”I was such a record fanatic that I didn’t think any sensible thoughts at all,” says Reijo Kiilunen, recalling the heady days 30 years ago when he started making records under the label Ondine. That his record company is so respected, diverse and critically acclaimed three decades later is a testament to that fanaticism. Ondine is, more than ever, a label for total music enthusiasts, be they in Turku or Taipei.
But Ondine was spawned at one of the central institutions of Finland’s classical music scene: the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. The first record was a alive recording from Kuhmo in 1985, made when Kiilunen was working at the festival’s concery agency. ”Very soon I left that job and focused entirely on making recordings,” he says. Three CDs later, he had moved from hanging microphones at small-scale Kuhmo concerts to taping a complete opera, Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Thomas.
Thomas set a precedent for Ondine: the recording of new music and music from Finland would be a central element of its work. The international careers enjoyed by Rautavaara, Magnus Lindberg and Kaija Saariaho owe a certain amount to Ondine’s relentless propagation of their music; many have got to know the works of Uuno Klami, Leevi Madetoja and, yes, Jean Sibelius from the label’s hundreds of recordings.
At 30, however, Ondine’s outlook is absolutely international – that of a label owned by the Naxos group (since 2009) that happens to be based in Finland but speaks, occasionally, with a Finnish accent. ”We use top international artists, some of whom are Finns, some of whom aren’t,” says Kiilunen, and his roster (Ashkenazy, Tetzlaff, Isokoski, Mattila) proves it.
Recent successes for Ondine have been Gramophone Award-nominated recordings of Romanian composer Georges Enescu and recitals from the Latvian Radio Choir and star Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. ”You get nowhere without quality,” says Kiilunen. ”That comes first, and after that you can wave your flag a bit if you want to.”
Article written by Andrew Mellor. Originally appeared on FMQ 3–4/2015.