Presenting our musicians: Anni Elonen

Musician interview 22.3.2018

The family of violinist Anni Elonen includes musicians of all forms starting with rune singers, so no wonder she has got so many irons in the fire when it comes to music!

Photo: Chris-Tomas Konieczny Photography

Anni Elonen

Baroque violin

Short intruduction
Besides FiBO and FiBO Collegium, I also play in Helsinki Baroque Orchestra and in several ensembles, in various genres ranging from early music to children’s music and pop-rock. I addition to playing the violin, I can also be seen on stage singing with Soria Duo & Band, and as host and actor in various productions for children. Previously, I was a primary school and high school music teacher for many years. Besides being a freelance musician, I nowadays run a production company, Kipinä Productions Oy, together with my colleagues.

Tell us about yourself.
My family and roots are steadily in North Karelia, where “we have no riches nor fertile soil, but a richness of music that grows without sowing”, as we sing in the Song of the Karelians. Singing and music have always played an important role in my family. The musical heritage has hopefully been transferred to me over time from my ancestor, folk singer Mateli Kuivalatar, famous for the Kanteletar runes, from opera singer Maikki Järnefelt-Palmgren, composer and musician Toivo Kärki, and from many skilled amateur musicians in my family.

When I was a child, my parents constantly drove me and my siblings to music school, lessons, choir and orchestra practices, and we all three ended up being professional musicians and music teachers. However, I did not always enjoy practicing the violin, and our Labrador retriever, who was needlessly inspired to sing along to my playing, got a few rounds of my bow before he learned to howl under the table, hidden from my temper tantrums.

As a child, we lived in Kuopio and Joensuu and then in Kuopio again, until our family settled in Helsinki, where I have lived since I was 11 years old. After primary school, I studied at Kallio High School in Helsinki, with a specialisation in the arts. At the Sibelius Academy I studied both early music and music pedagogy.

I played in FiBO (or in the Sixth Floor Orchestra, as it was called then) for the first time in the early stages of my studies, when I had just got my own Baroque violin. My instrument, which had recently arrived to Finland from England, literally exploded in my already nervously shaking hands at the first practice. The clamp of the newly attached tailpiece suddenly snapped, and pieces of my violin flew all around the floors of the Finlandia Hall. It was quite a horrifying, but at least unforgettable, start to my career as a Baroque musician.

How did you end up with your instrument? Who or what made you choose it?
I actually wanted to play the trombone, which I found a really attractive instrument as a child. Apparently I could not express this wish very clearly to my parents as a 3–4-year-old. Well, the violin was a good alternative too, and it became familiar to me already as a baby because I was brought along to my sister’s violin lessons in a carry cot, and I was given a violin to play as soon as I could hold it in my hands.

I got in touch with early music already during my time at the music institute, because many ensembles would be taught early music at the West Helsinki Music Institute. I had Kreeta-Maria Kentala as my violin teacher in my teens, and I played a lot of early music with her, and sometimes we would try the Baroque bow. But it was not until I began my studies at the Sibelius Academy that I really started playing the Baroque violin. Kreeta-Maria became my teacher again, and she immediately invited me to an introductory course to early music. After the course, I decided that ensemble playing, the whole world of period instruments and forgotten composers, and especially playing Baroque music, was so much fun that I changed my main instrument to the Baroque violin.

What inspires you as a musician and in life? 
I always love inter-arts projects and they inspire me the most. It also feels fantastic to continually push my own musical boundaries and to attempt to overcome them, together with the best musician colleagues in the world!

What other art form is close to your heart?
Definitely theatre. It makes me sad that I only go to the theatre maybe once or twice a year nowadays (or then I buy tickets only last minute, and miss performances for that reason). I love the theatre illusion and the whole world created by the stage, the lights, the set, the costumes, the theatrical smoke and the masks, where one can immerse in the story and the characters.

In high school, I briefly dreamed of applying to the Theatre Academy, but finally I chose music for my dream career. I especially love musicals, and I hope to one day participate in one.

Which is your greatest musical dream?
Each Easter, I dream that we would one day perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion so that the orchestra would sing along to the best parts, both with the choir and the solo arias. That would be awesome.

Which is your favourite travel destination, and why?
My favourite travel destination is somewhere that I have not yet been! There are so many beautiful and fascinating places in the world, and I love travelling. Most likely you will find me in a warm country under a palm tree, rather than on a glacier. 

In what kind of a place does your soul find rest?
Our family’s cottage in Rääkkylä in North Karelia is surrounded by the tranquillity of the forests and the lakes, and that is where my soul is at ease. Whenever I feel anxious and stressed, the best way to relax is to escape to the cottage and the heat and silence of our wood-heated sauna. Home is also an important place for me. My home has to be peaceful and beautiful in order to balance the travels, the hectic concerts and the entrepreneur life.

How do you feel your art is affecting society at large? 
As a music pedagogue, I feel it is important to spread the joy of music so that people of all ages and backgrounds can experience it. Working with various audience outreach projects in FiBO Collegium is something that I see and feel has a particularly big impact. I hope that my work would enable as many people as possible to feel the same happiness that music has given me throughout my life. At the same time, I am glad to make early music more known to everyone, regardless if they are children, youth or adults.

The best moments in my own artistic work are also the instants during a performance when you can just feel the audience living and breathing in the same rhythm, and experiencing the music strongly with us musicians: that is what makes music a shared experience, emerging in just that unique moment, bringing music to life in a very special way.

Why do you enjoy playing music that is over 300 years old?
Baroque music and its harmonies and figures have always attracted me somehow. Time and again, I am excited by even the most often played pieces from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Pachelbel’s Canon, and I never seem to tire of the so called basic repertoire. On the other hand, new musical discoveries, seldom played works and partly forgotten pieces are always interesting to play. Sometimes it is also tempting to forget the about the rules and traditions and to concentrate on new, original and fresh interpretations of early music.

Choose your favourite among FiBO's spring 2018 concerts, and motivate your choice.
I especially look forward to Dido & Aeneas. Although the opera is performed in concert version and not dramatized, Purcell’s musical drama, and the range of emotions it contains, is beyond comparison.

Do you have a "secret" special skill?
My secret special skill is that I can twist my limbs into the oddest positions. I have shocked several unsuspecting persons by presenting the strange poses that the hypermobile joints in my feet and arms are capable of. I believe that I could have had a brilliant career in circus, too. This skill has also turned out to be a great conversation starter in stiff social situations.

If you had to run the Cooper test or bake for a party of 30 people, which would you choose? 
A few years ago, I definitely would have chosen baking, no doubt, but a couple of years ago I suddenly learned to enjoy running, which I never thought would have happened! But let’s be honest, I would never do the Cooper test if the alternative was to invite 30 dear friends and family members and bake them at least seven different treats (and eat some myself). Yum!

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