Bass instincts: an interview with Jonathan Roozeman and Lauri Porra

When we first had the idea for Baroque at the Edge back in 2017 and were thinking of the kinds of acts we might invite, it’s safe to say that the idea of a cello and bass guitar combo was not one that occurred to us. But, you know, as musicians out there get to hear of us, so we get to hear of them, and thus it was that we came across Jonathan Roozeman and Lauri Porra.

With just four weeks to go until Baroque at the Edge 2020, we want to introduce you to a duo that you've probably not come across before (they’re very new), but who we think you’re going to enjoy meeting. 

Lauri is a bass guitarist and composer who has written scores for films and other media, as well as commissions from orchestras such as the Lahti Symphony and the Finnish Radio Symphony. If that suggests to you that he has interests that easily encompass classical and rock you’d be right, but it should be said that as a composer and Finn, Lauri’s credentials are hard to beat – he’s a great-grandson of Jean Sibelius! Meanwhile 22-year-old Dutch-Finnish Jonathan is an admired classical cellist that critics have dubbed a ‘young cello comet’ and praised for his ‘flowing brilliance …sensitivity and discernment’. He was a prizewinner at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, and has played concertos with leading orchestras and conductors including Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Sakari Oramo.

How did the two of you get together as a duo?

Lauri: Rearranging Bach cello suites for myself and a cellist had been a long-time plan of mine, and I had already worked on some arrangements before I was asked by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra if I could join Jonathan in a chamber-music concert, as he was the Resident Artist of the orchestra at the time. I asked him if he would be interested in trying out my arrangements; he was and in the end we had so much fun we decided to do it again. Since then I’ve been working on new arrangements, and see this project as a developing thing where I try to write something new for all the concerts.

'I asked Jonathan if he would be interested in trying out my arrangements;
he was and in the end we had so much fun we decided to do it again!'

What are your respective musical upbringings?

Lauri: I am a fourth-generation musician. I started my formal studies on the cello when I was 5 years old, but unfortunately I was a lazy player and never really practiced properly. I did love playing the Bach Cello Suites, though. When I hit puberty I also discovered music outside of classical music and fell in love with heavy metal, jazz, punk and avant-garde, and changed to electric bass, which I was not a lazy player on at all. I studied bass and other instruments at Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory, and also took lessons in piano, double bass, trumpet and classical vocals. Singing also brought me to my first performance in London in 1997, when I sang in the YL Male Voice Choir with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis in Sibelius' Kullervo Symphony. I soon started composing and releasing my own music, starting with my debut album Lauri Porra, which was released in 2005. I also started writing music for films and have scored eight feature films and around a dozen tv-series and other music for media. In 2015 I started flirting with classical music again when I premiered Entropia, a concerto I wrote and in which I played the solo part for Electric bass and orchestra. It was later recorded by Lahti Symphony and released in 2018 on the BIS-label along with some other of my orchestral works. Since then I have written more pieces for symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles combining music from all the different styles I’ve studied and worked with throughout my career.

Jonathan: I was born into a family of musicians: both my parents and two siblings are musicians. I started to play the cello at the age of 6. I wasn't accepted at the music school with piano, but the cello class had still open places so they suggested that I could try the cello instead of the piano. So I guess that makes me a failed pianist.

What musicians in particular, classical or otherwise, have had the greatest influence on you as individuals?

Jonathan: For me the most interesting cellist ever lived was Danii Shafran. I believe that he had truly something unique in his music, and I admire him very much for this. There are countless other great musicians who have inspired me, however, such as Vladimir Horowitz, Christian Ferras, Jascha Heifetz, Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli to name a few. These days I don't spend much time listening to cellists, but it definitely feels good from time to time to get back to a recording of Shafran.

Lauri: It´s hard to say - influences come and go. For instance, some of my influences for bass guitar when I was young were the Finnish bass-player Pekka Pohjola, Jaco Pastorius and the late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. For composers and other artists it is much harder to say, as many artists have certain facets that I really love, while others might feel more alien. I have always loved Bach and Sibelius, and as I was brought up on opera that has always been very influential. I also love Ennio Morricone, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Brian Eno. Of my generation, I really love what Anna Meredith is doing at the moment.

What part has the music of Bach played in your lives up till now?

Jonathan: I think most musicians hear Bach's music right from the start. It becomes something very personal for each of us, and that for me is the biggest challenge in his music. When I go on stage to play Bach I feel totally exposed. There’s no place to hide, because his music is the purest music of all.

'When I go on stage to play Bach I feel totally exposed. There’s no place to hide,
because his music is the purest music of all.'

Lauri: A big part, if you count all the minutes I’ve been listening to his music during my entire life. Bach would surely be my most listened-to composer. It’s such great music, and it's great for so many things; you can go really deep into it, or then just let it play in the background and let your mind float. Bach is also great music to study, because the structures he builds are so well crafted but still very visible and accessible for analysis. I will never stop studying Bach´s music.

How do you see your concert on 11 January fitting into the context of a festival of which takes baroque music as its starting-point?

Lauri: I believe it fits quite obviously. The concert will actually comprise three sections, which should create a nice journey. I’ll start by playing excerpts from my new Cabins & Hideouts programme, which combines music from Finnish nature with quite minimal music. From there we go to Jonathan playing Bach’s Second Cello Suite in its original form. Then we join together and play our reimagined arrangements of pieces from Suites Nos 1, 2, and 5.

Jonathan: Bach's music being so pure, even holy, it is difficult not to offend it. I think Lauri had this on his mind when composing his versions. I feel like Bach's music has only been an inspiration in the process. Therefore I feel like everything we will perform is respecting baroque music.

Jonathan and Lauri's concert is on Saturday 11 January at 4.30pm. Tickets are available now.