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Max Savikangas, Composer

My new 2-hour science fiction chamber opera entitled Posthuman was composed during 2020 and 2021 with the kind support of the Kone Foundation.

The performers include a conductor, four soloists, an AI soloist, 4-member choir, four dancers and a 10-member instrumental ensemble. Both singers and instrumentalists will be amplified and manipulated by live electronics and spatialization.

The libretto is written, by my request, by Finnish artist, director, poet, writer and Doctor of Fine Arts Teemu Mäki, who will also direct and visualize the premiere, which will be given on March 4th, 6th and 7th 2023 in Helsinki. The premiere will be in Finnish language with Finnish and English subtitles.

More info coming up!

Max Savikangas
Max Savikangas_Photo_Ari-Matti_Huotari_copy2
Photo: Ari-Matti Huotari

I enjoy contemporary music with its constantly renewing challenges, improvising, listening to the world, experimenting with sounds—and composing.

As a composer-musician I have wanted to expand the means of expression of my own instrument Viola with new playing techniques and experimental live-electronics, which has led to studying these possibilities of other instruments as well.

The nucleus of my composing is the heard sound. The seeds of my compositions often emerge as a result of (instru)mental improvisation, of savouring all kinds of sound events of the world and of tentative computer sound processing experiments. As a rule, some of these spontaneous ideas thus found begin to lead a life of their own in my mind, ending up as the points of departure for my written-out and/or media compositions.

Max Savikangas
Photo: Ville Hautamäki

I believe that timbre in contemporary music is equal to melody, harmony and rhythm and it should be understood as an umbrella term, covering all components of a sound event.

At best, different hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes are by no means effects or seasoning added afterwards to the music, but they are an organic and sensual part of expression, which is further expanded by the virtual acoustic space created by means of sound processing and amplification.

Max Savikangas
Photo: Touko Hujanen

I don’t think contemporary music needs to live in its own bubble, but it can let the world in and help structure it.

It’s worth listening with an open mind, empathizing and paying attention to what you think is interesting, engaging, moving, fun…

Max Savikangas

Index of posts

About my soundscape Inventarium Music (2021)

I have composed a 20-minute, four-channel, site-spesific soundscape for the visual artist Catarina Ryöppy’s exhibition entitled Inventarium, which is now on display until December 12th  2021 in the pop-up exhibition space of the National Museum of Finland, Helsinki. 

The artist has discovered and collected the items in the exhibition over decades from various places such as flea markets around the world. The abundance of unusual and strange items inspires one to think about their stories, consumption and our own relationship to objects.

The sound landscape is adapted to the acoustics of the space and the composition was inspired by the exhibition’s objects, installations and images; the listener will find different connections between the exhibition objects and the source sounds of my soundscape. In keeping with the idea of the exhibition, the soundscape is composed as if of “abandoned and discovered” sounds – the rubbish of one can become a treasure of another.

My starting point for composing the soundscape was the classic background idea of electroacoustic musique concrète that any sound event can be utilized in music via the discovery of sound technology and the invention of the concept of sound composition. The world is full of fascinating sound events and sensitizing to them opens up a vastly rich world of experience.

Hence collecting these ‘concrete sounds’ and making music with them can be a viable method for a composer. The quadraphonic sound gestures thus composed by me, moving in the exhibition space, form their small independent musical-spatial entities.

Listen to the soundtrack (ca 20 min., stereomixdown).

See trailer (if embed above is not showing).

Free entrance –  I hope you enjoy the exhibition!

On Music for Lands of Treasure by IC-98 (2021)

New animated art film Lands of Treasure by artists group IC-98, for which I have composed the music, is now on display until March 6th 2022 at the Serlachius Museum Gösta, Mänttä, Finland.

The script with no dialogue is based on an old Finnish folk tale about an encounter at night between a forest spirit and a stonemason in a forest. The stonemason shoots the forest spirit, which falls and creates a large clearing. People take advantage of this as they begin to divide up the land. The story describes the birth of modern society and the alienation of humankind from nature.

Serlachius Gösta Museum.

The short musical motifs I composed for the film were brilliantly recorded in the Finnvox studio, Helsinki by conductor Nils Schweckendiek and the vocal sextet of The Helsinki Chamber Choir: Tove Djupsjöbacka, Veera Kuusirati, Eira Karlson, Susanna Sippola, Martti Anttila and Jussi Linnanmäki.

From left: sound engineer Niklas Jussila, conductor Nils Schweckendiek , altos Eira Karlson and Susanna Sippola, soprano Veera Kuusirati , bass Jussi Linnanmäki, soprano Tove Djupsjöbacka , tenor Martti Anttila, sound designer Toni Ilo and composer Max Savikangas.
Producing the recording.

The musical motifs were divided into four categories: 1) main music 2) solos with accompaniment 3) spectral and more dissonant chord materials, which take the form of both harmonic progression, musical ambience, polyrhythmic textures and declarative chord accents 4) speech choir segments (wind imitations, spoken asemantic syllabic and consonant textures), which create an interface toward sound design.

A page from the sheet music.

I composed the finished music from these motifs on a digital audio workstation, utilizing a modular composition technique, i.e. by arranging the motifs sequentially, overlapping, stacking, etc. At some points six singers are realistically heard, at others a multiple.

Composing on a digital audio workstation.

The music is quite extensive in duration, inevitably progressing, rugged, sculptural and mostly gloomy. In the beginning there are long episodes that invite the listener to step into the work to experience the space, and to feel the false spectral melodies produced by slowly sung diphthongs, which each listener will experience individually; the overlapping vocal slides create an aurora borealis -like flickering spectral veil over the sung pitches.

There is no given semantic text in the music, as requested by IC-98. My solution was to have the choir sing with asemantic vowels and slow diphthongs which I composed into the music. The formant slides serve both rhythmic, coloring and mentioned false melody function.

Also, as a byproduct, at certain moments in the music, where I have superimposed the polyrhythmic chord texture sung with different vowels and the consonant utterance speech choir texture, one might imagine listening to a language that may have been, will be, or exists in some other reality.

Working on the soundtrack. From left: sound designer Toni ilo, director Visa Suonpää of IC-98 and composer Max Savikangas.

The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format and the loudspeaker system is installed accordingly. Indeed, the music takes advantage of the placement of its many different elements around the listener and their movement around the listener. For me as a composer, the immersion of sound in this case has been one equal means of expression alongside melody, vocal expression, harmony, rhythm and tone of voice. Many thanks to sound designer Toni Ilo (Finnvox Cinepost), who not only made all the other sounds in the soundtrack and was responsible for the whole, but also realized the spatial dimension of the music in the studio according to my wishes!

Listen to an excerpt from the soundtrack (ca 8 min., stereomixdown)

Press release

Watch the trailer on one these social media platforms:

https://www.facebook.com/serlachius/videos/997733131080842

About my Composition Slam for Symphony Orchestra (2018/21)

Last page of Slam

The expression of my orchestral piece Slam was inspired by sports. It is extrovert, rhythmic and energetic. With musical connotations to ball sports on different levels, it utilizes the harmonic, melodic, rhythmical and orchestration methods of contemporary art music. Duration is 8-9 min., depending of the realizations the short conducted, guided and orchestrated improvisatory passages.

Max Savikangas

In 2018 the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra kindly wanted to commission an orchestral piece from me, to be premiered at the new Kupittaa Ball Game Hall in a free admission mega-concert Symphony for the Ball Game Hall! organized by the orchestra with Nick Davies as conductor. They threw in a suggestion that I would adopt ball sports (such as basketball, volleyball or badminton) as a theme for the new piece. I came up with the idea that the artistic theme for the piece would be ball sports as a cultural phenomenon in general and especially the thrilling basketball slam dunk. Hence the title Slam Dunk for Symphony Orchestra and two Basketball Players.

I integrated into Slam Dunk an interactive sports culmination; by the end of the piece two basketball players perform a Slam Dunk Battle, guided by the Master of Ceremonies (MC), in interaction with the orchestra (through the conductor). In front of the orchestra there has to be reserved some extra space and a professional basketball hoop with a backboard, with top of the hoop 305 cm above the floor, is to be installed.

Slam is an adaptation of the essential music of Slam Dunk into an orchestral piece, suitable to be performed for example as the first piece of an ordinary symphony concert. All extramusical elements and requirements have been stripped off so that the music, which was very warmly received by the 2600-member audience in the premiere, could have a life as an independent orchestral piece of its own right. 

Hope you enjoy it!

Recording
(Live audio demo recording 2018 with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Nick Davies, production TPO, edited by Max Savikangas)
Score
Order the performance materials
(Hold your phone horizontally and scroll down)

About Posthuman, my Science Fiction Chamber Opera

Photo: NASA

Man is extinct. Post-human beings do an experiment: they put human genes and memes into one non-human Child (bass baritone). The experiment goes wrong because Child gets too comfortable in human form: he does not want to end the experiment. 

Non-people argue about what should be done. 

One of them is Machine (tenor), who initially considers the test dangerous and wants the test to be stopped and all results destroyed. 

Second of them is Birch (soprano), who is the commissioner of the experiment and also wants to interrupt it, but keep the results. 

Third of them is Fog (mezzo-soprano), mother of the non-human Child used in the experiment. She doesn’t want to interrupt the experiment as it would kill Child. 

The dispute is resolved when Fog sacrifices herself to save her Child. Birch receives all the information that Child can be milked without killing him. 

Child is then expelled from the non-human world and taken to a distant planet, where he begins a new life, in human from, without remembering his origin, but longing for his mother.

Short synopsis of the libretto by Teemu Mäki

Startpage of the Posthuman score.

My 2-hour science fiction chamber opera entitled Posthuman (in Finnish Ihmisen jälkeen) was composed during 2020 and 2021 with the kind support of the Kone Foundation. The style of the new work be described as poetic dystopian drama.

The performers include a conductor, four soloists, an AI soloist, 4-member choir, four dancers and a 10-member instrumental ensemble. Both singers and instrumentalists will be amplified and manipulated by live electronics and spatialization.

The libretto is written, by my request, by the multitalented Finnish visual artist, director, poet, writer and Doctor of Fine Arts Teemu Mäki , who will also direct and visualize the premiere, which will be given on March 4th, 6th and 7th 2023 in Helsinki. The premiere will be in Finnish language with Finnish and English subtitles.

More info coming up!

About my Sound Installations 1991–2020

I have made 15 sound installations so far. An installation is a site-specific art work, built for example into an art gallery or a public space, which takes into account the unique circumstances of that certain space. An installation can consist of items, structures and media elements such as videos, sound and light.

Sound installations are often innovative works from the borderline between music, sound art and the visual arts, thus belonging to the diverse field of experimental art and music. Sound installations can often involve elements from the other arts, most typically perhaps from the visual arts. But they can also present just sound in a space.

Wy am I interested in making sound installations? Perhaps I could take the easy road and say: “Well, because I’ve been commissioned to!”, but the more essential answers are that I’ve been for a long time intrigued by the concept of a sound installation and that my mind tends to produce ideas for different sound installations.

What is then the basic concept of a sound installation? For me it’s the virtual acoustic space created by loudspeakers. It’s somehow immensely exciting and fascinating when loudspeakers are put into a space to emit sound which has been designed, compiled or composed for that specific space. The reality changes!

The sound work coming out from the loudspeakers creates its own artificial acoustic space, within and in between the real acoustics of that space; these blend together in an unique way, which can be enjoyed only by actually going there, by being there. The experience of the uniqueness and momentariness of existence is densified.

More coming up!

List of my 15 sound installations


Rope Variations/ Theses on the Body Politic (Bind) 2020. Artists group IC-98 (dir. Patrik Söderlund) invited me to compose music for their new media installation entitled Theses on the Body Politic (Bind). I decided to entitle the music Rope Variations, which was actually the working title for the installation. Commissioned for the art collection of the Saastamoinen Foundation, the installation was premiered between 4 August and 27 September 2020 in EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art at their Touch exhibition, which displays the foundation’s art collection.

Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss) 2018, commissioned by the Tampere Biennale contemporary music festival, Finland. Art Gallery Borderline (Rajatila), Tampere, Finland, March 31st – April 17th 2018.

Suokukon paluu (Return of the Ruff) 2017, sound landscape for a video installation by Tuula Ahvenvaara at the Art Gallery AVA, Helsinki.

Okeanos (2014), collaboration with the IC-98 -artists group for the Turku Vartiovuori Historical Observatory, Finland

Janne (2006) at the Järvenpää city center promenade 70-meter canope sound system, Finland

Råtta (The Rat) 2006, co-composed with Kalev Tiits, sound landscape for sculpture made of cane, designed by architect Mia Bungers and built by the Sokeva artisans at the Helsinki Design Week -event at the Cable Factory, Helsinki, Finland

Katoamisia (Disappearances) 2006, 8-speaker sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Hyvinkää City Art Museum, Finland

Vasara, alasin, jalustin (Hammer, anvil, stirrup) 2005 at Iiris, centre for the visually impaired, Helsinki

Being Misplaced 2002, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the The Finnish Museum of Photography, Cable Factory, Helsinki, Finland

Estetty katse (Forbidden Gaze) 1998 sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the South Karelian Art Museum, Lappeenranta, Finland

Poissa/Läsnä (Absent/Present) 1997, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Joensuu City Art Museum, Finland

Sisään vai ulos? (In or Out?) 1996 for the entrance of Den Anden Opera, Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of Ung Nordisk Musik festival

Ylös vai alas? (Up or Down?) 1996 for the elevator of the Sibelius Academy R-building, Helsinki, Finland

La Peau – La Peu (The Skin) 1994, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Art Gallery Laterna Magica, Helsinki, Finland

Virralla (On the River) 1991, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Art Gallery Laterna Magica, Helsinki, Finland

About my Composition Nostalgia March (1993/99)

In the continuum of the saxophone repertoire, I feel that Nostalgia March takes with its fluently diverse musical language a beautifully warm attitude toward the past – toward Nostalgia – and at the same time it looks toward the future of music with a positive and open mind. A future classic.

Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, saxophonist

Nostalgia March for alto saxophone and piano was written for saxophonist Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo and it is my first instrumental work that was performed in public. I started to compose the piece in 1993 as a student at the Sibelius Academy under the guidance of the Swedish quest professor of composition Anders Eliasson, who was extremely professional and supportive as a teacher.

Having during that time just met a super talented young saxophonist Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, “OP” as he calls himself, who was also eagerly starting his studies at the Sibelius-Academy, I felt inspired to write for him and the saxophone.

Nostalgia March divides into two sections, or movements if you like, but to be performed attacca, without much pause between them. The first movement is chromatically sour and capricious by atmosphere and looking toward the future, whereas the second movement is diatonically sweet with a minor 7th chord flavor, openly melodic and bows – sideways – to the master composers of the past. I finished the second movement in 1995, but the first movement found its shape only after few years in 1999.

I’m still satisfied with Nostalgia March; especially the first movement presents certain stylistic elements which I would still like to develop further in my future compositions. I have since then written more music for the vivid and engaging saxophone family and will certainly continue to do so, due to the the inspiring sounds and capabilities of instrument. My collaboration with OP has continued to date.

Olli-Pekka Tuomiosalo performing on alto saxophone. Photo: Kaitsu.

OP writes on Nostalgia March:

Nostalgia March holds a very special place among the compositions written for me. I have performed it almost 20 times and also recorded it twice. It is one of the first pieces I have worked on with pianist Risto-Matti Marin, it was in the program of our first tour in the United States and it was very warmly received in every concert.

Nostalgia March is written instrumentally very skillfully and it is a rewarding piece to play – showily virtuosic, presenting some modern playing techniques to a suitable extent, but also audience-friendly in a good manner. The duration is excellent for a concert program and both instruments play an equally important role.

In the continuum of the saxophone repertoire, I feel that Nostalgia March takes with its fluently diverse musical language a beautifully warm attitude toward the past – toward Nostalgia – and at the same time it looks toward the future of music with a positive and open mind. A future classic.

Recording
Score
Buy the cd
Order the performance materials

Premiere of the first version (finished 1995): May 6th 1995, Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto Lappalainen, piano, Ears Open Society’s Concert, Sibelius Academy Chamber Music Hall, Helsinki, Finland.

Premiere of the final version (finished 1999): May 11th 1999, Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto-Matti Marin, piano, Spring Concert of the Finnish Saxophone Society, Malmitalo Cultural Centre, Helsinki.

First recording of the first version: 1997 Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Jaana Ikkala, piano, published on Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo’s Elokuisessa Helsingissä / August in Helsinki -cd (OPTCD-97001).

First recording of the final version: 2001 Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo, a.sax, Risto-Matti Marin, piano, published in 2001 on Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo’s double-cd Breath of Spring (OPTCD-01003-4, Finland). Also republished on Max Savikangas’s composition double-cd Extraterrestrial (UUCD 102, Uusinta Publishing Ltd., Finland).

About my Composition / Sound Installation Rope Variations (2020)

Artists group IC-98 (dir. Patrik Söderlund) invited me to compose music for their new media installation entitled Theses on the Body Politic (bind). I decided to entitle the music Rope Variations, which was actually the working title for the installation.

Commissioned for the art collection of the Saastamoinen Foundation, the installation was premiered between August 4th and September 27th 2020 in EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art at their Touch exhibition, which displays the foundation’s art collection.

Photo: EMMA

The 3-channel, digitally created animation panoramic video installation loop, lasting 12 min. 45 sec. is projected with three projectors on a nearly 18 meters wide screen. The animation depicts the different transformations of a hemp rope, all the way from the field into a rope.

In the work, the rope is a metaphor for society, with the different parts inextricably linked and forming a whole. Thousands of tiny, nearly invisible hemp fibers make up a thick rope. At the same time, the work highlights the diverse and sustainable natural material of hemp, which has the potential to be an alternative for systems of the unsustainable fossil economy.

I composed music for string quintet (2 vl, vla, vlc, db), which was then recorded and mixed in a studio. My warmest thanks go to the trusted musicians violinists Ilkka Lehtonen and Aleksi Kotila, violoncellist Markus Hohti and double bassist Juho Martikainen, who brilliantly performed my music in the studio with me on the viola! Sound engineer Juha-Matti Kauppinen recorded the string quartet with superb quality.

The score, which involves extended string playing techniques and sounds produced thereof, is note fully written out, but at points utilizes a more open approach, which I thought would be more flexible for playing together with the video image.

A major factor in the soundtrack is also sound design – and especially spatialization. My special thanks go to sound designer Toni Ilo at the Finnvox Cinepost studio for his creative input!

Musicians from left: Ilkka Lehtonen, Aleksi Kotila, Max Savikangas, Markus Hohti and Juho Martikainen (photo: Aleksi Kotila)

The hemp rope, a quite simple artifact, which has been known for millennia represents, together with music and sound, the historical and sociological processes of humanity: political tensions, colonialism, mass migrations on the other hand and the exploitation of nature, people and animals on the other.

At the same time the hemp rope can be also seen as a freely vibrating string, sounding simultaneously by its whole length and its partial lengths, which opens a link to the history of western music from Pythagoras all the way to modern spectral music.

The loudspeakers by the screen emit sound gestures which make their own trajectories around the listener,  new gestures appearing from the screen while the earlier ones are still flying around. The surround sound system creates a virtual acoustic space, in which the sound gestures happen in counterpoint.

Photo: EMMA

For this abstract art animation loop without dialogue, I felt tempted to allow interchange and flow between music and sound design. Indeed, together with sound designer Toni Ilo we took the starting point that sometimes it might be difficult for the listener to make difference between the elements of ‘sound design’ and ‘music’.

The soundtrack was thought out in various layers, for example 1) eidetic of affective layer which follows the movements and transformations of the rope 2) musical layer which is more independent from the movements of the rope 3) ambience, creating background and space (e.g. 30 -voice overdubbed string instrument spectral chords, transforming throughout the work 4) spatialization, sound located and moving around the listener 5) foley sounds.

For me as a composer the most exciting part of this process was to get access to a fully equipped surround sound studio with a professional sound designer and hear the sound spatialisations I had imagined come alive! The future of contemporary art music might just lie in immersive sound.

EMMA entrance

Video sample coming up soon. In the meantime, please listen below to the sountrack mixed down into stereo. Wishing for new showings soon, so that the audience could experience the piece in its full dimensions!

Recording (stereo mixdown)
See the string quintet score.

About my Composition Silvertone for Oboe and Ensemble (2017–19)

Silvertone_sample

Silvertone by Max Savikangas became the most important work in the concert.

Jorma Mäenpää, Ykkös-Lohja 18.2.2109

Premiered in September 12th 2019 in Lohja, Finland in a co-concert organized by the Lohja City Orchestra and Uusinta Ensemble, my chamber concerto Silvertone for oboe and ensemble is largely a portrait of my friend, oboist Keijo Silventoinen. I listened to Keijo’s stories, to his oboe playing and to his dreams of a new piece which would feature the oboe in a solistic role. Hence we will hear my musical interpretation of Keijo as a person and a musician, of his mentioned dreams and also obviously of the oboe as a solo instrument.

In my opinion, Silvertone brings the oboe into the spotlight in a new way, as a vital and potent solo instrument of its own right. I also dare to claim that the solo part is absolutely idiomatically written for the oboe, in which Keijo’s support and help has been decisive! I also hope that Silvertone as a piece of music will give to the listeners a new, imaginative, energizing and positive musical experience.

Keijo_SilventoinenPhoto: Keijo Silventoinen

Keijo Silventoinen is a sensitive artist and he also has a great sense of humor and empathy. He values in music more the emotional truth than gimmicks, which I wanted to keep in mind when composing Silvertone and wanted to express my own emotional truth at the moment of composition in the pages of the score, perhaps in a slightly more direct manner than in some of my earlier compositions. However, it will still sound like contemporary music – as it should!

Music is a phenomenon resembling language, but without semantics – I might be a composer partly because in music I can express and share thoughts and feelings for which I cannot find words.

Silvertone is cast in one 20-minute movement and gradual changes between musical materials are typical, without clear boundaries between motives and sections. In my opinion, this gives drive and facility to the piece.

The oboe solo cadenza by the end can also be performed as a separate solo oboe piece. The cadenza is not fully written out, but utilizes the Directed Modular-Transformative Improvisation Technique developed by me. Including improvisation means, I hope, that each performance will be somewhat different, which might help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.

The instrumentation of Silvertone has been designed together with Keijo Silventoinen and his inspiring idea was to include the bandoneon, which is related to the concertina, a German folk instrument and also resembling the accordion by its timbre and sound production. Its role in the piece is to bind the solo oboe and the ensemble together on one hand and to play as the alter ego or counterpoint of the oboe on the other.

The bandoneon is probably named after its German inventor Heinrich Band (1821–1860) and it was originally meant to be used in religious and popular music, but by the end of the 19th century it found its way to Argentina in the hands of sailors and emigrants and was adopted there as an essential part of the Argentinian tango orchestra. The sound of the bandoneon is attractively vivid, light and clear, but when required it’s also more piercing an projecting than the sound of the accordion. In addition, the accent technique played against the knee provides very striking and powerful effects.

The bitonal and seemingly random keyboards of the bandoneon are difficult to learn, but as a reward they enable playing large intervals very fast and also some unique chord change repetitions. The bandoneon part of Silvertone is composed for the so called 142 -tone Rheinische Tonlage commonly used in Argentina.

My warmest thanks belong to Keijo Silventoinen, who commissioned the work with the financial aid of the Madetoja Fund of the Society of Finnish Composers and Arts Promotion Centre Finland. I would also like to express my gratitude to Felix von Willebrand, the GM of the Lohja City Orchestra, who in an early stage of the composition project agreed that they will organize the World Premiere of the piece.

The second performance of Silvertone was organized by the Sibelius Academy based NYKY Ensemble in October 23rd 2020 at the Helsinki Music Centre, with Keijo Silventoinen as soloist and James Kahane as conductor. It was also a wonderful performance and I was very impressed by their dedicated interpretation.

Watch a video from the premiere with Uusinta Ensemble (Septemper 12th 2019).

Listen to the live audio recording of the premiere with Uusinta Ensemble (Septemper 12th 2019).

Watch the video from the second performance with NYKY Ensemble (October 23rd 2020).

Listen to the live audio recording of the second performance with NYKY Ensemble (October 23rd 2020).

See the full score of Silvertone.

See the oboe cadenza score of Silvertone.

Order the performance materials.
(Hold your phone horizontally and scroll down)

NYKY Ensemble performing Silvertone (photo: University of the Arts Helsinki / Sibelius Academy / Keijo Lahtinen)

About my Viola Compositions 1994–2016

Max Savikangas performing in 2005. Photo: Heikki Tuuli

Max Savikangas could be entitled as the Jimi Hendrix of the Viola, but he is also much more…Savikangas folds out his thought and perception processes into sounds.

Song of the Blissful, Death at Work and Extraterrestrial develop further the playing techniques of the Viola. Physicality and instrumentality are in focus…it’s not about small dabbling, but bold affects carrying musical ideas…

Savikangas brings the Viola in the middle of the stage and stops the Viola jokes once and for all.

Jukka Isopuro, Helsingin Sanomat 21.2.2004

Max Savikangas’ solo viola work Extraterrestrial was composed as a mandatory piece for the recent [Nordic] viola competition [2001], so its technical difficulty is sufficient. Performed by the composer himself, the work was entertaining, varied, and coherent in every way. A viable piece.

Samuli Tiikkaja, Helsingin Sanomat 19.1.2004
Max Savikangas performing in 2019. Photo: Tuula Ahvenvaara

The nucleus of my composing is the heard sound. I have constantly aimed at widening the expression scale of my own instrument viola, and consequently of other instruments as well.

Max Savikangas

List of my 13 viola compositions so far

  • Song of the Blissful for viola solo 1994 (9 min.) 
  • Danza for viola and harp 1995/1997 (12 min.) 
  • Death at Work for viola solo 1997 (8 min.) 
  • Viola Splash for multitrack violas and reciters 1997 (9 min.) Text: artist Teemu Mäki 
  • L’Anus Solaire for duck call and 4 violas with reciting 1999 (10 min.) Text: Georges Bataille 
  • Extraterrestrial for viola solo 2001 (8 min.) 
  • Kranker Matthäus for flute and viola 2006 (9 min.) 
  • Disparitions for viola and live-electronics 2007 (15 min.) 
  • Nordic Lights and Shadows for six violas 2008 (6 min.) 
  • Azonal Advice for viola solo 2009 (5 min.) 
  • Flora Viola for multitrack violas and live-electronics 2011 (2,5 min.), soundtrack for animated video Flora by artist Pirjetta Brander
  • Kepler 22-b for viola and piano 2012 (14 min.)
  • Azonal for viola and ensemble 2016 (15 min.)

Please feel free to listen to my 13 viola compositions and read the scores.

For me the new playing techniques and timbres thus produced (e.g. Sul tasto ‘pan’, Bend-buzz-pizzicato, Circular bowing, Whisked whistle, Glissando repetition or Mirror pizzicato) are not the final goal, but a necessary method to achieve my own musical expression. The hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes are by no means effects or seasonings added afterwards into the music; they are an organic part of my expression.

Improvisation has a special meaning to me as a performing musician. When I’m allowed the improvisational freedom as a player – and the responsibility which follows it – it certainly heightens my musical experience (and hopefully the listeners’ as well) and gives a possibility for such music to be invented which might be impossible to achieve by notational means.

In addition, the starting point for my notated instrumental compositions might often be improvising. I enjoy improvising on the viola, and as usually happens, some spontaneous ideas survive and begin to live their own lives in my mind. Some of these ideas may end up as starting points of my written compositions. Larger musical forms are often derived from those interesting sound events – taken that they have been interesting and strong enough to stay in the focus of my imagination. The nucleus of my composing is therefore the heard sound, perhaps in opposition to some more abstract ideas on paper or in a computer.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have a great interest in music which is notated very carefully to the smallest detail. Would it be, then, possible to find connections and interactive links between improvised and written down music? Wormholes? For me, absolutely! One connection can be found in timbral thinking: the interchange and tension between contrasting timbres can propel the music along, on equal terms with the other more traditional devices such as melody, harmony and rhythm (timbre should here be understood broadly as an umbrella term for all the components of a sound event).

More coming up!

Watch below me premiering my piece Azonal Advice in 2009 in Helsinki.

Watch below a short animated film Flora (2012) by artist Pirjetta Brander for which I have composed the soundtrack with multitrack violas and FX pedals.

About my Double Concerto for Trumpet, Double Bass and Symphony Orchestra (2014-15)

Savikangas_DoubleConcerto_Score_page1

I have listened to your Double Concerto and I must say, I really admire and like it! I find the basic material at the beginning interesting harmonically and rhythmically and just ‘mad’ enough to arouse and sustain the curiosity so that one is always thinking ‘where is this going to…!’

Jagdish Mistry, violinist, Ensemble Modern

In 2012 Finnish conductor talent Santtu-Matias Rouvali gave the premiere of my orchestral piece Whisked Whistle (2011) at the Helsinki Music Centre with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was very satisfied with the performance and especially with Santtu’s interpretation, so when he called me later and asked if I would be interested in composing a new double concerto for trumpet, double bass and orchestra to be premiered in Australia and then again in Finland under his baton I didn’t have to hesitate.

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Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali in Brisbane before the World Premiere.

This might be the first ever double concerto for trumpet, double bass and symphony orchestra? At least I have not been able to find information of an earlier double concerto for this instrumentation. At first this solo duo might seem a bit odd, but actually it offers some unique musical possibilities. The trumpet is the leader and highest voice in the brass choir, while the double bass is the foundation of the strings, which opens an interesting connection and also a contradiction between the soloists and the symphony orchestra. I also discovered that the contrasting characters of these two instruments provided a fruitful starting point for composing.

Savikangas_Meyer_MorrisonThe composer with soloists Edgar Meyer (db) and James Morrison (tr) after the World Premiere in Brisbane.

Improvisation has a special meaning to me. I believe that improvisation can release the full energy of a musician, allowing her or him to be truly free and express his or her personality in a very direct and intuitive way – “to allow me to be me” as James Morrison put it when I met him in Finland after his wonderful multi-instrumental jazz concert with the Marian Petrescu Trio. Improvisation may also produce music which is played only once and cannot be repeated live exactly. Intergrated into an orchestral score which is mostly notated in every detail, improvisational elements might also help the piece to stay fresh and interesting over several performances.

Savikangas_DoubleConcerto_FinnishPremiereBowing after the Finnish Premiere in Tampere (photo: TPO)

My Double Concerto is putting all these ideas together. It is partly fully written out and relies partly on the improvisational skills and imagination of the soloists, the members of the orchestra and even the conductor. The flowing interchange between these two ways of making music is in focus.

I composed the Double Concerto with the idea in mind that the double bass solo would not need to be amplified. However, in both of the performances so far it was. Edgar Meyer, the double bass soloist in the World Premiere actually considers a slight, “natural sounding” support amplification as the default practise for his solo performances with orchestras. Which, to sound enjoyable, obviously requires high quality  technology from the venue and a skilled sound engineer. Which we luckily had.

So far my Double Concerto has been performed twice. The World Premiere took place in Brisbane, Australia, at the opening concert of the Queensland Music Festival in July 17th 2015. The Queensland Symphony orchestra was conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the soloists were James Morrison (tr) and Edgar Meyer (db).

The second performance, which was also the Finnish Premiere, was given in April 22nd by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali with Aki Välimäki (tr) and Petri Mäkiharju as soloists.

DC_FinnishPremiere_SoloistsConductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali rehearsing the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra with soloists Aki Välimäki (tr) and Petri Mäkiharju (db).

The score is available in two versions, the orchestra either or not including four saxophones (SATB). With the saxophone quartet the orchestra will sound much more colorful, but obviously the production costs will be somewhat higher. The music remains the same in both versions.

Both first performances were given without saxophones. I personally hope that the saxophone quartet would be soon adopted as a standard element of the modern symphony orchestra, which would highly enrich its sound palette and thus provide new possibilities for composers.

I was truly and equally satisfied with both of the dedicated performances of my Double Concerto. It was a great pleasure to get to know the four soloists – all wonderful musical personalities of their own right! Working with conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali and having the possibility to follow the emergence of his interpretation of my music was again a fascinating learning experience.

My Double Concerto was indeed very well received both in Australia and in Finland. The feedback from the conductor, soloists, from the members of both of the orchestras and of the audiences was warm, positive and enthusiastic.

Tomi Vuokola of Aamulehtithe biggest newspaper in Tampere, Finland, wrote of the Finnish Premiere in April 23rd 2016: “…the Double Concerto by Max Savikangas includes everything possible, such as crackling of the strings and other extended playing techniques, jazz-feelings and a bit of improvisation, too…the piece as a whole could be said to be on the other hand a bit messy and shapeless, but also fun and vivid on the other. The listener is free to choose.”

Jagdish Mistry, prominent violinist of the famous international Ensemble Modern, next to whom I had the pleasure of  playing viola in an festival ensemble at the Time of Music Festival 2015, kindly listened on my request to the World Premiere recording of my Double Concerto with the score and wrote back to me: “I have listened to your Double Concerto and I must say, I really admire and like it! I find the basic material at the beginning interesting harmonically and rhythmically and just ‘mad’ enough to arouse and sustain the curiosity so that one is always thinking ‘where is this going to…!’…The jazz club style of section I found absolutely super in that this treatment of the material is harmonically well integrated into the structure and language of the piece altogether. The strings-scrunching music (at around 19’) is introduced at absolutely the right moment in the piece and the trumpet cadenza accompanied is also good and at the right structural position. I also like your use of orchestration as a structural component of the dramaturgy of the piece and not just a function of making everything sound lush and attractive. I get the feeling you are a very experienced composer…And your statement of your compositional intent is very much what I heard in the Double Concerto – as you can see from my remarks! Now that I see that some of the parts were improvised I think it is great that one doesn’t hear the difference between improvisation and the fully composed bits – it all sounds integrated as a composition! Congratulations!”

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to The Queensland Symphony Orchestra, The Queensland Music Festival, The Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and The Madetoja Foundation of the Society of Finnish Composers for making the composition and first performances of my Double Concerto possible.

Hoping for more performances in the future!

Listen to the World Premiere
Listen to the Finnish Premiere
See the Score
Order the performance materials
(Hold your phone horizontally and scroll down)