”Now it's time to show what has been prepared” - the Finnish competitors ready to go

Henri Tikkanen

In photo Henri Tikkanen. Photo Heikki Tuuli.

Among the 47 singers participating in the International Mirjam Helin Singing Competitions there are three Finns.

First of them to perform is bass-baritone Jussi Juola, who will stand on stage at the Camerata Hall in the Helsinki Music Centre in the evening session of day one.

The Dresden-based singer is happy to be back in Finland and feel the early summer sun. He arrived with his pianist Eun Hye Kang, with whom he have been working on lied repertoire for four years now.

”It's nice to be able to work as a duo in a singing competition”, the experienced lied singer said at noon on Monday.

For his first round performance Juola has chosen pieces where he can show contrasting colours of his voice.

”Now I just concentrate on the pieces, I repeat them in my mind and feel the different emotions they convey”, he tells when asked about the last minute preparations.

This was the first time Juola applied for the Mirjam Helin Competition. In five years time, for the next edition, he would already be over the age limit.

”This is definitely the greatest singing competition in Finland, so I had to take this chance!”

The Jury are humans, too

This was also the thought behind soprano Virva Puumala's decision of applying for the competition this year. The winner of Helsinki Lied Competition 2018 and Lappeenranta Singing Competition 2019, she felt that the time was right to go for the tough competition.

”I was not too ashamed of myself to send the tapes”, she laughs.

Puumala is overwhelmed by the friendly atmosphere of the competition.

”I feel so welcome, and we are all taken care of all the time. No need to stress, you can concentrate fully on singing.”

The prestigious jury is also part of the charm. On the other hand, the Finnish soprano reminds that the Jury are humans too. She likes to view the competition performance as any concert situation.

”But you have to be realistic with yourself. These are grand prix competitions, and you have to do your very best.”

Puumala says that the challenge of the first round is to distribute one's concentration on baroque, opera and lied. The Mirjam Helin competition demands a particularly varied and challenging programme.

”I wanted to choose pieces where one can see my personality as an artist”, she says.

Some humour for the first round

Henri Tikkanen is already impatient to get started – he is performing on Wednesday, as is Virva Puumala.

In his programme, Tikkanen will showcase different sides of vocal technique and a wide expressive range. As the higlight of his first round performance the baritone mentions Wolf's Abschied, a witty lied where one can enjoy the humour.

”When I get into the storytelling mode, everything seems to click into place”, he says.

On Monday Tikkanen was listening to the first session of the round one and feeling the atmosphere.

”I tend to be nervous in a competition, but now I am actually confused why I am so calm”, the baritone says happily.

Only a month ago he was in a lied competition in Lyon, France.

”There I felt rather stressed, but here the atmosphere is relaxed. The competition organisation is amazing. Now it's time to show what have been prepared.”

Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen