What are the different genres in music, and how fluid are their boundaries? How do we go about transcending them, and can we – in doing so – create something new?
These are some of the questions that Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto will, together with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, strive to answer during his Artistic Partnership.
Ever since Pekka Kuusisto’s first collaboration with the MCO in 2014, his encounters with the orchestra – as a soloist, leader and chamber musician – have always been everything but conventional. Pekka Kuusisto is equally at home with the classical canon and the realms of Nordic folk music, electronic music and improvisation; this flexibility closely ties in with the MCO’s agility in crossing musical, cultural and geographical boundaries. Thus, Pekka’s deep understanding of core repertoire is complemented with a fresh approach that provides listeners with a new understanding of these works.
In recent years, Pekka Kuusisto and the MCO have focused on innovative formats and experimental, genre-crossing concert experiences that have taken them from Radialsystem, an alternative arts venue in Berlin, to Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall. In September 2016, when the conductor’s podium unexpectedly stood empty for the MCO’s concerts at the Merano Music Festival and at Beethovenfest Bonn, Pekka Kuusisto and MCO concertmaster Matthew Truscott jumped in to lead the orchestra in unforgettable performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and his seventh symphony. This memorable experience strengthened the orchestra’s wish to start a more long-term collaboration with Pekka Kuusisto.
This Artistic Partnership will be launched with the MCO’s open-air concert at the Audi Sommerkonzerte 2018, where Pekka Kuusisto is the festival’s 2018 Artist in Residence. In the upcoming seasons, this Partnership will cover a wide spectrum of concept-based projects, ranging from play/lead performances and concerts featuring a mix of different musical styles to formats encouraging discourse between musicians and audiences.
What would you do if you weren't a musician?
I would probably write or paint. When I was little, the plan was to become a competitive cyclist. But I think it’s a bit too late now to start…
What do you do before a performance?
Normally, I just exist.
If I feel somehow out of focus, I try to play some folk music. Or I play the third movement of the Beethoven piano trio op. 70 no. 2 – it fits my hand perfectly, this tune.
One thing that sometimes feels useful as well is for me to think about what is the piece about: what is the first thing I want to radiate at the audience when I go on stage?
What is your most memorable moment with the orchestra?
It’s a tie between being in Kaffibarinn, a rowdy pub in Reykjavík, playing Steve Reich’s Violin Phase with three other violinists from the MCO, and in Merano, listening to Beethoven 7 after having played the concerto. I had never had a better time performing the Beethoven concerto, despite (or thanks to) the fact that the conductor had cancelled his participation in the project. Afterwards, I was given a glass of white and a front row seat to see the MCO play Beethoven's Symphony no. 7, and I had never heard it performed in such a way. Everyone took complete ownership of the performance, and it was an explosion of dance and love.
And my first concert with the MCO of course, at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. That was in early-ish June 2014.
Violinist, conductor and composer Pekka Kuusisto is renowned for his artistic freedom and fresh approach to repertoire. Widely recognised for his flair in directing ensembles, Kuusisto is Artistic Partner with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He is also Artistic Director of the ACO Collective and Artistic Best Friend of Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.
The Finnish violinist is an enthusiastic advocate of contemporary music, with concertos written specifically for him by Enrico Chapela, Daníel Bjarnason, Anders Hillborg, Sauli Zinovjev, Philip Venables, Andrea Tarrodi and Nico Muhly, whose concerto was co-commissioned by the MCO Foundation and will be performed by Pekka and the orchestra during the MCO's residency at the Heidelberger Frühling Festival in April 2020.
Kuusisto is a gifted improviser and regularly engages with people across the artistic spectrum. Uninhibited by conventional genre boundaries and noted for his innovative programming, recent projects have included collaborations with Hauschka and Kosminen, Dutch neurologist Erik Scherder, pioneer of electronic music Brian Crabtree, eminent jazz-trumpeter Arve Henriksen, juggler Jay Gilligan, accordionist Dermot Dunne and folk artist Sam Amidon.
He has worked with South-Korean artist Aamu Song on the project REDDRESS which blurs boundaries between performance and visual art. Together with Samuli Kosminen, Kuusisto co-composed the score to the new animated Moominvalley television series. He has also collaborated with Cannes award-winning director Juho Kuosmanen in the Greenpeace campaign film The Elegy of the Forest.