As a rock or metal musician, how would it feel to embark on doing a musical project with an orchestra of 100 odd members or more? I say it would feel exhilarating, as well as a gamble with high chances of backfiring. The stakes also rise higher if you decide to enact antiquated musical compositions from the Baroque, Classical , Romantic and Modern periods of Western Classical Music along with Drums, orchestra and a choir. Tarja Turunen took this bold initiative along with buddy Mike Terrana on ‘Beauty & The Beat’. Orchestral experience is not something new for Tarja, since she has been doing Operas and taking lessons in classical music for a long time.
Currently gearing up for the release of new studio rock project, Metal Wani’s writer Vaishali Jain took the opportunity to have a chat with Tarja Turunen. Here’s our conversation with Tarja:
Your new album ‘Ave Maria’ is one-of-its kind since it incorporates the brilliant idea of many renditions of one traditional prayer. Tell me a bit about the songwriting process for the album.
The only Ave Maria that is written by me, is the last track on the album. The other Ave Marias are pieces that’s been composed by other composers, mainly classical music ones.
The album adopts an approach which is not explored by mainstream music. How is the album being received, especially after your previous commercially successful albums?
As this is my very first classical album release, even my rock fans were waiting for it for a long time. I never found a proper time to work on it before until now. I have found a perfect harmony between rock and classical music in my artistic life and majority of my listeners are fully aware of my activities in both camps. There are great amount of rock fans that are following me in my classical concerts all around the world and that makes me very happy, because it only tells about the love they feel and have for the music in general. People are much more open minded today than it seems really. My Ave Maria-album have been very well received by my listeners.
How important do you think are unique ideas and concepts in delivering memorable music?
For me it has always been very important. I am not only working on one song for my albums, but I am working on the whole concept and each song. I spend a lot of time, actually years to come up with new ideas and I really enjoy the challenge involved.
Throughout your career, you have shared your musical experience with many legendary rock, metal and opera musicians. So, influences of different styles must have shaped your approach towards music. The album features your re-creation of songs by many classical legends. Tell me about your musical inspirations in general and for this album in particular.
My background, before rock came in my life, was in classical music and still today classical music plays a big role in my artistic life. I love using my knowledge in this field with the orchestral arrangements and the space I always leave for symphonic elements in my rock albums as well. But for this Ave Maria-album, my inspiration has been the hard work I have done in studying and learning lyrical singing. I started taking lyrical singing lessons when I was 15 and I am taking lessons still today, when ever I feel the real need. I went through two Music Universities in my life and grew up with classical music. Finally now I had the guts to work on an album that I have been studying for! My voice is my biggest motivation, because more I practice and train it, easier the singing itself becomes naturally.
The closing track on the album is a wonderful composition by you. What sets it apart from the rest of the songs?
It is a mixture of contemporary and classical music. I wanted my Ave Maria to sound like contemporary song, but still I needed it to have the dynamic changes you usually find in my creations.
“Ave Maria” is a song which has been re-created over four thousand times. This in itself seems to be a challenge in maintaining the uniqueness of the album. How bold do you think was the attempt to re-create music by the likes of Paolo Tosti, Astor Piazzola and Bach?
I am definitely not the only lyrical singer making this type of a recording! There are other Ave Maria-albums existing from several artists. I have not tried to re-create these pieces, but I actually tried to respect the styles of the composers involved. Yes, Ave Maria has been composed over 4000 times, but in different styles, depending on each composers styles and the times those pieces were written.
Your work not only speaks of your strong background as a classical singer but also of your knowledge as a lyrical singer. Ave Maria is a traditional prayer dedicated to Virgin Mary. Tell me a little more about the ideological basis of the album and what motivated you to do it?
My only motivation to record this album was my background and interest in chamber music. So I recorded the album for musical reasons, not for religion ones. I am not religious, nor catholic believer.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the sound of this album is the brilliant production which upholds its elegance and strength. The recording experience must have been wonderful as it was recorded while you and the other musicians performed the songs without an audience. Tell me a bit about the recording process.
We spent 3 days recording in the Lakeuden Risti-church in Finland. It was truly very exciting for me who had never done such a recording before. I was nervous in the beginning, but when we practiced few times the first songs and started to record for real, my tension went away and I could enjoy the process. The hard work that I had done before the recordings, really paid off. I practiced several months for this recording and my singing coach even flew with me to Finland to control that everything was going well.
Is this a ‘convenient next step’ in your solo career as it features many musical renditions of only one prayer, or is it more about new dimensions that you have explored?
Oh well, I have always loved singing Ave Marias in my classical concerts, so I finally got some of my favourite ones on a record. I am very happy about it. This was a big challenge for me and I hope it won’t be my last classical recording.
You delivered a lot of remarkable music with Nightwish before starting your solo career. There are some common elements that you still continue to incorporate but there’s a lot of difference in aspects like production and probably even in the space you get for your vocals now as a solo artist. Tell me a bit about the journey from Nightwish to your solo career.
The beginning of my solo career was definitely not an easy time for me. I was very nervous, because after what happened with the band I had lost all my trust in people in general and it was very difficult to learn trusting again. Among the new label, I had to find people to help me write songs and produce my record. I had to take those baby steps in order to find my own way and sound. Believe me, there were many people trying to tell me what I should do and how, but I really tried very hard to listen to my heart. I may have done some things differently in the beginning if I look back those times now, but they all made me who I am today and I cannot really complain at all the situation I am facing nowadays as an artist. I am very grateful. I found my sound since my first solo album and now I can say I am happy also self producing my records.
Right from the release of your first solo album, you’ve been experiencing massive success. Your albums have been received well worldwide. But did you face any challenges when you started songwriting as a solo artist?
Since I had never written with my previous band, I didn’t have the trust in myself to be able to write songs only alone. That’s why I called many songwriters in to give me a hand. I wanted so badly to learn from them. I did write many songs at that time, but I was over critical and very shy to show my creations to anybody. It took me quite long to find the confidence, but I am so glad I finally got brave enough to express myself with my own songs. It is such a beautiful thing in life to be able to write songs! There is a huge change involved when I sit down to write a song today, than what was the situation at the beginning of my solo career. I am happy to see the journey I took.
Do you have any tours coming up pertaining to the album or otherwise? What are your plans in terms of studio releases?
My new studio rock album is going to be released during the next European summer, so the production for it is already ready! I am very happy for it! There will be quite many festivals that I am taking part in the summer time and the real touring with the album is going to start in October this year. This tour will hopefully take me to many continents and will last more or less two years including all it’s breaks.