in From the Archives

Young Beethoven champion, Antti Siirala

by Ainomaija Pennanen

Flying home from Vienna in June 1997, Antti Siirala had more than the usual collection of souvenirs in his hand luggage: the promise of a Bösendorfer grand piano! This was one of the rewards for winning the tenth International Beethoven Piano Competition, in addition to a money prize and a string of concert fixtures.

“The music itself was, of course, what really made me take part in the Beethoven Competition – right now I feel ‘at home’ with Beethoven – along with the fact that I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for the conventional repertoires of a couple of etudes, a Mozart sonata, a Romantic solo work or concerto of my choice,” says Antti Siirala (b. 1979) in explaining his decision.

Before travelling to Vienna Antti had already reaped considerable success in a number of ‘conventional’ piano competitions, mostly in Finland but also in Japan and Korea. The Beethoven Competition, held once every four years, was a real challenge for the young pianist, who had to prepare three Beethoven sonatas from different periods, two concertos, a set of variations and bagatelles. “One of the works I chose for the second round was the Hammerklavier, so that was virtually a recital in itself. I could of course have made life easier for myself…”

Antti’s attitude to competitions is coldly realistic. “Nowadays it’s a sensible way of getting your name known, of bringing in engagements, of making contacts both with members of the Jury and with your fellow contestants,” he says, and continues: “All the things I’m doing at the moment are in a way a result of the Beethoven Competition and my success there: my solo performances with orchestras, my own recitals both in Finland and abroad, and the general interest in my playing.”

Wanted: More time!

It’s easy to forget in talking to Antti Siirala that he has only just begun studying in the Department of Solo Studies at the Sibelius Academy (though he entered the Junior Academy in 1990), or that he has not yet celebrated his 20th birthday even.

That music would be his career was not a foregone conclusion, Antti reports, though there was always music at home. People were constantly talking about it and there were instruments ready to be picked up and played. Antti’s father plays the piano, his mother the violin, and there are other professional musicians in the family. “I started tinkling on the piano when I was very young, and I was the one who suggested I should take lessons. The idea of making a career of music in some form or another gradually dawned on me when I was, I suppose, about 14 or 15.”

Right now Antti Siirala is a pupil of Matti Raekallio’s at the Sibelius Academy. He wouldn’t mind going abroad, as well, if not to live at least for lessons. “For me it’s important for my teacher to be a concert pianist himself (or herself), and for him to have a living relationship with performing. But whether a performing artist has the time and the interest to give lessons more than once a year is another matter, and one that can be a bit of problem.”

Antti himself already seems to be suffering from lack of time. This is revealed when the conversation turns to chamber music and the music of today. “I have to admit I have rather a bad conscience as far as they are concerned. Because although I really do try to find time for them, they still seem to take second place.” Most of Antti’s time goes on concerts and preparing for them, which at the moment means learning a repertoire with a very classical-romantic orientation. In December 1998 he is down to give a recital in a series spotlighting Finnish soloists. He’s also working on Brahms’s second piano concerto, to be performed in both Turku and Helsinki in spring 1999. Any free time he happens to have is spent reading (professional literature). A great film lover, Antti never seems to find enough time to go to the cinema these days, but his visits to the gym are vital to keep himself fit for playing.

His hopes for the future? Teaching appeals, combined with a career as a concert pianist. “And it would be great to be really satisfied with my playing one day. On the other hand, where would I then find the incentive or the motivation to improve?”

From Finnish Music Quarterly magazine 4/1998

Please note that the texts are protected by the copyright laws. They are free for background use, but when referring to these texts or articles, please mention the author and FMQ magazine.