Ari Lehtonen, Accordion

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Ari Lehtonen, Classical/Contemporary Accordion

Ari Lehtonen

Classical/contemporary accordionist Ari Lehtonen (b. 1982) is a doctoral student at the Sibelius Academy. He works actively in many music styles.

Lehtonen's performance program includes the keyboard music of J.S. Bach, works by contemporary Finnish composers, and compositions by Argentine nuevo tango composer Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992).

He has performed as a soloist with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Finnish RSO, and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. He has held recitals in Finland, Russia, Spain, Serbia, and Venezuela. In 2007, in Spain, he was awarded first prize in the prestigious Arrasate Hiria accordion competition, He has premiered works by contemporary Finnish composers Tiina Myllärinen and Mikko Nisula.

"I come from a family of non-musicians, but where music was always appreciated, supported, and many kinds of it listened to," Lehtonen says. "My grandfather played the accordion in a dance band and he was my very first inspiration to start playing. When I was a kid, it was of course very nice to play together with him."

Lehtonen's first accordion teacher, when he was five years old, also played an important role in his development as an accordionist.

What's the best part of being a musician? "The music itself, of course, is the obvious answer!" Lehtonen says, citing also the diversity of the work, that no two days are alike, and the personalities one encounters.

"Music can bring so much joy to our lives and do no harm to anyone - how miraculous is that!" Lehtonen asks. "For me it would be difficult to imagine a life without it, in all its forms.

For a person who is or wants to be a musician, a combination of talent and disciplined study is of course necessary. And especially for a classical musician, the practicing is very lonely work and you have to enjoy and feel able to spend much time alone, for all your life.

Lehtonen has come a long way at the Sibelius Academy. He entered the Junior Academy in 1996, at the age of 14, and was awarded his Master of Music in 2010. "The next year, I applied and was accepted for doctoral studies in the Sibelius Academy Doctorate of Music Department.

The focus of Lehtonen's doctoral studies is Bach's keyboard music. "As an institution, Sibelius Academy is of course full of history and prestige, and it was one of the first university level schools where classical accordion could be studied," Lehtonen notes. "The school has some of the best teachers in the world, so it is really a privilege to be able to study there."

"I want to be a diverse musician in terms of the genres of program I play, and generally don't want to do only one thing," says Lehtonen of his career path. "Naturally, I hope to get chances to play as much as possible with different musicians. I also like and value teaching very much and see it as an important part of my working life with music."

At the Sibelius Academy, Lehtonen counts himself fortunate to have studied with two excellent accordion teachers: Heidi Velamo-when he entered the Junior Academy in 1996-and then Matti Rantanen, one of the pioneers of the classical accordion in the world.

"With both of them, I admire the most how they help the student to 'become himself-thus not the copy of the teacher," Lehtonen says of his teachers. "The best lessons were often those where not a single note was played, but having discussions which so often were important in one way or another."

Lehtonen feels that he's been very lucky with his music teachers. "I guess the most important task of a good teacher is supporting and respecting the student's own 'voice,' while skillfully guiding in that path, helping to open new views and encouraging the student to make their own findings," he says. "I think the Finnish accordion education gives fairly solid technical background quite young, so later in one's studies the technical exercises etc. were not in a big role, but rather the music itself."

Lehtonen feels that it's the audience that makes a concert a special event. He says, "I like the most when I feel some kind of connection with the audience-those who have taken the time to come to listen. It doesn't matter if it's a big concert hall or a small room; both can be equally rewarding."

He likes the idea of breaking tradition in terms of, for example, where concerts take place and how the audience should dress to attend them. "Once I was playing in an orphanage in Caracas, where the children were hearing live music for the first time in their lives," he recalls. "That is one event I will never forget."

Lehtonon views the life of a musician as one of maintaining a balance between the emotional and rational aspects of playing. "If you have no rationality, it becomes a chaos; if you have no emotion behind it, it's boring and has no meaning. The listener will most likely feel the same way." he explains, adding that both thinking and intuition are required.

"I hope I won't ever lose that inner child in me who wants to play, in all meanings of the word," Lehtonen says. "I want to be able to move according to how it feels at that very moment. What that means is that no two concerts are the same and I don't want them to be."

Lehtonen enjoys traveling and he spends a lot of time outdoors, just walking. "I'm also very interested in foreign cultures and I like to read about them," he adds. "Of course, I like to listen to many kinds of music in my free time. And I like to follow what's going on in the world, especially human-rights-wise, as there's always been a little bit of "world-changer" in me."

This will be Lehtonen's first opportunity to perform in the U.S, though he studied in Toronto, Canada for a few months in 2007. "I'm really much looking forward to it!" he says. "It's very nice to see new places. It's one part of why I really like being a musician."