Joel Järventausta: Synaesthesia, extra-musical stimuli and Sunfall

LSO Futures on Sunday 3 April is a feast of new music at the Barbican. It features the world premiere of a new Trumpet Concerto by Scottish composer Helen Grime, the UK premiere of Francisco Coll’s Violin Concerto, created especially for Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and the world premiere of Sunfall by London-based Finnish composer Joel Järventausta. James Drury spoke to Joel to find out more about his new piece.

Järventausta tells us the initial inspiration for Sunfall was a painting called Fiercely The Red Sun Descending Burned His Way Among The Heavens by Thomas Moran, an American artist who was a contemporary of Turner. The sunset painting has vibrant red and orangey-yellow colours, glowing over black rocks partially obscured by fog. Järventausta has synaesthesia – the perceptual phenomenon that means some people experience a sense of colours when they see numbers or words, or sounds when they see colours – and he says this painting had a strong impact on him. ‘I take a lot of inspiration from colours and other extra-musical stimuli,’ he says. ‘I think that’s why this painting spoke to me. It seems both dramatic and peaceful at the same time.’

Explaining how his synaesthesia affects his writing, he gives some examples of how he perceives music, numbers and colour. When he sees the number nine, there’s red in his head, or if he sees the number eight, it’s green. ‘The way that it affects my music is really hard to explain, but it informs the harmonies I use. For example, consonant harmonies tend to have stronger colour responses in my mind, whereas dissonant ones tend to be more complex and have muddier colours. That’s why I have a tendency to not exactly write tonal music, but I use a lot of tonal hues or elements.’

This commission to write Sunfall came after Järventausta's time on the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme in 2018/19. The Scheme was devised in association with Lady Panufnik in memory of her husband, the composer Sir Andrzej Panufnik. Each year it sees six people chosen to spend twelve months developing a three-minute piece of music for full orchestra. Along the way, they join workshops with LSO musicians and have access to orchestra rehearsals and tailored support from composers Colin Matthews and Christian Mason. The Scheme, which is supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust, culminates in a day of full orchestral workshops of the six pieces, after which two composers are commissioned to write longer works for performance by the LSO at the Barbican. Francisco Coll is another alumnus of the Scheme and Helen Grime took part in an earlier version.

This interview first appeared in the Barbican's April 2022 Guide, courtesy of James Drury.

LSO Futures
Sunday 3 April 7–9.15pm, Barbican

Joel Järventausta Sunfall (world premiere)
 Till Eulenspiegel
Helen Grime Trumpet Concerto: night-sky-blue (world premiere)
Francisco Coll Violin Concerto (UK premiere)
Strauss Death and Transfiguration

François-Xavier Roth conductor
Patricia Kopatchinskaja violin
Håkan Hardenberger trumpet
London Symphony Orchestra

Tickets: £60 £48 £35 £24 £18

The LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme is generously supported by Lady Hamlyn and The Helen Hamlyn Trust. 

HHT 200

Where can you find us?

Watching YouTube on your TV?

Follow our instructions to access concerts via the YouTube app.
> Follow the instructions to watch on your TV

Programme notes

Our programme notes are available to read digitally for free, and will be available for the whole season.
> Find programme notes