Jaakko Kuusisto in memoriam

Conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto enjoys an extensive career that was launched by a series of successes in international violin competitions in the 1990s. Having recorded concertos by some of the most prominent Finnish contemporary composers, such as Rautavaara, Aho, Sallinen and Pulkkis, he is one of the most frequently recorded Finnish instrumentalists. When BIS Records launched a project of complete Sibelius recordings, Kuusisto had a major role in the violin works and string chamber music. More recently, he has recorded the complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin by J.S. Bach, also for BIS. Moreover, his discography contains several albums outside the classical genre. He was concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra during 1998 – 2012, also serving as arranger and conductor for the orchestra during those years.

Kuusisto’s conducting repertoire is equally versatile and ranges from baroque to the latest new works, regardless of genre. He has worked with many leading orchestras, including Minnesota Orchestra; Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras; the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa; NDR Hannover, DeFilharmonie in Belgium; the chamber orchestras of Tallinn and Lausanne, as well as virtually all Finnish orchestras. Kuusisto served as principal guest conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra during 2005-2009. As opera conductor, he has worked at the Finnish National Opera, the Savonlinna Opera Festival, and at the Ilmajoki Music Festival.

In 2018, Kuusisto became chief conductor and artistic director of the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra, and additionally, from 2022 on, he has been chosen to serve as artistic partner to the Oulu Symphony Orchestra.

Kuusisto has performed actively as both soloist and chamber musician, and has held the position of artistic director at several festivals. Most recently, he concluded a 9-year tenure at the Oulu Music Festival in 2021. In Finland, he has repeatedly served as an advisor in cultural policy, most recently as chair of an 2016-2018 expert group, shaping the goverment’s system for funding museums and the performing arts.

Kuusisto’s compositions consist of about 40 opuses: chamber and vocal music, orchestral pieces, operas, as well as music for film. His family opera, The Canine Kalevala, was hugely popular at the Savonlinna Opera Festival and has since had several productions elsewhere. Moreover, his latest opera Elämälle about composer Oskar Merikanto’s life was received with acclaim at the Ilmajoki Music Festival in June 2015 and 2016. Kuusisto’s latest opera, Jää (Ice) is based on the award-winning book by Ulla-Lena Lundberg. Commissioned by the Finnish National Opera, it was premiered in January 2019 with Kuusisto conducting, and became a hit with opera audiences. It quickly returned to the FNO scene in 2020 for a second run.

Concertos form an important part of Kuusisto’s works; the Violin Concerto, written for Elina Vähälä, has become an international success with performances by, among others, the Minnesota, Detroit and Singapore orchestras, as well as an acclaimed BIS recording with Vähälä teaming up with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kuusisto. His later concertos for piano, bassoon and trumpet have also been received with enthusiasm. The latest one, a Cello Concerto written for Arto Noras was premiered at the Naantali Music Festival in June 2019.

Kuusisto also works regularly as arranger/orchestrator in various projects; most notably, he has written arrangements for acclaimed vocal ensemble Rajaton and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra for their shows highlighting the music of ABBA, Queen and The Beatles. These shows have been performed by many leading orchestras including Minnesota, NDR Hannover, Toronto and the New York Pops.

The President of Finland awarded Jaakko Kuusisto with the Pro Finlandia Medal in 2017.

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