Interview: Mikko Luoma, Meet the Musician Behind the Sound by Collaborators Andrea Di Giacomo & Adele Pirozzolo
Meet the Musician Behind the Sound

UK flag "Meet the Musician Behind the Sound" is a new series of interviews with young and upcoming accordionists so you can get to know them better. The Collaborators conducting the interviews are Adele Pirozzolo and Andrea Di Giacomo.

Interview: Mikko Luoma

edited by Andrea Di Giacomo for Accordions Worldwide

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1) Surely your life revolves around the accordion. How did your interest in this instrument arise?

I am not quite sure, how my interest in accordion started... or if I even had any interest in it in the very begining. My youngest uncle played accordion and when I spent time with my grandparents in summer, also he was there. I think he gave me my first accordion lessons.

I remember that around that time I would have wanted to start flute lessons. But I guess my father decided it for me, because he brought me to an accordion teacher and that is how it started. In retrospect, I have to say, I probably have had a more interesting life as an accordionist than I ever would have had, as a mediocre flutist...

2) During your studies, but also in your concert activity, you specialized in contemporary music. Tell us about your relationship with this musical style.

Well, I have always been interested in things, that are not the most obvious or things that come to one's mind at the first glimpse. I guess a certain amount of curiosity for the unknown is also required for the interest in contemporary music and in contemporary art more generally. Now I think, to formulate it a bit more sharply or a bit more provocatively maybe, that if a concert musician is interested in music, it means, or it should mean, that he/she is interested in all kinds of music (within at least the so called concert music genre), not just some thin slice of concert music culture.

I also teach music history at the Turku arts academy, and think that composing as a profession, or the process of composing, has not really changed so much over the centuries. There are differences in the way we human beings see ourselves in different times and that has had an impact on what music has meant for us. But essentially there is no big difference in the core act of composing between composers in different times in human history.

Hence, I would say that I do not have a special interest in contemporary music as such. My interest is music: there is no Arnold Schönberg or Luigi Nono without Frescobaldi or no Ignaz Franz Biber without Helmut Lachenmann, no Antonio Vivaldi without Steve Reich.

Concert by Mikko Luoma in the medieval stone Marija Church
Recording by Tero Niemi, Description and editing by Eeva-Kaisa Ahlamo

3) In your concert career you have performed many premieres. Is there a work you are most attached to?

There are many and to choose one or two pieces of music would not do any justice for anybody. Also collaborating with composers is human activity, which means that in order to get something valuable or even just interesting done, there must be a certain amount of common mental landscape that both the performer and the composer are able to share. There are some composers I like to work with or if I have not been able to work with them, then I just like to follow their work.

Jukka Tiensuu's music most certainly is something, that I find very rewarding to play and listen to. Salvatore Sciarrino is similar, even though I have only met him once, very, very briefly at a breakfast in NYC - I am always eagerly waiting for his next new piece.

From Finnish composers I would like to mention Harri Suilamo, Lauri Mäntysaari, Matti Heininen, Riikka Talvitie, Lotta Wennäkoski, Seppo Pohjola, Juhani Nuorvala, Tapio Nevanlinna, Tapio Tuomela... just to mention a few. These may be names that are not (yet) so familiar to wider (accordion) audiences, but these are composers, who I have very much liked to work with and continue to follow their work very closely.

4) The accordion, due to its completeness, is often defined as a "solo" instrument, while you are very active in chamber music. Tell us about your "Plus Ensemble".

Plus Ensemble is rather a project based group. Clarinet, Cello and Accordion. We have had other instruments/musicians/singers joining us from time to time. I think this trio-combination is quite compact and yet it can create almost like a little orchestra kind of a sound... and if one violin comes along, then even more so. Lauri Mäntysaari, who I mentioned in the previous answer, arranged Prokofiev's Romea&Juliet for this kind of quartet. It was a great joy to perform it many times in the dance theater Eri here in Turku. Choreographer Tiina Lindfors created a new (chamber) ballet for the music and the name was Julia&Juliet, a love story between two women.

5) Along your journey you have had the opportunity to collaborate with several prestigious composers, including Jukka Tiensuu and Veli-Matti Puumala. What was it like working with them?

Tiensuu is a very special composer/musician. By now, he knows the instrument so well, that he writes his music without that much collaboration with the musicians. When he was composing his first accordion concerto "Spiriti", I got the impression that he had done a lot of research on the accordion repertoire, not just on the existing concert repertoire, but also on accordion folklore and all thinkable other accordion cultures. I think it is fair to say that he is one of the greatest and most interesting musical minds, not just within the Finnish musical landscape, but also internationally. Btw. as a harpsichordist he has recorded music by Salvatore Sciarrino - great minds find each other.

Veli-Matti Puumala is the professor for compostion at Sibelius-Academy. He is an important representative of the central European modernist tradition in Finland. However, in his concerto "Soira", there are also musical materials that come from the folklore of the area in Finland where he lived as a child. I was a very young student when Veli-Matti composed "Soira". I wish I would have had more experience back then, but even so, he composed a very cultivated, interesting and inspired piece.

Video: Nothing To Declare - Warsaw Autumn Festival 2011
Music: Perttu Haapinen, Director: Tomi Paasonen, Singer: Nicholas Isherwood,
Accordion: Mikko Luoma, Cello: Erkki Lahesmaa, Clarinet: Christopher Sundquist

6) In addition to your concert career, you have also dedicated yourself to teaching. How do you relate to your students and what do you try to convey most?

This is a tough one! Sometimes I wonder, if it is possible at all, to teach another person anything. I guess, as a teacher, I try to create an environment where learning can be possible. I read somewhere a quote that has been attached to the great pianist Artur Rubinstein. I am not sure if this is even closely correct, but it does not really matter - let's not have the actual facts ruin a good story.... Rubinstein is believed to have said: "there are no such things as a great teacher - there only are great students."

I understand this so, that emphasis should be on learning, rather than on teaching. In other words, a student learns and the teacher should not place himself too much between the student and the music. Important is to create an environment, where learning can take place and where there are enough intellectual stimuli and enough emotional stability and mutual respect. And of course the desire to learn. And a lot of music!

7) You have recorded several albums, and some of them have even obtained important recognition. Tell us briefly how they were born.

Mostly they were results of certain projects. I was involved for a long time with the music by Jukka Tiensuu, the result was the CD with his chamber music played by Plus Ensemble. Same with the concerto "Spiriti". My solo CD was a result of a very banal and simple thought: a man has to have his own CD - so I did it with music I liked. Ruders' quintet was a commission: I was asked to do it by the record label... So more or less straight forward processes.

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8) Are there any news and projects planned for the future of Mikko Luoma?

Most of my time at the moment, goes to teaching. I teach concert accordion and music history at Turku Arts academy. I am also responsible for chamber music in our school, so I actually teach more chamber music now than I teach accordion. I am also responsible for our school's orchestra Sigyn Sinfonietta. I produce all the three yearly concerts and conduct one of them. I also teach courses and master classes every now and then, and play concerts. Of future projects, I would like to mention collaborations with Lauri Mäntysaari, Harri Suilamo and most recently, after some years, there might be something interesting cooking with Riikka Talvitie in the coming years.

Video Channel of Mikko Luoma:
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