Interview with Pertti Jalava
What did you study and what is your musical background?
I´ve studied music almost entirely without anybody elses guidance. For twenty years I learned music mostly by enjoying it by listening carefully. I bought the latest Jethro Tull album in 1971. I was 11 at the time and had saved one mark a week out of my pocket money for the 24 marks which an LP cost in those days. When I finally got it, I listened to it carefully, read the cover to see what instruments had been used and tried to figure out from the music what each was doing. From the very beginning I was interested in the piece as a whole and its construction, in other words as a composition.
It took years before I started my own music making. I was already 17 when I bought a drum kit with money I earned doing a summer job.
At around the time, I bought that drum kit, I borrowed a little keyboard from a pal. I started dreaming up melodies straightaway and I wrote them down. A couple of years later I was one of the founders of a prog band called Tarmac. This band was the first to perform any of my pieces in public. After Tarmac, in 1984, I formed the first band of my own, Peppe Jalava Parvi after I’d won the composition competition at a young people’s arts event. I needed a band for the concert to play my two winning entries. But for a couple of decades I made my living doing jobs that didn’t really interest me so much. I didn’t realise just how serious I was about music.
In 1993 I studied theatre composition with the American Craig Bohmler on a six-month course run by the Finnish Music Theatre Association. As my final assignment I composed a chamber opera called Paradise.
Having completed this course, a turning point in my career, I started studying intensively. I carried huge piles of musical scores home from the well equipped Turku City public library. I also attended the composition laboratories held by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and the University of Turku in 1994, 1996 and 1998.
What were and are your main musical influences?
Of course there are lots of them. The first was that Jethro Tull. After their Aqualung album they actually made what I consider their most interesting records, which by this time were progressive rock. Meanwhile I was also getting carried away by other prog bands. I was doing a lot of drawing at around that time, often lying on the floor in the semi-dark, listening to music. I saw music as abstract images I then tried to draw. I suppose drawing like this was my first creative experience of music. After I had bought the drum kit I got interested into fusion jazz. Weather Report were probably the first, and I once heard them live in Helsinki in around 1980. Then came a string of ECM artists: Terje Rypdal, Eberhardt Weber, Jack DeJohnette and so on. All this time I’d also been keen on classical music, especially Béla Bartók, whom I’d discovered through the Emerson, Lake & Palmer Trio. Frank Zappa was another major pointer for me. When I got more seriously interested in composing on in the 1990s, I began systematically and deliberately looking around to see what others had done. I could name a long list: Stravinsky, Michael Tippett, Dmitri Shostakovich, Aulis Sallinen and Kalevi Aho, to mention just a few.
Why did you choose to become a composer?
It just was a strong urge for me.
I met your music with a record played by Finland guitarist Patrik Kleemola «Through Green Glass». Kleemola played your «Brief Conversations on Nocturnal Roofs» how did you composed that passage?
I don´t usually remember much about the process. I feel often, that the progress is painfully slow and almost nothing happens, but suddenly in some point I notice, that the work is done.
In this work, as almost always, I started with a twelve tone row. Despite of using row I don’t avoid the feeling of tonality, on the contrary I deliberately build free tonal structures.
To put it briefly: my style can be described free tonal dodecaphony. Although recently the role of the row has been diminishing.
A funny coincidence was, that when I got this work done I picked up my fourth symphony, with which I was working simultaniously, only just to notice it was also ready. So these works «Brief Conversations on Nocturnal Roofs» and the fourth Symphony “Intimations of Forces” were born the same day 4th March 2015.
Did you compose other pieces for guitar?
Yes I did. The first composition for classical guitar was «Six Miniatures» in 1998.
It took ten years before I made the next work for guitar. Kimmo Rahunen had premiered the miniatures and one day I just noticed, that ten years had passed since the first guitar work and I had written nothing for it since. I had used electrick guitar in jazz ensemble and big band works, but nothing for acoustic guitar. So I contacted Kimmo and asked if he is interested to work with me again. He was very interested and the result was «The Eagle-Owl» a half an hour long work in four movements for guitar and string quartet. It was premiered in poland in 2009 and was also released in 2015 on my CD «Into a Warm Night». On the same CD is also the «Six Miniatures». Kimmo Rahunen performed with Akademos String Quartet.
Later I composed for Kimmo and his wife as Duo Vitare «Open Stories» for guitar and cello in 2013. After «Brief Conversations on Nocturnal Roofs» I composed for Patrik Kleemola another work «Curtains In an Open Window» for violin and guitar in 2016.
We´ve been hoping to find an orchestra who would be interested in a new guitar concerto.
In your website ( https://perttijalava.com/ ) there is written «Despite drawing mainly on twelve-note techniques, most of Jalava’s classical works create a feeling of tonality.» I think these words condense the meaning of your music….
You are absolutely correct. I don´t even get blushed while unashamedly writing in quite romantic mood or giving poetic yet easily opening tittles. The tittles are there to help the listener by giving a possible angle to reseave the music.
What does mean improvisation in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
I haven´t used improvisational passages in my classical works, although recently I´ve occasionally added a little smell of jazz on them. For example one movement of my fifth Symphony «Drifting Continents» is tittled «Panthalassa Blues», because the rhythm is strongly influenced by Blues.
What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises…
The role of error isn’t very big, although I don´t despise using that. Composing is much about making choices, no matter how the material to choose from has been created, by mistake or by careful constructing work, they are as valuable. Only the result has importance.
When I started composing classical music, I deliberately learned to write in such way, that I could justify every note. I was a newcomer from the jazz field and I wanted to be sure, that none can put me in a difficult situation by asking reason for why something in my music is as it is. Now I´m 57 and my self-confidence has grown, I don´t need to prove anything for anybody anymore. But the habbit to construct my music quite carefully has sticked hard in my backbone.
And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?
If you mean the moments when the work doesn´t flow, I never get used on it. It´s always quite painfull and gets me wondering am I already empty of musical ideas, although I´ve been wondering that many times and allways eventually got the work done, still it feels
If you mean crisis in other life areas, they certainly don´t help. I need peace and quiet around me while composing. That´s why we´ve moved on quiet area becides forests, I don´t want to hear man-made noices.
What are your essential five discs, always to have with you .. the classic five records for the desert island ..?
They vary, but few are my all time favourites:
Michael Tippett: Symphonies 2 and 4,
Bela Bartok: Miraculous Mandarin,
Jean Sibelius: Symphonies 4 and 7,
Mark Anthony Turnage: Three Screaming Popes
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Trilogy
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
Next project is the premiere of my newborn Fifth Symphony “Drifting Continents” in Kuhmo and Joensuu by Joensuu City Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal.
Right now I´m composing Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, which was commissioned by Oleg Larionov.
My last question, let’s try to turn to the music the J.P.Sartre’s three questions about literature: Why do you make music? And again: what is the place of those who make music in contemporary society? To what extent can music contribute to the evolution of this society?
It´s an urge for me and I love music, the reason is such simple.
The place is marginals marginals marginal, meaning: music is in marginal in the world, classical music is in the marginal in music, contemporary music is in the marginal in the classical music.
Music is training for feelings and mind. Both of them are needed to keep the society functioning.