Guest Composers


Raoul Björkenheim, composer

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Born in Los Angeles in 1956, Björkenheim has spent much of his life shuttling between New York and Helsinki. Descended from a family of musicians, Raoul first tried his hand at playing violin, trading that in for a trumpet before finally settling on the guitar. Having played in rock bands as a teenager, he studied first at the Helsinki Conservatory, then at the Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving back to Helsinki in 1981.Since then he has been an active member of many music scenes, developing a bold approach to playing electric guitar and composing eclectic music for big bands, symphony orchestras, films, modern dance companies and his own groups.

Björkenheim formed several bands upon his return to Helsinki, most importantly Arbuusi, Roommushklahn and Symbioosi, and in 1983, he met the guru of Finnish free jazz, Edward Vesala. This led to an intense four-year apprenticeship in Vesala’s group “Sound & Fury”, a master’s class in improvisation. In 1987 Björkenheim formed what was to be one of his major groups, Krakatau.

Several influential recordings for ECM with Vesala and Krakatau brought Björkenheim to the attention of the international community, leading to encounters with musicians such as Juhani Aaltonen, Bill Laswell, Anthony Braxton, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, Mats Gustafsson, Henry Kaiser, Elliot Sharp, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Lukas Ligeti.

Björkenheim has been a soloist with the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra, the Avanti Chamber Orchestra, the Radio Symphony Orchestra, the UMO big band and the Tampere philharmonic, with material ranging from Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” to Turnage’s “Blood on the Floor”, as well as his own concerto “Situations”. Most recently he recorded Arnhem’s “Signals” with the accordionist Frode Haltli.

Today Björkenheim’s main performing energies are brought into focus through his quartet Ecstasy, Triad, Blixt with Bill Laswell and Morgan Ågren, Scorch quartet, and solo guitar.

Björkenheim has been awarded the Georgie Prize for best jazz musician of the year, the Young Finland Award, the Emma prize (finnish grammy) for best jazz recording of the year, and been nominated three times for the Nordic Music Award.

Cecilia Damström, composer

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The ability to think and feel is what makes us humans differ from other species on earth.  This is also what Cecilia Damström (b.1988) tries to achieve with her compositions; to make people think and feel.

Born into a multicultural family in Helsinki, languages and the possibility of combining languages, have always appealed to her while composing. With a background as a classical pianist and with theatre as an interest it is natural that harmony, direction, a sense of drama, and expressivity are always present in her music.

Since graduating in 2014 she has constantly been working on commissions for various ensembles and festivals. Her compositions have received several national and international composition prizes 2009-2016. Her works for orchestra have been performed by Jyväskylä Sinfonia (2016) and Avanti! (2011) as well as at festivals such as Young Nordic Music Days in Aarhus (2016) and Tampering (2014, 2015 and 2017).

Damström’s broad catalogue of compositions includes chamber music, choral works, orchestral works as well as two chamber operas. Her music has been performed in Canada, Germany, England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Czech Republic. Her music is regularly performed in Finland at different concerts as well as at festivals such as Tampere Biennale (2010, 2012 and 2014), Helsinki Winds (2017), Summer Sounds in Sysmä (2015), Summer Sounds in Porvoo (2011), Tampering Festival (2014, 2015 and 2017), VocalEspoo (2014 and 2016) and also at the Kokonainen Festival, where she is composer in residence (2016-2019). Her music has been radio broadcast in Sweden and Germany and is regularly broadcast in Finland.

Among upcoming premieres may be named the fairytale opera “Dumma Kungen” 10.11.2017, the choral suite “Missa Brevis” 11.11.2017,  “Pauli Ord” for male choir 24.3.2018 as well as a new piece for Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra  3.5.2018.

Damström studied composition with Doctor Hannu Pohjannoro at Tampere University of Applied Sciences and graduated in 2014. Currently she is finishing her master studies in composition at Malmö Academy of Music for Professor Luca Francesconi. She has also gathered much inspiration by travelling to master classes around Europe.

Damström has at the moment commissions until the end of year 2019. The Finnish Cultural Foundation and The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland have supported her studies and artistic work.

Ralf Nyqvist, composer

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Ralf Nyqvist (b. 1966) has studied composition and jazz piano at the Royal Academy of music in Stockholm and jazz composition at the Jazz music department at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

He lives in Vaasa where he has worked as a conductor and musician at the Swedish Theatre (Wasa Teater). He is also a composer/arranger and has worked with symphony orchestras and big bands as a conductor for 25 years.

He writes music for choirs and big bands as well as for contemporary chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras. He has worked as arranger for big bands such as UMO big band, Kvarken big band, Bothnia Rhythm Orchestra and other Finnish bands. As a musician for musical theatre he is one of the most wanted conductors for musicals, shows and plays in Finland. In theaters he is one of the most coveted conductors for musical shows and plays in Finland. He has a big repertoar of musicals on his worklist. As a pianist he has worked duo with trumpet player Mika Mylläri and now recently with drummer Markus Ketola.

Sauli Zinovjev, composer

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A composition at its best has everything. The entire life in a single moment. This is how composer Sauli Zinovjev (1988) sees it.

Zinovjev has quickly become one of the interesting names in classical music and one of the most played composers of his generation in Finland.

He was placed third at the International Uuno Klami Composition Competition with Gryf, his breakthrough work. Zinovjev’s music has been performed by the Finnish and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestras, the symphony orchestras of Lahti and Oulu as well as the Kymi Sinfonietta, to mention just a few.

Zinovjev composes music that conveys vast emotions. The kind of music which also made him a composer.

Until the age of sixteen, he played in a rock band. Practised the guitar and skateboarded. Then he saw a clip online with György Cziffra performing Liszt.
“It was as if wallpaper had been torn off the wall revealing a window to an open landscape.
The euphoria and the virtuoso performance left a fanatic impression on me. To have the ability to inject so much art into a single moment. The entire spectrum of life.”

Zinovjev quit the band stuff then and there, and began practising the piano from morning till night. Not once did it occur to him to think that he could not be something great, that he could not compose a symphony. He just went and did it.

He applied to study composition in the Sibelius Academy – and got accepted. The breakthrough composition, Gryf, was created while studying in HfM-Karlsruhe. Every night he would sit in the grand piano room, pace back and forth and improvise.
Zinovjev entered the International Uuno Klami Composition with Gryf. There were 265 entries submitted to the competition. Zinovjev was the youngest of the finalists.

It was Batteria (2016), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, that established Zinovjev among the prominent Finnish names in classical music. Batteria represents what is typical for Zinovjev. Combination of styles and composition using his vision.

“I could compose if I was deaf but not if I was blind.”

Zinovjev recently finished a violin concerto commissioned by the Oulu Symphony Orchestra for Pekka Kuusisto and is in the midst of composing a cello concerto. Zinovjev’s works are part of the continuum created by the master composers. He uses classical music to make his view of the world intelligible. To convey it – life – to others.