The first Iitti Music Festival was held on 12-14 June 2003. The idea of a festival had been put forward three years before by pianist Laura Mikkola and violist Harri Sippel, both of whom have connections with Iitti. An Iitti Music Festival Association was founded in January 2002. Laura Mikkola was appointed Artistic Director of the festival focusing mainly on chamber music.
The programme for the opening concert of the first festival included an early work (1893) by Jean Sibelius called Svartsjukans nätter (Nights of Jealousy) – a melodrama for reciter, violin, cello and piano. The words (in Swedish) are by Finland’s national poet, J.L. Runeberg. The Finnish translation made by Tarmo Manelius in 1987 was heard in Iitti Church for the first time.
Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara honoured the Iitti Music Festival with his presence when his piano work Passionale dedicated to Laura Mikkola was premiered on the last day of the festival. The soloist in the church was naturally Laura Mikkola. The commission was made possible with the kind support of Nokia.
The Young Talents concert at the first festival featuring young Music Institute students was the prelude to the music courses and masterclasses introduced in 2004. In arranging these, the Iitti Music Festival Association seeks to promote the musical activities of local children and young people in accordance with its mission.
Iitti was originally a large parish founded by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden (to which Finland at that time belonged) in 1539. Its centre, the village around the church, lies on a ridge between three lakes. The present wooden church dates from 1693; the other buildings are mostly late 19th or early 20th century. The Old Vicarage is from 1898.
Kausala, the administrative centre of Iitti, gradually grew up around the railway station after the opening of the railway linking Helsinki with St. Petersburg in 1870. No longer the hub of the community, the old village centre acquired an idyllic charm that has been consciously preserved. Tourists, holiday-makers and the local people themselves greatly prize the atmosphere and milieu of this country village, the lakes on all sides and the old village streets. The Church is extremely popular for weddings. The first village school is nowadays a summer café serving home-made cakes. Maintained by various organisations, it is also used for art exhibitions.
In 1990 Iitti village was awarded the honorary title of Finland’s Most Beautiful Village in a competition held by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and the Finnish Tourist Board (MEK).
In ancient times, beacons visible for miles around in all directions were lit on Hiidenvuori (Devil’s Hill) to warn of impending danger. Hiidenvuori was once also a hill fort. In addition to the path used today, there is a secret passage to the top: a steep, narrow gorge carved out by the Ice Age.
In 2014, it will be 100 years since a piano was first carried up Hiidenvuori Hill. Some artists spending the summer in Iitti, among them founders of the Finnish Opera, were fired by the spirit of nationalism and national romanticism to arrange a big summer festival at the ancient hill fort. This festival was held on 5 July 1914 and attracted an audience of around 3,000. A platform was built and a piano heaved to the top. The main item on the programme was a play about the hill by actors from the Finnish National Theatre.
The festival was to have been a regular event, but the First World War put an end to such plans. It began to be revived from the 1920s onwards, when Hella Wuolijoki the writer is said to have had no less than a grand piano carried up to the top of the hill. Then came the Second World War. In the 1990s, after a long interval, nocturnal concerts once again began to be held on Devil’s Hill and became an annual event.
The composer Einojuhani Rautavaara and his wife were among the guests who climbed the hill for the midnight concert in summer 2003. The piano was carried by members of local sports clubs.