Washington seemed a sort of "Little Finland" this year -- at least at the Kennedy Center, where a disproportionate number of visiting musicians came from the beautiful Nordic country.

In March, the prodigious Mikko Franck, all of 22 years old, made his Washington debut conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. His performances of music by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara combined interpretive authority, technical precision and extraordinary moment-to-moment visceral excitement. This was, without a doubt, the most exciting conducting debut I've ever heard with this orchestra.

It was only the beginning. Franck's older countryman Osmo Vanska, who was recently appointed music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, made his way south to conduct no less than four NSO programs this year -- with two more promised for April.

NSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin, too, did his part for Finnish music. In October, he led the world premiere of Rautavaara's Clarinet Concerto with soloist Richard Stoltzman. Even more impressive was the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho's "Nymphea Reflection," which was on the same program. Although this was the composer's own transcription of a work for string quartet and electronics, it proved surprisingly easy on the ear. It was, in fact, a positive pleasure to listen to -- sensual, engrossing, almost cinematic, a music of dreams.

-- Tim Page

Osmo Vanska conducted four NSO programs this year -- with two more promised for April.