Canadian composer Jan Järvlepp identifies strongly with postmodern musical styles, writing music that is accessible to many audiences. He is active in his home city of Ottawa, having received premieres by the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (Garbage Concerto) and the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Pierrot Solaire). Today, Jan is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to see how Jan composed In Memoriam.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/ composer/creator?
Actually, I had a fair bit of confusion about this when I was younger. Performing and creating original music in high school was so much fun that I didn’t consider it to be work. So I was puzzled when I had to decide what sort of work I would do in the future and what I would study in university. Finally, it dawned on me that music was to be my future. It was already obvious to many people around me. However, my parents didn’t encourage this decision and would have preferred that I study something respectable such as law, medicine, commerce or engineering. My father was a professional engineer, after all, and my mother came from a family of successful business people in Finland. But I prevailed and found my true calling in music.
If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?
I am gravitating towards that exact goal right now as I get older. I would like to be a full-time composer and that would eventually mean that I would stop playing instruments and teaching. However, I have played cello in the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra for 36 consecutive seasons and you don’t just walk away from that experience without some sober second thoughts. I’ll do another season with them and then re-evaluate. Leaving instrumental music for a life of composition means that one leaves behind the physical moving of fingers to produce music in exchange for imagining sounds inside of one’s head, which is much more intellectual. One becomes more concerned about the form of music, which many performers seem to know very little about. But where would the instrumental performers be without composers???
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
You just can’t beat nature. It’s a place of beauty and it is a totally a non-bullshit environment of truth and peace. I find that the sincere aspect of nature allows me to work in peace and quiet for hours on end and, of course, this leads one to be productive. I have sometimes wondered if during WW II people living under National Socialism and Soviet Socialism were able to go into the woods and just experience peace and beauty in spite of the craziness going on. However, nature doesn’t give you the stimulus of human interaction. That’s where busy cities such as New York, London, and Paris are the best. But just try to find peace and quiet, not to mention clean air and water, in those places.
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
Be true to the score. Don’t mess with the tempo. For example, don’t play slow music too quickly and don’t make fast music easier by playing it too slowly. Also, observe the articulations. Are the staccatos dry enough, are the accents punchy enough, are the slurs smooth enough? I find the moderate, middle-of-the-road playing leads to mediocrity because everything gets kind of downplayed and averaged out. Details, details, details!
What does this album mean to you personally?
In Memoriam was composed in the palliative care ward of Credit Valley Hospital, Mississauga, Ontario as my brother Harry lay there dying of liver cancer (or was it really chemotherapy poisoning and radiation poisoning?). Time was passing very slowly and much coffee was consumed. Day after day my girlfriend Jane and I read every newspaper and magazine in sight, as well as a bunch of articles on the laptop computer. But I started getting antsy and finally pulled out some manuscript paper and started jotting down some notes. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. After my brother had passed away, I returned home and entered those notes into my notation software. Wow! Out popped a coherent piece of expressive romantic music like I had never done before. It was in its own custom-made form. The piece was composed in less than two weeks, which is unusually fast for me. I can honestly say that this is the most sincere piece I have ever composed.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
The piece has already been listened to by a woman who had just lost her husband. She said that it helped her live through her emotions and it gave her some strength to go on. In addition to experiencing the dying, grieving and remembrance of a single person, I think that it can also serve to stimulate suitable emotions when remembering a mass event such as 9/11 or WW II. Perhaps it would be useful in funeral homes or in a film soundtrack. I have made sheet music available at the J. W. Pepper website at moderate cost.