Interview with Riikka Talvitie
Being & Feeling (Alone, Together)
Spring 2020 – Virtual Exhibition at Lamont Gallery
Artists in Being & Feeling (Alone, Together) explore embodiment, emotion, and being: how we make our way through the world, full of feeling, as solitary individuals and together with others.
Riikka Talvitie is a composer, oboist, and educator, based in Helsinki, Finland. In her video piece, Omakuva (‘self-portrait’ in Finnish), Talvitie expands her compositional thinking – arranging elements in time – to visual and conceptual expression. The video consists of four vignettes: fictional discussions between the composer and the oboist, the bodily improvisations by the oboist, the composer’s reflections, and the final composition, which is performed in a concert hall. Talvitie notes: “I perform both persons at the same time. Paradoxically, I do the video alone, but I seek for shared authorship.”
Q: Are there any common themes you seek to explore in your works or are there any particular techniques you employ to draw the listener into your work?
A: For years, I have been jealous of my friends who are working in other branches of art or science. While they have been dealing with different topical themes, I have been composing absolute music through old-fashioned means. When I began my doctorate studies in 2016, I decided to make a change. Consequently, I have questioned almost everything in Western art music tradition: the dominance of Western culture, the role of a composer, the canon, the institutions etc. This self-examination of an art-field happens definitely 5o years late if we compare f.ex. to visual arts. But better later than never. So, what is left? The most meaningful thing that resonates me is the audience and more precisely sharing these questions with others.
Q: Do you prefer to collaborate with others or to work alone? Is there another musician or artist you’d like to collaborate with, living or dead?
A: I definitely want to collaborate with other artists, researchers, professionals and amateurs. My aim is to collaborate with another composer. This sounds a really simple task, but it isn’t. The tradition of Western art music is really protecting composers as individuals and as authors. I am currently planning a project with a young composer Lauri Supponen and a musicologist Juha Torvinen. The main idea is that we compose together within an ecomusicological context. The project is dealing with the problem of microplastic in Baltic sea.
Here is a recent article about collaborative composing in Finnish Music Quarterly:
Q: What inspired/motivated you to begin composing?
A: I am inspired of many things all the time! Of sounds, texts, relationships, political situations, ecological knowledge etc. At this moment of total isolation, I have been thinking about artistic processes that could be more sustainable and long-lasting than in recent years. This might be a common thought among many people around the world. Should we actually produce less? Why do we hurry?
I am looking for a method for composing more than just a separate musical piece. How could I compose a performance instead of a composition? I am excited by an idea of writing a ‘script’ for a concert. I have used this method already once in a concert called If all the world were paper… It was a collaboration with a baroque ensemble Cornucopia and we created a mixture of contemporary pieces and English 17th-century music. My instrument in the performance was an overhead projector.
You can find a short video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj2iOg0jc6k
Q: Can you explain your creative process in composing? Do you often revise your compositions? Do ideas come to you fully-formed?
A: I have somehow given up completely abstract way of composing. I have challenge myself to use some dialogical elements in all my future works. Sometimes this means a lot of collaboration and negotiation. And sometimes it means just opening the process to the musicians and performers a little bit earlier than we have used to do – in a stage that the work is still in progress.
This kind of dialogical compositional agency affect naturally to the end result. The completed composition is not any more a perfect artwork. However, the institution of concert music is based on perfect works that have been published. I am struggling with this conflict.
Q: Is there any particular period of music history you find most informs what you do?
A: My intention is to increase interdisciplinarity in composer’s practice which reminds of Renaissance artists’ way of thinking.
Q: Is there a particular living composer who has influenced your work?
A: Western art music is based on the idea that there are some great composers, mostly dead, who we should respect highly. I refused to mention anyone even though there are composers that have influenced me a lot. Personally, I love to hear something unexpected.
Instead of dead men, I give you some interesting links to works by composers who are living in Finland:
Låt mig vara (2016)
Minna Leinonen, composer
Female Voice Choir Lyran, Jutta Seppinen, cond.
Traeumerei (2016) for cello and electronics
Ville Raasakka, composer
Markus Hohti, cello
Flute concerto Soie (20)
Lotta Wennäkoski, composer
Kersten McCall, flute, RSO
Kodecs/Codecs (2018-2019), online version 2020
Perttu Haapanen, composer
Female Voice Choir Lyran, Jutta Seppinen, cond.
Q: Do you play any instruments other than piano and oboe?
A: I used to play piano and oboe but actually I don’t have that much time nowadays. Last summer I bought a new instrument, viola da gamba, out of curiousity. I don’t really have time to practice it either, but I have used the instrument otherwise. Here is a clip where I experiment with the instrument and some microphones.
Riikka Talvitie: www.riikkatalvitie.com
Interview Conducted by Ann McGrath
Ann McGrath has worked at the Lamont Gallery since 2010. She is a retired fourth grade teacher from the Marston School in Hampton, New Hampshire and brings a great degree of organization and love of education to the Lamont Gallery. Ann helps us research information for exhibitions and selects resources from the Academy Library that enhance our exhibitions. Ann also works at the Academy’s Class of 1945 Library. When she is not on campus you can find her exploring the many hiking trials in New Hampshire and abroad.