By: Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: The Steinway Society

SILICON VALLEY, CA -- Before the broadcast of his Steinway Society the Bay Area HOME CONCERT  HALL concert, Online, from October 15 through October l8,  Cultural World Bilingual interviewed Finnish Pianist  JUHO POHJONEN, recognized  in the concert world as today's most unique, exciting and vibrant instrumentalist. The concert pianist is also well known in Europe, Asia and North America for his collaboration with Symphonic orchestras and his Chamber Music settings.  His piano recitals and his broad discography offer a showcase of music composed by his Finnish Compatriots.   

Knowing his extensive relationship with Music, our first question, during our interview with him was:  

C.W.B. What is music for you?
Pohjonen: "Music for me is a way to connect with great minds from different eras. Each composer has such a unique mind-set, so, for me, thinking and getting to understand each one of them, even a little bit, broadens my own horizons a lot."

"But now that I think about it, piano playing probably also has the same appeal for me, as acting might have for others (probably the actors) because playing the piano allows me to experience emotions and tell stories that I might not, otherwise, do in normal life. There is also a sense of discovery (That he experiences when playing the piano). It is as if one learns so much about the human mind by thinking about how to perform the music in a way that (its sound) will trigger a certain response from the audience. The brain is constantly searching for meanings from whatever sounds are being heard by the ear, and by shaping these sounds, in a certain way, one (the pianist) can elicit (in his audience) and infinite variety of feelings, images, and narratives."

C.W.B. When was your very first encounter with piano music?
Pohjonen: "I grew up in a family where my older brother (who also became a concert pianist) was already playing the piano when I was born, so I was exposed to classical music and piano playing from the earliest age possible. My first instrument was actually violin, which I started to play at the age of two and half. , but I began also playing the piano when I was four years old. Soon after, I entered the J Sibelius Academy (the most important music school in Finland) where I studied, first in the Junior Academy and later on in the university, and during this time I had two very inspiring piano teachers whose ideas complemented each other perfectly. I also took some master classes from Sir Andràs Schiff, who became a very important mentor to me."

C.W.B. Did you participate in piano competitions when you were in Finland?
Pohjonen: "Yes, I did take part in a few competitions, some being more successful than others. However, for my career in the U.S. I have to thank a certain International Piano Competition where I did not make it to the finals. Another Finnish pianist won it, and because of this, the pianist was in a situation where now had two separate debut recitals in New York City coming up. Obviously, the pianist could have only one New York debut concert, so the presenter had to find another Finnish player for the second recital and I was selected. Luckily enough, my concert was very well reviewed by the New York Times, but for a while, nothing really seemed to follow up on it. "

"However, Wu Han, the co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society (CMS) of Lincoln Center, had read the New York Times's review of my concert, and had made a note of my name in her notebook, so, a few years later CMS did a concert project featuring Finnish music and, as a part of the preparations, they visited Finland, where Wu Han requested that I play something for her. Eventually, we also read (played) some four-hand piano pieces together (Stravinsky's Rite of Spring) of all pieces! and some months later, CMS invited me to do an audition for two of their program. (Now the Bowers Program). I got in, and soon afterwards I got a manager in the U.S. which was very helpful in launching my career there--all of this thanks to one unsuccessful piano competition!"


C.W.B. /what can you tell our readers about your coming concert?
Juho: "I will be playing Bach's Goldberg Variations BWV 988 and, in this particular concert, my repertoire choice was more of less dictated by the circumstances behind the concert. The fact that this concert was going to be virtual, and because of the Covid 19 pandemic it was going to be recorded."

"I wanted to choose a piece that works especially well in a home recording, (a piece) to be listened to in the comfort of a home, but found that many of my pieces (that he plays in his concerts) required a big concert hall, to work well. A hall where the acoustics in the hall help with shaping of the ideas, or where its big audience encourages the player to express the music boldly."

"On the other hand, the Goldberg Variations are the most intimate music one could imagine and yet they convey a huge range of emotions and their architecture is much larger than my music room where I recorded the variations."

"Also, and because of the pandemic, when I was doing the recording there were no other concerts to keep me busy, so I wanted to choose something that would challenge me, and as we know, the Goldberg Variations are considered to be among the most difficult pieces for a pianist to play. The challenge does not come from them being physically demanding, like a Prokofiev sonata would be, for example, though some have moments where one needs a lot of finger dexterity. "

"In the Variations, The main difficulty (for the pianist) lies in maintaining the focus and concentration for the duration of all the thirty Variations, and of course in coming up with enough musical ideas to make each Variation stand out from the rest. However, during their recording, I found out that piano playing was in fact, the easiest part of the project, because of the pandemic, I also had to be the director, the cameraman, the lighting technician, the recording engineer, the set decorator and the film editor of the recording, and all this was new to me! In the end, a one minute video took an hour to produce. You can imagine the amount of time it took me to record the whole concert!

C.W.B.  I won't even try. Do you have anything else that you would like our readers to learn about your concert?
Juho: "Yes, I have a fun fact. I decided to group the Variations according to the Fibonacci sequence, with groupings of 1+1+2 +3+5+8+5+3+2+1+1 so there would be longer breaks between each of the groups. I think this helps with building momentum in the middle of the Variations while preparing the audience for the arrival of the conclusion of the music."

"I don't expect anybody to pick this up from my playing, but it is something that works more for me on a subconscious level.  I also hope that my video of the Goldberg Variations will bring some order and enjoyment to the lives of all my listeners during this turbulent time of the pandemic." 

To Order tickets for JUHO POHJONEN Goldberg Variations and the Home Concert Hall Performances go to: Steinwaysociety.com For any questions about the concert, contact their box office at (408) 300-5635.