Juha Kangas is a violinist and conductor best known for his outstanding work with the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, which he has built into an ensemble of international reputation. He hails from the town of Kaustinen, part of Ostrobothnia, on the east coastal region of Finland; it borders on the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden. It has a strong folk music tradition, and Kangas' family was musicians in this vein. He was given a violin when he was a young boy, and by the time he was 13 had decided on a career as a violinist. He and his brothers Olli and Timo all performed as youngsters.
Kangas enrolled in the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, where his main teacher and inspiration was Onni Suhonen, the great violin professor of the Academy. Suhonen had a strong background in Finnish folklore and taught a legendary class in chamber music. His teaching of interpretation and his insistence on alert, musical precision in playing also turned out to be a great training course for future conductors.
In 1966, Kangas joined the Helsinki Philharmonic as a violist, an ideal position from which to experience the orchestral repertory from the inside. But he quit that job when he was offered an opportunity to become a violin professor at the Ostrobothnian Conservatory in Kokkola. That town of 36,000 was located in his home region, only 50 kilometers from his hometown and 420 kilometers from the Arctic Circle.
After joining the faculty in 1971, he formed in 1972 a string orchestra from ten- and eleven-year-old players in the Conservatory. He named it the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (Keski-Pohjanmaan Kamariorkesteri). Somewhat unexpectedly, the orchestra membership remained intact as its players grew in age, training, and musicianship. In a few years it was a highly accomplished student orchestra, then a semi-professional orchestra, and finally, in 1989, a fully professional chamber orchestra.
Kangas became noted for his championing of Nordic music, for his outstanding orchestra-building, and for his aversion to guest conducting. He rarely booked a guest conductor for the Ostrobothnian group, and rarely accepted offers to appear elsewhere. In addition to allowing him to see the consistent growth of the ensemble, this also reduced expenses for the orchestra.
Since the orchestra became fully professional, Kangas has been able to relax that standard a little. Cultivating an interest in Estonian music, he began to perform with the Tallinn (Estonia) Chamber Orchestra in 1993. He accepted a one-year position as artistic director of that orchestra in 1994, and then a position as guest conductor, involving five one-week stints. In 2009, he went into partial retirement. He spent the first decade of the 2000s recording efforts suchs as Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites (2002) for Apex and Rautavaara's 12 Concertos (2009) for Ondine.