In conversation with Luukas Hiltunen
In conversation with Luukas Hiltunen
1) How would you describe your music to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
I strive for a deeply moving pathos in my music that reaches as wide audience as possible and helps to converge the gap between the current and the traditional stylistic elements within music.
2) What is your educational background and training in music composition?
I graduated as a professional musician from Lahti Conservatory in May 2018. Before that, I had studied music at the North-Kymen Music Institute in Kouvola in southeastern Finland, where I started piano lessons at the age of 6. The following year, my instrument became the violin. After graduating from Lahti Conservatory, I studied music pedagogy with a focus on composition at Tampere University of Applied Sciences, where I graduated in June 2023. In terms of composition, I am largely self-taught, although I have had lessons both at Lahti Conservatory and Tampere University of Applied Sciences. The basic studies of music perception were part of the curriculum at the North-Kymen Music Institute before my professional studies.
3) Why did you decide to become a composer?
Music has been present in my life from the very beginning: as a child I was introduced to the essential repertoire of classical music by parents and relatives and of course to the music of Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), Finland's national composer. When I was 5, I was given a study score of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor as a present, and by listening to it I learned to read music, to perceive the correspondences between the visible note and the sound of the instrument, even though I didn't understand anything about the conceptual aspects of music at the time. And even though I wasn't thinking about a career as a composer at the time, I was already interested in creating music. Now, as a professional composer, I feel that through my music I can convey beauty to the world that is also the main reason why I decided to become a composer during my studies at Lahti Conservatory.
4) Can you walk us through your composition process, from start to finish?
At first there is of course an idea, which can be almost anything: a melody or a rhythm, a scent, a sound, an emotion, but also quite often a source of inspiration outside music, such as a poem. Consistency is typical for my music and I often use melodies or rhythmic patterns as descriptive elements to unify the musical whole. In terms of musical forms, I am attracted to cyclicality, which for me represents the idea of continuity, although linearity is also something I follow in my music from time to time. I work mainly on a level of a thought – I hardly ever sketch my works, except for the occasional initial brainstorming, and I don't use a piano or a tuning fork to help me to compose. Inspiration is perhaps the most essential part of the compositional process for me – I prefer to distance myself from the work at hand if it doesn't seem to be progressing and go for a long walk. Nature, and especially the Finnish forest, is a very meaningful place for me to relax and gain ideas.
5) Who or what are your primary sources of inspiration when creating music?
I already mentioned nature as one of the main sources of inspiration: the song of the birds, rustle of the wind in the trees, the sunlight through the leaves, the breeze on the skin – there are so many experiences to provoke creative thinking. Literature is another major source, also already briefly mentioned, and I am particularly fond of lesser-known authors and texts, although the great classics also keep up with me. As an open and in-depth person, I also like meaningful conversations, and so I listen with interest to people from different backgrounds and their views, even though I don't directly relate that to composition – there has to be life outside work!
6) In what ways has UE | scodo facilitated or streamlined your creative workflow?
Being a Universal Edition composer has been a huge step forward in my career, allowing me to network globally with musicians and composers, having my works distributed internationally with professional quality and ensuring a solid basis for planning. I can focus solely on my creative work, knowing the distribution and presentation of my works will be taken care of.
7) Which composer or work is your favorite, and why?
Tricky question because there are so many! I already mentioned Jean Sibelius, so he is my favorite. Of his musical output, I am particularly fond of the Fifth Symphony in E-flat major, where the cyclical and naturalistic qualities are clearly audible. If I may mention another work, the composer's Sixth Symphony in D minor is also close to my heart in its shimmering beauty.
8) What advice would you offer to aspiring composers who are just starting their careers?
Go for your dreams, don't get discouraged, trust yourself and your work. When composing, listen to your intuition, weigh up the options, be aware of the big picture, and, above all, let the music flow from within you naturally, without forcing it.
9) In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges facing composers in the present day?
The vast volume of supply and the presence of dominant works in the programmes pose real challenges for living composers to get noticed. Contemporary music, even if it is stylistically traditional and therefore accessible, is sensitively stigmatised by musicians, repertoire staff and audiences alike, leading to monopolisation. Perceptions of what true professional and real contemporary music should sound like vary widely, and especially composers starting out in their careers are both unconsciously and consciously met with disdain and even outright disregard from those who have worked in the industry for a long time, especially if a composer is known to deviate from a stylistically acceptable and expected musical idiom. Music is also no longer purely musical, but is now accompanied often by a cross-artistic dimension, which poses its own practical challenges to the visibility of the works and their composer. It should not be forgotten that all the music ever composed was new when it was first played, that is, contemporary music, and conscious choices have been made as to what to the canon of Western art music, the core repertoire, has been selected. For instance, women have not had the equal opportunities to become professional composers as they have today due to the social reasons and the patriarchal nature of the art music profession – in fact, this egalitarianism only really started to take off gradually less than a century ago. Concepts such as classicism or romanticism were invented afterwards when writing the history of music, in order to form a comprehensible and naturally linear whole. On the other hand, changes in social structures, including the fragmentation of a coherent culture, globalisation and entertainment, have led to a situation in which the same kind of masters no longer emerge from within musical art as in the past – there is only a large and varied group of professionals, even if individual names are more prominent than others. This is, from the perspective of an individual composer, an equalising thing from a visibility and awareness point of view – the core foundation of professional activity is generally the same for everyone, although naturally individual situations are always unique. The strong digitalisation of sheet music, simultaneously with the recording industry that has increasingly moved from physical discs to streaming services, poses challenges not previously faced for composers and musicians alike, not to mention publishers. But on the other hand, a composer does not work primarily to achieve fame, although that is a positive side effect if it is to happen, but to serve fellow human beings and to enrich with music the periods of time called lives. This idea should be the core in the activity of an individual composer, without ignoring the fact the case is a real profession and a real job, for which the composer must be properly remunerated and thus be able to cover daily and monthly expenses and needs.
10) Before becoming a composer, one should know that …
Being a full-time composer is truly a vocation, it must be done wholeheartedly with passion and dedication – the working is mainly solitary, requiring patience, initiative, resilience, the ability to adapt to change and tolerate uncertainty. On the other hand, it is also rewarding in its meaningfulness as it is poignant to finally hear your music played in a concert after a period of intensive work. The ability to network, good communication skills, are also mandatory, as is at least an excellent command of English.
11) Every concert goer should …
Please make sure your mobile phones are switched off…
12) Best pop song ever?
Let it Be by Beatles. In our daily lives, we often worry so much about all the unnecessary things that could just be put aside – instead we should focus on those that really demand our attention and energy.
13) Dream venue and performers for a world premiere?
A dimly lit hall packed with an audience, listening to how top musicians are interpreting the music with devotion.
14) Work for piano or work for orchestra?
Definitely work for orchestra - there is such a wealth of tone colors and a huge emotional tension and arsenal.
15) Composing on paper or composing digitally?
Digitally, absolutely – the composer is one step closer to the final layout of the work and, at least for me, this also stimulates creativity.
16) Coffee or tea?
Tea, that’s the response of my current self. I actually drank coffee for almost a decade, but then switched to tea a few years ago – the delicate flavor of tea suits my personality better.