New director at the Mirjam Helin international Singing Competition in Helsinki


Päivi Loponen-Kyrönseppä has started work as Competition Director of the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, in a new management position at the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Loponen-Kyrönseppä holds a Master of Music degree and specialises in cultural management. She joins the Finnish Cultural Foundation after having worked at the Savoy Theatre, which is renowned for its profile in international programming.
Loponen-Kyrönseppä has worked as the director of the Savoy Theatre since 2013. Prior to that, she worked as the executive director of the Vantaa Orchestra, as the artistic director of the Lemi Music Festival, and as a music journalist for, for example, Helsingin Sanomat and Yleisradio. She also holds a Master’s degree in singing and is one of the founding members of the Opera Skaala company.

WFIMCnow: please tell us a few things about yourself!

Päivi Loponen: I am quite new in the competition field but my background is in music and particularly in singing. I have been studying at the Sibelius Academy, where I received my diploma. But I´ve also been working as journalist for TV, radio and newspapers in Finland, and I was General Manager at the Vantaa Orchestra for about 5 years. Then I was director of the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki for around 10 years, and finally I came to the Finnish Cultural Foundation. 

Päivi Loponen-Kyrönseppä. ©Jani Saikko

Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the next years?

Well, I started working for the Mirjam Helin Competition only three weeks ago, so I am not quite ready to present any new strategy. But for us, the two major changes are a shorter rotation (one competition in every three years instead of every five) as well as the director´s position having become full-time, as opposed to the part-time position it used to be.

You have also abandoned the male/female categories.

Yes, of course. Nowadays it´s better to have only one category as we are not limited to men and women anymore- we also have to take care of everyone in between.
Another issue for me is the composition of the jury. Our founder, Mirjam Helin, who gave a huge amount of money at the beginning of the 80s to the competition, she wanted there to be only singers in the jury. So all these years, our juries have been made up solely from singers.

Well, you had some rather amazing singers in your juries, not just anyone….

That´s correct. There have been many big and prestigious names. But from a practical point of view, I think it is important to have also i.e. a number of opera directors, artist managers or festival planners, who might take an interest in our laureates, or who might introduce them to other presenters. Take for example the Queen Sonia Competition, they had only one singer in their jury- and that was it! It´s the other extreme, but I think we need to work on a reasonable balance. Our chair of the jury, Soile Isokoski, is a wonderful artist, but there is more to come!

Your competition has a very large prize money on offer, but not as many engagements for the laureates. So I am sure a more diverse jury will help. 
What about Finnish artists? The Mirjam Helin did not have a lot of Finnish laureates, in fact, only one First-prize winner in 1994- is this not a frequent question you hear from your superiors?

Actually, our budget comes from the Mirjam Helin Foundation, not from the state, but still, it’s a good question. We do have very good singers in Finland, but maybe not as many as elsewhere, and with the five-year rotation, it has been a little difficult for them to take part. For example, if you finish your studies and are ready to compete, but the competition has just happened the previous year, you´d have to wait another four years- that´s simply too long.
But we do have some wonderful Finnish voices. I have heard some singers during this summer at local, national competitions, and they were outstanding. A lot to look forward to at the Mirjam Helin next year!

The ninth Mirjam Helin competition will take place 3–12 June 2024.
The competition has a reputation for being one of the leading international singing competitions, and many of its former prizewinners, such as Olaf Bär, Elīna Garanča, René Pape, Andrea Rost and Julia Lezhneva have later risen to the top of the world of singing. Designed for outstanding young singers, it is known for its high standard, exacting repertoire, superb prizes and prestigious jury.
The Mirjam Helin competition is known for demanding a broad repertoire (Baroque music, Lied, opera) while at the same time allowing great liberty in the choice of music. The programme does not include any obligatory compositions or composers. The Semifinals do, however, include a song by a Finnish composer.
The competition has been organised every five years by the Finnish Cultural Foundation since 1984. From 2024, the competition will be arranged every three years.

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