The Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (Keski-Pohjanmaan Kamariorkesteri) is one of the world's leading chamber orchestras. It is known for its advancement of Nordic music and for its unique history as a children's orchestra that, literally, grew up to be a major international ensemble.
In 1971 Juha Kangas, then a violist in the Helsinki Philharmonic, came to the Ostrobothnian Music College (now Ostrobothnian Conservatory) in Kokkola, Finland, as a violin and viola professor. Kangas, a student of the great violin and chamber music teacher Onni Suhonen, was from the region, hailing from the town of Kaustinen, 50 kilometers away, and was brought up in the area's rich traditional of itinerant folk musicians. (Ostrobothnia refers to the northern part of Finland's eastern coast, bordering on the Gulf of Bothnia that divides Finland from Sweden.)
Initially, the orchestra was a group of children ten and eleven years old. Kangas worked with the same group of young players as they advanced in experience and skill. By 1976, it appeared for the first time on a national stage at the annual youth arts fair in Lahti under the name "Chamber Orchestra of the Central Ostrobothnian Music College."
In addition to playing new music, Kangas and the OCO became known for ferreting out worthy Finnish music that had been overlooked. Examples are works by Uuno Klami, Ahti Sonninen and Erkki Salmenhaara. In addition, the orchestra has brought into prominence Time of Taromir by Karin Rehnqvist and the Concerto for Strings by Ingvar Lidholm.
There is a tendency noted by Finnish arts commentators for the more populous and cosmopolitan south coastal region extending from Helsinki to dismiss the artistic efforts of the country's northern areas, and so the growth of the OCO was often overlooked. As a result the orchestra's second "composer in residence" was not a Finn at all, but the Swedish composer Anders Eliasson. In the 1980s, the orchestra became semi-professional and since 1989 has been a fully professional organization. In 1993, Kangas and the orchestra won the Nordic Music Prize and in 1995 were recognized by the Finnish Composers' Copyright Society (Teosto) with its "Creation prize" for "professional creative work that has significantly promoted Finnish music." In 1998, it received the Madetoja Award of the Finnish Composers' Society.
Throughout most of the existence of the orchestra Kangas has conducted almost all the concerts, with only rare appearances by guest conductors. In 2009 he cut his conducting duties to half. Guest conductors included Sakari Oramo, Tuomas Hannikainen, and Johannes Gustavsson. The average age of the orchestra is still young; just about 30. None of the original players from 1971 are still members, but some have been with the group since 1973. Later recordings include Sunleif Rasmussen: String against String (2007) for Dacapo and Nordgren's Symphony for Strings; Hate-Love (2009) for Ondine.