“Kaila, who has become a denizen of New York and is presently based at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as composer-in-residence, represents a lucid form of neoclassicism, through which he communicates affecting tensions. In the miniature-like trio Names of Snow (2007), the piano’s energy accumulates banks of snowy, cold materialities around the pure melodic lines of the strings: wet and thick, light and granular, porous and soft. The lucky audience had the chance to hear even more of Kaila’s output on the sly, with the composer himself present, when the homey and intimate concert ended with ‘an open rehearsal and first sneak performance’ of the new cello piece Hum and Drum, composed for the trio’s guest concerts in Hong Kong. The duo was a lively perpetual motion machine, in which a cantilena-esque vocal quality (‘humming’) and thick drones (‘drumming’) were intertwined into one unbroken, melodically euphoric tandem ride.”
— Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen, Rondo Classic, 20 Nov 2017
“The flutist Malla Vivolin, the violist Derek Mosloff and the pianist Emil Holmstrom performed the premiere of Cameo by the Finnish composer Ilari Kaila, inspired by the polyrhythms of 1970s progressive rock and the Carnatic music of southern India. Written as a celebration of Finland’s cosmopolitan outlook, the engaging piece features jaunty flute fragments, a soulful piano part and thick, rumbling textures.”
— Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 14 Jun 2015
“Besides ‘Night,’ the strongest sections are ‘Dusk’ and ‘Evening,’ in which intriguing part-Western music by the Finnish composer Ilari Kaila leads Ms. Srinivasan into experimentation, incorporating Western dance forms.”
— Brian Seibert, The New York Times, 10 Aug 2014
“A work by the Finnish composer Ilari Kaila who has migrated to the United States, written in the memory of a fellow student who died young, Kellojen kumarrus — in memoriam Hanna Sarvala took its own license to bathe in romantic sonorities in a rather magnificent and glistening manner, bringing the concert to a light-filled conclusion.”
— Jarkko Hartikainen, Amfion, 16 Jun 2014
“Engaging as those pieces were, I confess to breathing a sigh of relief when ‘Kellojen Kumarrus,’ a haunting work for piano and string quartet by Ilari Kaila, presented unambiguously consonant harmonies and a piano line that evoked tolling bells. An elegy for a pianist who died young, the work is a concerto writ small; in fact, Mr. Kaila wrote an orchestral version concurrently. Emil Holmstrom, the pianist, played with ample gravity and dignity.”
— Steve Smith, The New York Times, 17 Apr 2014
“With Olli Mustonen conducting his own Concert champetre as the final ‘dessert’ component of the festival and the young Ilari Kaila participating in an interview after the playing of his Cello Concerto, which opened the program, there was very much an atmosphere of personal involvement.
“Articulate as both an interviewee and composer, Kaila’s commissioned work is a welcome addition to the cello repertoire and met with sustained applause. The challenge of solving what he saw as the notoriously difficult problem of balancing cello and orchestra became a source of inspiration. With Marko Ylonen as cellist, this less conventional form of concerto in one continuous movement impressed as an accessible, essentially lyrical work, with cadenzas providing dramatic highlights.”
— Heather Leviston, Classic Melbourne, 15 Apr 2014
“Premiere performances by the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra are rare — luckily, this fall season saw one that turned out to be all the more successful. Ilari Kaila’s Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra is a work with a lot of substance, and which, I believe, would only mature as an experience for the listener with multiple performances. One hopes that Kaila’s concerto will not suffer the same unfortunate fate as so much of contemporary music: of the premiere performance being the only performance.
“The concerto’s indisputable strength lies in its vigorously improvisatory character… With his tenacious and versatile touch, Roi Ruottinen gave a powerful interpretation.”
— Jussi Mattila, Keski-Savo, 5 Nov 2011
“Ilari Kaila’s The Bells Bow Down for piano and string quartet is a chain of shaded waves of grief, where anguish assumes the forms of various, powerfully resonating textures of sound.”
— Hannu-Ilari Lampila, Helsingin Sanomat, 19 Sep 2008
Articles and interviews
Goings On About Town: MATA Festival — Steve Smith, The New Yorker, 10 Dec 2018
“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.”
A meeting with the composer opened the Varkaus Summer Classical — Aulikki Jääskeläinen, Warkauden Lehti, 12 July 2018
“Ilari Kaila enjoys the festival’s combination of high quality and liberated atmosphere.”
“Maija Parko opened the concert with Ilari Kaila’s (b. 1978) Baroque-ish suite Toccata, whose piquant, rhythmic charm was a good fit for the Bogányi piano.”
— Hannu-Ilari Lampila, Helsingin Sanomat, 20 Nov 2017
Freedom glimmers afar — Kaukana kajastaa vapaus (full article behind paywall, in Finnish) — Harri Kuusisaari, Rondo Classic, 1 Apr 2017
“Composer Ilari Kaila found his artistic freedom first in New York and presently in Hong Kong. A multicultural perspective has brought home that music has no such things as right and wrong. The social role of art also becomes relevant in Hong Kong, a place currently struggling for its position.”
Review of Kirill Kozlovski’s CD Shostakovich in Context on Uudet levyt, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE Radio 1, 31 Mar 2017 (in Finnish)
New Finnish music in an interesting context (article in Finnish)
“Toccata, composed already ten years back by Ilari Kaila who migrated from Finland to New York and is currently active in Hong Kong, nods towards Renaissance polyphony and is intertwined with the polyphonic thinking of Shostakovich on multiple levels.”
Conversations of pairs — Kirill Kozlovski’s CD Shostakovich in Context and other recent albums discussed on Välilevyjä, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE Radio 1, 13 Mar 2017 (in Finnish).
“Usually, it’s the job of the Välilevyjä team to juxtapose peculiar specimens of music in such a way that they begin to converge and to communicate something they wouldn’t in isolation. But today we get off easy, as we let the musicians themselves create the dialogue.”
5 Question to Ilari Kaila — Lana Norris, I Care If You Listen, 3 Jun 2015
“Ilari Kaila is a Finnish-born composer, based in Hong Kong and with strong ties in New York City. He is the Chelsea Music Festival 2015 Composer-in-Residence, a residency which highlights work from an emerging composer reflecting its global programming. This year’s Festival features the music of Finland and Hungary, and Kaila’s composition ‘Cameo’ headlines the 2015 season’s June 12 Opening Night Gala at Canoe Studios. A separate world premiere performance and a collaboration with the Festival’s Finnish Ensemble-in-Residence Avanti! further introduce Kaila’s latest music to New York City. We caught up with Ilari as he prepares for his premieres to learn how his global artistic network shaped his path as a composer.”
Host Phil Whelan interviews clarinetist John Bruce Yeh and Ilari Kaila on Morning Brew, RTHK Radio 3, Hong Kong, 22 Apr 2015
Composer profile and interview with host Ville Komppa on Ajassa soi, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE Radio 1, 24 Sep 2014 (in Finnish)
Ajassa soi introduces pre-eminent young Finnish composers (article in Finnish)
“In the first composer profile, we get to know Ilari Kaila who moved to the United States ten years ago and teaches at Columbia University. In the episode that airs on September 24, Ajassa soi introduces a composer who has delved deeply into styles including the vocal polyphony of Guillaume de Machaut from the 14th century, as well as South Indian classical Carnatic music.”
On-stage interview with Phillip Sametz on Australian Broadcasting Corporation/ABC Classic FM, after a performance of Kaila’s Cello Concerto with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Metropolis New Music Festival, 12 Apr 2014.
MATA Festival 2014 Opens Somewhere Between Noise and Silence — concert broadcast on Q2 Music, WQXR New York, 14 May 2014
‘Creative Dialogue’ Flashback — Tina Ma, Fine Music Magazine, June 2014
“The ‘Creative Dialogue’ presented in Studio One was not a normal concert, but was closer to a musical experiment. Ilari Kaila’s Kellojen kumarrus and Derek Bermel’s Soul Garden were played, then composers and performers began a heated discussion about the works, focusing on elements such as the choice of dynamics, articulation, and tempo. The composer explained his ideas to the performers and other composer fellows, who, in turn, gave their feedback and suggestions, and tried out some excerpts before making the final decisions. … Excerpts from ‘Creative Dialogue’ were broadcast on ‘Artbeat’ on 3 May. All works in this year’s IC project had their debuts in two world premiere concerts, which were broadcast on ‘Live on 4’ on 9 and 16 May.”
In Touch With Ilari Kaila — Stephanie Ip, Interlude, 23 Apr 2014
“This week, we talk to Ilari Kaila, one of the six Composer Fellows, about his IC piece, Kellojen Kumarrus (The Bells Bow Down), and his musical career, in the lead up to one of Hong Kong’s most exciting events.”
Putting the “B” Bach in GEB (essay)
— Ilari Kaila, Aeon Magazine, 24 Jun 2019 (published with the title Contrapuntal consciousness)
‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’ by Douglas Hofstadter turns 40 this year. Bach’s music never had a justified place in the book — but could it find one?
Ilari Kaila: Toccata
Excerpt from Pianists’ Edition — Finnish Works for Piano by Tuomas Mali (FIMIC 2009)
ILARI KAILA, who currently works in New York, has written one piano work to date, Toccata (2004). It received a special prize in the composition competition of the Espoo Piano Festival of 2007. The 10-minute work was premiered by pianist and composer EMIL HOLMSTRÖM in 2004. He says that already the titles of the sections of the work — Preludi, Gont, Meditaatio and Toccata — refer to the tension between traditional forms and the composer’s fantasy which is typical of Kaila’s music. The traditional forms constitute an overt framework, emphasizing the significance of the composer’s own, modern imagination.
Holmström describes Toccata as a progression where free, homophonic texture alternates with a stricter, polyphonic texture. The free introduction is followed by a tightly knit fugue (Gont). The third section is a meditative improvisation over a ground bass, and this is followed by the polyphonic and fragmentary concluding section. “The structure is challenging and dramaturgically not at all simple. The musical elements are simple, but they are dashed into pieces as the work progresses. The concluding section does not bring all the threads together: it is fragmented yet smoothes over the tension of the music.”
The keyboard writing in Toccata is contrapuntal in a very traditional way, clearly and transparently continuing the European tradition of polyphonic music. The music could almost be described as owing something to Bach, although the virtuoso element characteristic of Bach’s toccatas is absent from Kaila’s piece. “The counterpoint harks perhaps even further back, to the 14th century and composers such as Guillaume de Machaut — Kaila does not anchor his music harmonically quite as strongly as Bach does. The exploratory, short-lived and constantly shifting sections also recall Girolamo Frescobaldi. But Kaila does not have a playful postmodern approach by any means.”
In a way, Kaila’s idiom is synthetic — he takes a lot of things from the tradition but filters them in a very subjective way. “His attitude towards the aesthetics of composition is quite liberal, which obviously irritates some of his colleagues,” Holmström points out.
Clear, translucent music
For the pianist, Toccata is gratifying to play and on the whole falls under the fingers comfortably. Holmström supposes that this is because the composer is himself an excellent pianist. The clear, translucent music requires the performer to be in command of the toolkit required for traditional polyphonic playing: clear voice-leading, control of levels of sonority and a vocal kind of instrumental approach.
“Kaila’s Toccata is extremely subjective and lyrical — it requires the listener too to sit up and concentrate,” Holmström says.