updated 7 June 2022
© Sara Kokko

Sebastian Hilli

Finnish composer born 20 May 1990 in Helsinki.

Initially trained as a classical pianist, Sebastian Hilli quickly became interested in improvisation. When encouraged by his high school music theory teacher to write down his improvisations, he started composing. In 2016 he obtained his master’s degree in this subject at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He then studied for a year at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna with Michael Jarrell and participated in master classes with, among others, Hans Abrahamsen, Simon Steen-Andersen, Philippe Manoury, Martijn Padding, and Mark Andre. He is currently the recipient of a three-year grant from the Swedish Cultural Foundation of Finland.

Hilli is passionate about structure and dynamism in composition. His pieces are characterized by intricate interwoven textures, carefully crafted details, and long processes. He finds inspiration in subjects such as human psychology, biology, emotional states, and poetry, especially that of Jorge Luis Borges. Hilli is particularly attentive to the relationship between non-musical concepts and their transcription into musical ideas.

Hilli draws inspiration more generally from a variety of genres, from baroque music to pop, from romanticism to free jazz and disco. In his “Paraphrase” trilogy, he takes pieces by other composers in other styles and sets them against his own work: a song by Jean Sibelius in the first and a madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo in the third. The second, Paraphrase II, uses John Coltrane’s Giant Steps as its starting point and mixes it with elements from acid house. Hilli’s music leaves little room for improvisation, despite his personal experience in this form.

Hilli’s pieces have been performed in Finland and abroad in concerts and festivals such as Musica nova Helsinki, the Time of Music Festival, the Lucerne Piano Festival, and Gaudeamus Muziekweek. He has been commissioned and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Finnish Chamber Orchestra, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Asko|Schönberg, ensemble recherche, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Quatuor Bozzini, and New European Ensemble, among others.

In August 2018, a portrait concert was dedicated to him at the Helsinki Music Centre and featured the three chamber pieces of the “Paraphrase” cycle. In June 2022, his collaboration on the animated film Hibernation with Jenny Jokela was premiered at the IRCAM ManiFeste Festival and Academy.

His works are published by Schott Music.

Prizes and awards

  • Teosto Prize (Finland), for his orchestral piece Snap Music, 2019
  • Gaudeamus Award (Netherlands), 2018
  • Composers Under-30 category award at the 64th International Rostrum of Composers (Italy), 2017
  • Toru Takemitsu Composition Award (Japan) for his first orchestral piece Reachings, 2015

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2022


Site du compositeur, Gaudeamus, Ulysses

Liens Internet

(liens vérifiés en juin 2022).


  • Sebastian HILLI, Confluence / Divergence ; Elogio de la sombra ; Paraphrase II – ‘Giant Steps And Eden Acid’, Petri Kumela : guitare, Uusinta Ensemble, Uusinta String Quartet, Jozsef Hars : direction, dans « Confluence / Divergence », 1 CD Kairos, 2020, 0015078KAI.