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Having played cello since the age of 6, Panu Aaltio found his way to composing early on, and, knowing he wanted to create music with “big emotions,” Finland-born Aaltio found his way to the University of South to start studying film music. “It was always the kind of music I was drawn into. Star Wars, Indiana Jones—they had big, dynamic musical ranges with a lot of emotion to them,” Aaltio says. “European film music is meant to be quieter, more introspective. I like big, orchestral music that’s melodramatic.”
In addition to writing music for film and video games, Aaltio also wrote a ballet for the Finnish National Opera, which he said was a valuable learning experience in creating music that captures live audiences. “I had not done much stage music before. I knew every second of the music had to be very worthwhile,” he says. “You have to be very thoughtful, to think about what makes music interesting, and what keeps the interest of the audience, as well as tells the story at the same time.”
Aaltio is the only composer to have won the Best Documentary Score award from the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) for each film in a trilogy, for his emotive scores for a series of Finnish nature documentaries. “I love a challenge, and [nature documentaries] wasn’t a genre I was familiar with,” he says of scoring the trilogy. “I think that was a good thing. The music has a lot of my personality in it. It was sort of classically influenced, but definitely has a unique thing. The film depicts all the birds and animals in the forest, so the music couldn’t be very lush and overpowering; it had to be a bit softer.”
Aaltio was also nominated by the IFMCA as Composer of the Year in 2022, alongside Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Jonny Greenwood and Nicholas Britell. “You obviously have to be a good composer, but you have to also know a bit about everything in the industry side, and be good with people. In that sense, you almost have to be sort of a psychologist in some ways,” Aaltio advises aspiring composers. “It’s a profession where patience is important.