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Max Savikangas, composer

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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 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.

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.

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

Savikangas_DoubleConcerto_Score_page1In 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.

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.

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 the saxophone quartet. I personally hope that the saxophone quartet would be soon adopted as a standard element of the modern symphony orchestra, which would highly enrich the sound palette of the symphony orchestra and thus provide more possibilities to 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 all the four soloists – all great 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

About my composition Slam Dunk for symphony orchestra and two basketball players (2018)

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The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra kindly wanted to commission a ten-minute orchestral piece from 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 also threw in a suggestion that I would adopt ball sports (such as basketball, volleyball or badminton) as a theme for the new piece.

When I asked Maati Rehor, the chief executive of the orchestra, what might the suggested ball sports theme mean in the context of an orchestral composition, she replied that they don’t know, I have to invent it!

After taking some time to ponder the suggestion I came up with the idea that the artistic theme for the piece would be ball sports as a cultural phenomenom in general and especially the thrilling basketball slam dunk. Perhaps my background as a junior basketball point guard in the 1980’s influenced this, as well as the huge slam dunks performed recently by Finnish basketball player Lauri Markkanen and his current success in the NBA.

Entitled Slam Dunk, the expression of the piece is extrovert, rhythmic and energetic. It utilizes the harmonic, melodic, rhythmical and orchestration methods of contemporary art music. I did not aim at composing a traditional sports competition fanfare, or a theme song of an imaginary basketball team. Instead, I wanted to compose a new independent orchestral piece of its own right with connotations to ball sports on different levels. Also, knowing that the venue of the premiere would be a big ball game hall with more than 2500 seats, I decided to omit extended playing techniques from the piece, because they sound best performed in a concert hall.

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kupittaan-palloiluhalli_sisakuva_pienempiKupittaa Ball Game Hall, exterior and interior.

I integrated into the composition 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 will be installed a professional basketball hoop with a backboard, with top of the hoop 305 cm above the floor. Hence the concert venue must provide enough extra space (and height) for the Slam Dunk Battle, approximately a free space covering an area similar to one end of a basketball field enclosed by the three-point arc.

cofPremiere of Slam Dunk has reached the start of the Slam Dunk Battle.

The Slam Dunk Battle is appropriately started by a fanfare and the battle is guided by the MC. The composition is coordinated, through the conductor, to the dunk performances. It also reflects the applauses by the audience. After the dunk performances, the MC has an acclamation vote from the audience, into which the orchestra also participates by playing. After the winner has been announced, the Slam Dunk Battle Fanfare is heard again to salute the contestants and then its time for the finale of the piece.

donkki1Basketball player Mikael Aalto in the premiere of Slam Dunk.

The premiere of Slam Dunk took place on Saturday 15th of September 2018 in Turku, Finland at the Kupittaa Ball Game Hall, featuring basketball players Mikael Aalto and Eero Lehtonen. There was more than 2600 people in the audience and the piece was extremely warmly welcomed.

Wath a video of the premiere of Slam Dunk
(Please scroll forward: the performance starts at time code point 48:45 and ends at 1:00:47)

See the score of Slam Dunk

About my sound installation Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss) 2018

Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss) 2018, kindly commissioned by the Tampere Biennale contemporary music festival, Finland is my 14th sound installation. It was premiered in an exhibition at the Art Gallery Borderline (Rajatila), Tampere, Finland between March 31st and April 17th 2018.

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.

Wy am I interested in making sound installations? Well, 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 intriqued 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.

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My sound installation Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss) on the dark, stark lower ground floor of the Art Gallery Borderline (see above) consists of two active loudspeakers placed on sculpture podium stands fed by a media player looping the 11-minute stereo sound track composed by me. There is a sofa in front of the loudspeakers, on which the visitor can listen to the work as long as she or he pleases. In the otherwise darkened room, the sofa and the loudspeaker podiums are illumenated with spotlights. I’ve written a kind of a program note for the visitors (in Finnish), in form of graphic poetry. More than that I choose not to explain the content of the work, because I wish to allow the joy of discovery to the visitors – an important element of sound installations and in contemporary art in general.

Listen to the soundtrack of Lintukoto.

See the program note of Lintukoto (in Finnish).

My earlier sound installations include:

  • Virralla (On the River) 1991, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Art Gallery Laterna Magica, 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
  • Ylös vai alas? (Up or Down?) 1996 for the elevator of the Sibelius Academy R-building, Helsinki, Finland
  • Sisään vai ulos? (In or Out?) 1996 for the entrance of Den Anden Opera, Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of Ung Nordisk Musik festival
  • Poissa/Läsnä (Absent/Present) 1997, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Joensuu City Art Museum, Finland
  • Estetty katse (Forbidden Gaze) 1998 sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the South Karelian Art Museum, Lappeenranta, Finland
  • Being Misplaced 2002, sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the The Finnish Museum of Photography, Cable Factory, Helsinki, Finland
  • Vasara, alasin, jalustin (Hammer, anvil, stirrup) 2005 at Iiris, centre for the visually impaired, Helsinki
  • Katoamisia (Disappearances) 2006, 8-speaker sound landscape for a photo installation by Catarina Ryöppy at the Hyvinkää City Art Museum, 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
  • Janne (2006) at the Järvenpää city center promenade 70-meter canope sound system, Finland
  • Okeanos (2014), collaboration with the IC-98 -artists group for the Turku Vartiovuori Historical Observatory, Finland
  • Suokukon paluu (Return of the Ruff) 2017, sound landscape for a video installation by Tuula Ahvenvaara at the Art Gallery AVA, Helsinki.

About my Composition Whisked Whistle for Symphony Orchestra

 

WhiskedWhistle_premiereWhiskedWhistle_Sample

The sounds of the string section carry along my first orchestral composition, ten-minute Whisked Whistle (2011), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Actually, one of the extended string playing techniques even lent the work its title!

The variation of and tension between contrasting timbres propels the piece along, on equal terms with the six-part harmony developed by me and other more traditional devices such as melody, harmony, rhythm and orchestration. Timbre, in the context of this piece, should be understood broadly as an umbrella term for all the components of a sound event. The hoots, wails, hisses, gushes, whispers, crackles and buzzes heard in the piece are thus by no means effects or seasoning added afterwards; they are an organic part of my musical expression.

I had for a long time imagined – but never actually heard – how wonderfully some extended string playing techniques would sound when skillfully performed by a large string section. Fortunately the commissioner, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra kindly offered me a 30-minute possibility to test just that before actually starting the compositional process. So, in May 2011 I prepared a kind of a sound test drive score and parts for the orchestra and listened carefully it to be played in the concert hall in a rehearsal conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali and then went home to assess which techniques in my opinion worked well and which didn’t. I’m certain that this possibility was essential for the success of this composition.

As no one can claim copyright to a playing technique or a sound thus produced, it is more essential how a composer can use them in a personal, interesting and musical manner in her/his composition! I eventually decided to utilize seven extended string playing techniques and sounds produced with them in Whisked Whistle. Some of these techniques I think I might have invented myself and some others I might have seen and heard elsewhere.

Sul tasto ”pan”: Position bow moltissimo sul tasto, approximately in the middle point of the sounding string. This way of playing is intended to result in a hollow sound, somewhat like the sound of the pan flute (or perhaps the clarinet in a low register, played softly).

Circular bowing: The bow, positioned in the upper third, is to be swept in a direction parallel to the strings with a slightly circular, free movement, which starts from the upper arm. This bowing thenique is intended to result in a blowing-like sound which however has a short, pitched impulse for each note.

Whisked whistle: To be played sul pont./quasi flag). A fast, whisking, over-wide arm vibrato, with the left hand finger sliding rapidly along the string, still pressed only half way down, resluting in a whistling, piercing and whisking, electric quitar feedback-vib.-note like sound.

Crackle: Press the bow down very hard at the frog with flat hair so that the tip of the bow points to the up left. Now twist the bow slowly in its place, while maintaining the pressure, approximately 45 degrees so that the bow finally reaches its normal position. This way of playing is intended to result in a dry, crackling, granular, discontinuous sound, like anticipating some violent burst (for example breaking of a tree branch). Sparse crackle is produced by turning the bow very slowly, dense crackle is produced by turning the bow slightly faster.

Whistle staccato: Intended to result in high, short, whistling and piercing, somewhat arbitraty flageolet-like sounds. They are not ordinary natural flageolets, but are to be played sul pont./quasi flag, the left hand finger pressed only half way down. The bow should be “flying”, hitting the string from the air for a very short time while moving fast.

Rumble: Slow bow speed, exaggerated bow pressure, bow close to the fingerboard. Left hand finger pressure is less than normal. This way of playing is intended to result in the note sounding approximately an octave, or, depending of the bow pressure, a major seventh lower than written, with a rumbling sound quality. Brutality is not to be avoided!

Bursting: Crunch the bow from normal playing position towards the tail piece over the bridge and back, resulting in a bursting, machine-like sound. An arrow down denotes the movement of the bow towards the tail piece, an arrow up vice and versa.

Whisked Whistle has been preformed twice so far. The world premiere was given in 25th of January 2012 at the Helsinki Music Center by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by talented and energetic Santtu-Matias RouvaliI was immensely satisfied with the dedicated performance of the orchestra and especially with working with conductor Santtu Matias-Rouvali and his interpretation of my music.

The second performance was given at the ISCM World Music Days 2015 festival in 2nd of October 2015 in Slovenia, Ljubljana by the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by intelligent and sensitive TaeJung LeeIt was a wonderful and lively performance indeed and I’m very glad that I was able to make it to Ljubljana and hear also the second performance live. Hopefully not the last!

The feedback after both performances of Whisked Whistle from both members of the audience and the orchestra has been overwhelmingly positive. Also many composer and musician colleagues personally told me that they had enjoyed the piece. The reviews in the Finnish press were similarly positive, especially Mats Liljeroos of Hufvudstadsbladet wrote: “...Max Savikangas hit a jackpot with his catchy orchestral piece Whisked Whistle, which in a very successful manner combined intricate complexity with clean-cut listener-friendliness.  (HBL 27.1.2018)

Frank J. Oteri of New Music USA wrote of the second performance: Whisked Whistle...is chuck full of unusual sonic effects, but they also always have a clear musical purpose. At one point in this piece there’s a passage that’s very reminiscent of the persistent three-note tattoo in Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 1, but Savikangas assured me during the post-concert reception that he was not familiar with Rouse’s piece and the similarities are a coincidence. It is further proof that great ideas don’t belong to any one person but are rather out there in the universe to be discovered and explored.”

Listen to the recording
Have a look at the score

Watch and listen to the performance of  Whisked Whistle by the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by TaeJung Lee. In this video, recorded at the ISCM WMD 2015 festival Ljubljana in 2 OCT 2015 by the Slovenian Radio and TV Broadcasting Company, you’ll find the complete final concert of the WMD 2015 festival with music by composers Veli-Matti Puumala (another fellow Finn!), Vito Zuraj, Nina Šenk, me and Hèctor Parra, also with short interviews or “statements” by each composer before the performances of their pieces. Please find my interview in English (with Slovenian subtitles) at 1:00:02–1:01:51, followed by the performance of Whisked Whistle at 1:01:56–1:13:30.

Watch and listen to music Journalist Jaani Länsiö interviewing me (In Finnish) on the Finnish Broadcasting Compoany YLE website about my composition Whisked Whistle.

Listen to music journalist Karoliina Vesa interviewing me (In Finnish) on the Finnish national radio YLE 1 about my composition Whisked Whistle

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About the Site-Specific Sound and Light Installation Okeanos (2014)

Okeanos_teoskuva

The site-specific sound and light installation Okeanos (2014) was made for Vartiovuori Observatory, built in Turku, Finland, in 1819, which later served as a Naval Academy (1836–1967). In the building, navigation is intertwined with the cosmos, scientific and political power with mythology. The work treats the observatory as a Northern watchtower, as well as a lighthouse, with their undertones of colonialism and of the current flows of migration.

The installation occupied the top-floor rotunda, along with a polyphonic soundscape, an adaptation of a Finnish folk song Kun minä kotoani läksin (When I forsook my home). In the darkened space the zodiac sign for Scorpio – one of the twelve signs depicted in the circular frieze – was illuminated.

The sound landscape of Okeanos is presenting the following theme and atmosphere: on the Mediterranean Sea, on a sinking boat with a broken engine, there is a group of refugees having been trying to get to Europe. They have realized that they will soon die, either by drowning or by shark attacks. The sound landscape consists of sounds recorded and gathered by me such as wooden creaks of the boat, turbulences and splashes of the water having leaked into the boat, noises and rumbles of the high sea waves, humming and whining of the wind against the boat’s structures  – and of recorded vocal materials, either whispered, spoken, cried or sung.

The mentioned folk song is heard every now and then as such, but I also deconstructed its melody and lyrics into their bare elements and derived from these new syllables, new four-note chord glissando successions and new simple melodic motifs and composed with them. The density of events is slow and the mood is desperate, however on the other hand somewhat spiritual.

No special sound processing was used in mixing the sound landscape, to gain an illusion of a natural sound image, which is then hugely echoed by ca 4 second reverb in the unique acoustics of the big 15-meter-diameter and 6-meter-high observatory dome. Two loudspeakers and the light projector (actually a video projector playing a fluctuating white screen video file to mimic a dynamic light spot) were installed in the middle of the dome two thirds up to the elegant steel spiral stairway.

The work is related to Oikoumene (Greek: οἰκουμένη, oikouménē, lit. “inhabited”), in which a fortress surrounded by an ocean stands for Europe. In ancient Greek it referred to the known world, the inhabited world, or the habitable world. Under the Roman Empire, it came to refer to civilization and the secular and religious imperial administration. Our installation Okeanos focuses attention on the individual tragedies taking place now on the Mediterranean.

First presentation took place between December 12th 2014 and January 11th 2015 as part of a group exhibition entitled On the Blue Planet, produced by The Artists’ Association of Finland and curated by Marketta Haila .

Concept and visualisation: IC-98
Music and sound design: Max Savikangas
Choral conducting: Nils Schweckendiek
Singers of The Helsinki Chamber Choir:
Heta Kokkomäki, soprano, Nairi Azezian, mezzosoprano, Martti Anttila, tenor and Jouni Rissanen, bass
Recording: Pekka Mikael Laine

Listen to the recording of Okeanos

 

 

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About my composition Azonal for viola and ensemble (2015-16)

MaxSavikangas_Azonal_Bowing

My composition Azonal for viola and 12-member ensemble (2015-16) was premiered in the Klang Concert Series in 8th of April 2016 at the Helsinki Music Centre, Sonore Hall by Uusinta Ensemble , conducted by József Hárs and me as the Viola soloist.

The title Azonal (without zones) refers to the type of musical form of the piece; transitions between different musical materials occur without clear boundaries or cuts between them.

The solo part utilizes extended playing techniques and sounds resulting, such as circular bowing, whisked whistle, glissando repetition and rumble, which the 12-member ensemble reflects – not as effects added afterward, but as an integral part of musical expression.

By the end of the piece there is a solo cadenza, which can be also performed as a separate solo viola piece under the title Azonal Advice (which is actually an anagram with the letters in the words Viola Cadenza). I composed this piece already in 2009 with the intention that it would be later integrated into as a cadenza of a concertante work for viola and ensemble. 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.

Azonal brings the Viola into the spotlight in a new way, as a vital and potent solo instrument of its own right. I dare to claim that the solo part is absolutely idiomatically written for the Viola – it is not at all as difficult to play as it may sound! I also hoped that Azonal would give the listeners a novel, imaginative, energizising and positive musical experience. And indeed, the premiere was welcomed very warmly and enthusiastically by the audience and it also received a positive review in the Finnish press.

The second performance of Azonal took place in 1st of April 2017 at the Annual General Meeting event of the Finnish Viola Society at the Sigyn Hall of the Turku Conservatory, Finland, with a student orchestra, conducted by accordionist Mikko Luoma and me again as the Viola soloist. The second performance went also very well and was cheered enthusiastically by peer violists in the audience.

MaxSavikangas_Azonal_2nd_perf

Because many told me after these two performances that Azonal might be my best composition so far, I’m hoping that some other viola soloist would take her/his courage in both hands and try it out – You might be surprised!

Recording, score, solo part etc.