Strong work

The compositions of Sauli Zinovjev, who is soon to graduate as a composer from the Sibelius-Academy, have received wide critical acclaim throughout Europe. But it was only very recently that he discovered his own idiom as a composer.
Mikael Mattila
Lauri Mannermaa

“I think you have to be brave and open towards yourself as a composer. The crucial transition from a composer student to a fully-fledged composer happens the moment you start creating music that you personally like. I am not saying that there isn’t something more to be learnt for the rest of your life, but there comes a point when you have to start trusting your own judgment. I do think that although there may be a huge number of fantastic composers in the world, whose level I may never reach, this must not stop me from trying. After all, they, too, are only human. This is what keeps my creativity alive.

Before the Sibelius Academy, I composed a lot of neo-classical and tonal music, triads and all. Once I began my studies, I made a complete about-turn and composed a few serial and intellectually structured works, partly for reasons of study. In 2013, I left for Germany on a student exchange in Karlsruhe, and this was the first time I felt free: I did not have to fixate on any specific style, I could write whatever music I wanted. While in Germany, I composed a work for Ensemble Recherche, which was a great experience. It is one of the best-known new music orchestras of our time. The piano quartet Chasse-Neige was premiered at the Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari last summer.

I came third in last year’s international Uuno Klami composition competition with my orchestral work Gryf. The name means griffin in Polish, which I did not know when naming my work. I borrow the name from the Welsh language, in which it means ‘strong’, but I suppose the griffin is strong! Naming compositions used to be difficult. I didn’t want my music to be associated with things that I couldn’t hear myself in. I’m not that strict anymore.

Competition success came at the right time. I had already taken my first steps in my professional career, and the competition really gave it a boost. Yet, it is down to you to make competition success work in your favour: the audience will soon forget early merits such as these, so it is important to be proactive and keep widely offering your works for performance. I am definitely indebted to the Sibelius-Academy’s mentoring programme, in which I have been participating since last autumn. My mentor Sebastian Fagerlund is an experienced and successful composer, who genuinely wants to share his knowledge.

I am glad of the opportunities that the Sibelius Academy and the field of contemporary music has to offer when promoting the tradition of contemporary composition in Finland. For example, last summer I attended a course given annually by Avanti! as part of the Summer Sounds Festival. I created a small chamber piece for the occasion. The Helsinki Music Center is hosting the Klang concert series, focusing on music composed after 2000. Soikoon! concerts introduce music composed by Sibelius Academy students, played by top-class musicians. Opportunities such as these would not arise for composition students were it not for the hard work of Professor Veli-Matti Puumala.

I was accepted into the Sibelius Academy straight from Lahti Conservatory, where I majored in the piano, my teenage discovery. Prior to that, I had mainly played the bass and the guitar, but the easy virtuosity of György Cziffra’s Liszt interpretations lured me to take up the piano. My then teacher Tuomas Mali introduced me to modern music, which gave be the impetus to apply for the degree programme in composition. I was also accepted to study the piano at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, but chose the Sibelius Academy and composition. Fortunately my wife is an extremely talented performing pianist!

Mikael Mattila is a freelance editor, musician and a student of musicology at the University of Tampere.


  • Born in Lahti in 1988.
  • Piano graduate from the upper secondary level of Lahti Conservatory in 2010.
  • Began studies at the Sibelius Academy in 2010, expecting to graduate in early autumn 2015.
  • Studied composition under Tapio Nevanlinna and Professor Wolfgang Rihm.
  • Recent works: solo works Chained (2015) for accordion and Arco (2014) for violin.
  • Works in progress: a sextet for the Zagros ensemble to be performed in the Klang concert series and a new orchestral work for the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
  • Further information

Yksi kommentti