mikko pekka svalaThis is the thirteenth interview in our series Weaving the Web of Finnish Orchestral Bassoonists. The series introduces some of theorchestral bassoonists from all over Finland. Each guest will get the same set of questions.

Guest #13 is Mikko-Pekka Svala, principal bassoonist of the Helsinki Philharmonic since January, 2008.

Did you play an instrument before you started playing bassoon?

I played the piano, and at summer camp I played the cornet. My bravura on cornet is “Love Me Tender” by Elvis.

Who introduced you to music?

My father is a trumpeter and he also directed lots of different wind bands. I’ve been going to rehearsals with him since I was a baby. As a child I didn’t want to be
a musician, I just wanted to be a drummer ;)

When did you start to play the bassoon, and where did you get the idea from?

I grew tired of the loneliness of piano playing, and my father recommended the bassoon because he knew there was a good bassoon teacher in Kemi.

Who was your first teacher?

Jari Laakso, from the Oulu Symphony Orchestra.

When did you start to think about becoming a professional bassoonist?

As soon as I held a bassoon I got into a wind band. There I found in front of me a challenging baritone horn part which had a beautiful obligato melody. Actually, I got so enthusiastic about playing the bassoon that it soon became a solid goal in my life and I didn’t even consider anything else.

When you started to play, who was your favourite bassoonist?

At the Kälviä music camp I met my first favourite bassoonist, Jarmo “Corcci” Korhonen.

What is currently your favourite recording of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto?

I don’t really have a favourite recording of the Mozart Concerto. When I took part in the 2008 ARD competition in Munich, I heard Audun Halvorsen play Mozart’s concerto in the semifinals. It really clicked for me, he had a fantastic sound, and also the interpretation was to my taste. Hopefully Audun will record the concerto some day.

If someone had to describe your sound in one or two words, what would they be? (you can cheat and ask someone for help with this one!)

My wife Yasuko’s thoughts on my sound: Männlich (=masculine)

If you were limited to only one piece to play for the rest of your life, (solo piece for bassoon, or bassoon and piano) what would you choose?

Alexandre Tansman: Sonatiini

Who taught you how to make reeds?

The most important reed teacher was Prof. Asger Svendsen in Malmö.He was really interested in reeds and could skilfully adjust a reed’s specific qualities. Asger taught to measure and analyse reeds. As well as Asger’s skills, the foundation of his reed teaching were the reed lessons which we had on every Thursday. With Asger’s teaching we would adjust the reeds and talk about them. Each student had to bring two new reeds to each lesson, and the best ones were put aside to wait for important concerts. That’s one way to gather a good collection of functioning reeds!

What reed shape do you use?

I’ve used lots of shapes, but recently I’ve mainly used Rieger’s OD-shape (Ole Kristian Dahl’s model).

What is your favourite reed-thread colour?

Rieger’s red

What do you listen to (if anything) while you are making reeds?

The news, upcoming pieces from the orchestra program, or podcasts.

What is your greatest extravagance spent on making reeds?

Only essential tools. Sometimes I reward myself with an upscale beer after a successful reed session.

What is your favourite reed-making tool?

Thickness meter ( Micrometer). It helps understand the soul of the reed, at least a little bit :) Ultrasonic cleaner keeps the reeds clean and helps them live a little bit longer.

If you had to describe the world’s best bassoon reed, what would it be like?

It’s not that hard to make good reeds, but it’s disappointing when each day they are different ,and the reed’s best resonance disappears quite quickly. My dream is that a good reed could retain it’s fresh resonance forever.

If you have ever used a website or YouTube channel to help you learn about reeds, would you like to share it with us?

I try to be open-minded and regularly look around on the net for new ideas. I don’t have any specific site that I go to.

If you could change anything about the world of classical music, what would it be?

I would quadruple the Heckel factory’s capacity to produce bassoons.

What is the best advice you have gotten, and where from?

Basics! ....the foundations of playing and controlling the instrument, from my teacher Ole Kristian Dahl.

If you weren’t playing bassoon, what do you think you might be doing instead?

I can’t say a specific profession. I’m active, social, and like to influence things...

What is the hardest part of your job in the orchestra?

Playing is still the best, but keeping up the standards with practicing on the weekends sometimes feels like “eating food without salt or pepper”

Can you describe something an orchestra colleague should never say to a bassoonist?

I don’t like it when the second bassoon is asked to play really quiet, or hide their sound. A rich second bassoon sound gives a good foundation to the whole woodwind section - both with intonation and with sound. It also works as a natural link to the strings - to the cellos and basses.

What is your favourite orchestral excerpt?

Schostakovich’s 9th symphony

What is your favourite memory from a concert that you played in?

The best moments are with my dear colleague Noora Van Donk. It’s a great feeling when the musical ideals meet! And when trying for new musical heights it’s great when things naturally click together without any big strategies or analysis.

What is the nicest thing another bassoonist has ever done for you?

At home my bassoonist wife makes divine food for me, and at the Music House our section’s Rancillo machine brews up some divine espressos. Usually the barista is our most helpful colleague Erkki Suomalainen.

Every bassoonist seems to have a passionate hobby, what is yours?

Teaching motivated students, and various forms of exercise.

Thanks Mikko-Pekka!

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