Evocative online premieres for Markku Klami’s splendid Etudes for guitar from Patrik Kleemola

Composer Markku Klami photographed by © Laura Karlin

Within the realm of contemporary music for guitar, there’s a fascinating new score in town, namely a cycle of ten Etudes (2021) by Markku Klami, written for the Finnish guitarist Patrik Kleemola, who has been premiering the pieces on a weekly basis on his Youtube channel. Begun with the first performance of Etude 1 Arioso on 27 September, the series is to conclude on 29 November with the premiere of Etude 10 Roihu (Blaze).

According to the composer’s foreword to the score published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen, the initial idea for a set of new etudes came up in a conversation between Klami and Klemola back in 2017. As long-time collaborators, both the composer and the guitarist shared the point of view that contemporary music doesn’t play a substantial part in the repertoire of students in music institutes. Adressing the issue, the Etudes aims to contribute to the availability of contemporary music in the repertoires of students, also younger students.

Although the cycle has a clear pedagogical function, the set is also conceived as a series of fully-fledged concert pieces for students and professionals alike. The technical difficulty level increases gradually as the cycle proceeds; while the first etudes are accessible for both younger and more experienced students, the last ones are targeted at professionals. In addition, the score provides some flexibility, most notably in terms of tempi, thus making individual pieces suitable for a wider range of performers.

In musical terms, the Etudes seek to portray a series of moods and vistas often rooted in various natural phenomena, while maintaining their pedagogical goals. As a result, the cycle contains marvellously evocative musical settings, ideally suited for concert performances.

The first two etudes, Arioso and Memoria (Remembrance) focus on different left hand legato techniques, woven together with natural harmonics and ornamentations, giving rise to reflective soundscapes of extraordinary communicativeness. In similar vein, the evocative third etude, Riite, introduces chorale-like chord progressions juxtaposed with one-finger tremolo, played with the left hand’s thumb, inspired by the composer’s experiences on performing Richard Rodney Bennett’s Impromptu No. 2 (1968). The title refers to the old Finnish word meaning a very thin layer of ice on the water’s surface, as reflected by the almost static delicacy of the music.

In contrast, the fourth etude, Agitato nervosamente, is conceived in percussive textures, with notes hammered on the fretbard with both hands. A study of interwoven legato and arpeggio figures, Adagio nervosamente fuses technical dexterity with musical narrative in the most inspired manner, showcasing the dual nature of the Etudes with admirable invention.

In the ensuing Nocturno, subtitled Väre (Ripples), aspects of microtonality are introduced by plucking the strings over the fingerboard on the ’wrong’ side of the left hand grip as well as by muting the strings with the right hand while hammering them with the left hand. Summoned by the extended techniques, a series of rippling textures are introduced, to a dazzling effect.

The sixth and eighth etudes, Puro (Stream) and Avautuen (Unfolding) salute the 1970s minimalist styles of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, with their arpeggio passages and slowly transforming harmonies conceived as conscious homage. Yet the two etudes are not mere soundalikes of the two pioneer’s music, but ingenious miniatures of their own right, containing some of the most instantly appealing sonic tapestries in the series.

Arpeggio passages come at play in the Unisono seventh etude too, this time within the varying rhythms in time-signatures of 7/16 and 8/16 in the outer sections. At the core of the etude lies the Più tranquillo ma poco pesante central section, with its sublime key motif appearing in octaves. A study of parallel melodic lines and repetitive plucked patterns, Unisono bears family relationship with the two etudes surrounding it, while maintaining an identity of its own.

Partrik Kleemola portrait by © Heikki Tuuli

The two last etudes, to be premiered online 22 and 29 November, respectively, constitute two very different musical realms. The ninth etude, Kangastus (Mirage), picks up where Unfolding left, introducing chord progressions realized with a glass slide. Coloured by exquisite combinations of vibrato and tremolo effects, alongside various types of extended techniques, the score of Mirage conjures up sounds far revoved from those typically associated with the guitar, resulting in a wondrously surreal sonic experience.

The concluding etude, Roihu (Blaze), comes off as definite finale. The most extended in the series, the tenth etude is a virtuosic summa, combining several techniques introduced throughout the cycle. A concertante piece at its finest, Blaze lives up to its name, providing the listener and the performer, certainly, with multi-layered challenge and entertainment.

As a whole, the Etudes constitutes an inspiring and insightful cycle of musical tableaux, delightfully adding up to the repertoire, in terms of pedagogue as well as concert programming. The ten-piece set brings together several stylistic layers, reworked into a logical musical continuum of evocation and reflection.

The online premiere series is conceived in a playlist of circa six-minute video clips, each featuring a premiere performance by Kleemola, followed by a short discussion between the composer and the guitarist, in Finnish, with English subtitles. Following their online firsts, Etudes 6-8 and 10 will receive their live premieres in a series of concert performances by Kleemola in Finland and Italy later this fall. From there, the musical journey will carry on with students and professional performers alike.

Patrik Kleemola, guitar

Markku Klami: Etudes (2021) for guitar

Weekly premieres on Patrik Kleemola’s Youtube channel

from Monday 27 September to Monday 29 November 2021, 7pm (UTC+2)

© Jari Kallio

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