Interview with Kai Nieminem (June 2018)
Kai Nieminen (b. 17.3.1953) is a Finnish composer who cannot be classified under any particular school or style. Traces of impressionism, neo-romanticism and, fleetingly, even expressionism may be detected in his basically atonal music, and if necessary he is not against using devices of even more recent 20th century music. The various elements have nevertheless blended to form a homogeneous idiom and a personal style all of his own. As his closest musical soul mate and kindred spirit he mentions the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.
to read more: http://www.kainieminen.net/index.php/In+English/
What did you study and what is your musical background?
I was lecturer in the Jyväskylä Polytech 1999-2005. before I worked as a lecturer in guitar at the Central Finland Conservatoire (teacher 1978-1986, lecturer 1986-1999). studied the guitar at the Conservatoire and the Sibelius Academy and musicology at the University of Jyväskylä (B.A. 1977). I have also studied on master classes with Leo Brouwer, Julian Bream, Stepán Rak, Vladimir Mikulka and Giuliano Balestra. and attended composition master classes with George Crumb, Paavo Heininen, Jukka Tiensuu, Bent Sörensen and Theo Lowendie.
What were and are your main musical influences?
Many years ago I became member of the Fernando Sor guitar-competition jury; it took place in Rome, in the Spanish Academy. All that Italian culture I learned to understand from ’81, when I was first there. There are so many what you might call musical mountains which you have to learn about, but when you are so close, when you live in Italy, it’s too near to Puccini and Vivaldi and Corelli and Verdi and so on—there are so many of these masters that the people who live in those surroundings are in trouble of finding something different. Look at Benjamin Britten when he wrote his last piece, Death in Venice; and he wrote the last string quartet on the same idea (and it’s still a very English piece even though he had his inspiration from Venice). Even though I have my music combined with Italy, it’s still something to do with the Finnish world. To return to what we said about Takemitsu, he was about east and west, and I think my work is south and north. I have quite a lot of things in my scoring from central Europe, the German schools and French schools, the Spanish vihuela culture from the fifteenth century (which is actually really great music), and then the Italian culture which we all have to study—bel canto and all those things. But still, there’s something raw and interesting in not to study anything: I mean that when you are in Lapland, you don’t have people building those big churches and monuments that you have in Rome; there’s so much nature that if you bring a person from abroad to Finland, they’re just amazed about the woods in Finland, the lakes, how the people have left nature alone. In composition you have to be the same: You learn many things, you get influences from many people, many composers, many times, but still you have to find your own language, to be somehow raw.”
Why did you choose to become a composer?
I think the former answer gives the clue! I used to paint when I was young …..it turned out to be painting with musical forms and colours!
I met your music with the record played by Marta Donzadelli, Marko Rutanen, Marco Ramelli and Patrik Kleemola « Rites & Shades guitarworks by Kai Nieminen », how did you composed those passages, Omaggio a Bruno Munari (2015), Northern Spells (2016), SHADES Sonata-fantasia (2017) Around Stonehenge Ruins and Guitar Sonata A Walk to the Mysterious Woods (2012) ?
Those people have all their own characteristcs ….which gives composer a lot of possible attributes…. to personalize! For creating different worlds and journeys in musical mind!
See details on the Booklet!
Did you compose other pieces for guitar ?
Yes here is a list:
The Temple (Temppeli) – Igor Stravinsky in Memoriam (1976) 6’
Aquarelles of the Night (Yön akvarelleja) (1981) 10’
Night Sonata (Yösonaatti) – Dedicated to painters
1. Night Preludes (Yöpreludeja) – Hommage à Joan Miró (1980) 10’
2. Gnomes of the Night (Yömenninkäisiä)
– Hommage à Marc Chagall (1985) 10’
3. Night Poems in a Clock Shop a Little Before One O’Clock
(Yörunoja kellokaupassa vähän ennen yhtä yöllä)
– Hommage à Salvador Dali (1989) 10’
Hommage à Andres Segovia (1993) 7’
Estampes (Vaskipiirroksia) – Frank Martin in Memoriam (1997) 8’
Fragmentos de la vida del mar (Katkelmia meren elämästä)
– Homenaje a Joaquin Turina (1999) 9’
Riflessioni sul nome Amadeo Modigliani (2011) 13’
Images of Fear (2012) 9’30’’
Sonata – A Walk to the Mysterious Woods (2012) 21’
Quadri Morandi (2014) 12’
Northern Spells (2016) 12’
Omaggio a Bruno Munari (2016) 12’
Shades Around Stonehenge (2017) 15’
Chamber Music with Guitar
Night Shadows (Yön varjoja) for two guitars (1997) 10’
Canti Notturnali for cello and guitar (2017) 14’
and a Concerto for John Mills
If on a Winters Night a Traveller Guitar Concerto
– concerto for guitar and orchestra (2009-2017) 29’
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 am very keen on light and space.” Is it a deliberate reflection of his surroundings? “Some of it.” From my window I can see quite a lot of sky, and nature around me. So even though I am living very near the city, Jyväskylä is a very special kind of place in that it has quite a lot of nature inside the city, and a lot of lakes, of course. We Finns need a sense of water and sky and these small mountains we call tunturi and vaara. Somehow I feel those musical phrases are in nature: You can feel them also when you look at the skies and see the clouds—something that’s not in a hurry like the people on the earth . …It all started on improvising on feelings when I was 17 ….with piano in Ylitornio near the Arctic Circle.
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...
Here is a thought of unexpected surprises. I like the spectral idea. From guitar music I am very interested in a single tone and its colors; I can touch a string and produce that one tone with so many different colors, so it’s spectral for me from the start. I knew Falla’s Homenaje in the original guitar version, so when I came across the piano version and then the orchestral version, I understood that the instrument I played was already an orchestra in itself.
And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?
When crisis gives you a new journey to something unfamiliar …. in your musical searching!
What are your essential five discs, always to have with you .. the classic five records for the desert island ..?
It varies very much depending on feelings ….. no clear answer for 5 discs….I love all epoks of musics ..bringing memories and impressions of gone days …even from times very close .. I prefer music alive!
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
When writing this……In February I had great time to work on recording my 3 String Quartets based on nightly winter characters including Northern Lights…with Sea Lapland String Quartet in Paanu Church in Keminmaa under starry skies.
The CD will be out March 2019 when town of Kemi is having 150 years celebrations.
And for now some new works of chambermusics on there way.. 2 violins…horn …piano. … flute etc.
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?
There was a funny thing when Patrick Gallois asked me to write the flute concerto. I was in the Finnish Embassy in Rome. There’s an institute there called Villa Lante. When Patrick wrote me an e-mail there, I had just had a concert with my guitar in one of the churches in Rome and was coming back to Lante for the night. The room was so hot that you had to open the window, and who was outside but a blackbird. And you have to decide if you are going to sleep with the window open or closed: If it’s closed, it’s so hot that you can’t sleep, and if you put it open, okay, there’s a bird. I think you know what happened: I left the window open, and then Palomar came into the world! Same with the bird from Koli in the violin concerto, especially in the first movement, the ‘Battaglia.’ I had an idea about a knight from the Middle Ages; that’s why I’m using these trumpets and horns—you can hear the fifths there. I’ve always loved things that are archaic, old somehow. And we have a lot of these old stories in Europe: Dante, Cervantes, and many, many others. So this bird thing came as a help, because I needed something softer in it. And you know Lasciatemi morire?” Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna? Yes, of course. “Did you hear it there? It’s there because that’s what happens in a fight—somebody dies. And ‘Rondine,’ the third movement: At my home, when these birds from the south come here, especially the swifts, they have a big fight by my house about where to live. So there was another fight—‘rondine’ means ‘swifts.’ And ‘Nel bosco del san Gral’ means a place where there’s always people trying to find a holy grail; you can decide yourself whether they find it or not in this piece!”
I think that gives some ideas of my thoughts on music and composing with nature in mind.
If music stops you for a moment for listening …it has it´s place!