May 13 2019

An interview with Alan Matheson

Vancouver Cantata Singers is delighted to present three compositions by Alan Matheson at our May 25th performance of Scandinavian Treasures: Songs of the North. Alan is a Vancouver-based pianist, trumpeter, composer and arranger. He teaches at the music departments of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Community College and Capilano University where he is an instructor in jazz piano and trumpet. We interviewed Alan about his experience with Scandinavian culture, his music, and writing.

I understand that you have spent considerable time in Finland, what first drew you there and what brings you back?
 I first when to Helsinki in 1989 when my wife, Riina, was studying at the University of Helsinki. We both love Helsinki and were draw back to Finland for its very strong arts and musical scene and have been returning regularly to Finland since the late 1990s. I’ve had the fortune to work with some wonderful musicians in Finland over the years (Wade Mikkola-bass, Petri Krzywacki-guitar, Susanna Mesiä-vocalist, Thomas Törnroos-drums) and I always look forward to playing with them each summer. They are inspiring musicians and wonderful friends.
What fascinates you most about Scandinavian culture? 

The depth of creativity in both the visual and performing arts. The fact that there’s a strong regional “accent” in the arts culture of Finland is a positive thing especially our current age of great homogeneity in some areas of the arts. 

The poems in your pieces, Metsä and Vuodenajat, were written inEstonian by your wife Riina and then translated/paraphrased into Finnish. Can you elaborate on this process and what led you/Riina to make the translation decision? 
 We were asked by Paula Kremer to compose a choral piece with a Finnish text for this forthcoming concert. Since Estonian is Riina’s first language, she was most comfortable creating the poems in Estonian first and then translating the text to Finnish. The two languages are related to each other and share many (but not all!) of the same words.
What were the main sources of inspiration for these pieces?
“Metsä” celebrates the feeling of being in the deep Finnish forest in the summer. The forest has a remarkable sense of energy and stillness in the summer which we’ve tried to portray in the word and music. “Vuodenajat” is a short meditation on the seasonal changes in Finland which are still quite sharply demarcated despite climate change. The main inspiration for us for these pieces is the natural beauty of the Finnish landscape.
What is your favourite part of the arranging (and composing) process?
All parts of the process are engaging and wonderful from deciding on how to set the words, rhythmically to creating the melodies and the harmonies. 
Has music from this region changed your musical ideas and/or thought processes?
Yes, absolutely. The choral music of the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis has been a major inspiration and an influence along with the work of Finnish composers Leevi Madetoja, Jean Sibelius and Einar Englund.

Alan’s latest album, “Souvenirs” was recorded in Finland with bassist Wade Mikkola and celebrates esteemed Finnish composers Jean Sibelius, Toivo Kärki, Erik Lindstöm and George de Godzinsky.  It is available on iTunes, Spotify and CD Baby. The CD itself can be purchased from his website