Town of the Peace in perpetuity
A peace treaty signed by Sweden and Russia in the small town of Uusikaupunki on the west coast of Finland 275 years ago significantly altered the course of European history. Indeed, it was specifically to promote trade and shipping that King Gustavus II Adolf of Sweden founded Uusikaupunki in 1617; Finland was part of his realm at that time.
World's northernmost car factory
The Uusikaupunki car factory makes Saab and Porsche Boxster cars. Production began nearly 30 years ago, when Valmet of Finland and Saab of Sweden began cooperating. To date, more than 600,000 cars of various Saab models have been made at the factory. The great majority have gone to Western markets: almost all of the superb Saab Cabriolets, for example, are sold in the United States. Valmet Automotive, nowadays wholly Finnish-owned, is the only car factory in Finland and also the world's northernmost. The factory employs about 1 600 workers.
The cars are shipped to many parts of Western Europe from Uusikaupunki's lively port. In the days of sail, the town even boasted Finland's second-biggest merchant fleet at one period. Today, the only sailing craft are the many yachts for which the beautiful archipelago offers both interesting navigation channels and shelter.
Peace in perpetuity
Uusikaupunki was the focus of world politics in August 1721, when Sweden and Finland chose the town as the venue for the signing of a peace treaty. The end of the Great Northern war, which had raged for 21 years, made Russia a great European power and a factor to be reckoned with in the Baltic region. The 275th anniversary of the treaty, which was supposed to bring peace "in perpetuity" was commemorated last year, with representatives of Sweden, Russia and Estonia in attendance. The monument commemorating the treaty stands on the same spot where the document was signed.
Its geography alone has meant that Uusikaupunki has always looked westwards. Also culture ties it closely to Sweden. A plaque on one of the lovely wooden buildings in the town identifies it as the place where the composer Bernhard Henrik Crusell was born in 1775. His works included the first Finnish opera, "The Little Slave Girl", but he is remembered most for his influence on the music of the Swedish court and the pieces he wrote for military bands. A festival bearing his name is celebrated for a week in July-August each year.
The first Crusell Week festival, featuring a programme of concerts for woodwind instruments, took place in 1982. It had a modest budget of 50,000 markkas (about $10,000) and the conductor Osmo Vänskä was the artistic director.
By the time the clarinettist Kari Kriikku took over in 1994, the festival had established a firm position for itself and he was looking at an entirely different size of budget; by 1998 it had reached a million markkas (nearly $200,000).
That sum was enough for eighteen concerts, which were performed over 9 days by more than 180 musicians.
Foremost among them were the flutist brothers Kuiken and Peter-Lukas Graf, the oboist Jean Lois Capezzali, the clarinettist Michel Portal and the saxophonist Claude Delange. The Vivo Symphony Orchestra, composed of young musicians and under the baton of the only 21-year-old Finnish star conductor Mikko Franck, helped the 1998 festival to attract 9,000 visitors.
Bowing out in style
You have to hand it to Kari Kriikku, the man who ran the Crusell Week for a good few years. When the time came for him to depart, he decided to go out with a flourish and commissioned some original compositions.
Alongside classics of brass music, which took centre stage in 1999, the festival had the unusual novelties of musical palindromes - pieces 1-5 minutes long that sound the same whether on plays them backwards or forwards. One of them was called SOS - three dots, three dashes and three dots.
To end the proceedings, Kriikku revealed the pig that he had been keeping in his poke and emerged wearing a - literally - swinish outfit and playing the clarinet. The act nearly brought the house down. If you've got to leave, the best way to do it is with a standing ovation ringing in your ears! Let us hope that Kriikku will enjoy the same success in his new job as artistic director of the experimentation-loving chamber orchestra Avanti!
Picture Kari Kriikku - minus his pig suit.