Contemporary Composers & Musicians from Finland

Get to know the most essential contemporary composers and musicians from our playlist, available on Spotify and Apple Music. 

Scroll down for all the composers' biographies and links.

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Outi Tarkiainen

Outi Tarkiainen is a composer who has one foot in the Modernist camp and one in the jazz camp. Several of her works exhibit, in a deeply instinctive way, an organic, innovative dialogue between these two traditions – an example being the title work of her acclaimed disc "Into the Woodland Silence". Tarkiainen’s music is frequently performed abroad and has been dubbed to draw on the immensity of the northern natural environment. As if an evidence of this, her recent orchestral song cycle The Earth, Spring’s Daughter, inspired by the Sami poetry, was commissioned by the three northernmost orchestras of Europe.

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Kalevi Aho

Kalevi Aho is “Finland’s most significant living symphonic composer,” according to Kimmo Korhonen. Much of Aho’s symphonic output is the result of years of close collaboration with Sinfonia Lahti. Aho is a master of multiple genres who in the course of his career has gone from Shostakovich-tinted Neo-Classicism towards Modernism, Post-Modernism and free tonality, combining these in a highly original idiom. Besides being a prolific composer, he is an influential figure on the Finnish musical scene in many other ways too.

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Antti Auvinen

Antti Auvinen is a composer with a particular interest in timbre and rhythm. The majority of his output is chamber music scored for unusual ensembles, an example being Orior (2012), written for the Atlas Ensemble that brings together instruments from all around the world. “Using polyrhythmic and polypulsational effects, he creates an impression of musical direction in his works,” writes Jouko Laaksamo. “Although Auvinen takes a Modernist attitude towards composition, he does not neglect emotional tensions, which play a very important part in his music.”

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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen is not only an internationally celebrated conductor but also a significant composer. Being a conductor, he has excellent command of writing for both large and small orchestra in a way that is gratifying for the musicians. His orchestral works include his greatest successes. He is the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic and Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. He is also the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

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Sauli Zinovjev

A composition at its best has everything. The entire life in a single moment. This is how composer Sauli Zinovjev sees it. Zinovjev has quickly become one of the most interesting names in classical music and one of the most played composers of his generation in Finland. Zinovjev composes music that conveys vast emotions. The kind of music which also made him a composer. Batteria (2016), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, established Zinovjev among the prominent Finnish names in classical music.

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Sampo Haapamäki

Sampo Haapamäki searched and explored Modernism in his compositions before extending his idiom to microintervals and spectral music. Quarter-tone harmonies have played a key role in his music since 2004. He has written works for instance for the quarter-tone accordion. He won several international prizes at an early stage in his career, including the ISCM Young Composer Award in 2005. His work Kirjo, a concerto for bass clarinet and chamber orchestra, was awarded the Teosto Prize in 2006; the jury described it as a “jubilant and bold work unheeding of boundaries”.

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Matthew Whittall

Born in Canada, Matthew Whittall found his way to Finland in search of musical freedom and nature. The natural environment is a scarlet thread in his output, which includes a massive collection of piano preludes entitled Leaves of Grass after the poetry collection by Walt Whitman. His artistically oriented doctorate was on the idea of nature in Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. “Accessible without being banal” was the verdict on his musical idiom when in 2013 he received the distinguished Teosto Prize for his work Dulcissima clara sonans, based on the visions of Hildegard of Bingen.

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Sebastian Fagerlund

Sebastian Fagerlund has rapidly become one of the most successful composers of his generation. His style is robust and easily identifiable, a combination of spiky rhythms and long, meditative arcs. His principal works include the Clarinet Concerto (2006), after which his career properly took off. In 2011, he received the Teosto Prize for Ignite for symphony orchestra.

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Juhani Nuorvala

Juhani Nuorvala, described by Juha Torvinen as an “electro-acoustic urban minimalist”, seeks inspiration from widely varied sources. With the enthusiasm of an explorer, he has delved into microtonality, French spectral music, techno and rock. It all becomes organically fused into his own idiom, often characterised by a frenzied rhythmic drive. “Nuorvala seeks various ways to combine these apparently distant phenomena; in fact, the opposition or juxtaposition of two contrasting elements characterises many of his works,” writes Kimmo Korhonen.

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Riikka Talvitie

Riikka Talvitie’s music is Modernist but often incorporates lucid lyrical qualities and scherzando tones, sometimes in the guise of ironic humour. “Typical features of her works include their elastic mobility and their juggling between a clear pulse and a freer handling of rhythm,” writes Kimmo Korhonen and goes on to note: “However hard one searches, it is impossible to find any traces of heaviness, sentimentality or emotional outpouring in the music of Talvitie.”

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Olli Virtaperko

Olli Virtaperko made his breakthrough as a composer with large-scale orchestral works, but his profile is highly diverse. He has written for big band, accordion, kantele, Baroque orchestra and the brand new knifonium instrument, among others. “I haven’t changed my mind over the general lameness, meaninglessness and boringness of crossover, but if you really know what you are doing, crossover may, on really rare occasions, work,” he says and notes that he is “a Renaissance, Baroque and Modernism man”.

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Magnus Lindberg

Magnus Lindberg is one of Finland’s internationally most celebrated contemporary composers, whose works are regularly performed by the world’s leading musical institutions. He has progressed from his early Modernism towards a more human idiom, defining a new classical Modernism. Harmony, tonal colour, texture and rhythm are important elements in his music; recently, melody has grown in importance. Lindberg is above all a master of the orchestra, and he has also written a considerable body of chamber music. His persona combines a rational technology buff (who experimented with computers at a very early stage) with a practical musician. He himself plays the piano, and he sometimes also conducts his own works.

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Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho is one of Finland’s internationally best known contemporary composers. She gained world fame in the 2000s with her original and immediately recognisable style that has evolved slowly but surely over the years. She focused on tonal colour at an early date. Electronics and new technology have also been part of her musical makeup for quite some time; she found an important base in the Ircam studios in Paris, her city of residence since 1982. Melody took prominence in her work in the early 1990s and rhythm in the early 2000s.

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Lotta Wennäkoski

Lotta Wennäkoski’s music falls within the Modernist camp, but she distinguishes herself as a master of lyrical tones. “The music is buoyant and lucid, as if waiting for the listener to jump up and grab hold of its sound world,” writes Karoliina Vesa about Hava (2007) for orchestra. Lotta Wennäkoski says she has always been interested in language and literature, including lyrical poetry. Among the latest orchestral works of Wennäkoski are Flounce commissioned by the BBC for the Last Night of the Proms (World premiere: 9.9.2017) and Uniin asti for male choir and orchestra commissioned by the Finnish RSO (World premiere: 6.12.2017).

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Jukka Tiensuu

Jukka Tiensuu is a composer much in demand internationally whose works are very different from each other – and even any given work may contain improvisation, pantomime and choices for the performers (for instance, Yang 1 and Yang 2 may be performed separately or simultaneously). “...when seeking the fundamental essence of music, one cannot confine oneself to a narrow approach,” he has said. Tiensuu also frequently uses microintervals. His own instrument is the harpsichord, and he is keeping up a constant dialogue with the past.

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Aulis Sallinen

Aulis Sallinen is a respected maestro whose successful composing career has already spanned half a century. “A strong tonal stamp, simple thematic formulas, clarity of formal construction, and above all a use of repetition which pervades every level of the music – these are Sallinen’s main stylistic traits in a nutshell,” writes Mikko Heiniö. Sallinen's output features a lot of instrumental music, including chamber music, concertos and eight symphonies. But he is best known for his operas. Ratsumies (The Horseman, 1975) was the work that launched the great Finnish opera boom, and since then he has written numerous works for the stage, from light-hearted musical theatre to grand tragedy.

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Tapio Tuomela

Tapio Tuomela began his career in a Neo-Classical style but then shifted towards Modernism. “Tuomela’s music is characterised by rapidly shifting, melodically and harmonically rich textures, often offset by quiet interludes,” writes Kimmo Korhonen and also mentions timbre as an important parameter. Since the 1990s, Tuomela has been finding inspiration in folk music and its forthright expression and in Lapland. For instance, he has set poetry by the late Sámi artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. He has also collaborated with Värttinä, the flagship of new Finnish folk music, arranging their pieces for symphony orchestra.

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