Yeoman Interview – Roope Grondahl

Roope Gröndahl is one of the most talented young pianists to emerge from Finland in recent years. A laureate of the 2013 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels and former Eurovision Young Musician, Harriet Cohen Bach Award and International Maj Lind Piano Competition prize winner, Gröndahl regularly performs with respected artists and orchestras across Europe, China, Australia and the USA.

When and why did you start playing the piano?
My parents, although not musicians, had a piano in the house I grew up in as my mum played. I guess I was drawn spontaneously to the instrument from about seven years old. At eight I started my piano lessons.

Who has had the biggest influence on your music career?
I would have to say all of my piano and chamber music teachers, both in Finland and in London. However, early on I had some very inspirational people contributing to my musical development, starting with my first music playschool teacher. Joining the Helsinki Cathedral Boys’ Choir a few years later and getting acquainted with the great choral works of J S Bach was definitely a crucial moment in my path to becoming a musician. Funnily enough, who would have thought back then that a bit more than ten years later I would win the Harriet Cohen Bach Award at the RAM!

You are an active solo and chamber musician, but which do you prefer?
They are both such equally important aspects of my musical life that I find it really hard (almost impossible actually) to choose one over the other. Of course, there are different challenges to each of the different roles, like for instance how you need to keep the focus completely by yourself in a solo recital. Obviously there are various challenges with chamber music and concerto performances too, but there the sheer energy that arises from the chemistry between all the different players on stage is just very empowering for me.

What is your most memorable performance?
Wow, these are not easy questions… Naturally it is almost impossible for me to choose just one performance, but one recent highlight was performing Schumann with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO) and Sir Roger Norrington. It was a radiant experience that I will probably never forget. Sir Roger and his youthful exuberance at 81 sets a wonderful standard for all musicians, young and old alike.

Which pianists or other musicians do you listen to and why?
I often find myself listening to musicians from other fields (i.e. not only pianists), and the ones that inspire me most are often instrumentalists and singers. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I used to sing in a choir (and, after all, I’ve always been a pretty enthusiastic opera fan). I also think it’s important to play with and listen to other instrumentalists, as I often find that the piano in itself is always more interesting when it conveys something resembling another instrument. Or like someone wise said, the piano is not just one instrument but rather one hundred different instruments… Of course, I also have some favourite pianists whom I always enjoy listening to, such as Martha Argerich, Samson Francois or Vladimir Sofronitsky.

Who is your all-time favourite composer?
At this very moment I would name three composers who still keep surprising me one way or another after staying in close connection with their music for more than half my life – Bach, Mozart, and Ravel.

What have been the highlights of the past year?
Last year I had many unforgettable concert experiences, but the most memorable were (in addition to the above mentioned FRSO/Norrington concert) three firsts – my first ever performance of the complete Schubert Winterreise with a wonderful American baritone Thomas Florio at Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Eastern Finland in July; my first trip to Iceland, where I performed solo and chamber music within the Harpa Music Academy in Reykjavik in June; and my first visit to Australia in March, where I performed on a chamber music tour playing works of Jean Sibelius whose 150th birthday was celebrated last year all over the globe.

What are you looking forward to most in 2016?
The first thing to look forward to now is my upcoming three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts located in the heart of Paris which is starting in a few days! Nothing wrong with the Finnish spring, but springtime in Paris definitely has a certain ring to it. There I am looking forward to studying a lot of new repertoire, having some lessons as well as playing with a few musician friends I’ve got to know over the years.

Do you have any words of advice for young musicians?
I think the one thing I would say is keep yourself motivated with new approaches to familiar things – I think it was the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires who said that a musician has to invent and find his/her technique every day anew, as we are different people today than we were yesterday. Also, something that I’ve recently noticed is that one probably shouldn’t think of one’s career as some sort of continuum where you first study for 15 or 20 years and then achieve some sort of professional level that never changes again. Of course there are certain things that you have to do to become a so-called professional and the more you play the more expertise you gain. But in the end life is full of unexpected turns and as you become more skilful with one thing you also start to expect more of yourself…

Where can readers find out more about you?
To end with a less philosophical note, I recently built my own website (www.roopegrondahl.com) where I try to publish up-to-date information on my upcoming events as well as other interesting stuff relating to my professional life. Who knows, maybe the Paris ambience will even make me want to try writing some blog posts!