3 Questions for Composer Olli Kortekangas

on . Posted in News

On August 3, 2014 I'll be singing at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and it will be the World Premiere of "Kaksi vanhaa suomalaista virttä - Two Old Finnish Hymns" by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas.

This is pretty exciting...well, actually it's thrilling!Composer Olli Kortekangas

I'm happy to introduce you to him! Here are 3 questions for Olli Kortekangas.


1. Who are you, Olli Kortekangas?

I'm 59 years old, and I've been writing music seriously since I was a teenager. I studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under the guidance of Einojuhani Rautavaare, and later in (West) Berlin where my teacher was Dieter Schnebel. I taught at the Sibelius Academy and elsewhere for about 20 years myself, but since 2002 I've been a freelance composer, giving a master class or a workshop now and then. I'm particularly interested in the "common territory" of composing and music education, and have participated in or led numerous creative music projects with children, youth and amateur musicians in Finland and abroad.

A couple of years ago, my colleagues and I launched the "Finnish variation" of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's "Very Young Composers" program.


2. What music have you written?

I've written about 130 works so far for a wide variety of line-ups from solo pieces and chamber music to orchestral works and operas. I'm fascinated by (or maybe obsessed with...) the interaction between words and music - writing for the voice (songs, choral music, operas) is said to be my forte which is probably true. I've written seven operas, and choral works form a major part of my output.

My latest works include Seven Songs for Planet Earth, commissioned by the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra (Finland), and Migrations, a cantata to poems by the brilliant Duluth-based poet Sheila Packa, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Finnish immigration to North America. Migrations is scheduled for performance during the 2015-16 season.


3. What can you tell us about "Kaksi vanhaa suomalaista virttä - Two Old Finnish Hymns"?

The Two Old Finnish Hymns are based on our so-called "Old Hymn Book" of 1701 which was used in Finland for nearly two centuries. I love this book and its hymns which are really powerful - archaic for sure, and sometimes not so easily perceived, also because of the language and its often outdated and shortened words. I've used these melodies and texts in several of my works.

The melody of the second hymn, Herra siunaa meit' ja auta (which is a variation of the classical Benediction - "Lord, bless us and help us") is very special: it is a traditional variant of the original melody, sung to me in 2000 by Mr. Arvi Ruuttunen (who was a farmer and a folk singer, and as it happens, the father of Mr. Esa Ruuttunen, a good friend of mine, who is both a Lutheran pastor and one of the most distinguished Finnish bass-baritones). I knew the text but I had never heard this melody. I think this is an interesting story!


Learn more at Olli's website at ollikortekangas.com and we'll see you in Minneapolis on August 3!

Call me back. I want to give you money!

on . Posted in Singing

We need to talk.

You and your phone...you're together 24 hours a day. You've got Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Instagram and apparently you have email and hey, look--that thing even makes phone calls!12387035811999740766adam lowe Smartphone.svg.hi

Yes, that computer in your pocket--you can use it to actually talk with another person!

What I mean when I leave you a voicemail that sounds like, "I need a pianist/conductor/recording engineer/graphic designer/web developer/photographer for this project I'm working on, so please call me as soon as you can" that means I really want you to call me as soon as you can. I want you to call me. Even more:  when you call me back and say yes, I will actually pay you money.

I know, crazy, right?!

It seems so simple...yet it is so complex for some people. It's like the world of freelance has become the world of dating, where if you don't like someone enough for a second date, you just don't call them back. It's pretty immature. The world of freelance is becoming the world of "I don't care/the answer is no/I don't have time, so I'm not calling back."

And it's crap.

When you don't call people back or don't answer an email or don't respond to an inquiry, it sends the message that you are irresponsible, disrespectful, and makes you look like you don't care. It doesn't matter if "that's how people deal with things" these days. It's a load of hooey and you know it.

Worse:  it costs you money. Because you don't get the gig. AND you don't get the gig(s) that could have followed. I promise when you are a pianist who doesn't respond to an inquiry and you don't answer my email or voicemail, you get automatically demoted. You get put on the 'B List.' People I only call if I have to...because you're now my second (or even third) choice. I will call every single person on my A List before I will ever call you. And often, I will call people I don't know before I call you--because they will often call back when you didn't.

Answering inquiries and requests is a form of marketing. It's also good customer service, but think of this:  in marketing, it used to be that people needed to hear your message 7-10 times before they would respond. That was before Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and every other social media site out there. Now it's likely multiple times that.

If someone recommends you to me:  your name is in front of me once. If you respond, no matter if you say yes or no, your name just got in front of me twice. See how it works?

When you don't respond at all, you cost people like me time and money. You didn't call me back. And because you were unresponsive/lazy/too "busy" to even send a 1-line email/too lost in your Facebook feed to come back to earth and get something done, I had to call multiple other people, ask for more recommendations, call and research other people. You who didn't call me back have wasted my time.

Do you want to know the easiest way to get more work? Call people back. Return their email. Respond to their Facebook comment. The best advice comes from this Entrepreneurial Guru:

Your future is in the follow-up.

~Ali Brown


Anybody willing to bet that isn't true?

Listen, you pianists, you singers, you composers, you conductors, you teachers, you working professionals whom other people pay to provide a service. Make it as easy as possible for people to leave their money with you.

Yes, you.

So check your spam folder as often as you check your email. (Yeah, and by the way, when you change your email, you should email everyone you've ever met and tell them. Except that person you went on 1 date with and don't like. You can skip that person.) Answer all your voicemail within 24 hours. Do NOT ever say, "Can you call me back in 2 hours?" Write it in ink on the back of your hand and call me back.

Here are a few great options for responses:

  1. Yes
  2. No

Any questions?

Video Summary: Helmuth Rilling 2014 from the Teatro del Lago

on . Posted in Travel

The Teatro del Lago has posted a video about the Academia Internacional 2014 and it gives a fantastic impression of the work we did on the St. John Passion, the lectures and concerts, and how much we were all moved by this experience.

The video shows clips from rehearsals, interviews with participants and audience members, and a few shots from outside rehearsal (and lots of laughter, of course!). And several breath-taking shots of the Lago Llanquihue and the Teatro del Lago, of course. Loads of music and shots of each of the 3 theaters we sang in.



The Best Pencil for Musicians: Paper Mate Clear Point Elite

on . Posted in Singing

Confession:  I'm an office supply geek.yellow-pencil.hi

Having the right writing utensil is a goal for me (and I know a lot of other people who are like this, too). Having just the right pen or pencil is part of every-day writing, not just for letters or for signing contracts, but for making notes, writing down blogging ideas, marking scores, everything. And now I've found the perfect pencil for writing, score markings, and note-taking:  Paper Mate Clearpoint Elite. I'm a goner.

To give you the whole picture, we have to back up 1 step. A while back I picked up  Paper Mate Clear Point 0.5mm Mechanical Pencils (not the Elite version, they weren't available then) because:

  1. I need a lot of writing utensils for teaching, writing, note-taking, marking scores, etc.
  2. I have large hands (I can easily span a major 9th on a piano keyboard) and those thin, yellow pencils are hard for me to use.
  3. Running out of lead or eraser just isn't an option. Especially not in the middle of a rehearsal!

These pencils were great--with a larger barrel, plenty of space in the barrel for extra lead (0.5mm only--ever!) and a long, replaceable eraser. Yes, you read that right:  Replaceable! Refillable! Rechargeable!

4 brand spaking new pencils, all perfect, and there was always one at hand.

Then the clips broke off. First the blue one, then the green one, and then the other blue one, and then the other green one. Soon there were no clips left.

PapermateEliteSmallOffice supply snobbery hit, and so did a rehearsal in which I was tied up looking for a place to put the pencil, since I couldn't clip it to anything--not the folder, not the music, nothing. No clip = no storage. It was a rough day.

Then Paper Mate came out with the Elite version, with a metal clip. I'm a believer.

Elite is right--a larger, smooth barrel with slight ridges where your fingers grasp the pencil. A metal clip that is practically indestructible. The same spacious interior for copious amounts of 0.5mm lead and the same, large, replaceable eraser.

I bought two and haven't looked back. These are seriously the best pencils I've ever used for writing, marking scores, erasing markings, note-taking, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

If you are looking for just the right pencils for your markings, try a couple of these and please let me know what you think in the comments below!

Fellow office supply geeks unite!

Update 5/15/14:  Left in the photo you see the pencils I bought, the extra erasers and the lead. Pure score-marking awesomeness. ~NW

Yep, insane is right! InsaneViolin

on . Posted in Inspiration

Words fail to describe this, really, you just need to watch. Sit back, turn up the speakers, and watch the whole thing.

The one thing you need to know:  this piece is a theme and variations, so it's a musical theme (a melody) that's presented and then Herr Roman Kim plays multiple variations on that theme. You'll still recognize parts of the original theme, but it might be played higher, lower, or with 'extra' notes within the same melody.

Think of it as one car (the theme) with lots of options and it comes in many different colors (the variations)--and they're all on the showroom floor.

P.S. Don't try this at home.


A Love Letter to the Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile

on . Posted in Travel

Querido Teatro del Lago,

I had no idea how hard it would be to get to you, and it was worth every painful moment. First the 2 1/2 hour flight to Dallas, then 9 more hours to Santiago, where I had to wait all day (allbeit distracted by downtown Santiago and a delicious Peruvian steak lunch), so we could soldier on another 2 hours on a flight en route to Puerto Montt, where all of us, close to tears for lack of sleep, boarded a bus to ride another half hour to the hotel. Only to be given the news that we would need to travel yet another half an hour the next morning to get to you.

But you were calling to us, beckoning. And we obeyed.


You, on this happy spot, standing tall and welcoming us all in to your warm embrace. There has never been anything like you before! Your colorful exterior, your corridors reflecting the natural light and beauty of Frutillar and Lago Llanquihue.

Even in the first rehearsals it was clear that we would never again have an experience like this. To sit in such an acoustically live room and sing Bach all day...


The Ampitheater at Teatro del Lago; Photo by Juan Millán T.


...and to look past the piano, out the window at this...

Panorama LlanquihueW


You are almost more than I can bear.

And to think, you invited us all here, to Frutillar, from 12 different countries and speaking more than 6 different languages. You knew we would connect, we would make music, we would make friendships to last for years (and projects!) to come.

You knew we would love you!

We shiny, happy people:

Photo by Juan Millán T.


To sing the St. John Passion with Kathy Salzman-Romey and Helmuth Rilling during Holy Week--well, you have really out-done yourself! Maestro Rilling's intimate understanding of the Passion, how Bach wrote each piece, how he selected his motives, and created such drama reaches out from centuries ago and pulls our heart strings today. Only you can move us to such tears.


Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein

am letzten End die Seele mein

in Abrahams Schoss tragen

den Leib in seim Schlafkämmerlein

gar sanft ohn einge Qual und Pein

ruhn bis am jüngsten Tage!

Alsdenn vom Tod erwekke mich,

dass meine Augen sehen dich

in aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn

mein Heiland und Genadenthron!

Herr Jesu Christ, erhöre mich, erhöre mich,

ich will dich preisen ewiglich!


Click here and scroll to #40 for a translation of this text.

Photo by Juan Millán T.


You are forever in my heart. And I can't wait to see you again!



P.S. This was only the first Academia Internacional Teatro del Lago, with new people and new projects in the future! Please see www.teatrodellago.cl for more information on the world's southern-most opera house and to get more information on the 2nd year of this amazing Academia. You will not regret it!!