Pekka - profile

Pekka Kuusisto


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 was 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. 

In 2023, the orchestra and Pekka meet on several occasions. Once during springtime in the Radialsystem in Berlin for Between Realities. This unique multi-disciplinary gathering allowed the audience to immerse themselves in various constellations and alternate realities, all through the power of music. September of that year will mark the partnership's return to Beethovenfest Bonn, where the spark grew strong in 2016.

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.


Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is Artistic Director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Co-Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from the 23/24 season. He is also Artistic Partner with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, a Collaborative Partner of the San Francisco Symphony, and Artistic Best Friend of Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

An advocate of contemporary music, he recently performed the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto with HR Sinfonieorchester, and later with the Philharmonia and San Francisco Symphony orchestras, and Orchestre de Paris. He performed the world premiere of Thomas Adès’ Märchentänze for violin and orchestra with the Finnish Radio Symphony orchestra and later with Barcelona Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony and Danish Radio Symphony orchestras. He recently premiered works by Sauli Zinovjev, Daníel Bjarnason, Anders Hillborg, Philip Venables and Andrea Tarrodi.

As a soloist, in the 2022-23 season Kuusisto debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and will perform with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. He returns to orchestras such as Cleveland, Cincinnati Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and the Philharmonia. He is also Sinfonieorchester Basel’s Artist in Residence.

As a conductor, performance highlights this season include Helsinki Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras, as well as Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

In 2022, Kuusisto releases his first album as conductor, partnering with Vilde Frang and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen presenting the Stravinsky and Beethoven Concerti (Warner Classics), as well as the world premiere recording of Thomas Adès Märchentänze for violin and orchestra (Ondine) with Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Nicholas Collon. Other recordings include Nico Muhly’s violin concerto, Shrink, for Pentatone, Ades’ Violin Concerto for Deutsche Grammophon, and Hillborg’s Bach Materia and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 for BIS.