At the opening of the Last Night of the Proms earlier this year – probably the most high-profile classical music event in the world – a Finnish conductor walked onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall in London where he proceeded to conduct a new work by a Finnish composer. Millions were watching around the world. The gesture was designed to mark the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia. But it wouldn’t have happened without the requisite artistic talent. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, along with one other major orchestra in London, has a Finnish chief conductor. When it decided to commission a work from an up-and-coming Finnish composer there were plenty to choose from. Finland’s population is around one fifth of Australia’s. Whichever way you cut it, the per capita proportion of musical talent coming out of the small Nordic country is mind-bogglingly high – just look at the Australian Chamber Orchestra where the violins are led by Satu Vänskä and the cello section by Timo-Veikko Valve. Satu Vänskä. We can sum up the reasons for that in one word: education. But that word encompasses a whole plethora of institutions, systems, mentalities and attitudes, and rests upon an infrastructural
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