(Siba Records)


Over in the country of Finland, the surname Tolonen is considered gold when it comes to the guitar. In musical twist of fate, a new Tolonen is making waves on the six string horizon. We’re talking about Otto Tolonen and his 2013 CD called Toccata. Otto’s album is very much rooted in modern classical guitar and on his new Siba Records CD, Toccata, he covers a number of guitar composers including Erik Bergman (SuitePour Guitare - from 1949) all the way through till Sauli Zinovjev (Elegietta - from 2013). Speaking about his new album with, Otto explains, "Toccata is a musical form from the late renaissance and baroque era. It is also the name of the last movement of Erik Bergman’s “Suite pour Guitar” which is featured on the album. My previous solo album was called Tiento Français. Tiento is also a musical term from the Renaissance period. Although these both albums contain music from the 20th and 21st centuries I wanted to point out the dimension of tradition the works on these two recordings more or less have. To perhaps be more clear: they reach out for the past." A must for modern day classical guitar disciples, Otto Tolonen's Toccata is superbly recorded and the colorful album artwork and packaging is enhanced by in depth liner notes (in both Finnish and English) about the guitarist and all the composers covered here. / presents an interview with

: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it?

Otto Tolonen: I was born and I'm currently living in Espoo. It is a town just next to Helsinki. I moved back here some four years ago. Before this I lived in Helsinki, Brussels, Weimar and Paris. Espoo is a rather quiet place to live and still Helsinki center is just 20 minutes away. I love to travel but every time I have lived abroad I’ve always felt a need to go back to Finland. Don´t know why it is so.

The musical life is quite active in Helsinki. As a classical concert goer there is a lot to choose from. We have a new music house in the center of the city where three symphony orchestras perform. Also the programs are quite interesting. Just the other day I heard Luigi Nono’s Como una ola de fuerza y luz played by the Radio Symphony Orchestra. A rare treat! Also what I like about the programming here is that you can hear, and audiences are used to modern, or modernist music. There is an avant-garde music festival every year here. Active young people and fearless experimentation!

mwe3: When did you start playing guitar and were you always drawn to classical guitar and classical guitar music? You were born in 1980 so you didn’t grow up in the first rock era 1964-1978, so what music did you originally become inspired by and who are some of your favorite guitarists?

Otto Tolonen: I started to play the guitar when I was 10 or 11. Before this I played the piano and sang in a choir. I do not come from a family of musicians but we listened to quite a lot of music. I think the earliest memories of hearing something significant for me was when I was perhaps five. The song was “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel. I did play electric guitar for a few years when I started out with guitar. Back then I lived really close to Aleksi Laiho who started to play at that same time around 1991. Aleksi is touring the world now days with his band Children Of Bodom. And we played all the time right from the start!

Metallica was the Beatles for us. I think this was the case for the most of us in my generation. But I did play classical guitar right from the start too. I had a fantastic classical guitar teacher Andrzej Wilkus who had just moved to Finland from Poland in the beginning of the 1990’s. He was such an inspiring teacher that I soon gave up the electric guitar and when I was fourteen I decided to become a classical guitarist. Back then the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos was a great inspiration for me as a classical guitarist. To mention guitarists Julian Bream was the greatest and maybe still is. Nowadays I have to say that I also really admire Argentinean guitarist Pablo Marques. Especially the way he plays Renaissance vihuela music and modern repertoire!

Also I have to mention Teemu Viinikainen who is a Finnish jazz guitarist I’ve been listening to lately. Fantastic musician!

mwe3: What is the concept of your album Toccata? Why choose the name Toccata and how does that name reflect the variety of music on the album?

Otto Tolonen: Toccata is a musical form from the late Renaissance and Baroque era. It is also the name of the last movement of Erik Bergman’s “Suite pour Guitar” which is featured on the album. My previous solo album was called Tiento Français. Tiento is also a musical term from the Renaissance period. Although these both albums contain music from the 20th and 21st centuries I wanted to point out the dimension of tradition the works on these two recordings more or less have. To be perhaps more clear: they reach out for the past.

mwe3: Many of the composers you interpret on Toccata are Finnish and Hungarian. Can you tell us something about the rise of classical guitar music in Finland during the 20th century? I now realize it’s quite deep.

Otto Tolonen: Actually all of the composers on this album are Finnish. Only Adam Vilagi’s parents are Hungarian but Adam himself has lived all his life in Finland.

The rise of the classical guitar started here in the 1970’s so it is a fairly new instrument in Finland. There had been activity also before of course. For example Segovia visited Helsinki in the 1950’s.

The musical education system in Finland has been really good so if you’d have a tendency towards music it wouldn’t go unnoticed. Unfortunately presently they are reducing music education in the schools which is a very disturbing fact.

There is a very high level in classical guitar just as in any other instrument here. The curious and the best thing about the classical guitar here is that we don’t have a separate guitar culture. By this I mean that the guitar is strongly integrated in the actual musical world in Finland. We play a lot of chamber music, composers write concertos for the guitar, we commission solo pieces, guitar recordings are appreciated in the media etc. So there is no danger that we would be separated in guitar festivals just among other guitarists. The key is to learn from other instruments and to teach others about yours.

mwe3: What guitar or guitars are you featuring on Toccata and what are some of your favorite types of guitars? Do you have electric guitars too?

Otto Tolonen: Since 2011 I have been solely playing an instrument made by Keijo Korelin from Finland. It is a so called doubletop guitar. Very strong sound but subtle colors too. And very clear and easy to play. One of the most important things for me in a guitar is that you have to be able to play quiet and still be heard. I use D’Addario strings. I have two guitars made by Korelin: a cedar top which I’m using on my last two recordings and a spruce top which I got just a few months ago.

I have an electric guitar too. I played Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint in a festival in Helsinki last January so for this I bought a Duesenberg guitar. Of course there is plan to do more music on this instrument in the future!

mwe3: What music are you planning to perform at your concerts this year?

Otto Tolonen: Next summer I’m recording a work called "Royal Winter Music" by a German composer Hans Werner Henze and "Nocturnal", after John Dowland by Benjamin Britten. So these are the works I'll be living with for the next months. Besides this I’m playing, in May and June, some concerts in the States (Cincinnati and Louisville) and in Finland (Tampere Guitar Festival) with some Renaissance music, Reich and some French and Spanish pieces from my previous album.

I also play in group called Tjango! And we're playing gigs around Finland next summer. We just released our debut album last January. The music is a mix of swing and Latin American rhythms. Great fun!

mwe3: How did you become signed to Siba Records, which is part of the Sibelius Academy?

Otto Tolonen: Siba Records is a small record label of the Sibelius Academy. They release two or three recordings a year. I proposed the program which is now featured on Toccata to them and it was approved. I was really glad and honored by this since the program is very uncompromising, featuring five world premiere recordings from older generations of Finnish composers but also the youngest ones too.

mwe3: Your last name, Tolonen is quite synonymous with the guitar, especially considering Jukka Tolonen is one of the original Finnish progressive rock giants. What do you think of Jukka Tolonen? I realize there must be a lot of Tolonens in Finland so maybe it’s just a coincidence!

Otto Tolonen: The most frequently asked question I get is that is he my father. Even the president of Finland asked me this when I was playing for her some fourteen years ago. But no, we are not related. I have never even met him. I do know his music and he has been an unbelievable guitarist!! His first solo album Tolonen! is my favorite.

mwe3: What other activities are you planning for 2014 and beyond? Do you have plans to write, cover or record new music this coming year and what direction are you planning to take your music and recordings in next?

Otto Tolonen: I’m doing doctoral studies at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki at the moment, so the next few years will be quite intensive around this. I’m doing research around European guitar music written in the latter part of 20th century. Especially Hans Werner Henze’s music has a big part in my work. In April 2015 I’m performing with a baritone, flutist and percussionist on a huge work, "El Cimarrón" by Henze in Helsinki. Like I mentioned I'm recording my next solo album this summer. Also besides the gigs, we are starting to write new material for a new album with Tjango!

Thanks to Otto Tolonen and to Siba Records
Otto Tolonen plays guitars made by Keijo Korelin
Otto Tolonen uses D'Addario strings exclusively


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