Kimmo Mattila is a key figure in the international scenario of the accordion. He graduated from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki – the only music university in Finland and one of the largest in Europe – and then undertake a prolific career as a musician, arranger, teacher, publisher, director of international festivals. In this context we recall his work as director of the Sata-Häme Soi festival in Ikaalinen (Finland), which he held for twenty-seven years. He also assumed important positions in international organizations that promote the accordion in the world: Secretary-General of the Confédération Internationale des accordéonistes (CIA), President of the Finnish Accordion Association and director of the Finnish Accordion Institute. A few years ago he published “Accordion ABC”, a four-volume manual aimed at beginners, while on the concert is currently engaged in a duo with the violinist Aino Ojakoski, with whom he has released a CD where came many pieces of traditional Finnish music.
When did you start studying accordion? And why?
I was 8 years, when I began to play, but before it I made some first efforts at home. We had in the family a small piano accordion, and my elder brothers played quite a lot. Not very educated, but they were quite active. Music was present in the family and the parents were ready to buy instruments and support a hobby. Credits for them, because economically it was not easy. We were living in the small town (more village) Eura, where almost all parents were working in the big paper mill. So, I didn’t have large musical possibilities, but the enthusiasm was the biggest force and energy. When I was child, I played also a recorder and English horn, but then the accordion “won” my instrumental selection.
Could you tell as about your experiences in the field of music education?
I remember clearly from my teenage years, how difficult it was to get qualified education. I was living far from Helsinki, and together with my father I travelled every two weeks to Lasse Pihlajamaa’s private accordion school. Pihlajamaa (1916-2007) was one of the most prominent accordionist in Finland, composer, teacher and artist. His influence was very strong, and in his school I met lot of other students, who are now – after years – my dear colleagues.
After the high school graduate and after military service (obligatory in Finland) I continued in 1979 to the Sibelius Academy, which is the music university in Helsinki. The classical accordion was just accepted to the Academy, and I was one of the first students there. Professor Matti Rantanen has created one of most famous accordion class in the academy, and I was privileged to study there. The new society in the Academy was musically like a revolution for me: suddenly it was possible to listen classical and contemporary music, go to the concert every night, meet famous musicians, listen symphony orchestras, chamber music and even meet famous composers in the cafeteria of the Academy. The musical world was finally open for me, and it was unforgettable experience.
In my opinion, it’s important to study and practise, but equally important is to belong to a society, where you can meet people, discuss with them and get strong influence. Nowadays we call it “networking”, but that word was not in use in 1980’s. The international contacts were not very common on that time, but we went to Copenhagen to Mogens Ellegaard, invited Russian artists like Friedrich Lips and Viatcheslav Semionov to Finland and organised trips to the former DDR and met in Klingenthal the entire international accordion world.
Finally, after several years I played my diplom examination, graduated and logged out from the Academy. My education was approved, and I was on my own to begin my professional career.
After studies I was a teacher in several music schools, in Turku, Hyvinkää and Kankaanpää, but quite soon I settled myself in hometown Ikaalinen.
Is the accordion more contemporary or historical instrument?
In my opinion, the accordion has an exceptional position in the musical world. It has very interesting history, strong national character in different musical styles, and since 50 years only a serious position in the contemporary music as well. As a festival director I have been working with various “faces” of the accordion, both traditional and contemporary. I must say, that the power of the accordion is in the tradition and colourful history, because without “old stuff” the accordion could never develope as a modern instrument, which nowadays offers new musical possibilities for composers and artists. The new generation must never forget their roots or neglect their past. The history of the accordion is no fascinating and colourful, that it’s a mistake to throw it aside.
For the good future of the accordion, it’s absolutely necessary to keep all those “musical faces” fresh and alive. We know very well, that the classical/contemporary section often simply hate traditional dance music or folk music, and – vice versa – the folk enthusiastic don’t always like modern music and don’t understand that kind of musical evolution at all. But the accordion as an musical instrument needs both!
What do you think about its electrical version? Could it some how communicate with acoustic or not?
I have listened quite lot a digital accordion, in several competitions as a jury member, but also in many concerts. I remember the very first international Roland competition some years ago, when I was in the jury. The players didn’t know, what to do with a new instrument, but during next years the musical program developed quickly in long leaps. The talented musicians have created completely something new using modern technology and inventing new ways to use it. But finally, the best “digital-accordionists” have in their background a high musical education, they know classical repertoire and have excellent technique without any limits. I think, that this is very important when creating new music with digital accordion. Without musical knowledge and good taste it’s impossible to create anything sensible with the digital accordion. I admire sincerely for instance Ludovic Beyer, who is absolutely one of the best jazz accordionist in the world. Never mind, if he is playing acoustic or electric instrument, it’s always on the top level!
In my opinion, the digital accordion is not only a new format of the accordion, it is completely a new instrument, which demands new original repertoire composed or arranged especially for it. We know, that in 1900’s the electric music developed strongly, and many famous composers concentrated in it and created famous new pieces. We can only imagine, what Karlheinz Stockhausen would have composed, if he had a modern digital accordion in his hands…
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I was working 27 years non-stop as the Artistic Director of the Sata-Häme Soi –festival in Ikaalinen. Planning programs, inviting artists, hosting live broadcastings in the TV etc. etc. Then in 2013 I decided to have two years break from that work. For 2015 I have two options: to return back to the festival or resign that work at all. Let’s see…
However, the festival has been only one part of my work, because the Finnish Accordion Institute and The Finnish Accordion Association are still my main job. The institute has a large music collection, an accordion museum and lot of publications. It’s purpose is to collect and promote the Finnish accordion culture in general. I have been the president of the Finnish Accordion Association since 17 years, and now the current term will continue until end of 2016. The association has ca. 4000 members around the country including 60 member associations, so it means lot of work to conduct this organisations. We publish a magazine Hanuri every 3 months for all members, so it keeps me moving and active.
The accordion centre in Ikaalinen (a small town, only 7500 people) is an ideal place to work. We are 5 full-time persons working for the accordion activities: one for the office, one for the information, magazine and graphics, two for the summer festival and one for musical affairs and general management.
Some years ago I published a method Accordion ABC which already consists of four books. It’s written in Finnish language, and published especially for the beginners of any age. It can be used at least 2-3 years ahead. Now I’m planning to compile a supplement, but let’s see when it will be printed.
The international activities and projects have been very important part of my work since a long time. Since 2006 I have been the Secretary General of the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes (CIA), which is a worldwide organisation. We begun to collect the archives for the CIA some years ago, and that material is placed in Ikaalinen accordion centre. In my opinion the CIA has developed last years strongly, but we still miss more countries to be members. I see clearly, that this kind of organisation can help young musicians to create a wide professional network around the world, which can help their career. To win a competition – like Coupe Mondiale – is a wonderful success, but finally it is not essential. Instead of the 1st prize it’s important to meet people, create contacts, listen new music and get new cultural influences from different parts of the world. I think, that this is finally the most important aspect of any international organisation.
The international Coupe Mondiale competition will be next year (2015) in Turku in Finland. The Finnish Accordion Association is the host, so it keeps me busy next 18 months. But again, it’s so interesting to organize this famous competition, because at the same time we can show for guests the Finnish atmosphere, way of living, beautiful nature and part of northern exoticism.
Can you tell us about your activities in the fields of concerts, composition and composing?
My musical education in the Music Academy was classical and contemporary, but I have been playing also lot of folk styles and traditional Finnish music as well. I think, that in my work as the festival director this has been very useful to have a wide vision to all kind of music. I have never made a big concert career, but have played in many countries. Even in Havana, Cuba, which was one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been! The music can open doors in unexpected ways!
Some years ago I began to play duo with a viola player Aino Ojakoski. This duo has been musically an excellent combination. The viola and accordion create a new sound, new colour and give good new possibilities for arrangements too. It’s more common to play with violin, but the viola is musically much more interesting. We have released a CD including mostly Finnish music, like traditional and modern tangos and music from the romantic era.
You ask also about my compositions, but I have to say that I never wrote any remarkable composition – only some small pieces. I think it’s better to leave that work completely for professional composers. However, I have made lot of arrangements, for accordions, for small orchestras and various ensembles, and recently especially for accordion and viola.
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