jormavaljakkaTell us what it is that you do...

  • I play oboe in the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and as a part time lecturer in oboe at the Sibelius Academy.

Where were you born?

  • In Espoo

And when did you begin to play oboe?

  • in 1978, when I was 16 years old.

And why oboe?

  • Purely by chance. I kind of bumped into it. I played piano and my friend Fredi played oboe.

Who was Fredi?

  • Fredi Fenel. He was our neighbour, we lived on the same street.

Did you play oboe in music school or...

  • In the Helsinki Conservatory. I applied there on piano, was accepted in the piano department and I took oboe as an auxiliary instrument.

Who was your first teacher?

  • Sven Erik Pannanen

If you had to pick another instrument, what would it be?

  • It would be guitar for sure. Or violin. But, well, they are all nice! Bass clarinet. It would be a contrast to oboe.

But not bassoon?!

  • I tried to play bassoon a little bit. It has a very different feel than oboe has. Violin is one of the instruments which I would like to play. But everyone says that you can’t begin at such an old age.

You should prove them wrong!

  • I will! But I think, sad but true, that I will end up showing them that they are right!

When was the first time you went to hear an orchestra live?

  • I was pretty young, Probably when I was around 12 or so. It’s funny, the thing I remember most was that there was a piece by Tuhkanen on the program. A very unique piece. It was the Helsinki Philharmonic, in any case. I went to the concert with my parents.

Did you play piano then?

  • I started piano fairly late as well, when I was 13. Before that I played guitar. At the very beginning I played piano as a 7 year old but it didn’t click at all. Then came guitar, and I also played classical guitar, but mostly rock. And in the band I played everything, guitar, bass, drums and electronic keyboards

All the instruments in one person!

  • Yeah, a one man band! But yes, in different situations I played different instruments. I was self-taught. In the band with my friends, I ended up playing everything. I started getting inspired by the piano. I found a piano teacher and started going to lessons. At that point I started getting interested in classical music.

What is your favourite orchestra piece?

  • There’s so many of them! (long pause) I would say the Rite of Spring. It’s one of my favourites. if I had to pick one composer, it would be Beethoven. Or then individual pieces. Ravel’s Mother Goose, I like that one a lot. Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Strauss’ s Vier Letze Lieder. Beethoven Ninth.

What about a favourite oboe piece.

  • Certainly it would have to be the Strauss Oboe Concerto.

Who was your first favourite oboe player?

  • I have to say, Heinz Holliger

When did you make your very first reed?

  • I don’t remember.

Was it in the conservatory?

  • Yes, it was. I made my own reeds quite soon, probably I played my own reeds the first or second year . But I was already then pretty old.

Is that why it succeeded so well?

  • Yes, almost certainly.

Do you have a certain place where you make your own reeds?

  • Nowadays it’s at the Music Center, in the reed room.

What do you do when making reeds isn’t going well?

  • I make a lot of reeds. Some of them are bound to succeed!

How many do you make in a week?

  • If there is an important concert coming, at least ten.

and how many succeed?

  • One or two, I don’t really need more than that. But, it’s always good to have a spare reed ready. It’s not always that I get anything good out of ten, but usually one is pretty decent. I try to save my best reeds as much as possible. My style has always been...good quality comes from large amounts.But if the cane is bad, it well end up that no matter what you do, nothing good will come from it. It’s difficult... if you order a kilo of cane, there is a lot of fluctuation in the quality.

You studied in the conservatory. Did you study oboe anywhere else?

  • In the Sibelius Academy. I was in London as a private student for almost a year, and then in the Hannover College of Music

Where did you get your diploma?

  • In the end from Sibelius Academy. But when I got it I was already teaching oboe in the Sibelius Academy and solo oboist of the Radio Orchestra. I am a musical candidate because I never bothered to get the paperwork done to get the Master’s. It’s probably still possible, because the earlier candidate studies were so broad that they are the same as a current master’s degree. I just have to go get my Master’s diploma paper.

How many hours a day did you practice when you applied to the Sibelius Academy?

  • Maybe at that point not so much because I was still playing piano too. I did an A exam for piano. Maybe 4 hours a day in the final year before I applied to Sibelius Academy.

What did you play in the audition?

  • Haydn concerto and the Hindemith Sonata.

Were there many oboists there?

  • I think there were 3.

When you were in Hannover Germany, did you think you would maybe audition for a place in Germany? Or in England? Or did you think the entire time you would return to Finland?

  • Yes, returning was in my mind the whole time. England would have been interesting and actually my teacher there was of the opinion that I should try for a place in England. He did some research and at that time I would have had to belong to the music union there, which required a residency permit. In practice it was too difficult. Nowadays it is a different situation, but back then Finland wasn’t in the EU.

Did you do gigs then?

  • In Germany I did a few

When did you begin to play professionally?

  • In 1982, in the Turku Philharmonic

Was that your first job?

  • Yes

Were you still in school then?

  • I was in the Sibelius Academy. It was my first job after my foreign studies. Then Turku, Espoo and RSO. Now I’ve been in the RSO for 28 years.

When did you buy your first oboe?

  • It was a Lorée. I had been playing about two years then, around 1980. Then a few years later I bought my first Marigaux.

Do you still have a Marigaux?

  • No, I’ve been playing Ludwig Frank for 15 years. But I had Marigaux for 20 years. Change is nice!

Has your reed style changed?

  • Yes, many times

are you searching?

  • Always!

What about teaching reed making?

  • No, luckily! Sanna Niemikunnas takes care of teaching reed making 

You have a youth project coming up with the Sibelius Academy and the Finnish Double reed Society.. When is that?

  • It’s in the spring, in March

Tell us a little about it...

  • Playing, lessons, everything is possible. It’s here in the Sibelius Academy and it’s open to everyone. All the Sibelius Academy teachers will be teaching. We also are thinking that the Sibelius Academy teachers can go visit and give lessons in other cities. We’ve already held a few classes. I’ve been in Jyväskylä, Sanna and Veera have been in Oulu and Sanna was in Kuopio. We intend to continue this. The idea is to have more cooperation with the music schools. We’ve been looking for young students who might be encouraged to be woodwind players. I have a feeling that if we could find some kind of easy solution to the general problem of reed making I think oboe playing would be a more interesting hobby.

Bassoonists now have good opportunities to buy ready-made reeds. 

  • Oboists do too. But they are pretty expensive and the reeds don’t last that long. It’s a pretty big investment for students to make. 

What about plastic reeds?

  • Yes, the Légère reeds are very promising, but their prices are astronomically high, unfortunately. I think there will be a change, because it looks like the Légère reeds are fairly successful. 

The reeds are developing all the time

  • Yes, I think that one could image that maybe something will show up. And the Finnish climate is really difficult, with bone dry winters in which it is terribly difficult o get any kind of reed to work. I think that is a big problem.

Do you have oboists in the Youth Department?

  • We have one. We haven't had so many, so students should absolutely try to audition if they are interested. It would be really nice to see more young musicians.

Do you have any advice for young students who would like to apply to the youth department? Or to Sibelius Academy?

  • Of course, if it is possible, I recommend getting the pieces and the reeds in good shape well in advance. It seems, unfortunately, that the audition program is not always well-prepared. It doesn’t need any kind of extraordinary preparation. If one prepares as if it were for a concert performance, well-practiced and with reeds in good shape, then that should be fine.

Do you have any hints? How can anyone know when they are well-prepared?

  • Just normal practicing, and recording one’s playing helps. And the teacher has the responsibility to see that the program in ready well in advance and that the student has practiced the program through many times so that it is at performance level.

How much did you practice, when you got into the Sibelius Academy?

  • Not terribly much, but I already know the pieces, I had already performed them many times before. Usually it is best to practice a piece which you intend to perform many times. So you practice the piece into performance level, then leave it for a while and then take it up again to practice. This way usually things will be better prepared. I recommend this for everyone.

    But about how to practice...remember to practice at a slow enough tempo, use a metronome as help and a tuning machine doesn’t hurt either. Get the intonation in shape. In general it is really important to play in tune. Another thing is that it’s a good idea to get a tape of a performance of the piece, for example from YouTube or Spotify. You can find almost everything there. It helps a lot. But generally the difficult parts should be practiced at a slow enough tempo and there should be lots of repetition. At least 20 times and so slowly that it is played correctly! Not 20 times wrong : )

    This is one of those things that seems really trivial but you should be sure you don’t practice 5 times wrong and one time right, and then move forward! Play five times right, it’s better! And not just one day, but everyday, for two weeks. With this system difficult things become surprisingly easy to learn. That’s important too..if there is a piece which you can’t learn in three weeks even if you practice slowly, then maybe you should see if maybe it isn’t just too difficult for you. Of course it is the teacher’s responsibility to see that the audition program is appropriate for the student.

In the audition, would you take someone who seems to have potential but is not quite ready yet?

  • Yes, of course. If, for example, someone is older but still not very advanced then it is always a bad sign. Someone younger with a good attitude is of course easier to take, even though...well, many things influence the decision.

    If this article is going out to younger oboists, I would say that they should be brave and go to courses and meet other players. In my opinion this is really important. There are lots of music camps, like Uusikaupunki, for example. I recommend to also go and observe masterclasses and hear other oboists play.