Alumnus of the week, Paavali Jumppanen: The inexplicable power of music


Concert pianist Paavali Jumppanen began his studies at the Sibelius Academy in 1992, attending evening classes while still in high school. With the high-school matriculation exams coming up, his first year of academy study consisted only of piano lessons and a handful of music history courses. Once he graduated from high school, the transition to studying music full time came naturally to the young pianist. After all, playing the piano had long been a major part of his everyday life, and his second year at the academy brought with it both academic freedoms and responsibilities. Success followed, as he won the Maj Lind Competition in 1994, at just 20 years old. The ensuing tight concert schedule left him with little free time and limited opportunities to pursue his academy studies. The prospect of studying abroad nevertheless appealed to him, and he soon decided to leave for Basel.

Headed for Basel

To study at the Basel Academy of Music was to be at the ‘heart of European music-making’. There was a strong focus on playing, and people’s approach to music was intense. All things considered, working with Krystian Zimerman was very rewarding and interesting, even if the feedback was not always positive or encouraging. It was inspiring for Paavali to experience Zimerman’s acute awareness of style in the music of Chopin, Brahms and others, and to discover new music – and it was through Zimerman that he gained opportunities to play pieces by Henri Dutilleux and Pierre Boulez to the composers themselves. Chamber music and studying the organ also played a major role in his life at that time. While at the Sibelius Academy, private voice leading lessons under Lauri Kilpiö and music history studies under Veijo Murtomäki proved extremely important. The learning acquired at the two academies seemed to be mutually supportive and complementary.

A pedagogue as well as a free artist

Teaching has been an essential part of Paavali’s professional profile from a very young age. While still a student himself, he acted as a substitute teacher and took on private students. He has also been an active teacher in master classes at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival and Nurmes Summer Academy courses, to name a few. His first – and to this day only – permanent teaching position was as the teacher-in-charge of chamber music at the Espoo Music Institute from 2005 to 2010. It was in this role that he has the opportunity to develop his skills in work community interaction and organisational management. His workshop-oriented approach towards teaching chamber music resulted

in a lot of fruitful collaboration between students. His spell at the institute culminated in a number of large-scale chamber music concerts in his final spring term, featuring performances by quintets and large ensembles. Smaller chamber groups were also formed for students. Paavali felt he had succeeded in providing students with first-hand opportunities to experience what goes into putting together a bona fide music festival. Directing the Level C examinations of his piano students and getting to share in their success also proved to be a significant and rewarding experience.

Career highlights – hard work pays off

The first tour across Australia, the eighth tour across Australia, the Maj Lind Competition victory – with so many highlights in his career, it’s difficult to put them in any particular order. Becoming established on the concert circuits of Melbourne and Boston has been an emotional highlight for Paavali. Similarly, he found it very rewarding to see through a particularly successful recording project that ended up exceeding personal expectations. Paavali has also had the honour of recording Pierre Boulez’s three piano sonatas at the composer’s request. All of this is the result of hard work and practice – nothing has come for free.

Paavali’s first concert series of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in Kuopio, Finland was a particularly memorable occasion. A member of the audience, battling cancer at the time, came to thank him after the final concert, as it had been an immense source of energy. It’s feedback like this that reminds Paavali of the inexplicable power of music. Besides working as a performing artist and pedagogue, the third essential facet of Paavali’s professional career is his work as an artistic designer. He has organised a number of festivals and concert series, specifically the most recent PianoEspoo festival in 2017.

Insecurity can challenge the artist

One of the challenges for Paavali in his career as a free artist is getting used to the fluctuation of demand and supply on the concert circuit. Intense and hectic concert seasons are often followed by somewhat quieter periods. This felt intimidating the first time around and undermined his confidence. In time, Paavali has learned to cope with this, and his confidence has grown. Earlier in his career, he also had a hard time getting over critical reviews. He has got better at it over time and become less sensitive, and these days he’s quicker to forget both good and bad reviews. Another challenge is to find motivation within the actual work – the music – instead of all the external factors relating to it.

In his capacity as an artistic director, Paavali has likewise faced the occasional challenge in his dealings with festival administrations. Usually both parties try to reach a consensus, but sometimes this simply isn’t possible and dropping out is the only option. Lemi-Lappeenranta Music Festival was one such case; Paavali stepped down as artistic director before his term ended. However, there is something to be learned from every challenge.

New avenues for art

Knowing how to interact with others as well as straight, honest communication, taking the initiative and being active – Paavali highlights these as important elements in a musician’s work. Don’t wait – start developing your social skills while still studying. The world of music has gone through many changes in the 20 years since Paavali’s student days, but people still yearn for culture and the arts just as intensely as before. He feels that students should increasingly show initiative in developing new ways of working; they should look for new opportunities for creating, performing and distributing their art. Although the concert scene is alive and well, new and different concert concepts can be developed alongside the traditional tied-and-tested formats. Such evolution should come from the young musicians of today and tomorrow. If invention and enterprise were ever needed, now is the time – and those who exhibit these traits can expect to be the ones who eventually reap the rewards.


Text: Janne Oksanen
The author is a Sibelius Academy student participating in the student-alumni mentoring programme