into the "Finnish Music in the Context of Sibelius" by Fred Child of NPR in the Kleinhans Aud at 3:30pm. If you care to join me, be sure to stop by the Tori in Kleinhans before it closes for good at 5:00pm. I'm going to purchase a ticket to "A Kalevala Duo, Playing Bones" in the Kleinhans Aud from 6:00-7:00pm because I am fascinated by this traditional Finnish medicine -- and because it's a chance to actually sit on the Kleinhans stage rather than look down upon it!
But then let's head over to The Pearl at the Webb. Why you might ask? Why for the "Dancing with the Stars & Polka Face-Off," of course. The $25 ticket includes food, one beverage ticket and a whole lotta Finnish polka. Really?
Monday brings an all-day Genealogy Forum at the Hyatt (registration required) that I wish I could attend, and I hope to be invited to the Kleinhans Music Hall 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans. Tickets are $175, so keep your fingers crossed. FinnFest wraps up on Tuesday, October 13 with a Sibelius-centric Buffalo Chamber Music Society performance by the Carpe Diem String Quartet in the Mary Seaton Room at 8:00pm.
What a “Finnspirational” weekend in Buffalo! Catch as much of the fun as you can since FinnFest moves from city to city each year and may not be back in Buffalo for quite some time. Take this opportunity to explore our deep, common historical connections to not Ireland, Italy, Germany or Poland, but to Finland.