About

My name is Esa Onttonen (b. 1975) and I’m a composer and guitarist living in Helsinki, Finland. I mainly work in the field of jazz and improvised music but I’ve also played rock riffs on electric guitar and written scores for classical orchestras. I’m a co-leader of groups Gourmet and Gnomus which have released a total of seven albums and performed in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, the Netherlands and Russia, in addition to several tours in Finland. My regular collaborators include saxophonist Mikko Innanen, drummer Mika Kallio and pianist Kari Ikonen. With me they are also the founders of the record label Fiasko Records. Two of my latest co-produced/composed/performed albums on Fiasko, “Diagnosis” by Gnomus (2007) and Gourmet’s “Cosmopolitan Sideshow” (2011), were nominees for Emma Award for the Jazz Album of the Year.

I have written commissioned compositions and arrangements for orchestras such as Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Virtuosi di Kuhmo, St. Michel Strings, Uusinta Chamber Ensemble, Kaartin Seitsikko, Jyväskylä Big Band, Ebeli Big Band and Avanti! (with Badu Ndjai), and soloists Jukka Gustavson, Mikko Innanen, Anna-Mari Kähärä, Jukka Perko, Tomasz Stanko. Since 2006 I have worked on several occasions in artist residencies in Paris, Rome and Prague.

As guitarist I have played and recorded with my own co-led groups Gnomus and Gourmet and as sideman with Hepa Halme Prospekt, Mirja Mäkelä, Jukka Orma’s Revolution Soul Band, Ari Poutiainen, Jenny Robson and many others. My style ranges from traditional guitar aesthetics to free improvisation utilizing a wide spectrum of sounds available from electric guitar and various effects. In 2017 I began to develop a solo project for electric guitar and computer-based processing, with the debut performance taking place in La Villa Des Arts, Paris in May 2017.

You can find more detailed information about my various activities below.

Rough statistics:

  • More than 30 compositions for Gourmet (saxophone, trombone, accordion, electric guitar, tuba and drums).
  • Circa dozen compositions for big band, including a 40-minute suite “About Five Pieces for Saxophone and Big Band”.
  • Miscellaneous works for jazz groups, chamber groups and orchestras, theatre etc.

See Music Finland Composer Profile for a list of works.

A major part of my professional musical activity between 2002 and 2007 consisted of writing arrangements for large ensembles such as big bands, chamber and symphony orchestras of various sizes. A list of my arrangements is available at Music Finland.

Although I’ve now limited my arranging work to focus on other things I’m always interested in interesting arranging jobs – please contact me if you have something in mind.

Although I’m currently exploring the possibilities of computer-based processing of electric guitar signal with Max, I mainly play my ’52 Reissue Fender Telecaster into small tube amps such as Carr Rambler or Fender Champ.

I have an extensive background as a teacher, including a pedagogical qualification. Beginning in September 2017, I’m working at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture as a university teacher (part-time). My previous teaching jobs are:

  • In 2000 I started teaching music theory (jazz harmony etc.) at the Jazz Music Department of Sibelius Academy. I did that for four years on a part-time basis.
  • In 2006 I started teaching electric guitar, composing, arranging, music theory and ensemble playing at the new pop & jazz program at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OAMK) where I continued working until 2009.
  • From 2009 until 2016 I worked as a lecturer of composition and arranging at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences where I also designed new curricula for songwriters.
  • Master of Music (2001): I began my studies at the Jazz Music Department of Sibelius Academy in 1994 and a couple of years later switched my major from guitar to composition. My teachers included Timo Alakotila, Raoul Björkenheim, Michael Gibbs, Kari Heinilä, Pekka Jalkanen, Anders Jormin, Jarno Kukkonen, Juhani Nuorvala and Jarmo Savolainen.
  • Master of Arts (Art and Design) (2017): In 2014 I decided it was time to broaden my skills so I did a master’s degree at the Sound In New Media MA programme at Media Lab of Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. My thesis deals with real-time orchestration and notation on mobile devices.
Photo by Teemu Saarinen.

Photo by Teemu Saarinen.

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