The bad news: I was looking forward to a number of performances of Veden väki (The Underwater Folk), co-commissioned by the Minimalia festival, and the Uuden Ajan Ensemble led by conductor Tapio von Boehm. Two concerts scheduled for this spring in Helsinki, including the premiere, had to be postponed due to the pandemic. With kind permission of the commissioning parties, I was given the great opportunity to have it premiered by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, conducted by Peter Biloen. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, that concert was also postponed.
However, the awesome fiddler Patrick Yim came back to Hong Kong for a visit, and of his many engagements, a solo violin recital at the Midday Oasis series at CUHK’s Chung Chi College chapel was not cancelled. The program includes the premiere of Solitude, a solo work Patrick commissioned from me at the onset of the pandemic two years ago. The event has been moved online, but considering the present conditions, this is incredibly lucky. You can watch the broadcast here this coming Monday, March 14, at 1:30 PM HKT.
One of the nicest surprises last year was that, against all odds, our inaugural HKUST Cosmopolis Festival was able to take place, almost entirely live, and with a hugely diverse program. The 2022 edition was announced last month, featuring the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Peter Biloen (Netherlands), Gamelan Yugananda (Indonesia), jazz singer Talie Monin (Hong Kong/South Africa), and much more. Unfortunately, due to the deteriorating Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong, the season has been cancelled, tentatively to be rescheduled for the fall. Though it is, of course, very disappointing, we can only count our blessings and the many concerts we’ve been lucky to present through the pandemic so far.
After a few years of travel dates never quite lining up, I finally had the chance to give a long-planned talk back at the Sibelius Academy — now that traveling is no longer an option and Zoom lectures the norm. A lot has changed at my alma mater in the last two decades. Hosted by my dear colleagues Matthew Whittall and Jussi Nuorvala, the lecture was something like the closing of a circle, and a big part of it was on the controversies and aesthetic fights between students and faculty in the early 2000s that eventually led to my moving to New York. The talk was in February but video of it was published on the lecture series’ Facebook page just yesterday.
A small miracle, and something we’re all grateful for in this concert-starved time: our inaugural Cosmopolis Festival at HKUST is going forward! For the next five weeks, we’ll present around 15 events on the campus of the Hong Kong University of Science Technology, with concerts paired with talks, masterclasses, and workshops, ranging from South Indian Carnatic music with the breathtaking sister duo Ranjani and Gayatri, to a performance of Donizetti’s one-act opera Rita, to electroacoustic music from Finland with defunensemble. I’m looking forward to all of it, but in particular the Asian premiere of Taonta by the brilliant rising star, Rachel Cheung, on April 9.
Congratulations to the wonderful guitarist Petri Kumela for receiving the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s Album of the Year 2020 award for his Small Creatures — A Musical Bestiary! Honored that my chamber music album with the Aizuri Quartet and Adrienne Kim was shortlisted alongside the works of composers Sid Hille and Antti Auvinen; the Duke Ellington interpretations of soprano Anu Komsi and guitarist Marzi Nyman; and baritone Arttu Kataja’s selection of Lieder.
Marking the two-year anniversary of the premiere of Jouhet at the MATA Continued composer portrait, the festival released this video interview today as part of their MATA at Home series. Grateful for the chance to talk about current and upcoming work, influences and inspiration, and to be part of this project aiming to keep us connected in this disconnected time. Sending thanks and good vibes back to New York, which I miss a lot.
You can watch a video of the premiere performance of Jouhet by the Aizuri Quartet here.
A different kind of project, and a breath of fresh air in this era of concert cancellations: jazz guitarist and composer Aki Haarala invited me to play the piano in his collectively and remotely improvised project, which turned into this debut track Möbius by the ensemble I hear we’re now calling Ultralum. Exceedingly elegant contributions from the outstanding Mika Mylläri, trumpet; Mikko Kaakkuriniemi, drums; Mamba Abdissa Assefa, percussion; Tuomo Prättälä, keys; and others. Looking forward to more!
Our album with the Aizuri Quartet and Adrienne Kim was released today on the Innova label! This project has kept making me immensely inspired and grateful since the start, and not least today. My (and our) gratitude goes out also to MATA (Music at the Anthology) for marking the release date with this premiere performance video of Jouhet, from the MATA Continued composer portrait at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, in December 2018. This was a commission I wrote for the Aizuris, and they played the living hell out of it. (You can also check out a video of the title track released on Monday, The Bells Bow Down.)
Our album with the Aizuri Quartet and pianist Adrienne Kim is coming out on Innova Recordings this Friday, March 27! Here’s a music video of the title track to go with it, shot at the recordings session, back in December 2018, at the American Academy of Arts and letters in New York. What amazing players.
My essay marking the 40th anniversary year of Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter was published yesterday in Aeon Magazine (with the title Contrapuntal Consciousness). It’s an exploration of math, meaning, minds, and music, featuring ferns and fractals — in other words, lots of alliteration.
Back in New York to work on the postproduction of our upcoming album with the wondrous Aizuri Quartet and equally wondrous pianist Adrienne Kim — and for a few days’ stay at the Berkshire International Film Festival with Yasmin Rai. Here’s a little moment from our recording session back in December: with cellist Karen Ouzounian, violinists Miho Saegusa and Ariana Kim, violist Ayane Kozasa, and in the back, myself, Adrienne, and recording engineer/producer/wizard Silas Brown.
Sai Kung is my hometown here in Hong Kong, and my favorite neighborhood in the world. It has been great fun to be part of getting this new project, Sai Kung Sound Collective, or Sasco, off the ground as its first Composer-in-Residence, with Artistic Director, baritone Isaac Droscha, composer Galison Lau, the wonderful people at our partner institution, the Hong Kong Academy, and many others. I’ve had a chance to brush up on my continuo playing skills with flutist Tete Bae, and work on a performance of Hum and Drum with Richard Bamping, solo cellist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and pianist Natalia Tokar, one of Sasco’s founding members. At our first bigger event, last Saturday’s Opening Gala Concert, we also heard violist Born Lau and violinist Patrick Yim play KnickKnacks by our first featured guest composer, George Tsontakis, who introduced us to his work; as well as pianist Yoonie Han and soprano Rebekah AuYeung.
‘From its inception in 1996, MATA has helped launch the careers of dozens of promising young composers. Now the festival starts a new initiative, “MATA Continued,” offering return engagements by some of its brightest discoveries. The series starts with the Finnish composer Ilari Kaila, whose haunting lament “Kellojen Kumarrus” was presented by MATA in 2014; here, the award-winning Aizuri Quartet and the pianist Adrienne Kim reprise that piece along with further works by Kaila.’ — Steve Smith, The New Yorker, 10 Dec 2018
M-Prize Winning Aizuri Quartet to Perform Evening of Works by Rising Star Ilari Kaila
New York’s acclaimed “leading showcase for vital new music by emerging composers” (The New Yorker), MATA is excited to announce the first concert of MATA Continued, a new alumni-focused project devoted to giving composers previously presented by MATA the opportunities and tools to make larger artistic statements through longer-form concerts and special projects. MATA Director Todd Tarantino explains, “MATA isn’t just a one-time thing. The third item of our mission statement is to ‘support’ early career composers. For our alumni, in particular, this takes many forms: revisiting their work for our MATA’s Greatest Hits program, fiscal sponsorship of their own projects, invitations to serve on juries and be mentors in our MATA Jr. program, and now, through events like this one.” The inaugural concert will feature the work of Finnish composer Ilari Kaila, whose Kellojen Kumarrus was featured on the 2014 MATA Festival. Through the artistry of the M-Prize winning Aizuri Quartet, alongside special guests flutist Isabel Gleicher and pianist Adrienne Kim, Kellojen Kumarrus will receive a second MATA performance on a program that will showcase the breadth of Kaila’s compositional voice.
Really excited to share this first installment in a series of ten short animated essays that my co-writer Tuomas Kaila and I are currently working on with director Yasmin Rai of File Under Pictures Ltd. (Hong Kong), the Animaatiokopla collective (Finland), and a whole bunch of wonderful artists, musicians, and actors. Tuomas and I are writing both the music and the screenplay for the project, and in this pilot episode, we dissect the in-joke.
On the shores of the beautiful Lake Saimaa in Varkaus, Finland; one of my oldest pieces still (though rarely) performed — Wisteria for string quartet, and Hum and Drum premiered just in November — are on the program here at cellist Markus Hallikainen’s summer music festival. Lots of sauna-ing is also on the program. Below, an arts-and-crafts session, preparing the string quartet parts for a possibly windy outdoor concert.
Wrapping up the HKUST Music Alive! concert series for this school year, we premiered eight new works by my composition students at last night’s studio recital, alongside instrumental and chamber music students of violist Andrew Ling and pianist Amy Sze. Each piece was performed by the respective composer, with ensembles consisting of HKUST students and friends, plus guest artists Tete Bae (flute) and Ling Chen (violin). My first time ever playing chamber music that includes the guzheng!
Back from Chennai, my eleventh visit there after a hiatus of a few years, and exactly 15 years after I first started studying Carnatic music at the Brhaddhvani Centre with Professor Karaikudi Subramanian, on a scholarship from the Sibelius Academy. With approximately 100 concerts a day for six weeks, the Madras Music Season in the Tamil month of Maargazhi (December-January) is the biggest music festival in the world. Overwhelming and awesome as always, to be immersed in music, seeing old friends, teachers and colleagues, making plans for next year, and celebrating the centenary of Finland, apparently.
Helsyd Piano Trio, en route to Hong Kong and Macau, kicks off their tour here in Helsinki on Sunday, 3 PM, at Klassinen hietsu, with a program featuring some new and old music of mine, followed by a performance of my Cello Concerto at the Temple in the Rock at 6 PM by Markus Hallikainen and the Sipoo Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Tapio von Boehm (also performed in Sipoo on Saturday at 4 PM). Meanwhile, pianist Maija Parko is playing my Toccata at a #Suomi100 concert in Kirkkonummi the same day. It’s straight to the airport with the Helsyds from there, and over to Hong Kong where Eriikka Maalismaa, Timo-Veikko “Tipi” Valve, and Emil Holmström will first join forces with the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble and Artistic Director, violist William Lane, for a joint concert at the Spring Workshop on Thursday at 7 PM (with a repeat performance in Macau the day after). The concert is titled 100 Years of Independent Music: with Finland celebrating its centenary this year, I curated the program to draw parallels between Hong Kong today and our native country a century ago. I’m also very much looking forward to the premiere of Hum and Drum for cello and piano, which Tipi and Emil will perform as part of the Helsyd Trio recital at the Hong Kong Chamber Music Society on Saturday (7:15 PM), and again on Sunday at my home institution, in the HKUST Music Alive! series, at 4 PM. Hope to see you all in one or more of these events!
Getting to play some cool chamber music tomorrow: we are premiering a dozen or so of my composition students’ pieces as part of the HKUST Music Alive! concert series. We’ll be performing alongside the chamber music students of pianist Amy Sze and violist Andrew Ling, and joined by violinist Ling Chen and other assorted HKUST music community members. If you’re in Hong Kong, come hear us at the Cheng Yu Tung auditorium at 7:30 PM!
I’ll be giving my second talk as part the HKUST School of Humanities public lecture series today, titled The Recursive Genesis of Bach Counterpoint. I’ll attempt to describe how, underneath the obvious similarities between the music of Bach and his historical predecessors, there’s a more intricate, recursive relationship. The talk — which will include fugues, fractals, and ferns — is at 3 PM, at the Hong Kong Museum of History.
After a week of vocal music in March, the second edition of this year’s Intimacy of Creativity — the IC2017 Chamber Music Festival — began on Monday with artists Zhu Dan, Diemut Poppen, Oliver Triendl, Chad Burrow, the Altius String Quartet, and others performing the works of Guest Composer Marc Satterwhite, Artistic Director Bright Sheng, and four young composer fellows. IC is what brought me to Hong Kong back in 2014, as well, and it’s a pleasure to still be a part of it. Above, a picture from one of our open discussions here on the campus of HKUST.
I had a chance to talk with Harri Kuusisaari of Rondo Classic about making music and teaching in Hong Kong, about the city’s political turmoil, and our upcoming concerts with the Helsyd Piano Trio in Helsinki, Hong Kong, Macau, and Australia, including a joint project with the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, 100 Years of Independent Music. (Online version of the article, in Finnish, is mostly behind a paywall.)
This week kicked off Intimacy of Creativity 2017 — the first of two festival weeks this year — here at HKUST. The IC2017 Contemporary Song Festival features Michael Barrett and his ensemble of singers from the New York Festival of Song, alongside other guest artists, performing the works of Guest Composer Judith Weir and Artistic Director Bright Sheng, as well as three young composer fellows. Above, a picture from one of our open discussions, recorded in front of an audience at RTHK Radio’s Studio One earlier today.