Jaakko Kuusisto

Violinist Jaakko Kuusisto has become one of the most visible musicians in his native Finland and beyond, with a career that has encompassed conducting and composition as well as violin recordings. Among the most often recorded artists in Finland, he has made major recordings of Finnish composers, including Jean Sibelius as well as top contemporary figures.

Kuusisto was born in Helsinki on January 17, 1974. He grew up with a violin-playing brother, Pekka Kuusisto, with whom he played double-concerto music as a child. Both brothers won prizes in Finnish and international violin competitions in the 1990s, and both studied at East Helsinki Music College and moved on to the Sibelius Academy, studying with Tuomas Haapanen. Both brothers then moved to the U.S. for graduate study at Indiana University, working with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss. Kuusisto's view of the American music scene is nuanced: he told the Finnish Music Quarterly that he found Indiana's orchestral programs too oriented toward rote rehearsals, but charged Finns with being overly "snooty" toward American compositional contributions, saying that "We should, after all, remember that some of the best composers of today are at Hollywood," and that it is "high time the Finns learnt to accept that not all countries create music in the same way as they do and that other approaches may be equally good." Indeed, Kuusisto himself has performed and recorded jazz with the Trio Töykeat.

Kuusisto has been associated with the BIS, Ondine, and Finlandia labels, making his debut on the former in a recital of Sibelius' youthful works as part of the label's massive Sibelius cycle and continuing to contribute to recordings of violin works in that series. He has recorded concertos of illustrious Finnish contemporary composers, including Rautavaara, Sallinen, and Aho. From 1999 to 2012, Kuusisto was concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, with which he has also often collaborated on recordings. As a conductor he has worked with major Finnish orchestras, with the Minnesota Orchestra, and with three top orchestras in Australia, among others. Sometimes Kuusisto has arranged or orchestrated the music he has conducted, including the opera Indigo by two metal-oriented Finnish cellists, Eicca Toppinen and Perttu Kivilaakso. A symphonist at age nine, Kuusisto has written more than 30 works, including a family opera called The Canine Kalevala. His chamber works were collected on the 2016 BIS release Glow. ~ James Manheim

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