Composers’ networking and fandom – Japanese style

(written by Mioko Yokoyama)

Hello everyone, I’m Mioko. I moved from Tokyo, Japan to Helsinki last autumn. I have to confess that I don’t know very much about Korvat auki, but while Japan is still very fresh in my mind, I would like to compare Finnish composers with Japanese ones in terms of how they organize themselves professionally.

Firstly, I have a quite good impression of Korvat auki. Since there is no association like this in Japan, young composers hold that they are still children who are being protected by “adult” composers, and so, do not acquire much experience in working independently or promoting their own music.

In my opinion, it would be difficult to establish even a single composers’ association in Tokyo despite it having nearly ten schools of art or music. This is partly because of the shyness of us Japanese. I was a typical student, I focused on my studying without thinking of setting up an association like Korvat auki.

Adult composers, however, enjoy wide social networks, many of which overlap although these, too, can be quite limited insofar as that these groups sometimes consist solely of students of a single teacher; for example, Apsaras, 21th Century Music Association, Avance, etc. These groups have their own concerts at least once a year, it seems the main difference is the teacher who the members in these groups studied with.

Three possible reasons for Japan’s lack of young composers’ associations are:

Japan has 20 times the population than Finland’s (120,000,000 inhabitants). This means that there are a lot of people who have different opinions, so it is difficult to meet and reach a single consensus.
In Japanese culture, it is expected that young people respect their elders. I never imagined calling teachers by their first names before coming to Finland. In school, we use respectful expressions for those who are even only one year older. Conversely, we use casual expressions with those who are even slightly younger. This culture derives from Confucianism. So because of this, young people (not limited only to composers) tend to be strongly influenced by their teachers.
If you are a fan of one composer, you should go to their compositional concerts so as to “connect” with their social network, and perhaps hear some music that matches your aesthetic values! Although, sometimes, these associations organise only one single concert a year.
This is the case in Japan, yet I really like Korvat auki’s approach – that young composers actively organize concerts, with the support of older composers.

Special thanks to my composer friends in Japan, and Criostóir Ó Loingsiġ, who helped me with my English!

Mioko YOKOYAMA (Helsinki FI / JP)

Composer, since autumn 2015 a Korvat auki member

How Finnish music sounds to a foreigner

(written by Matei Gheorghiu)

Many might know that I came to Finland eight and a half years ago. Even though I got used to contemporary and classical Finnish music, I can still recall very well the first impressions I had on it when I came here back in 2007. Before I came, I had heard music by Lindberg, Aho and Kokkonen and of course, Sibelius. But what made it sound ”Finnish”? After only one year, I had already discovered some aspects of Finnish music that, to me, make it sound authentic and ”endemic”. Of course, by then and even more afterwards, my knowledge on Finnish music has expanded.

Here I will try briefly to point out 5 aspects of Finnish contemporary music that make it Finnish from the eyes of a foreigner from Romania. There are clearly lots of other features that could be mentioned, but I will point out the ones that seem the most interesting from my point of view. Of course, not all pieces have all these features. However, most Finnish pieces tend to have 2–3 of them.

Here they are:

1) Music must flow like water

No matter what, Finnish composers don’t like to stop much. You will not see Messiaen or Stravinsky–like pieces made of blocks or unrelated sections. There are rarely any fermatas that end sections followed by new beginnings. And of course, the music is always related to the previous material. Clear continuity is the key.

2) Processualism = good music

An extension of the previous section, the idea that a composer has the craft to make very smooth changes from one material to another is very catchy and considered appealing by both composers and listeners. Ligeti would have been happy to have been a Finn.

3) Music rarely truly rests

Finnish people might be shy, or might not talk much, but when they compose they like their music to be restless. For example, even if the piece is slow, with low dynamics, and static, there are still some 16-notes lurking somewhere in the background. I would actually say that often Finnish music is more fiery than cold from this point of view.

4) Finns love the low register

I remember a teacher of mine saying back home that a good composer knows when to take the heavy bass instruments out and give space to the middle and higher registers. However, many Finnish pieces rely heavily on bass and much less on the higher register. Of course, this is not a general rule, but I find it quite common. Might this be related to the love for heavy metal here in the North? When I first heard Sampo Haapamäki’s bass clarinet concerto, I was shocked that the low register was used without a break for over 20 minutes. I told him that. Later, I realized he’s not alone.

5) Even when emotional, keep distance

One thing that fascinated me about Sibelius as a teenager was that, unlike many romantic composers, he manages to bring powerful and moving moments without you feeling that he’s telling you too much about himself. I feel this is what mostly the rest of the music by Finnish composers sounds like as well; deep, profound, but keeping a lot of dignifying mystery is preferred.

If I didn’t convince you, I hope at least I made you think, or smile.


Matei GHEORGHIU ( Helsinki FI / RO)

Composer, vice chairperson for Ears Open