With principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard leading, the orchestra will celebrate the Finnish composer’s 150th birthday with performances of all seven of his symphonies, plus the famed “Finlandia.”

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So thorough is an immersion into the world of Jean Sibelius offered by Seattle Symphony in coming weeks that a drinking-age patron will be able to sample the Finnish composer’s favorite cocktail in Benaroya Hall’s Grand Lobby.

(It’s called black punch: mineral water, sugar, jam, brandy, wine and bergamot oil.)

In celebration of the 150th birthday of the late-Romantic symphonist and prolific writer of other orchestral music, songs, chamber and choral music, and an opera, Sibelius — a towering figure in Finnish arts and culture — will be the intense focus of Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s three-week festival “Luminous Landscapes: The Sibelius Symphonies.”


‘Luminous Landscapes: The Sibelius Symphonies’

With principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, concerts of seven symphonies,”Finlandia,” and chamber works, March 12-28, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets start at $17 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).

Thomas Dausgaard, a frequent guest conductor at SSO and new principal guest conductor for the organization, has taken the reins of this sprawling event, which includes all seven of Sibelius’ symphonies as well as his 1900 tone poem “Finlandia,” a protest against Russian pressures on Finland.

Dausgaard will also lead the orchestra in a performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor. Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto will make his Seattle debut for the often-revised piece, which seems almost to have been cursed during Sibelius’ lifetime; its 1904 premiere was a disaster, due in part to its difficulty, and it was unknown to much of the world until 1991.

All of that is what Dausgaard and the full orchestra bring to the festivities. But there’s more.

• SSO’s chamber series (“Seattle Symphony Musicians and Friends”) will present Sibelius’ “Vocesi intimaes,” Sonatina in E major for Violin and Piano, and his Piano Quintet in G minor. Also, following one of the evening concerts, sopranos and pianists Maria Mannisto and Christina Siemens will perform.

• The festival has a partner in Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum, which opens its “Finland: Designed Environments” exhibition on March 11. Finland’s ambassador to the U.S., Ritva Koukku-Ronde, will attend both the museum party and the opening concert on March 12.

• The Pasadena-based Finlandia Foundation’s president, Ossi Rahkonen, will bestow that group’s inaugural Award of Excellence to SSO.

• Preconcert speakers include Sibelius’ great-granddaughter, Ruusamari Teppo, as well as Finnish cellist Jussi Makkonen and New York University music professor Michael Beckerman.

• Festival performances of the entire Sibelius symphonic cycle will stream online on Classical KING FM’s Symphonic channel for all of March 29.

Who is this composer inspiring so much activity?

Born in Hämeenlinna in 1865, Jean Sibelius gave up his studies in law to become a music student at age 20. After abandoning the idea of becoming a violin virtuoso, Sibelius began composing, seeking his own path through late Romanticism.

“It was a huge question,” says Dausgaard, chief conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. “Where should music go after Romanticism? Sibelius offers not just one way but many. He went inward to find what was most important to him. He didn’t try to imitate ‘The Rite of Spring,’ or Mahler or Elgar or Puccini. He listened to a voice in himself, grounded already in what he had heard as a child and young man: church hymns, folk music in the villages. He drew inspiration from these things. It was how to make that into his own personal style that was his challenge.”

Anyone who attends the entire festival, Dausgaard says, will hear “music with a sense of timelessness about it, music you can get lost in and connect with on many levels. It’s also an opportunity to experience a significant composer’s development of expression, and a journey to an important and defining time in music.”